Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Bond Is Forever: "The Man with the Golden Gun"

Francisco Scaramanga (Christopher Lee), a professional assassin who sports a golden gun which houses only a single bullet, is such a proficient killer that he can demand one million dollars per hit. When it looks as if the hitman's next target is British agent, James Bond (Roger Moore), the spy travels to Macau to find the man who manufactured the gun's unique golden ammunition. It soon becomes clear that Scaramanga's ultimate purpose is the procurement of the solex agitator, a device for harnessing solar energy. Bond's mission takes him to Bangkok, Thailand, and eventually to Scaramanga's private island in China, where 007 has a showdown (actually, a duel) against the man with the golden gun.

There are two significant elements of The Man with the Golden Gun (1974) which reflect the times. One such element was the oil crisis of 1973, during which time countries were researching alternate sources of energy, e.g. solar. The other notable aspect o
f the movie is the focus on martial arts. The previous year, Bruce Lee starred in his first American film, Enter the Dragon, which sparked a U.S. interest in martial arts films (such as Lee's earlier Hong Kong films). Interestingly, Enter the Dragon has been accused of adding Bond ingredients into the plot. For example, the movie's main villain, Han (Shih Kien), has his own private island and a deadly artificial hand (a la Dr. No), and even cradles and strokes a cat (a la Blofeld). However, The Man with the Golden Gun is clearly inspired by the success of the Bruce Lee film, and Scaramanga's room of mirrors is undoubtedly a take on a similar sequence with Lee and Shih.

It is additionally worth noting that the aforementioned plot points were not taken from author and Bond creator Ian Fleming's novel of the same name. In fact, aside from the title, the villain's name, and the character of Mary Goodnight (who was actually Bond's secretary in a few of the books), the majority of the story was written strictly for the big screen. Fleming's novel was published posthumously in 1965 and differs drastically from other Bond books. There has been speculation that The Man with the Golden Gun was incomplete at the time of Fleming's death and was subsequently completed by one or more other authors.

After the release of The Man with the Golden Gun, producer Harry Saltzman, reportedly due to financial turmoil, sold his half of the rights to Danjaq, LLC (then Danjaq, S.A.), the parent company of EON Productions. His
wife died from cancer shortly afterwards, and Saltzman largely stayed out of the movie industry, co-producing two films based on the life of Vaslav Nijinsky (Nijinsky in 1980 and Time of the Gypsies in 1988). Albert "Cubby" Broccoli founded Danjaq and EON Productions with Saltzman (Danjaq was a combination of their wives' names, Dana Broccoli and Jacqueline Saltzman), but it was the latter man who initially secured the film rights to the James Bond character. (Broccoli had tried a few years earlier, but the deal fell through when Broccoli's then partner, Irving Allen, met with Ian Fleming in London -- as Broccoli cared for his sickly wife in the U.S. -- and supposedly told the author that his books were not "good enough for television.")

The Man with the Golden Gun is one of the more unpopular 007 outings, but the movie does have its strengths. First and foremost, Christopher Lee makes an indelible villain. He has incredible presence, which is why the actor remains one of the best Draculas to ever appear on screen. As Scaramanga, he mesmerizes, with a smile that is both attractive and potentially lethal. This is a man who has made a career out of murder, not just for monetary gain, but because he simply delights in it. Were it not for Lee's striking performance, Hervé Villechaize as Nick Nack, Scaramanga's resourceful (and equally deadly) assistant, may have stolen the film.

Villechaize, perhaps most famous as Tattoo on the TV series, Fantasy Island, plays Nick Nack with some humor, but he never overdoes it, and he proves a formidable opponent to Bond. Best of all, the film itself does not seem to be mocking little people (or "midgets," as they said 30+ years ago). In one scene, Nick Nack has the drop on 007 during a Thai boxing match. As Bond and Scaramanga talk, Nick Nack snacks on a bag of peanuts while keeping what looks to be a Derringer aimed at 007's back. The man does not even seem interested in the discussion, as he seemingly pays more attention to the fight. It's both amusing and tense, as Nick Nack's fortitude is never called into question, and Bond respects the man enough to not move until he knows that he is gone.

The film has been criticized for its comedic moments. But the comedy is not overbearing, and the movie is sincere when necessary, such as the majority of fights (e.g., Bond's scuffle with some men in a belly dancer's dressing room). Likewise, much of the tongue-in-cheek dialogue works, such as when 007 questions who would want him assassinated, and M (Bernard Lee) responds: "Jealous husbands, outraged chefs, humiliated tailors. The list is endless."

However, The Man with the Golden Gun is not without its flaws. One of the most superfluous characters from the previous year's Live and Let Die was the exasperating Louisiana sheriff J.W. Pepper (Clifton James), who makes an unwelcome return in this film. Once again, the sheriff's attempts at comic relief are a series of misfires. Similarly, director Guy Hamilton, who also helmed Live and Let Die, includes another boat chase, which, fortunately, is not as lengthy as the first time. The women in The Man with the Golden Gun are underutilized. Maud Adams has little to do as Andrea Anders (she would have a much more substantial role as the title character in 1983's Octopussy). Britt Ekland's Mary Goodnight is one of the most worthless of the Bond Girls. For every one thing she does that is helpful, Goodnight does two or more things which prove detrimental. As a for instance, Goodnight helps Bond track Andrea to a hotel, but the spy lost Andrea's trail only because Goodnight parked her car in front of his taxi.

While the movie's treatment of the varying cultures is respectful, it is conjointly puzzling. Bond receives assistance from Lieutenant Hip (Soon-Tek Oh), whom he meets in Hong Kong. Hip's ethnic background is unclear, but his nieces in Bangkok, Thailand, according to the lieutenant, have a father who runs a karate school. Since karate is a Japanese style of martial arts, this would insinuate that either Hip's brother or his brother-in-law is Japanese. Additionally, Bond encounters sumo wrestlers in Bangkok, and is later captured and taken to what appears to be a dojo, where the students are dressed in uniforms most often associated with Japanese martial arts of karate or judo. To add to the confusion, actor Oh is of Korean descent, and Yuen Qiu, who plays one of the nieces who may be Thai and/or have a Japanese father, is Chinese. Oh would go on to play recurring characters in various American TV shows, such as Magnum P.I., Hawaii Five-O, Charlie's Angels, and M*A*S*H. Thirty years after The Man with the Golden Gun, Yuen would win awards, nominations, and praise for her outstanding performance as the landlady in Stephen Chow's wonderful Kung Fu Hustle (2004).

In honor of Paul's weekly Trivia Time, here's a trivia question for anyone interested: What four distinct components are assembled to form Scaramanga's golden gun? (Hint: Each piece has its own function prior to assembly.)

I would love to hear what everyone thinks of Roger Moore's second go-round as Bond, James Bond. Even if you aren't fond of the film, I'd like to hear your thoughts on why you aren't a fan.

Bond Is Forever will return next month with GoldenEye (1995).


  1. Sark, this was an engrossing, entertaining write-up and I wholeheartedly agree with your assessment of a much-maligned 007 outing. As you say, TMWTG has its flaws, but its virtues outweigh them. The fight at the martial arts school is fun without being over the top (did you notice the similarity between and a later KILL BILL character?). Chris Lee is indeed one of the best Bond villains for two reasons: (1) he doesn't send his suborinates to do the killing--he does it himself; (2) he can look really mean! My favorite season is probably the one where he assembles the golden gun in front of his soon-to-be victim. It was delightful to learn that Yuen Qiu later played the awesome landlady in the marvelous KUNG FU HUSTLE. Also, Paul did a profile on Richard Loo, who played Hai Fat, earlier this year. You know, the Cafe is an educational place!

  2. Sark, I love all of the James Bond films, I always find them very entertaining and fascinating. For me, James Bond movies are a wonderful combination of humor/crime/drama, never a dull moment. Christopher Lee's Scaramanga is one of the greatest villains in a Bond movie. His servant Nick Nack, played by Hervé Villechaize, is also one of the best of the sidekicks, Bond's enemies has had, right along with Oddjob and Jaws. Awesome 007-adventure! And an Awesome review!!

  3. Sark, Christopher Lee rocks! I agree with Rick's assessment of him being one of the best villains becasue he does the dirty work himself, in lieu of using a henchman. His gun is cool but I had to look it up to find all four parts. Per Wikipedia, the barrel is a fountain pen, the trigger is a cuff link, the grip is a cigarette case, and the breech is a cigarette lighter.

    I like Roger Moore but agree that Mary Goodnight is one of the weakest Bond girls. Even her name is tame.

    I appreciated the connection you made about the martial arts after "Enter the Dragon" made its impact. And I hadn't considered the multiple cultures represented.

    I loved your review, Sark! It was packed with fun information and I appreciated your take on the excellent work of both Christopher Lee and Herve Villechaize.

  4. Hi Sark, I'm back again! This is another of your usual excellent reviews full of information and fun trivia. I have never been a fan of Roger Moore as James Bond -- I always thought him too soft and mellow to be a true Bond -- but I agree that Christopher Lee is a marvelous villain! I love that guy in anything. I am an avid fan of Ian Fleming's original books, and have always thought it a shame that Hollywood left his stories behind for the most part and used mostly his titles and names. What they did keep was grossly sensationalized, and I think that was a mistake. The Bond of literature is a fascinating character and would have been a true serious classic movie character instead of the wisecracking comedic type Bond we know and love, but who nonetheless could have been truly great.

  5. This is fantastic review. Is one in a series or somethign? My husband hates this Bond movie, but I love it. Roger Moore is my favorite Bond. Face it he is better looking than Sean Connery! I like For Your Eyes Only better, but this one may be Roger's second best. I like that you mentioned Enter the Dragon because the climax of both movies are similar. Right down to the mirrors.

  6. Thanks for the compliments, everyone. I can see that many are fans of Christopher Lee, which is no surprise! I like Rick's point that Scaramanga was a man who could get his hands dirty (but not his pristine golden gun, of course), and Dawn, I agree that Nick Nack is right up there with Oddjob and Jaws! toto, you are absolutely right about the four parts of the golden gun. You get to watch Scaramanga assemble the gun only once (I think) in the film, but it doesn't show exactly how everything goes together.

    Welcome back, Becky! Your return is like a breeze on a warm, sunny day. I've read most of Fleming's books, and I agree that they should have actually adapted more of his novels, in lieu of simply taking the title and villain's name (although reportedly Fleming requested that they only use the title of THE SPY WHO LOVED ME, since it was written from the perspective of another character, talking about her time/relationship with Bond). What did you think of the novel, THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN? I may prefer the movie, because not much happens in the book, which is atypical of Fleming's other novels.

    Anon, thanks for your kind words. I, too, prefer FOR YOUR EYES ONLY. In fact, it's one of my faves and, I think, Moore's best film. Thanks for stopping by the Café!

  7. Sark, Good Post On Gun.I have a problem with this film. The Title is the only thing this film has in common with the book, which was the last Bond book that Fleming wrote. In the book Bond and Moneypenny finally get together (sort of) and the gun is a custom Colt 45 The two best things about this film are of course Christoper Lee, and Richard Loo. Not one of my favorite Roger Moore Bond outings.

  8. Paul, like many of the later adaptations of the Bond novels, the movie only takes the title and name of the villain (and also the name of Mary Goodnight). But in this case, it's not a missed opportunity because the novel is rather dull. Bond does nothing. He goes to spy on Scaramanga, but the bad guy knows who he is right away, and Felix saves him from being killed. Bond doesn't get together with Moneypenny, but with his secretary, Mary Goodnight, who only appeared in two other books. I think that a faithful adaptation would have made for a boring film.

  9. Sark It's over 30years since I read the book so I'll take your word for it, but I remember Mary was tied to a train rail and Bond had to take out Scaramanga to free her. Anyway as I said not my favorite Bond Book or film.

  10. Sark, this is another outstanding review of a Bond film. Actually I really like this movie for two reasons: it has Roger Moore and Christopher Lee in it. These two men are so handsome. Yes, I know that Chris is the villain and a cold one at that, but he is a Bond villain that looks as good as Bond. Usually Bond villains are not handsome at all. That is an interesting point about the similarity between Enter the Dragon and this movie. The plot is good and I like it. Oh, of course the theme song is on my iPod!!

  11. Paul, not my favorite Bond book, either. Hopefully, you'll like the next Bond selection.

    Aki, I like the theme song, too. I actually like most of the Bond themes. There's just a couple of them that I don't care for. That's a good point about Chris making an exceptionally handsome villain, when usually the villain is... well, not quite a looker. No offense to those actors, of course!

  12. Christopher Lee stole the show from Roger Moore... one major flaw is that they really didn't show Scaramanga being the world's deadliest assassin, except for killing the mob guy or whatever. The film suffers much in the action, or lack ... not even a big finale. I've read somewhere that Bruce Lee had been contacted to appear, as Lt. Hip character? That would've been something, and he could've provided much needed OOMPH, especially in the finale. Has anyone else read about this? It's very plausible since EON was well aware of Lee, I'm sure; their previous film was 'aware' of the Blaxploitation films an borrowed heavily, so certainly they would be very interested in Lee... as we see in the homage of the mirrors (I didn't catch that).