Saturday, January 20, 2007

Bond Girls Gone Wild

I recently re-watched the movie Deadlier Than the Male, one of the oddest and most entertaining of the many James Bond imitations of the late '60s. Producer Betty Box and director Ralph Thomas had mostly done comedies -- they did all the "Doctor" movies with Dirk Bogarde -- but they had the idea of taking the old-favorite hero Bulldog Drummond and retrofitting him for the James Bond era. Richard Johnson was cast in the part, which was appropriate because director Terence Young had wanted him to play Bond in Dr. No. (I don't know if he would have been all that much better than Connery, and he probably wouldn't have signed on for as many films, but he would have been very good as Bond.) They also cast Elke Sommer and Sylva Koscina, two of the hottest EuroBabes of a cinema decade dominated by EuroBabes who worked in movies on every continent.

The movie isn't all that good; the plot isn't very interesting, the lead character is ill-defined (not surprisingly given that he's an amalgam of the very different characters of Bulldog Drummond and James Bond), Sommer and Koscina don't appear enough in the second half of the movie. And they didn't have enough of a budget for what they were trying to do, hence a lot of drab sets and bad back projection.

But what makes the movie enjoyable, and gives it its special kick, is that it includes something the Bond movies hardly ever did: truly bad-ass, even murderous women. The Bond movies could never really bring themselves to let women do anything really untoward, maybe because they were rooted in Ian Fleming's men-are-men and women-are-women sensibility. Even when they added a beautiful villainous woman like Fiona in Thunderball (a character who doesn't exist in the book), she really doesn't get to do all that much evil and usually lets men do the actual shooting and killing.

Deadlier Than the Male takes it upon itself to do the one thing that the Bond movies wouldn't do, by conflating the standard gorgeous-women and henchmen-assassin characters into one (or, rather, two). Sommer and Koscina spend the first half of the movie bumping off various men in gruesome, sadistic ways, doing all the killing and torturing that a guy would usually do in movies like these. They're like Domino and Oddjob combined.

Here are three examples of why this is movie represents '60s sadism at its best.

1. Sommer and Koscina rise from the sea like Ursula Andress in Dr. No -- and then fire a spear-gun into a man.



2. Sommer uses a drug to paralyze a man and then she and Koscina throw him out of the window to make it look like suicide. "Well, I have had men fall for me before, but never like this."



3. Koscina ties up and tortures Drummond's idiot nephew.



That's the one thing Bond movies needed -- more female villainy. It's fun to see Sommer and Koscina, who easily could have been Bond girls, instead having some actual fun being evil.

2 comments:

Todd Mason said...

Box went on to at least porn comedy in the '70s, which I suspect seemed a natural progression. Thanks for the pointers...

PCUnfunny said...

"That's the one thing Bond movies needed -- more female villainy"

Hell yeah.The best,and only good,female villianess to me was Fiona Volpe in ThunderBall.She had wonderful sexual charisma as well as being deadly efficient when she kills. Later Bond femme fatales were simply awful like the far to over the top Xenia Onatopp in the massively overrated GoldenEye. Elektra King in The World is Not Enough whould have been great but since the movie was made like a video game, and music as well, her character was sorely under developed.