James Bond's 50th Anniversary

10.03.12

From Honey Ryder to Pussy Galore, the Evolution of the James Bond Girl

From their punny names to their youthful beauty, Bond girls are the epitome of man’s plaything. Their extreme objectification is never hidden, and they often seduce and distract the suave spy. Fifty years after ‘Dr. No,’ and as we await the November premiere of ‘Skyfall,’ how has the Bond woman evolved?

Xenia Onatopp, Holly Goodhead, Pussy Galore, and Honey Ryder might sound like porn stars, but these women are famous for being in more ... “legitimate” movies.

Said ladies, along with 48 other women whom author Ian Fleming’s iconic James Bond has slept with on screen (and the dozens more he merely fooled around with) all fall under a singular title: Bond Girl. Beginning with the first film in 1962, Dr. No (starring Sean Connery) and continuing through the latest Skyfall—which premieres in November—Bond has taken to bed an abundance of women over the last 50 years.

The women may be aesthetically different, and range from femmes fatale to shapely sidekicks, but they share one purpose: to inject sex and danger wherever Agent 007 may lay his head at night. For Bond, their presence is an accessory to the main course, a dessert he knows not to eat but looks too seductive not to take a bite of.

But how hazardous can a bikini-clad woman with a heaving bosom and moderate knowledge of operating a handgun be to a special agent anyway? Apparently, very. Fleming’s Bond girl often sings her siren song, frequently sleeping with 007 to get what she—or her typically male employer—wants. The films represent one of the original pairings of violence and sex, classic masculinity and a media-embraced concept of the overly sexualized female. But even Bond knows stereotypes are dangerous. Never fully trusting a sexual partner, he sleeps with a gun under his pillow, wouldn’t hesitate to take out a woman if she is suspect, and knows that a pair of spread legs can be equally as deadly as a loaded pistol.

Many of the Bond women are scripted as seemingly villainous, but they often have dark pasts—frequently involving sexual violence. In 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever, diamond-robber Tiffany Case reveals she was gang-raped as a teenager, an incident eventually translated to a hatred of men. All men, it seems, except Bond, who ultimately beds her. Ursula Andress’s Honey Ryder, the first of Fleming’s leading ladies to be represented in film via Dr. No, is first seen emerging from the ocean in a white bikini, and when Bond approaches her she says, “Stay where you are!” He responds coyly, “I can assure you my intentions are strictly honorable.” Later it is revealed that she was beaten and raped as a teen, but the knife she once wore around her waist as protection against 007, is soon replaced with his slightly more literal phallic object. Bond’s women, while hurt by men in the past, can’t resist him for more than a few scenes. This truism is most accurately embodied in 1964’s Goldfinger. Honor Blackman plays Pussy Galore, a practicing lesbian, who has sex with Bond. While in bed, he says, “They told me you only liked women.” To which she replies, “I never met a man before.”

But how hazardous can a bikini-clad woman with a heaving bosom and moderate knowledge of operating a handgun be to a special agent anyway?
Video screenshot

Then there’s the character of M. Written as a man by Fleming, the head of the Secret Intelligence Service (aka MI6) has been portrayed by Dame Judi Dench in the most recent adaptations. In her first film, 1995’s GoldenEye, Dench’s M says Bond is a “sexist, misogynist dinosaur, a relic of the Cold War.” M holds her own against Bond, and she’s not easily manipulated by the suave 007. Yet she is cold, callous, and has zero sex appeal. When M is portrayed as a woman, she is the anti-Bond girl—another opposite but equally extreme representation of a woman in Bond’s world.

The classic Bond girls have long been easily molded by special agent 007 and his masculine charms, but in more recent films, has this archetype evolved? There have been some who test the typecast. In GoldenEye, Agent 007 falls for a strangely normal gal, and she’s even smart. Computer programmer Natalya Simonova (Izabella Scorupco ) has beauty and brains, and serves as Bond’s main squeeze for most of the film. She even challenges him, telling him his cold nature will cause him to end up alone in the end. Maybe she’s right, but the same movie also introduces Xenia Onnatop—a bad girl who finds orgasmic pleasure in killing men she takes to bed by crushing their lungs between her strong thighs.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service gave us Diana Rigg as Tracy Draco, a suicidal beauty who met Bond (George Lazenby in his only turn in the role) when he saved her from drowning herself in the sea. Compared with other Bond girls, Teresa clearly was dear to Bond—she even became Mrs. Bond, the only woman to ever wed 007. But even 007’s wife isn’t immune to Bond-girl tendencies, and she was tragically, and perhaps conveniently, killed on the way to their honeymoon.

Tracy’s farewell mirrors the fate of many of the women in Bond’s life. The death of Elektra King in 1999’s The World Is Not Enough showed Bond’s cruelty—he shot the villainous Elektra without hesitation. Moments before she dies, Elektra says, “You wouldn’t kill me, you’d miss me.” Bond retorts, “I never miss.” Agent 007 keeps his enemies close, but his women closer, because he never knows what a beautiful woman might be hiding up her skirt.

A fan favorite, Goldfinger’s Jill Masterson is iconically killed by being suffocated to death when she is coated with gold paint. Bond finds her nearly-naked chromed body lying face down on a bed, seducing him and the audience even as she is turned literally into an object.

In one of the more recent adaptations, 2006’s Casino Royale, Bond confesses his love to Vesper Lynd, a woman traumatized by the loss of a past lover, who seems to be presented, if only for a moment, as Bond’s equal. Although she loves Bond, Lynd reveals herself as a double agent working against him, and later drowns. But even in these later films, which feature female counterparts who could hold their ground in a sequel or the next film, Bond girls are killed off to make way for new Bond girls. At least Bond seems to feel closer to the women, lately. Daniel Craig, the most recent actor to play Bond, recently was accused of appearing “weak” when his character shed a tear over the death of Lynd. “He didn’t sob,” he said of Bond. “There was, like, a tear in his eye. No snot coming out of his nose, you know,” Craig told Vanity Fair in the issue out this month.

Video screenshot

Perhaps the continued barely-bat-an-eyelash treatment of Bond girls 50 years since the first installment is OK and expected, considering they originally appeared in a fiction novel. And in the same way that 007’s futuristic gadgets become antique and rusted over time, or the engine on one of his European cars starts to putter out, Bond’s women ultimately fade. We can’t predict what will befall the Skyfall ladies—Sévérine (a name meaning serious or grave), and Eve, the original femme fatale—but we can only wish them a better fate than that of Jill Masterson, once a Bond lover transformed into a perfect golden trophy.