Monday, 17 June 2013

Icons of the Overlooked #8: Caroline Munro

The kind of films we look at here at Total Cults are not, in all honesty, a treasure trove of great roles for women.  It would have taken either a great actress or an actress with considerable charisma to transcend the victim/sex object/soppy romantic role given to them.  Caroline Munro is such an actress.


As a queen of cult cinema Munro gets a fair bit of attention but when you check out her filmography, an astonishing journey through cult cinema, you realise it isn't anywhere near enough.  To date she has appeared in two Hammer films, two Bonds (one official and one not), an eighties slasher, an Italian Star Wars rip-off, worked with both Paul Nacshy and Jess Franco, was the abominable Dr Phibe's late wife, fought Joanna Lumley in The New Avengers, when to the Earth's core with Doug McClure and joined Sinbad on his golden voyage.  That alone earns her more b-movie credibility than Ingrid Pitt or Ursula Andress.

Yet Munro has more going for her than her filmography.  Like most actresses she was given neither the most progressive roles or, as you'll see from the pictures in this article, the most progressive costumes.   Take this one, for example:


This is how she spends the majority of The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (Gordon Hessler, 1973).  Yet, despite the ludicrous neckline and the constant layer of oil/sweat she still manages to draw your eyes up and away from her chest and towards her eyes.  It takes a lot of presence to up-stage that bust, but  Munro had it by the ton.

It was this presence that allowed Munro to take the usual roles and make them her own.  Take Captain Kronos - Vampire Hunter (Brian Clemens, 1974), for instance.  One of her earliest scenes has her character, Carla, fawning over the heroic and shirtless Kronos as he washes himself.  Not two scenes later they are at it in a barn. At least that is how it is on the page.  Munro, however, never comes across as a helpless, easily seduced young girly, rather a direct and ambitious woman who targets Kronos and instigates the relationship.  If anything, Kronos is the one who appears to be seduced.  It's a minor difference and the outcome is much the same, yet Munro sells Carla as someone who knows what she wants and how to get it.

This continued through a lot of her films In The Spy Who Loved Me (Lewis Gilbert, 1977), she turns up wearing a bikini, yet exudes deadliness and is a Bond girl that never lets Bond bed her.  In her stellar star turn as Stella Star in the stellar Star Crash (Luigi Cozzi, 1978) she wears much the same, but sells the Han Solo charm far better than the not-stellar co-stars Hasselhoff and Gortner.


Even more remarkable is that despite the kind of films she worked on, the kind of people she worked with and the way she looked Munro has never participated in a nude scene.  Even in Kronos' barn scene it was clever lighting and costuming that hid the fact she wasn't actually naked.  She even went as far as to turn down a lead role in an adaptation of Vampirella due to the amount of nudity required.

She has flirted with mainstream, her early career as model and the aforementioned Bond role (and the offer to play Ursa in Superman that she turned down to get it), but her on-screen home is very much in cult cinema.

We are not the only ones to notice.  Recently she popped up in an episode of detective series Midsomer Murders as an actress from an old British Hammer-like horror film studio, honouring her status in cult cinema.  For that reason I think the biggest crime here is not the lack of recognition that Munro has been given but that she was born in the wrong time.  I imagine Munro, if working today, being offered the ass-kicking heroines that are normally given to Milla Jovovich and Kate Beckinsale.

As it is she stands someone who, despite a career littered with b-movies and bikinis, has made her name due to her screen presence and her determination, conscious or otherwise, to make her characters more than just fodder for the male gaze.









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