Home > Movies > Do Misogynist Dinosaurs Dream of Pussys Galore?

Do Misogynist Dinosaurs Dream of Pussys Galore?

In a famous moment from Pierce Brosnan’s terrific Bond debut, Goldeneye, Judie Dench’s “M” chastises Bond for being a misogynist dinosaur1 This is supposed to be a witty, meta-textual moment summing up attitudes within the Bond franchise to date , affirming that it has had its issues with female empowerment in the past and that it has moved on from them. Yet personally I’m struggling to ascertain exactly just what it is about Bond that M is actually referring to here. Is it Connery’s smooth, casual, sexual charm, broken by occasional flashes of misogynist violence, Roger Moore’s humorous nudge-nudge wink-wink approach that so often sees women as beautiful and stupid playthings, or some other trait exuded by either Dalton or Lazenby during their short stints as the character?

James Bond wearing a pink shirt? Clearly a modern man.

Responses to the James Bond franchise these days seem very mixed. I’ve been watching my way through the entire Bond canon and I’m willing to confess that I’ve found it an enjoyable experience and that there’s not a Bond movie that I didn’t take at least something positive away from. Yet my enthusiasm for the franchise has been met mostly with bewilderment from others, both male and female, who tend to view Bond in the same light as M. I’ve had a number of conversations with both genders who feel that the concept of Bond is horrificially outdated. Inevitably a franchise spanning 50 years and 22 movies is briefly summed up with the comment that Bond is “a tired, misogynist, alpha male fantasy and that the movies are clichéd, obvious and overstuffed with gadgets and action sequences”. Women, in particular don’t generally like James Bond. At least, they didn’t until Daniel Craig emerged from the sea in a moment that is regarded as “for the ladies” and a piece of all too rare reverse objectification. Craig’s physique is something that a lot of women apparently find pretty hot. I can’t say that I don’t appreciate the eye candy either.

Whilst there’s some truth in it, I find that reaction quite reductive and frustrating. As it happens, Goldfinger has become one of my all time favourite movies. True, it isn’t a powerhouse in terms of intellectual content, but I’ve seen very few films that exude such warmth, charm and flair for the exciting and the fantastic. Beautifully paced, beautifully acted ( Connery’s performance is now rightfully iconic) and vividly directed, it’s one of Hollywood’s post golden era triumphs and a rare moment where commercialism and quality aren’t battling for supremacy.

I’m not convinced that it’s even possible to summarise Bond’s persona from actor to actor, since his attitudes shift radically from film to film (and book to book, Fleming wasn’t the most consistent character writer) and yet popular opinion has enshrined the idea that Bond is of a certain “type” and that it demands a certain “type” of actor to play him – that is until Daniel Craig’s so called revisionist Bond came along

Interestingly, when Goldeneye was released general public opinion seemed to be that Brosnan was very “Bond-like”. I think that what “Bondlike” actually meant in this context is what the general public actually wants or believes that Bond ought to be at that point in time. It’s kind of strange – or ironic – that Goldeneye, in any regard other than M’s little rant, is not a very feminist movie. Brosnan’s descent into madness and cliché (Die Another Day is generally regarded as the worst in the series and I think that’s a fair assessment of the movie) led to the introduction of what was supposed to be a very different Bond for the 21st century. Daniel Craig’s popular outing,Casino Royale has been hailed by fans and critics as revisionist-feminist2 and more in tune with the times than Brosnan’s. I find these argument very weak.  Whilst technically any reworking of a character could be called revisionist, it’s hard for me to see, aside from the emphasis on brutishness over suavity how Casino Royale is any more so than Brosnan’s, Dalton’s Moore’s or Lazenby’s, since this kind of territory is explored better throughout the series anyway.  But it’s with regards to the feminist revisionism I’d like to explore the movie further.  There’s a sleight of hand going on, on behalf of masculinity with regard to Bond’s character in Casino Royale since a) movies like Goldfinger and their sexual politics have been lost from the critical equation in favour of pointing the finger at entries that really are quite outrageously misogynist. b) the idea of revision and “updating Bond for the 21st century) is blinding commentators to the fact that Casino Royale is far more politically backwards for a movie made in 2005 than Goldfinger was for a film made in 1963.

It’s a strikingly similar sleight of hand to the one that Goldeneye made 10 years previously and I think that it’s an important one to note, since Bond is one of our most prominent cultural media icons and the continuing refusal to genuinely update the sexual politics of the action thriller show a genuine antipathy to the idea of revision in favour of continuing older notions of traditional masculinity (see: my Mr & Mrs Smith review). In Casino Royale, like M before her Vesper Lynd easily succeeds in taking Bond down a peg or two verbally in a scene oft-cited as showing her to be Bond’s equal. Now, I’m very – particularly – behind the portrayal of women in movies as smart, intelligent and able to hold their own in conversation, but context is everything and Casino Royale, whichever way you spin it, is not The Three Colours trilogy and it’s not a studied, layered, nuanced dissection of existentialism in modern society. It’s an action movie and it’s destined to play out on genre terms via the rules of action movies, which include notions of audience expectation. The aforementioned expectation is that there’s a hero (or if we’re getting really revisionist, the dissection of the notion of the hero) who kicks ass, performs stunts and saves the day. In Casino Royale, as in every James Bond movie before it, that hero is James Bond; it’s not Vesper Lynd, Vesper Lynd in this movie is shunted into a support role, a role filled by every Bond girl in every Bond movie and in the world of James Bond (and ultimately the eyes of the audience), whilst intelligence is a great trait to have, even better traits to have are bravado, cunning, charm, guts and skill as well as intelligence. So, whilst Vesper does rip into Bond on the train, Bond more than has the last ideological laugh since he still demonstrates the full range of manly qualities necessary to succeed in a man’s world. The primary example of this comes during the extended scene in the middle of the card game during which Vesper demonstrates all of the qualities that a male audience would expect a woman to demonstrate when encountering the harsh brutality of a man’s world. During one fight scene, Vesper stands by and panics, useless to influence the combat that happens in the masculine domain. During the following scene she breaks down in the shower and cries. Naturally, this is the point that the audience knows that Bond has come to love Vesper, since she’s now demonstrating that there’s more to her than sharp intellect, there’s the errrrrr genuine feminine emotions of caring and sensitivity. On some levels we see her as a better person than Bond for exhibiting these, but this still demonstrates that there’s a massive gap between onscreen representations of men and women.

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I’d like to go on to look at another three Bond movies in particular – Goldfinger, The Spy Who Loved Me and Tomorrow Never Dies – alongside Casino Royale to both support the idea that there is no one standard portrayal of Bond, or of women in Bond and to suggest that the series overall has been capable of showing both progressive and negative attitudes towards both the masculine and the feminine and to suggest that Casino Royale is one of the weaker entries into the series in that regard, given the post-feminist era in which it was

It’s an old joke now, but Goldfinger really ought to have been called Goldmember. In that regard at least Mike Myers parody of Bond’s sexuality was spot on. When I read Fleming’s original novel – deeply entertaining though it is – I was staggered that even Fleming had managed to outdo his previous misogyny (namely, the most loving extended description of the female form I’ve ever read as Bond meets Honey Ryder in Dr.No) and finds a way to further objectify and belittle women by making Pussy Galore a man hating lesbian who eventually succumbs to Bond’s virile, manly charms. It’s much to the film-maker’s credit that the central ideas of the novel have been retained but the details greatly toned down to the extent that Pussy Galore almost becomes something of a powerful female figure.

Honor Blackman’s image in the film shows a lot of strength, particularly next to those famous images of Ursuala Andress from Dr No, and whilst I’d ultimately going to argue that the movie succeeds if read in feminist terms, since  the movie sees Pussy subjected to a certain kind of patriarchal conformity, She is given some credit as a human being and her representation as a woman is decidedly more powerful than those that proceeded – and those that followed it, not just in Bond but Hollywood cinema as a whole – for many years to come. She’s a woman in charge of her fate and she makes a bold choice to live by a patriarchal code which ultimately gives her more freedom than the one before it.

In Golfinger ideas relating to masculinity are much more focused and worked through compared to other Bond films. From Russia With Love sees Bond’s virility put to the test as the beauty of a girl is literally Spectre’s bait for a trap to embarrass both Bond and the British Government (notably in Fleming’s novel Bond loses. He falls for the bait and is effectivey killed by the Russians. It’s not until the follow-up Dr.No that we discover that he’s given an antidote for the poison that killed him just in time. In the movie, instead, he escapes by exerting his masculine prowess and surviving am exhilerating chase scene). Bond’s sexuality, his prowess in that film is something he both needs to exert and control in order to succeed. Goldfinger takes a similar idea and plays it out in terms of a battle of the penises. Rather than being bait this time around it’s Bond who sets the traps for his bait and he is able to do so because his bait embodies a certain style of masculinity that the ideology of the movie wants to portray as the loser.

Bond villian’s are traditionally thought of as maniacal and crazy. The over-riding image, oft-lampooned in popular culture in movies like Austin Powers, is that of Blofeld stroking his cat in a mad underground lair filled with his mindless henchman and dropping superbombs on people. Goldfinger is the most notable of Bond villains because he’s a very human figure, larger than life but credible, with a real personality and real human faults, and it’s those faults that enable Bond to continually needle his enemy and ultimately to defeat him. Goldfinger the man represents power, wealth (hence the Gold obsession, of course) and influence. He’s an old school male who you could say represents the last of an old-boys network. The women who work for him do so because he’s rich and he can pay them and not through any respect for either his person, intellect or charms. Bond, on the other hand, whilst appreciative of similar things, shuns the idea of that brand of patriarchal authority for something you could describe as libertinism. He’s a charmer, a Don Giovanni, and as such he’s more than a little dangerous to the old world order. He secures his success – including the string of women – through his charm, magnetism and sexuality. The opening pre-credits sequence in Goldfinger neatly alludes to Casablanca and Bogart so the viewer can be very clear as to exactly what kind of man we’re dealing with.

The old guard are fraudulent cheats. In the wonderful opening encounter between Bond and his nemesis, Goldfinger plays a friend at cards and wins obsessively by cheating purely because he can. This is Goldfinger’s form of entertainment and his main source of self-satisfaction Bond’s own code of ethics will not allow this to happen, so rather than fulfilling his mission to simply gather information on Goldfinger, he thwarts Goldfinger’s game and seduces his paid informant, Jill Masterson, sending Goldfinger a strong message that his codes will be triumphant. M passionate representatives of traditional Patriarchal power structures and similarly a member of the old guard criticises Bond for this headstrong attitude particularly as Bond’s actions result in a bitter personal blow for Bond and an embarrassing situation for the government; Goldfinger’s famous revenge of killing Jill by painting her in Gold. From Goldfinger’s point of view, What greater signal could there be that wealth will win out over sex?

The personal duel between the two figures continues over a game of Golf, during which Goldfinger attempts to cheat again. It’s doubly important to him that he wins against Bond on his terms – by cheating – because Bond has now become a threat; he’s not yet a threat to his overall plan – revealed later in the movie – to blow up the gold in Fort Knox, but he’s a threat to his own sense of masculinity and the power it has over others. Bond triumphs again but he’s still too flippant in his dealings with Goldfinger, not correctly understanding the nature of the power structures that surround him or the consequences of his actions. His over-exuberance in flaunting his own virile masculinity leads directly to the death of both Jill and then her sister Tilly Masterson (seeking revenge for her sister she’s killed by OddJob’s flying bowler, a strange, curiously subversive symbol for the old world order since it’s on the head of a besuited muscular Korean) and his overconfidence in his gadgets leads to his capture and threatened emasculation by Goldfinger, the movie’s centrepiece car chase scene not for once leading to Bond’s escape. The following picture comes from the scene that really sums up this central theme and appeal of the movie for me. There’s no worse death for Bond than a castrative one and Goldfinger is fully aware of this. In this scene, clearly the penis is everything, both for Goldfinger and for Bond.

Bond is essentially emasculated for much of the second half of the movie. He’s imprisoned, by Goldfinger and made to dance to his tune as he’s escorted around the world by Pussy Galore and subsequently placed in a cell. With no women to seduce, no way to exert that virility Bond now seems like easy prey for Goldfinger who confidently proceeds with his masterplan to infiltrate Fort Knox (NB he uses that penis laser to get in), killing the guards with nerve gas sprayed from Pussy Galore’s aeroplanes. Similarly it’s complacency and a lack of understanding of the power politics surrounding him that become Goldfinger’s downfall. Seeking to trick Bond’s allies into believing that Bond is safe and doing his job, he orders Pussy dress a little more seductively and parade around openly with Bond so that they think he’s in his element. What Goldfinger fails to observe is that he is in his element. In a previous conversation with Goldfinger Pussy claims that she doesn’t mix business with pleasure. Unfortunately for him Bond’s pleasure quickly means more to her than Goldfinger’s business. After a famous scene of two and fro fighting/flirtation, Pussy’s strength and virility is tamed by Bond and she melts in his arms. On the surface this scene can look outrageously misogynistic but as part of the wider context of the film it’s not as bad as it seems. As a woman in an era of female subjugation Pussy ultimately has the choice to be part of Goldfinger’s old-guard power-order or to abandon it and follow Bond’s carefree libertinism, she chooses the latter and betrays Goldfinger. Granted, by today’s standards it doesn’t look like independence, but Pussy making that decision is still highly significant.

Connery’s Bond is a male fantasy through and through. The bottom line is that he’s attractive to women because he’s amazing, clever, sophisticated, charming and he knows how to turn them on seemingly by just looking at them. Even the ones like Pussy who boldy state that “your charm won’t work on me!” Traditionally men have always wanted this. Men still do want this. Is Connery’s Bond a misogynist dinosaur, though? No, I’d argue that in many respects -for its time – Goldfinger is seeking to present quite progressive ideals of men and women who place sex above money, and genuine ability/talent above oppressive power structures buoyed up by money and social networks. Neither Pussy Galore or the Mastersons are stunning role models by any feminist standards but neither is Pussy Galore the typical image of the sultry supermodel Bond girl that the producers have since tried to make part of and market as Bond iconography. Goldfinger is a product of the pulp era and possibly it’s last – and one of its greatest – gasps and needs to be understood and judged on those terms. Roger Moore’s Bond outings, whilst attempting to retain some of the Bond themes, essentially lost touch with those pulp routes and they offer a remarkably different take on the character and on the power play between men and women which I’ll go on to explore in my next Bond update…

1 I think you’re a sexist, misogynist dinosaur. A relic of the Cold War, whose boyish charms, though wasted on me, obviously appealed to that young woman I sent out to evaluate you

2 A good example of how writers see Vesper Lynd as feminist can be seen in this short blog post.
http://lillianlemoning.wordpress.com/2011/03/08/subversion-in-the-mainstream-and-james-bond-in-a-dress/

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  1. May 1, 2011 at 3:28 am

    Wow. That was a great deconstruction of both Casino Royale and Goldfinger. This sentence in particular — “It’s an action movie and it’s destined to play out on genre terms via the rules of action movies, which include notions of audience expectation.” — is unassailable. Casino Royale’s perspective is like saying, “Hey, you’re pretty smart… for a woman.” If the film were a psychodrama about rival chess masters, and one of them was female, then intellectual and verbal dexterity would be impressive. But it’s not, and the fact that Bond does all the pulverizing while Vesper is alternately made to stand by helplessly or actively made into a damsel-in-distress… well, there you go.

    Re: Goldfinger — I never before thought of it as a psychological thriller, but all your points about the character dynamics are absolutely spot-on. It occurs to me, too, that in later films, Bond rarely actually spars with the villains. There’s usually a meet-n-greet scene, then a later dinner scene (where the villain explains his elaborate, implausible plan for world domination), and then the final punch-up. Most of the Bond villains are just that: stock archetypes whose purpose in existing is to be a plot contrivance that demonstrates the hero’s awesomeness. Goldfinger, though, is an authentic nemesis, a foil. I never considered that before, but now that you’ve pointed it out, it makes so much sense. Looking forward to your follow-ups.

  1. May 3, 2011 at 2:26 am

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