Saturday, March 24, 2018

The Beauty and Ugliness of James Bond

Promotional artwork for Dr. No, the first James Bond film, showcasing the attributes of 007's female interests

The Oxford Living Dictionary defines beauty as "a combination of qualities, such as shape, colour, or form, that pleases the aesthetic senses, especially the sight" and ugliness as "the quality of being unpleasant or repulsive in appearance." Without a doubt, in over 55 years of history the cinematic James Bond franchise has played with beauty and ugliness in 24 official movies. Even the two unofficial films, Casino Royale from 1967 and Never Say Never Again in 1983 have echoed these topics, the first one prominently teasing audiences with a tattooed woman holding two guns. 

The good looks of Sean Connery in 1962:
Dana Broccoli's female instincts told
her she was the right man for the job.
In Ian Fleming's novels, Bond was described as a handsome man resembling musician Hoagy Carmichael. The beauty of his women were thoroughly described by the author (their hair, skin, eyes and body shape) as -by opposition- the ugliness of the villains with their bad plastic surgeries or swollen heads. The first cinematic Bond adventure Dr. No, rather faithful to the source material, has respected the Fleming standards for beauty with a handsome and virile protagonist like Sean Connery and three handsome girls coming from different parts of the world: British gambler and playgirl Sylvia Trench (Eunice Gayson), the exotic and deadly oriental secretary Miss Taro (Zena Marshall) and the Jamaican native Honey Ryder (Ursula Andress). The film's nemesis were represented by the "three blind mice" assassins, corrupt Professor Dent (Anthony Dawson) and the evil mastermind Dr. No (Joseph Wiseman), who of course couldn't match the elegance and physical traits of Sean Connery's 007. Something different, tough, could be said of his future opponents Red Grant (Robert Shaw) and Emilio Largo (Adolfo Celi) in From Russia With Love and Thunderball, who could perfectly match Bond's poise and looks. 

An interesting insight on how beauty was of the essence for producers Albert R "Cubby" Broccoli and Harry Saltzman for their shaping of the long-lasting 007 series was the way Sean Connery and Ursula Andress landed in their roles. Cubby and his wife Dana were watching Darby O' Gill and The Little People and when Connery had appeared in the film Dana thought he was an incredible handsome man. The producer followed the female instincts of his wife and on November 3rd, 1961, the then little-known Sean Connery was announced as the star of the adaptation of Ian Fleming's Dr. No. In the case of Andress, it was producer Harry Saltzman who felt absolutely stunned by a photo of the girl in a wet shirt (taken by her husband John Derek) and that eased her way into the role of the native woman Bond meets in Crab Key who doesn't become his love interest until the very last seconds of the film. 

Claudine Auger in a photoshoot for
Thunderball, showing the deadly
side of her character Domino.
Flash forward 55 years later and it looks as if beauty was an uncomfortable word when promoting the Bond films. Since the late 1980s and particularly in the 2010s, probably because of the resurgence of feminist movements, the intelligence of the Bond girls (sorry, Bond women) is emphasized to the point every one of the female leads in the series has become "Bond's equal": a cliché that now feels as a publicity tactic more than an actual definition of the new generation of Bond's ladies. Maybe only Camille Montes of Quantum of Solace can fit the description and only Anya Amasova from The Spy Who Loved Me or Wai Lin from Tomorrow Never Dies can more faithfully fulfill that definition. The other Bond women could be an intellectual or emotional match or even have some knowledge of handguns. But that doesn't make them "Bond's equal" for sure. 

Probably some people would think Bond girls are mere sexual objects when they're not. They never really were and the James Bond saga has empowered much more than other action films. Take into account Honey Ryder wielding her knife and trying to defend herself of No's guards, or Domino Derval (Claudine Auger) saving Bond's life at the end of Thunderball. In You Only Live Twice, all three girls were far more than a pretty body or face: two skilled Japanese secret agents (Akiko Wakabayashi and Mie Hama) and a deadly redhead vixen (Karin Dor) who pretends to commit to Bond's charm only to attempt against his life shortly later. Don't forget how Andrea Anders (Maud Adams) and Lupe Lamora (Talisa Soto) dared to betray their dangerous lovers in The Man With The Golden Gun and Licence To Kill, risking their lives to help Bond (Andrea is ultimately terminated by a golden bullet). A good example is also given in The Living Daylights, where Kamran Shah (Art Malik) and his Afghan men look astonished as Kara Milovy (Maryam d'Abo) rides her horse in the desert with an AK-47 rifle in hand to help Bond, surrounded by the Russian army. Needless to say the Afghan troops weren't used to a woman in their troops and -much less- a woman disobeying a man and going on her own. 

Prelude of an all-girl fight: Miranda Frost (Rosamund Pike)
threatens Jinx (Halle Berry) in Die Another Day.
Elektra King (Sophie Marceau) from The World Is Not Enough is a proof that female leads in the Bond films have been empowered by the James Bond series: she used both men for fools: her former kidnapper terrorist Renard (Robert Carlyle) and Bond himself, who believed her to be Renard's target for a second time and a woman who lost her in a terrorist attack, when she was actually the mastermind who employed and seduced Renard to kill her father in revenge for not paying her ransom. The following film, Die Another Day, is the first 007 film to feature a well-choreographed fight between the good and the evil Bond girl, and Pierce Brosnan's 007 debut in GoldenEye had an action scene only with the leading lady Natalya (Izabella Scorupco) escaping from all kind of explosions and finding her way out of the doomed workplace attacked by General Ourumov (Gottfried John) and Xenia Onatopp (Famke Janssen). 

Daniel Craig in a publicity still for 2015's
SPECTRE. His muscular body was displayed
prominently in his James Bond films.
"I wonder why I'm not seeing people comparing six different actors who played James Bond," said an Alicia Vikander fan Twitter account lately complaining on the fuzz provoked by those who preferred Angelina Jolie over the Swedish actress as Lara Croft in the recent Tomb Raider reboot. However, the six men who played James Bond were compared through their looks and acting skills ever since Sean Connery was replaced by George Lazenby in his one shot 007 flick On Her Majesty's Secret Service, released in 1969, almost half a century ago. Some said Lazenby was handsome but not in the scale of Connery, others that he was a complete failure and talked in retrospect of a "forgotten Bond". Roger Moore was labelled as attractive, but it was always pointed out his lack of virility and strength in comparison to Connery, particularly in his last three films where -despite looking very good at 57- he was "too old to play Bond". Then came Timothy Dalton, who received the tag of being too tight for the role and some humour was needed for Bond. Lately, Dalton was very much vindicated by the fans, but there were those who considered his second and last appearance Licence To Kill killed the franchise. The opposite happened with Pierce Brosnan: applauded and admired during his four films where he reinvigorated Bond as an action hero for the 1990s and the new millennium, but now slammed as being too cheesy, soft-spoken and slim built for a man of action as his replacement, the muscular Daniel Craig, who even tolerated the dishonour of a web site boycotting his choice as the rebooted 007 of Casino Royale. 

Ian Fleming's James Bond always had thoughts for appearances and looks: Donovan Grant's Windsor knot on his tie gives him bad feelings in From Russia, With Love and he suggests Honeychile Ryder not to fix her broken nose with plastic surgery in Dr. No. Moreover, in the John Gardner novel For Special Services, he comforts Nena Bismaquer after learning she had one breast removed. For Bond, reason is not always the answer and a lot is given to intuition, that's why someone's look, attitude, beauty or ugliness can tell him something. 

In the case of the EON Production's franchise, despite their political correct production notes, they always knew a reason why men go to watch James Bond films are the attractive women like Ursula Andress, Jill St. John or Britt Ekland. And a reason why women watched them is because they also felt attracted for the physique of Sean Connery, George Lazenby and Daniel Craig, not forgetting the bon mots of Pierce Brosnan and Roger Moore and the virility of Timothy Dalton. 

Never judge a book for its cover, they say. But it's always better when a good book has a great looking cover indeed. 

Nicolás Suszczyk 

1 comment: