honor blackman

Cathy Gale vs Pussy Galore: A Guest Post

Fellow tumblr celluloidbroomcloset wrote this brilliant analysis dealing with the characters of Cathy Gale from The Avengers and Pussy Galore from the Bond film Goldfinger, both of whom were played by Honor Blackman.

Content note for rape mention


Cathy Gale and James Bond

by celluloidbroomcloset.tumblr.com
(reposted here with permission)

OK, I’ve been thinking about this, and here’s one of my issues with the transition from Honor Blackman playing Cathy Gale to playing P*ssy Galore (asterix included because Tumblr might decide to flag it).

I think most of us can agree that the way Goldfinger (book and film) treats Galore is all kinds of problematic. But there’s an added issue with the way that things went down in terms of Blackman’s contemporary star persona.

Blackman got the role largely because of her performance as Cathy Gale in The Avengers. Cathy, superficially, seems perfect for the Bond franchise: the cool blonde judoka in black leather. But she’s also not good for the Bond franchise at all: she’s independent, intelligent, ridiculously competent, and really does not take any kind of male bullshit. She’s paired with a male character who, for the most part, respects that about her; who, when she pins him, early in their relationship, finds her physical and psychological strength not something to be overcome but something to be loved and respected. Whether or not we accept the idea that they eventually have a romantic and sexual relationship, there’s no doubt that Cathy retains her autonomy and that this is something that Steed supports and does not find threatening.

Cathy Gale, then, cannot be a part of the Bond franchise in 1964. Bond’s sexual politics do not allow for a woman to reject him on any terms. When Blackman takes her Gale persona and transmogrifies into the character of Galore, she’s largely playing Cathy but not – Galore is also a physically capable, psychologically strong female character who demands autonomy and is largely unimpressed by male posturing. While this is something that Steed actually likes about Cathy, that’s something that Bond cannot stand. She has to be dominated; that physical and sexual autonomy has to be made subservient to his desires, otherwise her very existence questions his masculinity.

Unlike Cathy, Galore is typed as a lesbian. (In the book, she’s explicitly lesbian, but even James Bond can’t get away with that in 1964.) So, she presents a double threat, a woman who not only doesn’t want James Bond but doesn’t want men, full stop. Again, Bond’s world view cannot allow for that. He will dominate her and control her desire, even if that means coercing her or raping her outright (which, yes, is what he does). That’s the only way he can bring her existence into line with his own view of masculinity and femininity.

In casting Blackman in the part, the Bond franchise is doing more than just bringing a Bond character to heel; it is trying to reconcile the existence of Cathy Gale with a conservative, patriarchal world. Cathy cannot exist in the same world with James Bond, but she can be transposed, commodified, and dominated as Galore. Cathy Gale is capable of breaking James Bond’s neck; Galore is not. Cathy Gale wouldn’t even permit him to look at her; Galore must, by the nature of the narrative and the franchise.

Some Avenging Thoughts on International Women’s Day

When Avengers first aired, it was a show starring Ian Hendry as Dr David Keel, and John Steed (played by Patrick Macnee) was a secondary character. When Hendry quit after one season, the producers decided to make Steed the main character, and to give him a female partner. They hired Honor Blackman for the role, as Catherine Gale. Because they had a bunch of Hendry scripts left over, and because they didn’t have a budget to commission more, they ended up adapting scripts originally written for the male character of Dr David Keel to the female character of Catherine Gale.

The Gale era of Avengers was a watershed in television history. Catherine Gale was the first female character on television to be treated as not only the complete equal of her male partner, but as better than he was at some things. And not only that, it was done with utter seriousness: Steed was in no way threatened by Mrs Gale’s skills and strengths (in fact, he is regularly bowled over by her), and her character was not written either with lampoon of gender roles in mind or as any kind of misandrist.

Catherine Gale was a PhD in anthropology; a supremely intelligent woman who could think her way out of almost any problem; a judoka who could pummel the tar out of pretty much any opponent (Blackman actually learned judo for real for the role and did her own stunts); a crack shot and big game hunter; a freelance contractor who could do anything from help manage a charity to write essays about medieval couture to catalogue a museum. She helped Steed collar the bad guys on a regular basis, working side by side with him as his equal, not as his subordinate or sidekick. She never played the damsel in distress, and although Steed had to rescue her occasionally, she had her own chances to repay the favor when the baddies captured him.

Catherine Gale would become the inspiration for the character of Emma Peel, who maintained the relationship of equals and high level of badassery of her predecessor. Both characters have been a source of inspiration for generations of women audience members.

But it was Catherine Gale, PhD, a woman who took no shit and gave no fucks, who broke that barrier first.

So here’s to Honor Blackman and Catherine Gale, original badasses both.

honor2-copy

Great Detectives Think Alike

“Mr Teddy Bear,” the first episode to air in Season 2, and the first to feature Honor Blackman as Cathy Gale, is full of references to Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories. I’ve published several of these on my tumblr page already, but by request I’m aggregating them here and adding some I’ve found since.

(more…)