What I’ve Been Watching: The Man with the Golden Gun (1974).
Who’s Responsible: Guy Hamilton (director), Richard Maibaum and Tom Mankiewicz (screenwriters), Roger Moore, Christopher Lee, and Britt Ekland (stars).
Why I Watched It: Research.
Seen It Before? Many times, including on its release.
Likelihood of Seeing It Again (1-10): 10.
Likelihood the Guys Will Rib Me for Watching It (1-10): 1.
Totally Subjective BOF Rating (1-10): 6.
And? When I sat down to re-read Ian Fleming’s posthumously published (and some say completed) last novel, I realized I remembered virtually nothing about it, a situation due only partially to the intervening decades. In the interim, some of my memories have been supplanted by repeated viewings of the film, which—believe it or not—actually outstrips even Moonraker in throwing Fleming’s plot out the window. Okay, both versions pit 007 (Moore) against hit man Francisco Scaramanga (Lee), who, in fact, has a golden gun, as well as a habit of getting his ashes hauled before plying his deadly trade, and both feature Bond’s colleague Mary Goodnight (Ekland) as his primary inamorata, but that’s about it.
As usual, the differences are attributable in large measure to the novels’ being filmed out of sequence, especially since this one follows directly upon the denouement of Fleming’s You Only Live Twice. There, Bond is suffering from amnesia due to wounds received in the castle of his nemesis, Blofeld, when he stumbles upon a reference to Vladivostok that begins to trigger his memories, and travels to Russia in search of his past. At the start of Golden Gun, he returns to England (having been missing and presumed dead for a year), but after he tries to assassinate his boss, M, it is revealed that he has been brainwashed by the K.G.B.; the deprogrammed 007 is then sent on a suicide mission against Scaramanga.
Fleming passes briskly over the six weeks Bond spends in electroconvulsive therapy, and another six weeks spent trailing the Havana-based Scaramanga around the Caribbean and Central America, before bringing the antagonists together in 007’s old stomping grounds of Jamaica. The novel is a marked contrast to the Grand Guignol style of You Only Live Twice, in which Blofeld, clad in 17th-century Japanese armor, presides over a “garden of death” that entices the residents of Kyushu to suicide. Yet Fleming overcompensates by setting his story at a shabby, unfinished hotel, surrounding Scaramanga (a veteran of the Spangled Mob featured in his earlier Diamonds Are Forever) with garden-variety hoods.
Golden Gun marked the third and last collaboration between Hamilton, who had directed Goldfinger a decade earlier, and Mankiewicz, credited with Maibaum on Diamonds and alone on Live and Let Die; Lewis Gilbert and Christopher Wood, respectively, succeeded the pair on The Spy Who Loved Me and (sans Maibaum) Moonraker. Gun also assembled series regulars such as composer John Barry, lyricist Don Black, ailing cinematographer Ted Moore (then replaced with Oswald Morris), title designer Maurice Binder, and actors Bernard Lee (M), Lois Maxwell (Moneypenny), and Desmond Llewelyn (Q). Performed by Scottish pop star Lulu, the admittedly lively title song is far from Barry’s finest hour.
Undoubtedly the film’s greatest asset is Lee, already an international icon for his long-running Dracula series for England’s Hammer Films, in addition to equally memorable roles in other horror vehicles. Fleming had originally recommended Lee, his stepcousin and sometime golf partner, to play the title role in Dr. No, yet given that villain’s limited screen time he was probably put to better use here, with the screenplay and Lee’s literally towering presence upgrading Scaramanga from Fleming’s rude thug. This casting, along with Richard Lester’s The Three Musketeers (1973) and its sequel, The Four Musketeers (1974), allowed him to show his range, no less villainous but in entirely different milieux.
For a change, the primary villain pops up in the teaser as Scaramanga handily dispatches Rodney (Diamonds alum Marc Lawrence) in his funhouse-style killing ground, located on an island in Red Chinese waters, and then blows the fingers off a mannequin in 007’s image. Soon to play a similar role on Fantasy Island, Paris-born Hervé Villechaize (who starred with Jonathan Frid and Martine Beswick in Oliver Stone’s first feature, the mega-bizarre horror film Seizure, that same year) is Scaramanga’s pint-sized henchman, Nick Nack. It is he who arranges these little entertainments, and we learn that if his boss buys the farm, Nick Nack will inherit his million-dollar-a-hit employer’s considerable wealth.
Binder’s title sequence makes full use of the eponymous firearm’s phallic possibilities, as do Black’s sometimes indecipherable lyrics (e.g., the none-too-subtle double entendre on “bang”). Scaramanga throws down the gauntlet by sending Bond a golden bullet with his number etched on it, and we learn something of his circus background, which, along with his third nipple, was one of the few details retained from the novel. M orders 007 to table his current mission to find Gibson—the inventor of Maibaum’s MacGuffin, a solar cell—until Scaramanga can be dealt with; inevitably, these two plotlines converge, but needless to say, this duel of titans is stripped of all the baggage with which Fleming had loaded it.
An analysis of the dum-dum bullet that took out 002 leads Bond to Scaramanga’s Macau-based Portuguese armourer, Lazar (Hammer regular Marne Maitland), and thence to moll Andrea Anders (Maud Adams). As an actress, the Swedish Adams makes a great model, and how she got promoted to the admittedly undemanding title role in Octopussy after her stint here as Scaramanga’s obligatory have-sex-with-Bond-and-die confederate is beyond me. Following Andrea aboard the Macau-Hong Kong hydrofoil, 007 roughs her up until she informs him that Scaramanga has an appointment at the Bottoms Up Club, and when it turns out to be a hit, Bond is “arrested” at the scene by Lieutenant Hip (Soon-Taik Oh).
This turns out to be a ruse to take Bond to a meeting with M inside the wreckage of the Queen Elizabeth in Hong Kong Harbor, where he is informed that the target was Gibson, whose Solex was pocketed by Nick Nack. Bond deduces that Scaramanga was hired by Gibson’s erstwhile employer, wealthy Bangkok businessman Hai Fat (Richard Loo), and that they have never met face to face, so 007 impersonates Scaramanga, equipped with a faux nipple by Q. Inexplicably blaming Bond for Gibson’s dying after his initial contact with Hip (which 007 could scarcely have prevented) and the disappearance of the Solex, M decrees that Goodnight accompany Bond to Thailand as his “efficient liaison officer.”
The literary Goodnight was introduced in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service as 007’s new secretary, replacing Loelia “Lil” Ponsonby (first mentioned in Moonraker), who had left the Service to get married. In one of Fleming’s trademark coincidences, Goodnight turns up in Jamaica, assisting Bond with his mission, and although their prior relationship was apparently platonic, 007 is determined to change that. Then divorced from Peter Sellers, her co-star in After the Fox (1966) and The Bobo (1967), fellow Swede Britt Ekland had appeared in the cult classics Get Carter (1971) and—with Lee—The Wicker Man (1973), but sadly sets Gun’s tone by portraying Goodnight as an extra-ditzy blonde Bond bimbo.
007’s imposture fails, yet in a nod to the current kung-fu craze, he escapes from Hai Fat’s martial-arts school with the help of Hip and his nieces. As with Jaws in Moonraker, Eon Productions regrettably brought back a tiresome comedy-relief character: redneck Sheriff J.W. Pepper (Clifton James), who—in a coincidence worthy of Fleming—just happens to bump into Bond while vacationing half-way around the world from their initial encounter on his home ground of Louisiana in Live and Let Die. Entrusted with the Solex by Hai Fat, Scaramanga then kills both him and Andrea; having actually sent Bond the bullet herself, she agreed to give 007 the Solex if he freed her from Scaramanga, and paid with her life.
Scaramanga bundles Goodnight—now carrying the Solex—into the trunk of his car, and the ensuing chase features Bond’s “Astro-Spiral” canal jump in the Hornet he stole from a showroom with J.W. inside, but his quarry attaches wings to his Matador and takes off. Bond follows Goodnight’s homer signal to his island for their showdown, a far cry from Fleming’s anticlimax, in which Scaramanga was already wounded by 007’s friend Felix Leiter, previously seen on the printed page in Thunderball. Bond wins the mano-a-mano shootout by posing as his own mannequin, rescues Goodnight from Scaramanga’s soon-to-explode solar-energy installation, and subdues Nick Nack in the by-now de rigueur coda.
In this entry, honors for the best gadget go not to Q but to Scaramanga, whose weapon is assembled from a seemingly innocuous fountain pen, cigarette case, lighter, and cufflink, and—as Lee related in his autobiography—missed its spot on The Tonight Show when it was confiscated by customs. Q is compensated with a splendid scene in which he talks shop with another boffin, Calthorpe (James Cossins), about ballistics, yet Moneypenny, and particularly M, appear to be in an unusually bad humor throughout. Doubtless their mood was shared by producer Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli, for The Man with the Golden Gun was among the least profitable Bond pictures, with the lowest U.S. ticket sales ever.
Conflict dogged the production, first planned to shoot with Moore in Cambodia after You Only Live Twice, until the rise of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge forced it to be shelved. It was revived after Live and Let Die, but location scouting in Iran was abandoned when the outbreak of the 1973 Ramadan War plunged the Middle East into turmoil; the second unit was just completing photography in Bangkok as an uprising there led to martial law being declared. Finally, this film marked the end of Broccoli’s contentious partnership with the overextended Harry Saltzman, who was ultimately obliged to sell his shares in Danjaq—the company that holds the rights to the Fleming properties—to distributor United Artists.
Addendum: I’d be remiss if I didn’t connect one final pair of dots, namely that the erstwhile Mr. Ekland, Peter Sellers, played baccarat expert Evelyn Tremble in the 1967 Bond spoof Casino Royale.
Go to Octopussy.
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