Saturday, December 10, 2011

My Fantasy Girlfriend - Jane Seymour

Luckily, I now have HBO Movies to keep me company through the dreary and impoverished months of winter. Well, I say "luckily", but it's something of a mixed bag. For every classic like Dangerous Liaisons, there are two or three appalling straight-to-video comedies. However, for December, they're doing a complete run of of the Bond films (well, excluding Connery's Never Say Never Again and the recent Daniel Craig reinvention, I think), which is nicely nostalgic of a 1970s UK childhood - where a Bond film was always a staple of Christmas afternoon.

For me, the series peaked with You Only Live Twice, which HBO screened a couple of days ago (best villain's hideout, inside the volcano; and best villains - the People's Republic of China hiring Blofeld to engineer a war between America and the Soviet Union!). The action sequences got better and more elaborate during the 1970s, but the increasing reliance on improbable gadgets and big special effects took the stories to a comic-book level of unreality that started to become more risible than genuinely exciting. And I never warmed to Roger Moore's Bond - too smug and effete for a stone killer.

However, I liked Moore's first outing in Live And Let Die (on HBO tomorrow - but alas, I have other plans for Sunday night). I suspect it was partly that this was the last one I was able to enjoy with the naive innocence of childhood; once I hit my 'tween' years, my cynicism developed apace - and I outgrew Bond. Undoubtedly, it was also very largely down to the speedboat chase through the swamps (I forget now, is that Louisiana or Florida?) - possibly the best chase sequence in any of the Bond films, certainly much the best up to that point. But mostly, I think, it was down to Solitaire, the foxy voodoo priestess with a gift for reading tarot cards, played by the lovely English actress Jane Seymour.

Not, perhaps, the sexiest of the Bond girls, but surely the prettiest: a prime exemplar of the 'English Rose' type, of which Kate Beckinsale - already honoured in this series - is a more contemporary embodiment. Jane, I think, has an even deeper place in my heart than Kate; not only because she dawned upon my consciousness when I was still a young boy rather than an adult, but also because of that amazing, lustrous long hair of hers - almost down to her waist in many of those early and mid-70s roles from which I most fondly remember her.

Jane always seems to be mentioned at or near the top of lists of favourite Bond girls; and she is one of the few to be honoured with her own Barbie doll....

[Hmm, Christmas present wish-list?? Actually, although I wasn't such a fan of her as a Bond girl, I have to say the Pussy Galore one is particularly stylish, and a good likeness of Honor Blackman.]

However, I recall (perhaps inaccurately) being more miffed than aroused by Jane's appearance in the role. I'd feared it would spell the end of her career (in later years, the Bond producers would shift towards hiring more established actresses as their principal crumpet, but up to then it had been up-and-comers, mostly known only through TV or modelling; and most of them had failed to shake off the burden of becoming known primarily or solely as a Bond girl, and had subsequently vanished without trace - at least as far as a significant film career was concerned). And it did entail her premature departure from The Onedin Line, a wonderful, long-running BBC1 potboiler about merchant sailing ships in the Victorian era, which was a Sunday night viewing highlight throughout my schooldays. Jane had played Emma Callon, the beautiful young niece of a ruthless rival shipping magnate. It was as a result of her appearances as this character in the first couple of seasons of the show - when I was only about 6 or 7 years old - that I first became smitten with Jane Seymour. [I think this might be a picture of her in that part, the only one I could find. But it might also be from Somewhere In Time, the time-travelling romantic drama she made with Christopher Reeve in 1980.]

Jane continued to work on British TV and in small British films for a few years, but then... well, she was lost to us not through the 'curse of James Bond' but through American TV's growing obsession with the mini-series. After she relocated to Hollywood in the late '70s, I didn't see much more of her: I suppose she's now best-known for her '90s TV series Dr Quinn, Medicine Woman - in which she apparently managed to make 19th century frontier life seem sexy - but I've never seen a single minute of that. She's never had much of a career in mainstream cinema, but must have set some kind of record for the number of made-for-TV movies she's been in.

Like Jan Francis, another favourite actress of mine from my childhood, Jane had trained as a dancer. I mentioned in that post on Ms Francis how I've always been especially attracted to dancers for their poise and grace and air of self-confidence. I was therefore pleased to recognise Jane a few years ago (from the most fleeting of glimpses) in Richard Attenborough's Oh! What A Lovely War - her first, uncredited screen appearance, when she was still in her teens, and possibly the only time she's been asked to utilise her dancing skills on film. She's one of the chorus girls (but you'll have to be very sharp to spot her) in this music hall recruiting scene wherein Maggie Smith belts out a saucy I'll Make A Man Of Any One Of You.

In her busy and diverse - if not exactly stellar - career, Jane has also played the Biblical Bathsheba, Wallis Simpson (most improbable piece of casting ever?!) a bride of Frankenstein, Winston Churchill's first girlfriend, and an Arabian princess (in Sinbad and The Eye of The Tiger, in which she memorably played chess against a Ray Harryhausen-animated baboon).

And she's still looking stunning at the age of 60 (maybe the baboon had to sacrifice his pituitary gland to her for losing the chess match?).

I have learned during my online meanderings this morning that Ms Seymour's real name is the much less stage-friendly Joyce Penelope Wilhelmina Frankenberg. She took her professional name from the ill-fated third wife of Henry VIII - little anticipating what difficulties this would cause for people attempting to research her personal history in the age of Google.

Another unexpected tidbit of trivia I turned up is that her eyes are of different colours (heterochromia iridum, as the doctors term it). Now, I've never been fortunate enough to gaze into Ms Seymour's eyes for real. But you would think, wouldn't you, that I might have noticed this after so many years of admiring pictures of her? I take this as further evidence of the notorious male inability to notice or remember anyone's eye colour. (I've always had to make a conscious effort to memorise the colour of a girlfriend's eyes. And it is a fact which has always rapidly dislodged itself again from my brain after parting with one of them.)

And now, gentlemen, carry on swooning.


stuart said...

An enjoyable read, Froog. Took me right back. For some reason, the mention of The Onedin Line brought to mind Bouquet of Barbed Wire, another (much shorter) TV series from the 1970s. Fond memories of that one.

Anonymous said...

It was Louisiana, how could you forget that memorable New Orleans funeral march? Then again, as a fan of the EPL I have no idea where places like Stoke City and Aston Villa are, so I suppose we Americans shouldn't expect Europeans to be familiar with our geography.

Effete, perfect word to describe Moore's Bond. Effeminate always came to mind, but effete nails its. I laugh my tail off every time I see one of those wet noodle judo chops to the back of a villains neck. Don't think Roger could knock down a house of cards with that chop.

Live and Let Die is a good one and I actually enjoyed the campiness of Roger's Bond films. He stayed on much too long though, I can't pinpoint exactly where I would say it jumped the shark, but being effete AND elderly, not a good combination for an international spy.

I've always had a thing for Jane and it is amazing how well she has held up over the years. I wish I could remember where it was from, but she was on a tv show in the 70's or 80's that had her poolside in a skimpy bathing suit, wow, will never forget the smoking hotness melting the tele.

Froog said...

Ah, gentlemen of a certain age share this fascination, I see. Hardly surprising.

HF, I did recall the NO funeral scene, but I didn't think that was definitive. The chase is quite a bit later, isn't it? And Bond films aren't long on logic or consistency - he can be in Cairo one minute and Venice the next. And I don't recall anyone in the film - even that sheriff - talking with a Louisiana accent. But it is maybe 15 or 20 years since I last saw it...

Anonymous said...

Always looking for the out no matter how non-existent it may be.

I am not inclined to re-watch the film just to prove a point, but if memory serves, I think he practically drove a boat through New Orleans right into the bayous of Louisiana.

Crap, I think I actually am going to have to watch the film again because as a Yank who grew up in Florida, there were many clues that it all took place in Louisiana and I think the accents may have been one of them. The swamps in Florida and Louisiana are pretty distinct to those of us familiar with them, but to an untrained eye, I could understand them not standing out.

The Bayous of Louisiana tend to have thicker trees with longer moss, whereas the swamps of Florida are chock full of skinny mangroves and much shorter moss.

Am I really getting into this? Well, re-watch Live and Let Die.... now added to my to do list thanks to the guzhi <> of the King of Froogville.

Anonymous said...

Thank goodness for youtube, could cut right to the chase.

Louisiana is peppered throughout the scene. On billboards, the sides of police cars, police uniforms, etc...

Will say the Sheriff is completely void of a cajun accent despite a clear attempt to manufacture one.

Froog said...

I see there's an upload on YouTube of that chase as a single sequence - but dubbed into German!

The key question now, HF, since you claim some expertise in swamp differentiation, is if filmed in Louisiana or the Everglades?

Actually, I wouldn't say the NO connection alone is definitive of the chase supposedly being set in Louisiana. I'll take your word about the insignia on the police cars, but that would be very sharp catch - even when viewing on a big screen! The accents all seem to be generic 'Southern' rather than Louisiana (more Mississippi, maybe? I'm not an expert on American accents, but I know it ain't Louisiana!). And you can't necessarily deduce the location from the plot: when Bond gets knocked out and taken somewhere, there's rarely or never any indication of how long he's unconscious or how the bad guys move him - I'm sure on occasion he must have "woken up" hundreds of miles away from where we last saw him, perhaps even on a different continent. The presumed convenience of the baddies having their two bases within a short drive of each other is our main piece of evidence - and it's not all that strong, in the Bond universe of limited logic.

Anonymous said...

The funny thing about watching that scene again was how I couldn't believe that the thick trees and long moss had stuck with me all these years.

I am by no means an expert, but I have spent enough time in the Florida Everglades on a variety of school field trips and fishing expeditions to know the clear difference between the swamps of Florida and the bayous of Louisiana which I have also visited.

You are spot on about the accents. They are 'southern', which could come from a whole variety of states Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Arkansas, but the one southern state with a distinct accent is the cajun accent from Louisiana, which I agree is completely void in the clip. My guess is this comes from Hollywood actors being flown to location and doing what they imagine to be a southern accent without attempting a much more nuanced cajun one.

The one intriguing point you bring up is the filming locations. Florida is a beacon for Hollywood filming and often the generic backdrop for "swampy" locales. I haven't checked if it was filmed in Florida but I would bet it was not from what I see of the swamp and will be quite embarrassed if it was. I will do some searching on this.

I don't think one needs much of a keen eye to absorb the numerous visual references to Louisiana peppered throughout the scene and the crux of the debate is whether the scene was to have taken place in Louisiana which it clearly was.

Anonymous said...

That was easy

Filming location (boat chase): Bayou, Louisiana, USA.

Froog said...

Yes, I had heard that the Everglades were a favoured shooting location. And I'd worried that I wouldn't be able to distinguish them from the Louisiana swamps - since I've never been out in the bayou country, and my only exposure to that is via movies that might possibly have been filmed elsewhere (hmm, was Southern Comfort really filmed in the bayou?).

On the other hand, New Orleans is a prime movie location too. I suspect that on occasion, the bayou may have been passed off as the Everglades, as well as vice versa.

Anonymous said...

Without going too much into Americana, New Orleans is a prime shooting locations for everything 'New Orleans'. The French Quarter, Mardi Gras, etc...

For logistical purposes alone I can't imagine there has ever been a shoot in Louisiana that was passed off as the Everglades. The Everglades are literally a stone's throw, or at least a golf drive away, from parts of Miami, so it wouldn't make much sense to base in New Orleans which would require more travel and less ingrained industry. Things I wouldn't really expect you to be too familiar with.

This bond film was a bit of a fluke, wanting to be based in New Orleans and have a swampy boat chase scene. Not much sense in flying everyone to Florida.

Froog said...

So, there are too many problems with filming in the bayou for it to be an attractive location, unless your crew is based in NO for urban shots?

If so, Southern Comfort, which, as far as I recall, had no urban scenes at all, might have been filmed elsewhere. Ditto Tigerland, which I think was supposed to have been the bayou, but could have been anywhere for all most people could tell.

However, I don't think Live and Let Die was alone in wanting to shoot outside New Orleans. Down By Law, Angel Heart, Skeleton Key, and Herzog's weird Bad Lieutenant remake all had scenes out in the countryside as well. Presumably, that was all real bayou.

I have hard that New Orleans/Louisiana is one of the most generous facilitators of film and TV shoots - particularly post-Katrina. If they throw enough incentives at you, maybe it could become more attractive to film there rather than Florida - notwithstanding it being more of a hike to get out into the swamplands. But in such a case, I'd guess the film-makers might adapt their script to a Louisiana rather than a Florida setting... might indeed be forced to as a condition of getting their government assistance?

You think it's more likely the Everglades have masqueraded as the bayou from time to time? Interesting. I wonder if anyone could cite an example.

Anonymous said...

Tigerland takes place in the bayous of Louisiana and was filmed entirely in..... drumroll.....


Florida swamps masquerading as Louisiana bayous.

Good points about New Orleans efforts post-Katrina to lure the film industry. I have heard this as well, so I wouldn't rule out the possibility of the above being reversed at some point.

Froog said...