The Women of 3 70s movies
The Spy Who Loved Me, Star Wars, and Alien each had strong women characters that were similar yet different from earlier women characters. Major Anya Amasova (Barbara Bach), Princess Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), and Ripley (Sigorney Weaver) were women of the late 1970s. These were mature characters in the sense they didn’t grow during the movie. Were these characters a result of the Women’s Liberation movement of the 1970s or a natural evolution of women’s characters in movies? There were strong women characters almost from the inception of movies. The purpose of this article is to address how these characters were in the original movies, not sequels. This article contains spoilers.
The Spy Who Loved Me
This 1977 James Bond movie came out after Diamonds are Forever (1971), Live and Let Die (1973), and The Man with the Golden Gun (1974). In these early ‘70s Bond movies the women were mostly nuisances and often used for comic relief. A common phrase in promos for James Bonds films was “Bond is back.” It could be said of The Spy Who Loved Me, “Bond women are back.” Major Anya Amasova personified the evolution of the classical Bond women. Her alias was a typical Bond woman double entendre, Agent XXX.
She is with her lover when the KGB sends him on a mission. The mission is to kill Bond. James Bond is with a woman (Sue Vanner) in a log cabin in the Austrian Alps. She is a Soviet agent whose purpose is to keep Bond occupied long enough for the assassination team to arrive. Bond escapes the ambush and kills Major Amasova’s lover in the process. It seems a plot hole that General Anatol Gogol (Walter Gotell) didn’t know it was Bond who killed Amasova’s lover. Amasova wanted to avenge her lover’s death.
A British and a Soviet submarine have disappeared. James Bond, Secret Agent 007, and Anya Amasova, Agent XXX, are given missions to find out who is behind the disappearances. James Bond gets microfilm off the body of Aziz Fekkesh (Nadim Sawalha). Major Amasova used a cigarette with incapacitating gas to knock out James Bond and take the microfilm.
James Bond and Major Amasova are ordered to work together to solve the mystery of the missing submarines. General Gogol as a show of good faith gives the British Secret Service access to the microfilm Agent XXX recovered. Major Amasova needles Bond by saying; “With considerable ease, I might add.” James Bond tries to get some self-respect back by mentioning the information on the microfilm was incomplete. As they examine the microfilm James Bond mentions Karl Stromberg’s (Curd Jürgens) company is based in Corsica. Amasova corrects him. The company is based in Sardinia.
Bond mentions he was in Austria 3 weeks earlier. Amasova asks him if he killed her lover. Bond admits he did and she tells him she will kill him after the mission is over.
Amasova is quick to show off her knowledge. In one case showing off is also a case of questionable judgment. When Naomi (Caroline Munro) mentions the latest Stromberg ship is the largest in the world Amasova point out the Karl Marx is larger.
After meeting Stromberg on his off shore platform and returning to Sardinia Stromberg’s henchmen attack Bond’s car with Bond and Amasova inside. Their attackers include the only indestructible Bond nemesis, Jaws (Richard Kiel). They are attacked by a motorcycle, car, and a helicopter. Naomi pilots the helicopter and flirts with Bond as she is trying to kill him. Bond drives the car into the water and converts it into a submarine. Then he blows Naomi out of the sky with a missile. Stromberg submarines continue the fight. Amasova deploys one of the vehicle’s weapon systems. Bond asked her how she knew about the weapon. She explained “I stole the plans to this car 2 years ago.”
Amasova became a damsel in distress. She was an enemy agent and would remain so. Bond could have left her to her fate but instead rescued her. Even after the rescue Amasova wanted vengeance. Major Amasova remained a Soviet agent.
Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope
This 1977movie changed the direction of Science Fiction movies. It was a throwback to the “Buck Rogers” and “Flash Gordon” serials of the 1930s. George Lucas modeled the space ship combat sequences after World War II air combat footage. A big twist on the old serials was Princess Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher). In the beginning of the movie Princess Leia kills one of the Imperial Storm Troopers before they stun and capture her. When the storm troopers take her to Darth Vader (David Prowse with the voice of James Earl Jones) and Grand Moff Tarkin (Peter Cushing) she is defiant and addresses them in a formal voice.[i]
The story develops into a mission to rescue the princess. The rescuers are a young man, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), a wise old man, Ben Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinnes), a world wise man, Hans Solo (Harrison Ford), and his sidekick Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew). Hans is wearing a storm trooper uniform when he reached Leia in her cell. Leia sarcastically asks, “Aren’t you a little short for a storm trooper?”
The rescue doesn’t go well. The storm troopers trap Hans, Luke, Chewbacca, and Leia. Leia quips, “This is some rescue! You came in here, but didn’t you have a plan for getting out?” She takes a blaster[ii] and blows an opening through a wall. This gets them away from the storm troopers but they are locked inside a giant trash compacter. This gave Hans a reason to complain about her actions. He sarcastically says, “Garbage chute, really wonderful idea. What an incredible smell you’ve discovered.” Soon after the garbage compacter turns on. R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) shut down the compactors so they weren’t crushed to death. The back and forth arguments between Leia and Hans continue. At one point when Chewbacca was walking in front of her she demands, “Will someone get this big walking carpet out of my way?” During their escape Leia proves adept with a blaster. She never misses a shot. When Leia and Luke have to swing across a shaft, Tarzan and Jane style, Leia gives Luke a kiss for luck.
Before Princess Leia princesses were either delicate innocents or domineering and verbally abusive. Princess Leia got the best of both worlds. At 5’1” (155 cm) with a thin frame she looked fragile. This disguised her strength, resourcefulness, and skill. She was quick to be angry at people but she had good cause.
Viewing Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope as a complete story brings up some other interesting points about the character. When it was released there was no guarantee there would be an Episode V. Princess Leia was fully, and well, dressed throughout the movie. This was an oddity because having a scene where a woman would appear no more than half dressed was the norm for the 1970s. The movie had 2 loose ends. Darth Vader was still alive. This wasn’t unusual because it was common for movies to end with a hint of a sequel. The unusual loose end was the love triangle. Princess Leia was left with the choice of which man to choose. Often in movies one of the possibilities would die so there was no need to choose.
[i] The party line is she used a formal voice when speaking to them in this scene as opposed to the everyday voice she used throughout the rest of the film. There is a possibility this explanation is to cover for a mistake.
[ii] The term for the firearms used in the movie.
This 1979 Ridley Scott movie showed a different type of space travel. The space ship, Nostromo, is a commercial vessel transporting 20 million tons of ore. The ship is about 800’ (245 meters) long[i] and has a crew of 7. The crew is kept in suspended animation for most of the voyage. The ship wakes the 5 men and 2 women from suspended animation. The crew’s contract obligates them to investigate a transmission the ship detected. The crew includes Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), the ship’s 3rd officer. The ship lands on a planet and Dallas (Tom Skerrit), the captain, Kane (John Hurt), the 2nd officer, and Lambert (Veronica Cartwright) exit the ship to investigate the transmission. Parker (Yaphet Kotto) and Brett (Harry Dean Staton) complain to Ripley about the bonus situation. She ends the discussion by telling them, “If you have any trouble, I’ll be on the bridge.”
The team outside the ship found an ancient alien space ship. They come upon some eggs. An egg bursts in Kane’s face and the being breaks through her helmet and clings to his face. Dallas and Lambert take him back to the ship. Ripley refuses to let them in. Dallas gives her a direct order but she refuses because letting them in would be illegal. The ship scientist, Ash (Ian Holm), lets them in. In this loose command structure nobody’s word on a position is final. There is no indication Ripley being a woman had anything to do with anyone’s actions or reactions. Lambert was the one most angered by Ripley’s decision.
The creature on Kane’s face dies and all seems normal. The creature implanted a larva inside Kane and after it gestated it burst out of Kane and he died in the process. The creature soon grew to man size (Bolaji Badejo) and the surviving crew members were in a life and death struggle with it. When there were only 4 crew members left Lambert propose 3 of them get in the escape pod and they draw straws to see who would stay behind. Parker flatly said he would not draw straws. Ripley came up with a plan to kill the creature. Even though she was nominally in command the reality was she had to convince others to agree with her. Becoming the captain did give her command access to the ship’s computer. With this access she figured out Ash was helping the creature escape the crew’s attempts to destroy it. She fought with Ash and with Parker’s assistance they found he was a robot and disabled him. She brought what was left of Ash online and learned returning the creature to earth had priority over the crew’s lives. Ripley, Lambert, and Parker decided to use the escape pod and destroy the Nostromo and with it the creature. The creature killed Parker and Lambert. Ripley set the ship to self destruct and escaped in the escape pod. She discovered the creature was also in the escape pod. She quietly sings to calm herself down as she attempt to destroy the creature.
[i] Alien Anthology, http://alienanthology.wikia.com/wiki/USCSS_Nostromo, last accessed 1/15/17.