That Hamilton Woman. Or Women

The Mrs Jim - she is a definite article - whilst scampering through her diurnal litany of my frailties and whims, put it to me yesterday that the depiction of women in Bond films is “awful”. Assuming this not to mean “full of awe” but instead possessing a vibe of the casually negative, I was - and you’ll be proud of me for daring - immediately seized of the witty riposte “No it’s not, you horrid old ratbag”.

On reflection, I fell right into that trap but, succumbing to such gay repartee, The Mrs Jim parried with “What about that one where he smacks that woman about and threatens to break her arm?”

Unaware of when Mrs Jim may have bravely subjected herself to The Man with the Golden Gun on the sly, the lissome scamp, I did pause and maintained my dignified position i.e. huffed off in a sulk and took it out on next door’s cat (insufficiently wounded).

However (and there is a point to this piffle) it did set me thinking whether the depiction of women in the Guy Hamilton films especially has a rich vein of the really-not-quite-great about it, and perhaps that does sow the popular thought-seed that the Bonds are a bit, well, off.

To whit:

Goldfinger

Woman in nightclub - there to dance about a bit and then get beaten up. Lovely.
Dink - is Dink. Self-defining. Man-talk. Etc.
Jill Masterton - slightly loose, used and abused and then deaded (I accept this is basically from the novel but then the novel is awful)
Moneypenny - yearning and disrespectful of male authority. Fated to stay exactly where she is as a result.
Machine-gun Granny - a violent old maggot. Possibly the most richly nuanced female character thus far, however.
Tilly Masterton - there to be a victim. Not quite as offensive as the novel, admittedly. But still bullied by Bond and generally tormented.
Her on the 'plane, the stewardess - cabin crew. S’about it.
Pussy Galore’s Flying Circus - capable pilots, no doubt - one questions why they have to be dressed so.
Pussy Galore - sexually dominated into changing a broad selection of her ways. Super.

Diamonds are Forever

Marie - strangled and horrifically abused. Little purpose other than to be bikini-bound and then throttled.
Mrs Whistler - greedy patronising racist idiot, although still capable of breathing even when long-drowned, which is a skill-set I s’pose.
Moneypenny - callous hagbag who bangs on about engagement despite events of previous film. Also, ever-so-slightly desperate. (Not unique to the Hamilton films, I accept).
Tiffany Case - all over the place, total mess, but possibly (a generous reading) doing what she needs to do to survive. Quite why this involves becoming a shrieking idiot is unclear.
Plenty O’Toole - a greedy idiot who winds up dead. I suppose that may be a moral warning to us all. Or just more of the same.
Ape woman in circus - an ape woman in a circus.
Bambi & Thumper - powerful women suppressed by having their heads pushed underwater. If you can’t beat 'em, beat 'em.
Blofeld in drag - a bleak pastiche of femininty. Or something. Not touching that one.

Live and Let Die

Miss Caruso - a bit of fluff and nothing more.
Moneypenny - has become slightly matronly by now. Possibly a more positive representation.
Rosie Carver - a simpleton.
Solitaire - Oh Lord, where to begin? Bond does a virgin, she gets slapped about and then needs perpetual rescuing without offering very much for the last half of the film.
Mrs Bell - a foul-mouthed old biddy but up there with Machine-gun Granny as possessing rock-hard character development.

The Man with the Golden Gun

Andrea Anders - a victim, an interesting story in here somewhere but in wholly the wrong film given how pathetic the rest of it is. Abused by everyone. Ev-er-y-one.
Moneypenny - deliberately made to look and sound nasty, one suspects. Circumstantial, I accept, but the track record above isn’t good.
Whassface the belly dancer - a belly dancer.
Mrs Lazar - does not understand Big White Man Saying Words Very Slowly and Loudly. Accordingly, rice-gobbling thicky.
Goodnight - a desperate cretin who does all the wrong things in a charmless manner. Also there to be repeatedly abused although this time “played for laughs”. Christ…
Karate Girls in School Uniforms - there’s something not quite healthy about that, especially the suggestion in Goodnight’s (not entirely enviable) mind that they’re “going along with” Bond. Worrying.
Chew Mee - might as well be called “F***'s Sake”.
Mrs Pepper - shrill, thick and fat. Little to distinguish her from Mr Pepper. Subtext of equality since Man and his Wo-Man are interchangeable here, so that’s possibly progress.

Some of the above is more serious than others but as a body of work, it’s not overwhelmingly positive, is it? Lewis Gilbert’s films each had the women as capable secret service agents, the John Glen ones usually had some redeeming features (fnarr), something that gave them a bit of hope and character etc. I just get the feeling there is a vibe running through the Hamiltons that teeters on… indolent misogyny?

Just feel a little uneasy (always do when having to face up to The Mrs Jim being right about something), although that might be the “cup of tea” she has just presented unto me. Should it smell of almonds?

(I accept that the three later films may equally have Mankiewicz spread all over them as well).

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A useful way to look at women in Bond films (among others) is how much agency/autonomy they have/enact within the narrative. Another way: do they have narrative functions beyond being saved, bedded, tortured, victimized, killed, or serving as some other object of male agency. Do they interact with Bond or react to him? The problem is how do you give female characters equal narrative weight in a film that is dedicated to male exploits? In a sense, all characters in a Bond film are there to be acted upon by Bond.

DAF (being my favorite) is (as you note) all over the place: both Tiffany and Plenty display agency (it is Tiffany’s agency that gets her killed in an instance of mistaken identity), and have it denied them. Bambi and Thumper are allowed to get the better of Bond until the narrative must proceed, and at that point they are neutralized by water immersion. The film cannot make up its mind about what role women are allowed to play in a Bond film. As Robin Wood might say: it is an incoherent text.

As for other instances:

Pussy Galore displays agency until Bond rapes her, and she switches allegiance. All she needed was . . .

Lewis Gilbert made a conscious effort improve the status of women, and Dr. Goodhead is one of the few female characters who never appears in hyper-sexualized outfits.

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Moonraker has some brilliant examples of reductio ad absurdum in the relationship between Holly and Bond

“A woman!”

“Your powers of observation do you credit Mr. Bond”

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No, she doesn’t. But that does not explain the need to put her in a dress which my grandma wouldn’t want to be found dead while wearing it…

Concious effort indeed:

Or maybe…

:stuck_out_tongue_closed_eyes:

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Touché.

I think a great deal of the credit in MR goes to Moore and his performance (though even he can do nothing to socialize the film’s offering Manuela to Bond as some kind of entitled/expected amenity).

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Yes, that kind of bonus that ‘comes with the job’ rang distinctly odd even back in the day. And yet it was accepted mainstream entertainment and wasn’t questioned as such. It was ‘James Bond’…

…a guy they could show with no less but eight women in a more or less physical context on a film poster…

image

…and four in the actual film itself. Accusations of depicting women as furniture, as interchangeable sex dolls instead of characters with a life and a perspective stem from this - even though the film in question here actually features two comparatively strong female roles outside the bathtub*.

Of the above women Jim lists by far the most intriguing for me is Andrea. She is trapped in a kind of sexual slavery by Scaramanga. But is she really a victim?

We sadly don’t learn how she ended up with Scaramanga, but it’s perhaps safe to assume she didn’t just apply for it in her last year of high school. She seems to enjoy certain amenities in Scaramanga’s employ. But apparently luxury doesn’t weigh up everything and she decides to rather change her life - after her employer and lover takes another ride on the Karma carousel.

To pick 007 as her tool of emancipation is both dangerous and ingenious. That the plan doesn’t work out…well, that’s what you would expect as a natural risk when you deal with two characters prudent citizens would rather avoid. She should really have made an effort to be a bit more lucky, shouldn’t she?

Actually Andrea is such an interesting creation that we meet her again not once but twice. Sévérine and Lucia are both reincarnations of Andrea, women whose own agency and will are only hinted at without crediting them. Both are contemporary, modern females. But the first is wasted quickly, though with some impact. And the second is only given a damsel in distress part although that goes against the logic of what we learned before.

By this standard Andrea comes across almost as a winner, in spite of her fate.

*Three if we count Helga Brandt - but she’s not overly cost-effective in the elimination department. Which is why she’s eliminated.

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I usually see critics calling her boring, but I don’t know what they’re talking about. Holly is one of my favourite Bond women. I like her independence and ice queen persona, which makes the thawing all the more rewarding. Bond is a know-it-all, but Holly is a true expert in her field. I believe that a lot more than Denise Richards the nuclear physicist.

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And that is what can be so interesting about the films–gesturing in opposite directions at the same to appeal to as many audiences as possible.

Agreed. I wonder: had Mankiewicz and Hamilton not fallen out, and worked on the script together, if TMWTGG might have become one of the best of all Bonds. Unfortunately, instead of removing the bones of Mankiewicz’s script (which had not been fully developed), Maibaum added more of his own–I guess in the hope that they would dominate, but it didn’t work out that way. Mankiewicz’s ruthless rewriting of Maibaum was a much wiser course of action.

Thank you! I have always thought the same thing.

I love when she runs to Bond at Drax’s jungle hideout. She is genuinely glad to see him–not just another Bond damsel rushing to her rescuer.

She has to disarm the radar jamming device (and doesn’t she also figure out out to get to it?). Bond, however, does manfully pull out some wires and tie people up.

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" manfully pull out some wires " that made me chortle.
Back to the topic, there is a problem with the depiction of women in Hamilton’s Bond films, it’s visible in the frame, most women are window dressing in the Hamilton films, who don’t exist until they are used to move plot forward, this is unlike Terrence Young who clearly sees ConneryBond as the window dressing and the catalyst for action. He is the object of desire in every sense. Take the difference between hotel scenes in Goldfinger and Thunderball for example, Hamilton uses women like clockwork dolls, inanimate until required, the hotel maid, " that’s mister Goldfingers suite" she is literally moved by ConneryBond as an extension of the key.
Contrast with Thunderball as he walks through the hotel all the females react to him from afar, the women are moving, liberated, who are viewing him as a sexdoll/ Adonis figure. This is where the seeds for the poster of YOLT comes from, ConneryBond’s face is one of cheeky resignation to his fate, to be adored as an object.
Gilbert makes a joke of this in the movie with " things I do for England " line.
Hamilton however, cast great actresses in key roles, Pussy Galore’s strength comes from Blackman and Tiffany Case’s guile and intellectual match for Bond comes from Jill St. John.
Gilbert wasn’t as successful at this in my opinion, Dr. Goodhead is a great character but is let down by a one note performance from Chile’s, he’s got the same problem with Bach in TSWLM.

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Let’s be honest: we’re Bond fans because we either were too young to know better or because we already did but did not think it through because… such were the times.

Attractive women needed to be guided by alpha males like Bond. They were bad drivers. They had to resist at first but really needed a man who was just instantly charming and sexually unbeatable. Later on they weren’t called girls anymore but women. They could have real jobs or make fun of man‘s dinausaur antics… but they still liked him for it, right?

Sure, Bond also always was just an artificial construct, nobody really could believe that such a man could exist or be emulated.

Still, the secret desire to at least imagine being like him is in all of us, isn’t it? And how do we reconcile that with our self-images?

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Thanks for this Stbernard. I will have to look more closely the next time I watch a Terence Young Bond film.

Hamilton was definitely not an “actor’s director.” With the right actor in the correct role (and both elements needed to be present), it made little difference. Connery is self-directed in DAF, and does fine (he is sure of his instrument and the role), and your comments about Jill St. John are spot-on.

Moore flounders in LALD since the only thing Hamilton appears to have said to him was “Don’t play Bond the way Sean would have.” I have no idea what led to the improvement in TMWTGG (even though the interpretation proved to be a one-off).

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I think this raises an interesting question: what happens to specific fandoms as a person evolves?

As a teenage and early 20-something cinephile, I loved and admired the films of Sam Peckinpah. My fandom cooled as a) I evolved; and b) I understood the ideology of his works better. They just do not give me the same pleasure that they used to. I experienced this phenomenon with other films and filmmakers, most significantly with Billy Wider, who was my favorite director, on the levels of both content and form.

I do not think I ever wanted to be like James Bond. I did want to emulate many of the characters played by Bette Davis, and imitate the way they took over the narratives of their films and displayed agency. I am not sure if this qualifies as wanting to be like them.

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Bette Davis must be a better role model than James Bond, I‘m sure. Although she could be quite dangerous herself, I understand.

But your point about evolving with age and changing perspectives on personal interest is definitely one I could subscribe to.

As a kid I did think Bond would be a grownup I would like to become. Then again I did evolve. Enough not to aspire to that, at least.

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This is maybe a generation-specific phenomenon, up to a point. We - broadly speaking here - belong to a generation where our parents for the most part subscribed to a worldview which didn’t question the content of its entertainment as such. Think of the Wayne/O’Hara spanking scene that was broadcast entirely without reservations in our day to get an idea about the altered context and sensibilities.

In our lifetime we’ve seen plenty of change on that front and we’ve naturally also developed a certain distance - sometimes an ironic distance - to our own childhood and its heroes.

But…

Fans from the GOLDENEYE generation, or even fans of the CASINO ROYALE generation bring a significantly different perspective and the idea of a ‘role model’ itself may hold only a vague and limited meaning for kids who grew up with a 24/7 media presence. While we were still told we couldn’t fly just because we wore a towel as cape…

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When I was 10 and saw SUPERMAN I wanted my mom to style my hair the Kryptonian way, with a lock hanging onto my forehead. It looked as fantastic as one can imagine.

How’s that for an embarrassing disclosure?

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Not as embarrassing as me deciding, when I was 17, that my Debs ( prom) would be enhanced by adopting a 007 attire. Not the tuxedo as everyone was hiring those , no I went with the naval officers uniform. 6 months of searching for the right “look”.
In Dublin dancing to 90s rave music in a British naval officer hodgepodge of a uniform. With an actual girlfriend ( this was actually a miracle ) and she dressed as a kind of Fiona / Fatima / Lupe hybrid. Her Mum was so embarrassed for us, she took no photos of the event …mine did and enjoys embarrassing me with them at Christmas.

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Okay, you win. :wink:

Hahahaa there are no winners. Did you have Superman pyjamas though? They were a classic.

I didn´t. I don´t know, why. I remember wishing for pillow cases and blankets with the Superman logo - but they did not materialize under any Christmas tree either.

Full confession: I never had Bond pajamas either. But I did own a tuxedo once. And when I wore that… I was in that phase in which I actually did not care for Bond so much because I thought it was a thing of the/my past. Shock!

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Positively shocking indeed… Never had 007 pyjamas but definitely had Superman ones, I think dragging a train with a metal chain. Simple times.

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