I think there's a serious categorization error in this article from Reuters, Tough new Bond girl divides fans, reignites debate.
The tough new Bond Girl here isn't a Bond Girl. She's the leading lady of Quantum of Solace, Olga Kurylenko.
All the women in the Bond movies are not Bond Girls.
If that was the case, then Diana Rigg was a Bond Girl and any debate over who was the sexiest Bond Girl ends right there with the mention of her name.
But calling Diana Rigg a Bond Girl is so absurdly reductive that the concept becomes meaningless. It's like calling the Empire State Building an apartment complex or the Mississippi River farm water run-off.
Bond Girls are eye candy, pure and simple. Their role in a Bond film is to get naked, as naked as a PG-13 rating allows anyway, get laid, and then get dead. They manage all three tasks efficiently by the single method of setting out to get Bond killed. Either they are bait dangled by his would-be assassins or they are would-be assassins themselves.
Of course, Bond's reputation as a super-stud would be laughable if the only women he had sex with were women who let themselves be "seduced" in order to betray him.
So there's often another type of Bond Girl in the movies, a non-player in the spy game Bond scoops up on the fly and drops as soon as duty calls him back to work. Her job is to get naked, get laid, and get out of the way as quickly as possible. Most of these Bond Girl's appear very early in a movie, like the doctor who "treats" Bond's busted shoulder in The World Is Not Enough or the stewardess with the long, long zipper down the back of her dress Bond undresses with his magnetized watch at the beginning of Live and Let Die, and their purpose is to show that at least some women who sleep with Bond do it because they like him and like sex and that Bond himself likes sex too and doesn't sleep with women only because Queen and Country require him to.
Whichever type she is, a Bond Girl's screen time is usually extremely limited, unless as the would-be assassin-type she is also a favorite of the chief villain, in which case she hangs around for a while doing things that will make us cheer her inevitable and extremely violent death, and consequently the women playing them are not called upon to act, merely to pose, and that's why they're almost always models and not actresses, and also why for almost all of them their next and usually last professional gig is not another movie but a Playboy photo-spread.
So here's a rule of thumb. If the woman in question is played by someone you'd heard of before and have heard of since, she's not a Bond Girl.
The two significant exceptions are Kim Bassinger and Grace Jones.
What she may be is another type regularly featured in the Bond movies, the damsel in distress Bond almost invariably fails to come to the rescue of in time. They are women who actually fall for Bond and then make the mistake of trying to help him or of wandering back into the room at a catastrophically inconvenient moment. Sometimes they are spies themselves, often enemy agents who have changed sides out of love for their James, but sometimes they are civilians who wind up as collateral damage. Lana Wood in Diamonds Are Forever ("Hi! I'm Plenty!" "Of course you are."), Teri Hatcher in Tomorrow Never Dies, and Caterino Murino in Casino Royale all die because they accidentally get between Bond and the bad guys.
It's easy to see how a casual observer might mistake the unfortunate damsels in distress for Bond Girls because they also tend to get naked, get laid, and get dead in short order. But what distinguishes them from Bond Girls is that they are always played by actual actresses and, probably for that reason, they are sexier, livelier, and more vivacious than not just the Bond Girls but very often the leading ladies.
It's because of the movies' wildly uneven treatment of their leading ladies that things get confusing.
In most of the films, the leading lady has a professional reason for teaming up with Bond on his latest mission. She may not be a spy herself, but her work or some knowledge she's acquired has drawn her into the spy game. So she has a job to do apart from tagging along after Bond and waiting for him to get her naked, get her laid, and get her dead or out of the way. And because she has an actual function in the plot she has to be able to do things. She has to be what the producers of Quantum of Solace are claiming as firsts for their leading lady, independent, tough, intelligent, resourceful, and on a mission of her own. Bond's leading ladies have been kicking ass on missions of their own since Honey Ryder tucked her knife into the belt of her white bikini.
What confuses the issue is that a few of the leading ladies have been damsels in distress---Jane Seymour in Live and Let Die, Britt Ekland in The Man With the Golden Gun---many of them have been sexier and more voluptuous than the entire harem of Bond Girls---Ursula Andress in Dr No, Jill St John in Diamonds Are Forever, Carey Lowell in License to Kill, Halle Berry in Die Another Day---and, unfortunately, too many of them, especially during the Roger Moore years, have been played by talentless models---Barbara Bach in The Spy Who Loved Me, Lois Chiles in Moonraker, Maud Adams in The Man With the Golden Gun and Octopussy, Tanya Roberts in A View to A Kill---or European starlets whose ability to act is hard to judge because of their struggles to speak English---Carole Bouquet in For Your Eyes Only, Izabella Scorupco in Goldeneye, and, it sounds like, Olga Kurylenko in Quantum of Solace. I'll let you know. I'm taking the blonde to see it tomorrow night for her birthday. Really, she wants to go.
Then there's the fact that at least three of Bond's leading ladies have been very talented actresses playing actually interesting characters---Eva Green in Casino Royale, Diana Rigg in On Her Majesty's Secret Service, and Honor Blackman in Goldfinger, whose character has the distinction of having the most egregiously sexist name in the whole series of films. Give yourself a minute. You'll think of it.
Lana Wood's Plenty O'Toole runs a close second.
Now, after all this, you'll probably find it hard to believe that I've always thought that Bond's women---the Bond Girls, the distressed damsels, and the leading ladies---and his relationships with them were the least interesting aspect of the Bond franchise. I can imagine how much fun it might have been in the early '60s, when society was still in the guilty morning after phase of the Sexual Revolution to be presented with the idea, beautifully illustrated, that lovely and frolicsome young women could like taking their clothes off and would be happy to do it without expecting a ring or even a phone call afterwards, but the whole idea that Bond was that irresistible began to seem ridiculous and even creepy during Roger Moore's tenure and by the time Pierce Brosnan took over it had become as perfunctory and sour as appearances by Q. By Brosnan's last appearance, the movies themselves were even making fun of it and Bond. In Die Another Day, Jinx and Miranda Frost are running the show, Bond is their plaything, and if the filmmakers had had any guts they'd have both gotten out of the movie alive and without Bond's laying as much as double-entendre on them.
Casino Royale could only deal with Bond's rampant libido in the context of tragedy.
The flak for Quantum of Solace quoted in the Reuters article talks as though he believes his movie's heroine represents a great leap forward for women in the movies. But it doesn't matter if your character can do everything and anything a man can do if her real purpose in the film is to be gorgeous. Sounds to me as though Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale was more of a feminist role model, even if her main purpose was to be gorgeous and the love interest, because Lynd's job in the film wasn't to be a Bond with tits, it was to be a person with real work to do. Spies like Bond don't exist. Government agents who are really glorified accountants like Lynd do.
But the Bond films actually took their one real stride towards enlightment with Brosnan's first apearance as Bond because it was accompanied by Judi Dench's first appearance as M.
Dench's M isn't interesting because she's a woman in the role of grown-up authority figure usually played by a man. She's interesting because she is a woman. A particular woman who happens to have this job. Dench gives her feelings that a male M probably wouldn't have. Bernard Lee's M disliked Bond, but his dislike arose from a bureaucrat's frustration with an asset that refused to be controlled. Dench's M dislikes 007 the secret agent for the same reason. But she despises James Bond the man for a woman's reason. She knows his tricks from of old.
Her M is aware that Bond is attractive. She is attracted. Not to the Bond in front of her. To a Bond in her past.
I like to think that "James Bond" is a name and an identity MI-6 assigns to every agent it licenses to kill under the code name 007. This is a joke in the first Casino Royale movie, the spoof starring David Niven as the original James Bond. Of course I have no idea if Dench has this in mind but the way she plays her scenes with Brosnan and then especially with Daniel Craig in Casino Royale it's as if when M was a very young agent she made a mistake with the Bond of the day, which might have been excusable because she was barely more than a girl and that Bond was Sean Connery after all. But then when she was older and supposedly wiser she went and made the same mistake again with the next Bond in her life, Roger Moore. If he met up with her in the field or around the ministry, Timothy Dalton probably paid a hell of a price for whatever Connery and Moore did to her. By the time she's in charge, though, and Brosnan's Bond shows up her feelings have cooled but she knows what a cad and a bounder she has on her hands.
I think this sense of M's having a past with if not any actual Bonds then with someone very Bond-like really comes out in the scene in Casino Royale when she comes home to find that this newest Bond has learned her true identity and broken into her apartment. There is a memory fueling M's feelings of violation and outrage and, after he leaves, inspiring her expression of amazed admiration.
She's been through this before and it was terrifying...
Like I said, we're going to Quantum of Solace tomorrow, so I'll find out then if Kurylenko is the dullest leading lady in Bond's existence. I doubt it. She'd have to be incredibly bad to come anywhere near the level of mind-numbing awfulness Tanya Roberts achieved in A View to a Kill.
A View to a Kill owns the triple distinctions of having the worst performance by any actress in any role in any Bond film, being the worst Bond film of all time, and featuring the most bizarre Bond Girl ever cast.
What happened to Grace Jones anyway? Is she still working or has she returned to Beetlegeuse to report on her explorations of Planet Earth?
This slideshow from Yahoo mixes up Bond Girls, Damsels in Distress, and Leading Ladies but for some reason I don't mind it at all.
Updated with an appreciation of an old Bond because we didn't make it to see the old one last night: We'll try again next weekend. Meanwhile, in the comments here, D.R. Scott, of D.R Scott's Pop Culture, left this appreciation of On Her Majesty's Secret Service that includes a stirring defense of George Lazenby as the second-best Bond:
On Her Majesty's Secret Service was a curious anomaly in a number of ways, I think.
In my opinion, Diana Rigg was more than just the best "Bond" girl in the series. Besides being intelligent, strong-minded and elegant, Rigg was the only woman that Bond truly respected. When he fell in love with her, you believed it because you understood the reason why. (Unfortunately, it was that same strength of character that kept Rigg from being a bigger star than she was. Hollywood had no idea what to do with a woman who refused to objectify herself.)
It's also why the conclusion was so shattering emotionally. As you wrote, Rigg wasn't a prop to be tossed aside casually, and you knew that for a cold-blooded secret agent who killed people for a living, this was a tragedy that would follow him for the rest of his life. None of the subsequent Bond movies would ever come close to humanizing the 007 character.
But the other reason this particular Bond movie worked so well was George Lazenby, a gifted actor who had the bad luck to follow Sean Connery. In retrospect, although the producer's decision was vilified at the time, I thought the decision to cast Lazenby was an inspired one. Lazenby was a ruggedly handsome man who carried himself with a sly confidence, and was able to artfully negotiate that precarious balance between knowing how to kill a man if he had to while ordering the proper bottle of wine. Connery and Lazenby were men, not callow pretty boys carrying a fake Walther PPK. It's why the relationship he had with Rigg felt like a love story starring two adults as opposed to an zit-faced adolesscent practicing corny pick up lines he studied from his daddy's "Playboy".
In comparison, Roger Moore, however, was a fraud who should have played James Bond's butler. But then, it was easier for Moore to ease into Bond's Aston Martin because of all the flak Lazenby took. If the films stayed with Lazenby, I think the series would have been more mature and realistic. Instead, once Moore was firmly in place, the movies began their downward spiral into terminal silliness.
Every time I watch On Her Majesty's Secret Service, the words "might have been" keep echoing in my head.