By Oliver Lyttelton | www.oliverlyttelton.com November 9, 2012 at 12:37PM
We've been looking all week at the various aspects of the James Bond films, picking out the best villains and best action scenes. We've also named the worst films in the franchise, along with the best. But there's one essential ingredient of the series that we haven't yet touched on that couldn't really be ignored -- the Bond girls.
Even when franchise staples like gadgets and the theme songs weren't always in place, Bond's love interests -- both friendly and villainous -- have been an essential part of the recipe, with the ladies of the 007 series blessedly evolving over time from damsels-in-distress who crumble at Bond's feet to independent, ass-kicking heroines in their own right (though "Skyfall" marks something of a backwards step in some respects). So with that in mind, we're closing off Bond Week at The Playlist by picking out our five favorite Bond girls. Did we miss your favorite? Argue your case in the comments section below.
The very first Bond flick also provides, as you might imagine, the very first Bond girl, who remains (with the possible exception of Jill Masterson in "Goldfinger," who's in and out of the film in about ten minutes) by some distance the most iconic, even 50 years on. Most of the first half of "Dr. No" is an estrogen-free zone, with only the first appearance of Lois Maxwell's Miss Moneypenny, and a mysterious photographer working for the titular villain keeping up the side of the fairer sex. But things change once Bond reaches the bad guy's private island of Crab Key, and Swiss actress Ursula Andress makes one of cinema's most unforgettable entrances, clad only in a white bikini, and singing Bond theme composer Monty Norman's "Underneath The Mango Tree" while collecting sea shells (the scene was paid homage to, gender reversed, in Daniel Craig's "Casino Royale," albeit without the shells and the singing). Julie Christie had originally been considered for the part, but a photo taken by Andress' husband John Derek won producers over, and the relatively unexperienced actress got the gig. Andress was ultimately dubbed over, but even so, she makes quite the impression as Bond's assistant for the second half. By modern standards, it's an underwritten role, but no list of Bond girls could ever be complete without Andress in that bikini on the Caribbean beach.
Over 50 years and 23 films, no Bond girl has the lasting impact as Contessa Tracy Di Vincenzo, or as she became known, somewhat briefly, Mrs. Tracy Bond. As we've said, "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" isn't just notable for being an excellent Bond, but for the way that it places a central romance at its core more than almost any other 007 film. Lazenby's Bond meets her in unusual circumstances, saving her from attempted suicide. As it turns out, she's the daughter of crime boss Marc-Ange Draco, who offers Bond a million pounds to marry his troubled daughter. It's a curious set-up that almost feels like a marriage plot comedy, but as time goes on, there's genuine feeling that develops between the pair (although not enough to stop Bond from seducing someone else, in a rather sour and misjudged note), and by the time that 007 proposes to her, it feels surprisingly earned. It helps that we've got one of the best actresses ever to play a Bond girl. Brigitte Bardot had been considered for the part, but one suspects that it really wouldn't have worked without Diana Rigg, who like previous Bond girl Honor Blackman, came to the attention of producers through rival spy TV series "The Avengers." Rigg is undeniably beautiful, but she's also a fantastic actress (having trained at top drama school RADA, and spent five years with the Royal Shakespeare Company prior to playing Emma Peel) and, aided by a script with unexpected depth, makes Diana into one of the relatively few three-dimensional female leads in the early years of the franchise. Interestingly, she was originally meant to survive the film, with her murder at Blofeld's hands intended to be kept back for the pre-credits of the next film. But after discovering that George Lazenby had no intention of returning, the filmmakers were forced to move her death to the end of the film. The result is the most powerful conclusion in Bond history.