Saturday, 6 February 2016

Underrated Bond: Henchwomen

The female hench woman is an iconic archetype that has influenced everything from Frau Farbissina (Mindy Sterling) in the Austin Powers movies to Sofia Boutella's Gazelle from last year's Kingsman: The Secret Service. Strangely, for such iconic characters, there are not enough of them in the series they are associated with.

The female hench woman falls into two distinct types: the butch and middle aged Rosa Klebb (From Russia With Love), and the more physically appealing femme fatale. Both are based on their inability to be ideologically re-aligned by Bond: either because they are disinterested in him as a sexual partner (the clearly lesbian Rosa Klebb) or they are up for a tumble, but still refuse to be swayed in their allegiance (Fiona Volpe). It's an old fashioned attitude that the series has never really dealt with, or altered.

Anyway, enough ranting. Onto the bad 'uns!

Irma Bunt, On Her Majesty's Secret Service

One of the more successful hench persons in the series, she kills Bond's wife and, thanks to offscreen shenanigans, she is the only one to escape alive.

Taken from the same mould as From Russia With Love's Rosa Klebb, Bunt is not as imposing as her more famous predecessor, but she is is far more ruthless. In a break from the traditional bad guy-henchman dynamic, she has a more genial rapport with Blofeld than Klebb, who is openly terrified of her superior. This bond is an outgrowth of the novels, in which Bunt and Blofeld's relationship extends beyond the purely professional.

Sadly, actress Ilsa Steppat died shortly after the film's release, and with the return of Connery, any possibility of a return engagement between Bond and Bunt was off the table.

Trivia: However, the brief appearance of a stocky German woman at the SPECTRE briefing in Spectre hints that a new Bunt may be in the oven...

Fiona Volpe/Fatima Blush, Thunderball/Never Say Never Again 
The blueprint for the more (in)famous Xenia Onatopp, these ladies deserve a shared entry.

Fiona Volpe (Luciana Paluzzi) is the first femme fatale in the series. The archetype has no antecedent in the books, although the character was present in the treatments for the Bond movie Thunderball was based on.

Beautiful but cold as ice, Volpe is basically a female mirror of Sean Connery's James Bond. She'll can  kill anyone, she can seduce anyone and she can look great doing both.

The first woman to have sex with Bond who does not change her colours to switch allegiances, Fiona is one of the best villains in the series -- one hopes that the return of her employer in last year's Spectre might lead to a return match with 007.

Her spiritual successor Fatima Blush is one of the few shining features of Sean Connery's final, unofficial return to Bondage. Where Fiona is ice cool, Fatima is all fire and passion. Fatima loves killing, snakes and random bursts of dancing. She also enjoys sex, and, in a perverse show of ego, takes pleasure in forcing her partners to admit that she is the best -- before killing them. Her wardrobe is ridiculous, and Barabra Carerra's performance goes to 11, but somehow it fits.

For a character that is so over the top, it is oddly appropriate that her death involves a massive explosion. The cackle she gives as she goes up in flames is the final, camp touch that cements Fatima's place in the canon. While she is technically not a part of the official rogues gallery, Fatima's influence can be felt in the baroque, psycho-sexual characterisations (and wardrobe) of Mayday (A View To A Kill) and Xenia Onatopp (GoldenEye).

For other relevant posts:

Underrated Bond: Women

Underrated Bond: Henchmen

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