Here's a sad note on which to begin the week: Lois Maxwell, the elegant lady who bantered with three iterations of James Bond over a period of 22 years and 14 films, died over the weekend. She was 80. The LA Times obit is here.
Maxwell, who played the ever-hopeful Miss Moneypenny alongside Sean Connery, George Lazenby, and Roger Moore, was replaced by a younger actress for Timothy Dalton's first outing as 007 in The Living Daylights. Maxwell was 58 at the time, and I, for one, have always seen the change as something of an injustice. After all, Desmond Llewelyn played Q until he was quite elderly. Surely it wouldn't have been too far-fetched for M to have an older executive secretary for a few more installments in the series? Rather than recast her with someone younger, wouldn't it have been more interesting to change how Moneypenny relates to Bond as Maxwell aged, to make her more of a mothering presence than an object of flirtation? (Or, for that matter, why not be really daring and do both?) Sadly, the producers of the Bond series have rarely shown any true daring in the 40-plus-year history of the franchise, mostly preferring to stick to rote formula.
Nevertheless, I think it's telling that Maxwell's face is the one that immediately comes to mind when you hear the name "Moneypenny." No doubt that can be attributed, in part, to the fact that she played the character for so long and in so many entries in the series. By contrast, her two successors, Caroline Bliss and Samantha Bond (ironic name, eh?), have played Penny in only two and four films, respectively. But I think you can also argue that Maxwell stands out because of a something you don't see much anymore, an old-fashioned strain of genuine class. No disrespect to Bliss or Bond, but Maxwell simply had that civilized, grown-up, cocktails-and-jazz sort of quality that defined the movie stars of the early Cold War era. You just knew that if Moneypenny smoked (I can't recall if she did so in any of her Bond movies, but I could be wrong), she would keep her cigarettes in an enameled wooden box and light them with a crystal desk lighter. No crumpled paper packs or disposable Bics pulled from the bottom of a cluttered purse for her. And if you could manage to seduce her, the sex would be anything but casual, even if there were no strings attached.
Maybe Maxwell's interpretation of Moneypenny is passe now -- Bond himself has been reinvented for the 21st Century, and he doesn't bear a lot of resemblance to the character JFK was reputed to have enjoyed -- but her version will always be, for me, the definitive and classic one, just as Connery remains, in my mind, the one true 007. Even if Daniel Craig was damn good...