Friday, October 15, 2010

Bond Bios: Miss Moneypenny

These are really hard to do. I suppose in the back of my mind when I started writing these Bond biographies, I knew I'd have to talk about Miss Moneypenny at one point, but I guess I figured that would be as easy for me to write as my thoughts on Felix Leiter and Q. But she's a tough one. I'm really going to try to do my usual thing where I go down the complete list talking about the most minute details and minutia about every actress who ever played Moneypenny in a Bond film, offering the occasional interesting tidbit that we all know isn't actually interesting. But it's going to be tough because, frankly, there is only one Miss Moneypenny actress worth mentioning in any great detail. Even more so than the people who replaced the other characters, all of the new actresses were only trying to fill her high heeled -- but sensible -- shoes.

Lois Maxwell

Maxwell portrayed the character from Dr. No in 1963 all the way up to A View to a Kill in 1985. She appeared in 14 Bond films, which makes her total second only to Desmond Llewelyn's 17 appearances, but she has the longest consecutive streak, since those 14 films were complete starting with the first film. Desmond Llewelyn's and Bernard Lee's longest consecutive streaks were both eleven films, although not the same ones. She is also notable for having the longest run of any of the actors who appeared in Dr. No, the first official Bond film. Maxwell sparred wits with, and watched the hat toss of, three different Bonds.

So historically speaking, she was important to the Bond films, but that's only the half of it. She was even more important because she was an impeccable actress, a charming presence on screen, and an absolutely stunning woman. It was her performance and conviction that grounded the character of James Bond. Somehow, because she loved him, we knew that he was a good man, even when he was killing people and bedding woman after woman after woman, some of whom he then killed. Moneypenny always loved him and saw the good in him, so we did too. Moneypenny was more than just a surrogate for the audience -- letting us swoon over him the way we would've had we been in her shoes -- but she was also the heart and soul of the entire series.

Or, at least, the Moneypenny played by Lois Maxwell was. All of the other actresses, as lovely and talented as they were, just played M's secretary. But Maxwell made the character much more than that, which is especially impressive considering how her combined screen time for all of those 14 films added up to only about twenty minutes. But those were memorable minutes.

Caroline Bliss

Bliss appeared in The Living Daylights and License to Kill, making her Timothy Dalton's Miss Moneypenny exclusively. She was also the only Blond Moneypenny to appear in an official EON produced Bond film. And... she was ok. She wasn't quite as striking or charming as Lois Maxwell, but who is? She did a fairly good job and she was very cute. I liked her, and she acquitted herself well to the role, especially in License to Kill where she is allowed to be a little emotional for a scene or two.

She didn't exactly light up the film industry with her appearance in these two films, but then again, neither did Dalton. But I loved both of these movies so I have affection for this actress as well. She was fine.

Samantha Bond

Yeah, that's actually the actresses name. I wonder if that gave her a leg up in the auditioning process. Anyway, Samantha Bond was Pierce Brosnan's Miss Moneypenny, appearing with him in all four of his films, making her the second longest-running Moneypenny after Lois Maxwell.

This brings us to an interesting tidbit that I just realized: Lois Maxwell was the only actress to portray Miss Moneypenny opposite more than one James Bond.

But we were talking about Samantha Bond, whose performance as Moneypenny never really won me over. I'm not sure why, but I found her performance to be slightly abrasive, but maybe that's because by 1995, they wanted to give the character a certain amount of depth beyond just being there to swoon over James Bond. Maxwell was able to give the character that kind of depth with her nuanced performances, but Samantha Bond just came on a little too strong. Also, as lovely as she is, I was never all that attracted to her. Above all else, Miss Moneypenny has to be beautiful. I am glad that they returned Miss Moneypenny to her rightful role as a redhead, however. That is also important.

After that, there was no more Moneypenny. For whatever reason, they decided to get rid of the character for the Daniel Craig films. Maybe they decided the character was too much of a stereotype, maybe felt she wasn't a good fit with the new female Bond, or maybe they just felt her scenes with Bond added too much levity for the darker version Craig portrayed. Either way, she will be missed, and I hope she comes back soon, along with Q... and Blofeld. But we'll talk about him later.

Unofficial Moneypennys

Pamela Salem

Pamela Salem played Moneypenny in Never Say Never Again, and I have absolutely no memory of how she was, what she looked like, or any thing else about her at all. So that's all I have to say on that. The same goes for Barbara Bouchet, who played Moneypenny in the comedy film Casino Royale (1967). I've never actually made it through that entire film, and I don't remember her appearance in it. But I do remember her from an episode of Star Trek, where she was stunningly beautiful. Too beautiful to be Moneypenny, probably, but she would've made a great Bond girl.

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