Film Fatales Women In Espionage Films And Television, 1962-1973 by Tom Lisanti and Louis Paul (book review)
As authors Tom Lisanti and Louis Paul point out in their introduction to their 2002 released book ‘Film Fatales Women In Espionage Films And Television, 1962-1973’, it was the James Bond films that put female co-stars on the map and moved them from not only being eye candy but pretty dangerous in their own right. In fact, many other films from this time period used both 007 and this bevy of ladies (even using the same actresses in these parts) for their own espionage versions. I suggest you keep a note of the titles that pop up because I’m sure, like me, you’ll be double-checking some for their availability. A lot of them aren’t on this side of the pond so your watching device must be multi-regional. When you consider that even the Bond films had a touch of SF from time to time, this book deserves a review. Although there isn’t a male version of this book, you do get enough info about many of the actors as well, some of it is real eye-opener as to who are the real gentlemen.
Each of the 108 ladies here are given full background histories and details from the espionage films they were in, touching on other roles they’ve been in which illustrates how much they might have been typecast. Both authors say it isn’t entirely comprehensive but cover all the main films, not just from Bond, but also the ‘Matt Helm’ and ‘Derek Flint’ films, as well as TV series like ‘The Man From UNCLE’, ‘The Saint’ and ‘The Avengers’ and so forth, not to mention the spoofs and foreign language films along the way. In case you forget what they looked like, each actress also has a photo to accompany each piece. If you think most of the Bond girls appeared once and vanished into obscurity, you’ll find many of them returned to the European film market from where they came.
Reading this book straight through is possible but I suspect those of you who buy it will probably want to browse entries and especially look at any of the series above, although other films and TV series do pop up. I was putting on my thinking cap of anyone significant missed out as I read. They might have included actress Claire Bloom from ‘The Spy Who Came In From The Cold’ (1965) but not entirely sure if she would have regarded herself as a film fatale. Likewise, the late Tamara Dobson from the ‘Cleopatra Jones’ films is also sadly missing, despite the fact her first film was released in 1973.
There are some common denominators that came up relating to how many of them did or won beauty pageants or adverts but in those days that was one of the ways to get spotted and move into the film/TV business. More so when many of them came from across the world than merely from America or the UK.
Likewise, if you know your films, you’ll be hitting on things they missed. Although Doris Day is here with the film ‘Caprice’ (1967), they did miss out on ‘The Glass Bottom Boat’ (1966) which also had equal spy undertones.
Oh, in case you didn’t know, the lady on the cover is Karin Dor from ‘You Only Live Twice’. I did have to wonder with all the choices they had, why her and not someone more recognisable. Objectively, it could be for many reasons, including permission and copyright. Then again, so many of the ‘names’ are associated with other films and picking a cheesecake photo might have given the wrong impression.
Some of the actresses here are chameleons for adapting to different roles. I never realised just how the likes of Arlene Martel and Daliah Lavi appeared in such a variety of shows and films.
Sometimes, I do think the writers knowledge of UK series is a little askew, but that might not have been helped when many of them weren’t available on tape or DVD in the USA at the time they were writing. Nyree Dawn Porter was not third but second lead in ‘The Protectors’ being an obvious one.
From a British perspective, it’s a shame that they didn’t include the point that Lois Maxwell was the voice of Atlanta Shore in ‘Stingray’ although otherwise very comprehensive.
Under Rosemary Nicols entry, I’m not sure if I would compare ‘Department S’ to ‘The X-Files’ as it shares more similarities to ‘Banacek’ in solving a mystery by looking at the evidence in an unconventional way. Likewise, Jason King was hardly a part-time writer as in the series he was more a consultant brought in to look at how things were done from a different perspective. This occasionally raises question marks as to how comprehensively they saw everything. A minor mistake in Margaret Lee’s entry, mostly because Joel Fabiani never appeared in ‘The Protectors’ TV series (he was in ‘Department S’ a few years earlier though) and the third star, Tony Anholt, wasn’t even in the episode ‘The Numbers Game’ according to IMdB, he says being thorough.
This book isn’t perfect and if you know the subject matter, then some of the errors are easy to spot. Bizarrely, in the text of Barbara Bain’s entry, Martin Landau’s character ‘Rollin Hand’ is called ‘Roland Hand’, although the photograph on the next page does get it right and indeed under other entries relating to ‘Mission: Impossible’. Likewise, under BarBara Luna’s entry, Steven Hill’s character in ‘Mission: Impossible’ is called Jeffrey Briggs instead of Dan Briggs. What is more of a mess is showing a photograph of Monica Vitti as Modesty Blaise for Rossella Falk (who was Mrs. Fothergill) in the same 1966 film. I point these things out because if you know your subject and think I do and missed them, then what kind of reviewer would you think I am not to point them out. With a book this size, there are bound to be mistakes but these are the kinds of ones that shouldn’t have gotten through and if I had to point out all the good stuff then you wouldn’t want to read it.
Even for a book of some 14 years old now, there is a lot to offer here. In many respects, without these female fatales, their expanding roles for actresses in more modern time espionage films and series would not as widely accepted. It’s also a puzzle why there hasn’t been follow-up books for the early 70s to the present. Maybe, getting interest from you people reading and buying this book might get something of that nature into the works. In the meantime, with so few books on this subject on the market, it should be considered for part of your collection.
(pub: McFarland, 2002. 341 page indexed illustrated hardback. Price: £43.95 (UK), $45.00 (US). ISBN: 978-0-7864-1194-8)