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The Better Halves of Bond

Observer Scene | Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Guns. Cars. Martinis. Girls. These are all traits that make the James Bond franchise what it has become today – one of the most widely known and successful film franchises of all time. One of the most noticeable and controversial of these over the years has been the girls – better known as Bond Girls – who have graced the screen along with the various 007s.

Starting with “Dr. No” in 1962, one or more beautiful women has always starred opposite the British secret agent, taking on roles from fellow agents and allies to villainesses to girlfriends and lovers.

Eunice Gayson and Ursula Andress played Sylvia Trench and Honey Ryder, respectively, in “Dr. No,” beginning the trend of attractive women accompanying Bond on his various missions. Gayson is the only actress to play the same character in two different films, reprising her role as Trench in 1963’s “From Russia with Love.”

Swedish actress Maud Adams is famous for playing two different Bond girls – Andrea Anders in 1974’s “The Man with the Golden Gun” and the title character in 1983’s “Octopussy.” For Adams, and many other Bond girls like Jane Seymour and Kim Basinger, the exposure gained in the James Bond films helped kick-start otherwise obscure careers.

More recently, Bond girls have been cast to highlight the careers of already well-established actresses. This was the case for Halle Berry (“Monster’s Ball”) in “Die Another Day” and Denise Richards (“Wild Things”) in “The World is Not Enough.” While perhaps an anomaly since these two Bond movies are regarded as two of the worse films in the franchise, this trend has continued with Eva Green’s role as Vesper Lynd in this year’s “Casino Royale.”

The largest criticism of Bond Girls throughout the history of the 007 films is that the characters stereotype and objectify women in light of James Bond’s sometimes chauvinistic actions. There is no doubt that the motif of a Bond girl includes good looks and little clothing. This has stayed constant from “Dr. No” to “Casino Royale.”

Some of the first James Bond films seem to openly embrace this motif, as sometimes four or five of these female character types would appear in one film. However, as time went on, women in the James Bond films began to take on more central and developed roles than in the initial films.

In “Moonraker,” the character of Holly Goodhead is portrayed as a female space shuttle commander, something that had not yet happened in the real world in 1979. Around this time, a trend started in which the female roles would include a Bond Girl helping or saving Bond, or else serving as a formidable foe.

While this was sometimes still regarded as pandering to the masses and inadequate, there is no doubt that the attitude towards women in the James Bond films has made tremendous progress from the 1960s era of Sean Connery to the present day films.

In “Casino Royale,” Green (“Kingdom of Heaven”) plays perhaps the most complicated, human Bond Girl yet. Rather than serving as little more than eye-candy, she plays a pivotal role in the film and becomes one of the few women in the history of the Bond franchise to crack James Bond’s seemingly impenetrable veneer.

With this new take on a Bond Girl cemented in the latest reworking of the popular franchise, one can expect that characters like Vesper Lynd are here to stay. The tradition of attractive female leads cast alongside Bond will not change anytime soon.

Just like the martinis, this part of the James Bond formula must remain for a Bond film to be a Bond film. Like the guns and cars, however, the women of Bond films – the most critical component next to James Bond himself – will continue to change with the times.