[Editor's note: There are spoilers aplenty in this, up to and including Casino Royale. But not Quantum Of Solace.]
Say you're a beautiful woman. This will be easier for some than for others–me, I'm stuck as the lady gremlin from Gremlins 2: New Batch—but let's start with the premise. And then, say you're somewhat morally ambiguous, sexually adventurous, and have the misfortune of being employed by one of the world's "aggressive problem solvers" on a series of vaguely legal but ethically suspect exploits. Still with me? Suddenly, a handsome man enters your life. He's dashing, debonair, aggressive, and very handy. After a quick bedroom romp, he starts nosing around your employer's business. It's very important, he tells you. No one needs to know.
See, this would be the point where you'd shoot him. Right in the head, preferably. Because charming as the sonofabitch may be, he's about to get you killed. And unlike you, it's not going to be pretty.
It's no secret that the Bond franchise has a formula. There are the exotic locales, the gadgets, the super villains, the action set-pieces; and of course, there are the women. As each new entry struggles to make itself relevant in the face of Jason Bourne, it's those damn Bond girls that cause the most trouble. We can make 007 grittier, we can jack up the fist fights and car chases, but how do we deal with all those vapid sexual conquests? Diana Rigg was a delight, but you can't bring Honey Ryder or Pussy Galore into the modern world without raising a few eyebrows.
The solution we got in Casino Royale, to give us a female lead every bit as clever as our hero, nearly worked. Even in the screenplay's worst moments, Eva Green was more like a human being than a pin-up, and not since On Her Majesty's Secret Service has a death in the series had quite that much sting. The only problem is, Casino had two dead women by the end credits. And as dramatically sound as Vesper's exit may have been, the first corpse–a throwaway who exists largely so Judi Dench can purse her lips and act disapproving–shows that the new Bond isn't that far removed from the old one as we'd like to believe.
Like I said, it's all about formula; if you've seen enough of these movies, you've realized there's a certain type of Bond girl who dies a lot. Generally it's in the first half of the story, before the "real" love interest arrives; sometimes Miss Expendable is with the bad guys, sometimes she's just an innocent bystander; but they all share one important trait: they aren't really there at all. It's slasher movie logic–these are characters that exist to fuck, get fucked, and die, often in surprisingly unsettling ways. Let's raise a glass to them, shall we? Here's to the Ladies Who Lose.
Note: Unsurprisingly, there are spoilers ahead for nearly every film in the series. Go at your own risk.
The Connery Years
Until Daniel Craig arrived, Sean Connery was the most thuggish of Bonds–and even with Craig running through walls, Connery still has a nasty edge. It's not that he can't pull off a tuxedo; more that a certain contempt seems to be lurk behind even his most straightforward dialogue. It gives him the aloof coolness that became a hallmark of the role, but it also turned his every romantic relationship into a game of manipulation and distance. Even those women he seemed to have some actual passion for never earned his respect.
So it's not surprising that he racked up a bit of a body count. It's not till Connery's third movie as 007 that the pattern begins; Goldfinger's most iconic image is also the first dead Bond girl, slathered in suffocating paint. Shirley Eaton has the bad luck of simply being in the way. Bond uses her to embarrass Gert Frobe; he has sex with her; and then she's turned into poster art. Her death is the most interesting thing about her, and sadly enough, that runs in the family–when her sister Tania Mallet tries to avenge Eaton's murder, Bond manages to foil the plan, and then Mallet gets a broken neck, courtesy of Oddjob and his magical hat. Structurally, both deaths serve to prove a threat, but there's something absurd about having them in such close proximity.
Thunderball raises an important issue: do we count the evil Bond girl deaths? Because here's the first one of those—Luciana Paluzzi, a SPECTRE agent who sleeps with James and then does him the service of catching a bullet in the back. We also get the death of a friendly British agent, Martine Beswick, but seeing as how there's no pre-mortis-coitus, it's not nearly as off-putting. You Only Live Twice gets us back on track, with the death of Akiko Wakabayashi, a Japanese agent. There's sex, and then a ninja assassin hits poor Akiko with poison meant for Bond. We also get another evil girl, Karin Dor, who fails on her mission and gets thrown into a piranha tank by Donald Pleasance.
In Diamonds Are Forever, Lana Wood, (how often do you have an actress whose real name sounds like a Bond girl's?) is drowned by the bad guys after almost but not quite sleeping with 007. Connery's last go-round as Bond, the off-company, Never Say Never Again, is simply a remake of Thunderball: so again we have an evil female agent, this time played by Barbara Carrera, as well as an expandable co-worker, played by Saskia Cohen Tanugi. Tanugi and Bond actually do hook up, which may be why her death so dramatic: drowned in a water bed by Carrera. But hey, Carrera gets hers–Bond shoots her with an exploding pen, soon after she demands he write down she was the best lay he ever had. Seriously.
Body Count (including Evil Bond Girls): 9
In A Lazenby Minute
On Her Majesty's Secret Service was George Lazenby's only time out as the super spy. It's an odd duck of a movie, the earliest in the series to make a real attempt to buck convention, and it has only one dead woman: Diana Rigg. I don't think we can include her in the count; the whole point here is disposable characters, and since Rigg's death comes at the end of the film–and is one of the film's best moments–it doesn't fit. Hell, Bond even married her, for god's sake.
The Moore Epoch
At seven films, Roger Moore holds the record for the longest-running Bond, beating Connery out by just one outing. (Unfortunately, that outing was A View To A Kill, so nobody actually wins.) Where Connery had his brute charisma, and Lazenby had his, um, chin, Moore was all about the British charm; he brings the same detachment to the role that Connery did, but with a cultivated amiability. It's like watching your slightly soused uncle hit on a fifteen year-old–you think he's joking, but you can't ever be sure how deep the joke goes.
Live and Let Die, Moore's first time in role, gives us only two Bond girls. While Jane Seymour gets tricked into losing her virginity, she's too innocent to die; so instead, meet Gloria Hendry, a seemingly inept CIA agent working for the film's main villain. She and Bond screw–twice–and then she gets shot by a scarecrow after Bond discovers her duplicity. (He's a gentleman, so he makes sure they have sex before he points a gun at her.) The Man With A Golden Gun gives us the promise of Dracula as a Bond villain and Herve Villechaize, but patently fails to deliver much else. We do get the first "good girl" death for Moore here, with Christopher Lee's mistress, Maud Adams, first sleeping with Bond, and then getting killed.
The Spy Who Loved Me, one of the better Moore films, gives us a terrific theme song, Richard Kiel as Jaws, a bitchin' underwater sea-base, and the lovely Caroline Munro. Munro is the rare example of a villainness who gets out of the movie with her dignity intact; sure, she dies in a helicopter explosion, but apart from a few mild flirtations, there's no real contact between her and Bond.
Ahh, but now that our standards have been raised, it's time to crush them with Moonraker. Only one Bond girl death here, but it's a nasty one: Corinne Cleary, the helicopter pilot who brings Bond to the main villain's estate. Bond does his usual screw-and-steal routine, and after he's left the compound, Corinne is brought out to the woods to be torn apart by trained attack dogs. The scene is shot like something out of a giallo thriller; Cleary running through the trees, soft light everywhere, the dogs howling. Like everything else in Moonraker, it doesn't make a good deal of sense.
Things plateau before their final descent into stupidity. For Your Eyes Only has Cassandra Harris getting run over by a beach buggy. Octopussy doesn't have any deaths, just an increasingly age-inappropriate lead and the stupidest title in the whole franchise. And in A View To A Kill, we come to the end of Moore's run; he goes out in the noblest way possible by bedding Tanya Roberts and Grace Jones, among others. Jones gets killed, but in a rarity for the series, her death is actually her own choice–she sacrifices herself to get revenge on Christopher Walken. We've all been there, really.
Body Count: 6
The Dalton Days
Timothy Dalton is a very nice man. No Bond girls die on this watch.
The Brosnan Years
GoldenEye, Pierce Brosnan's debut, came six years after License To Kill, and there was a lot of talk about "rebooting" and making the franchise "relevant" again. Oddly enough, Brosnan seems more of a throwback to the Moore years than Dalton ever did; there's the same charm, the same detachment. But as an actor, Brosnan is much more interesting when he's self-mocking, and the Bond role never really gave him much room to play. Without the open cynicism of Tailor Of Panama or the self-loathing of The Matador, he's rather bland, a used car salesman more interested in getting laid than selling anything.
But at least we get some good old-fashioned murder back in the series, eh? GoldenEye has Famke Jassen doing her best Boris-and-Natasha accent while she breaks men's necks with her thighs. (What a way to, etc, etc.) Bond kills her with a tree, a helicopter, and a vapid quip. In Tomorrow Never Dies, we returns to the classics, with Teri Hatcher as the lead villain's mistress; she and Bond have a History, so there's some emotional clumsiness, guilty sex, and then she's murdered to make way for Michelle Yeoh. The World Is Not Enough presents us with a horrible world in which we are forced to choose between an evil Sophie Marceau and a dull-as-dishwater Denise Richards. Bond chooses poorly; exit Marceau. And in Die Another Day, we get one of the franchise's lowest moments when Madonna has a cameo. She doesn't die–nor does Halle Berry–but a blonde turncoat, Rosamund Pike, sleeps with Bond, betrays him to the bad guy, and gets killed by Halle Berry.
Body Count: 4
The Craig Conundrum
The current series run is still in the early stages, but Casino Royale does seem to be keeping the dream alive. Daniel Craig is the probably the most interesting Bond we've had in ages; there's the thug element we lost when we lost Connery, but Craig never seems as comfortable a sophisticate as Connery did. For once, we have a Bond who's apparently emotionally available. It's a soppy thing to say when there are car chases and fucking to get to, but it certainly makes for a different kind of movie.
Ultimately, though, Bond is only as good as the films let him be. Casino has a lot of good points, but it also suffered from heavy-handed dialogue and a bit of bloat; worse, it's caught between trying to break new ground while not losing the Bond branding that gives the series its box office pull. For all its willingness to shed old clichés–no Q gadgets, no super-villain headquarters–it still can't escape the past. Eva Green drowns, but that makes sense; it's a satisfactory conclusion to her story arc. But what about Caterina Murino? She makes out with Bond for a bit, tells him where her husband has gone, and is tortured and murdered for her troubles. At least Shirley Eaton went out with some pizzazz.
The moral is, Bond may be good for the world, but he's no damn good for anyone else. So keep a careful eye on the opening credits, ladies; if you're not in the top four billing, you should probably be looking for the first boat to someone else's movie.
Total Body Count: 21…?