The Man with the Golden Gun
December 7, 2010 5 Comments
Title: The Man with the Golden Gun
Year: 1974. In their eight years of recording, the Beatles released thirteen albums. If you ask anyone; just walk up to a person on the street or call up your dad; anyone, to name six Beatles records, two or three are almost always going to come up and the remaining records will be an unpredictable assortment. But I would bet a months pay that no one, absolutely no one, in naming six Beatles records off the top of their head will name The Magical Mystery Tour (1967). Guaranteed. Why? The Fool on the Hill, I Am the Walrus, Hello Goodbye, Strawberry Fields Forever, All You Need is Love, Penny Lane and two of the better deep cuts in the Beatles catalog, Blue Jay Way and Baby You’re a Rich Man are all from the Mystery Tour album. When you think about those tunes, this record should be a classic. Yet it’s all but ignored. Is it because it was attached to a terrible film of the same name? Or because it came out between Sgt. Pepper and The White Album? Maybe it’s the incomprehensible cover art? Or is it something a little deeper? Yes, all the tunes listed above are undisputed classics but they don’t quite gel as a record. Could it be because when you go to the shelf to grab a Beatles record, you would rather spend you’re time listing to Revolver or Abby Road? I really don’t know but fair or not, The Magical Mystery Tour is the forgotten Beatles record and The Man with the Golden Gun is The Magical Mystery Tour of the Bond films. When’s the last time you thought of this film when thinking about Bond? I fell in love with Bond watching the films on Saturday afternoons on PIX Channel 11 and I just assumed I’d caught them all at one point or another. But when I was watching The Man with the Golden Gun for this project, I couldn’t remember if I’d ever seen it. Elements were familiar and I’m sure I caught a bit of it here or there but I truly don’t think I ever saw the movie from top to bottom till just now. How is that possible? Why is that the case? The ninth Bond film has a big time actor for a villain, stars the only Bond girl to ever return in a future films, has elements that are lifted for familiar Austin Powers gags, and most importantly, it hits all the right notes that make 007 films great. But like Staten Island, The Man with the Golden Gun (TMWTGG) is the part of Bond Town no one visits, mostly because everyone forgets it even exists in the first place. So the question becomes, is this movie a long lost gem or is it forgotten because it’s simply not that memorable?
Film Length: 2 Hours 5 Minutes
Bond Actor: Rodger Moore. After rereading my Live and Let Die (1973) post I now realize it plays like a big apology for/defense of Moore as Bond. Let’s pause a moment and state for the record that of the three actors to play 007 up to this point, I feel Connery is by far the best and the sample size is too small for Lazenby. That said, I truly think Moore gets a bum rap. I was born the year this film came out and for better of worse, when I was growing up Moore was the only Bond I knew. I would hate it when Channel 11 would play the “old” Bond movies with that “other guy.” Who was that guy? Not James Bond. Most of time I didn’t even bother to watch; I’ve got Star Wars guys to play with, don’t waste my time. As much as I may have over-praised Moore in Live and Let Die, the truth is he’s actually better in this film. More self-assured and steady in the role, Roger is able to live inside the character and give him new angles. Connery was a soccer hooligan who would never walk away from a fight and we loved him for it. But at times it got quite ridiculous, like when he took on an army of ninjas in You Only Live Twice (1967). Unlike Connery, Moore didn’t have the three day ninja training and his karate skills are no match for the masters of a martial arts school he finds himself taken to in TMWTGG. After watching a “training” sword duel that ends with one of the students dead, Moore surmises he maybe in trouble. So, when he is called to the floor he gives the master of the school a slight head nod as opposed to the honorable bow, indicating he has little respect for the formality of things. Sure enough, when his adversary bows to him, Moore’s Bond cheats and attacks prematurely. After knocking the unsuspecting dude flat, Bond THEN bows to the teacher. None to happy, the master calls his star pupil who does a number on Bond, who escapes a sever beat-down by literally jumping out the window. When a dozen black belts give pursuit Bond finds himself rescued by Lieutenant Hip of the local police department and his two nieces; school girls trained in kung fu. Moore simply sits back and watches his three new pals kick ass. The scene immediately brings to mind the famous market place confrontation in the first Indian Jones film where the overmatched archeologist shoots the master swordsman. It got huge laughs and is fondly remembered because it rings true but at the same time is completely unexpected. Movie audiences are programmed to expect big drawn out fight sequences and we certainly don’t expect out hero to take such a cheep shot. But if we found ourselves in Indy’s or Bond’s shoes, we 100% would have done the same thing. This is the opposite of Connery, who would have battled every last bad guy. However, it’s still Bond, but a Bond as Moore imagines him. Will Moore’s Bond ever compete with the Connery 007 of the 1963-65 glory days? Of course not. But after the last two flat Connery films, Moore’s take is a welcome change and a much needed injection of life into the character.
Director: Guy Hamilton. The mostly nuts and bolts director delivers a totally serviceable film with a few flourishes pushing it a step above Live and Let Die. Right off the bat, the locations here are more exotic than the last film and are therefore more exciting. One example, the shots of Honk Kong harbor and the rusty hull of the half sunken Queen Elizabeth are simple and beautiful. More importantly, the body of water and skeleton ship serve not just as a background but are integrated into the plot. At one point, Bond and the man with the gun that is gold are on two ships that literally pass in the night, neither aware the other is doing so. In an inspired choice, the abandon Queen Elizabeth doubles as MI6’s secrete headquarters situated “with the Chinese fleet on one side and the Americans on the other. Down here is the only place in Hong Kong you can’t be bugged.” All of the rooms in the ship are on a 30 degree slant and feature makeshift platforms that support furniture and walkways to create one of the most fun, original, and best looking Bond sets to date.
Reported Budget: $13,000,000 estimated, nearly double Live and Let Die’s $7 million, a clear vote of confidence in Moore. Or perhaps it’s the most expensive Bond to date because Harry Saltzman wanted to go out with a bang. Nine films after forming EON with partner Cubby Broccoli, Saltzman sold off his share leaving Broccoli as the man in charge of Bond. Saltzman went on to produce only two more movies, neither of which was successful or remembered. All Broccoli did was pilot the ever expanding Bond juggernaut until it became the biggest and most successful franchise of all time. I’m very curious to watch the next few films with Saltzman’s departure in mind to see if there is any discernable change in the movies.
Reported Box-office: $20,972,000 (USA) $97,600,000 (Worldwide) Ouch. Perhaps this is why Saltzman jumped ship? The weak box-office for TMWTGG dovetails nicely with the idea of the film being forgotten, maybe no one saw it in the first place. This number is even more disappointing when considering the film cost $4 million more than the most expensive previous Bond. It’s also a dramatic slip from the $126,000,000 worldwide haul of Live and Let Die just a year earlier. The drop-off is curious, TMWTGG isn’t anywhere near as drastic of a “reboot” as Moore’s debut, but screenwriters still labored to embrace trends of the day. In 1974, Bruce Lee was one of the biggest stars on the planet and indeed, everyone was Kung Fu Fighting. The Jamaican location of the novel, the last Fleming wrote, was abandon in favor of Asia so the film could be infused with a martial arts storyline. The plot was also tweaked to include the then topical energy crises of 1973. But in America at least, the long lines at the gas pump were seen as a symptom of a larger issue, the idea that for the first time since the end of WWII, America as a country was sliding backwards. The cold war was in full force and the reds took the lead when the U.S. withdrew from Vietnam and conceded to the communist north. At the same time, Watergate tested The Constitution and the very fabric of our government, not to mention our moral standing in the world. Viewed through this dark cloud TMWTGG is about as relevant as a typewriter factory in 2010. Surely theater goers were watching films like The Conversion, Chinatown, and The Godfather II (all 1974), dark tales reflecting the lost of faith in the American dream. Perhaps this is why this Bond bombed and is forgotten? But one look at the top grossing films of ’74 shoots that theory to hell. Three disaster flicks, Towering Inferno (#1), Earthquake (#4), and Airport 1975 (#6) as well as two of the best comedies ever made Blazing Saddles (#2) and Young Frankenstein (#3) (both Mel Brooks) were tops at the box-office. Clearly people were getting enough bad news from the papers and went to the movies for escapism, something Bond films offer in spades. So why didn’t Bond fare better than #9? One final box-office note, the #10 movie of 1974 was Murder on the Orient Express staring a truck load of A-listers including one Sean Connery.
Theme Song: “The Man with the Golden Gun” performed by Lulu. Lulu is Scottish which got to me thinking, what other bands/ performers do I know from Scotland? After thumbing both my mental rolodex and my record collection I came up with exactly zero. Lulu’s performance is … ahem, lacking. The vocals come off like a poor imitation of Shirley Bassey’s bombast but the fourth rate song penned by John Barry is the real problem. The lyrics play like a MI6 dossier of the films title character. “He has a powerful weapon; he charges a million a shot; an assassin second to none; the man with the golden gun!” and “When you want to get rid of someone; the man with the golden gun; will get it done” and so on. The song is just terrible and trying to shoehorn the films title in helps no one. Add the bizarre little bridge which sounds like it was flown in from another tune and this is simply the worst … Bond theme …. ever.
Opening Titles: I’m sure a ton of work went into putting the opening titles together so I hate to dismiss them out of hand but just like the theme song they are pedestrian and flat. The multicolored woman projected onto wavy water not only has no coherent connection to the film but is outright boring. In fact, the only reaction I had during the credit role was one of extreme disappointment and mild shock when I saw “Clifton James as Sheriff J.W. Pepper” come across the screen. Ugh, not him again.
Opening Action Sequence: Holy Jesus! Is that a midget in tuxedo carrying a silver tray containing a lone bottle of Tabasco sauce? Is that cave full of cowboys from a western, gangsters from probation era Chicago and a stuffed raven with a gun in its mouth? Does that silver-haired dude have a third nipple? Did I put in a David Lynch film by mistake? This opening sequence is completely bat shit nuts! The Man with the Golden Gun starts on a rock lined beach where a woman gets up from her chair to dry a tri-nippled man as he emerges from the sea. (Ursula Andress he is not) However, this now dry guy is more interested in the Champaign, Guinness and raw oysters just presented by his miniature manservant than this beauty draped around his legs. A second man, inappropriately attired in a black hat and a three piece suit, appears out of nowhere and remains unseen by the three nippled swimmer. The midget waves the hat man into a cliff cave home and into a room with a bar, a carnival style shooting gallery and a gym. The midget then disappears to a control room from where he sets the funhouse in motion. Mirrors turn, lights blink and floors give way throwing the hat guy into a mild panic. The midget’s master, the three nipple guy from the beach, is then called in and a one way shootout ensues. See, the nipple guy, who owns the house, is being tricked and taunted via a loud speaker by his miniature employee. The hat guy is shooting at the three nipple guy who is unarmed. The midget has locked the gun cabinet and has hidden a second gun, a gun by the by that is gold. Meanwhile, amusement park haunted house figures pop out funhouse style from various locations to add to confusion and prompting the hat guy to shoot at anything that moves. Finally, after sliding down some trick stairs, the nipple guy retrieves his golden gun and hits the hat guy square between the eyes with a single shot. The midget then comes out and is not chewed out for setting up his master, but praised. It turns out the nipple dude is the Man with the Golden Gun, the assassin second to none that we will learn all about in the theme song. This carnival on acid nightmare is set up to keep the killer on his toes and it quickly becomes clear what he’s training for. A Madame Tussauds waxworks Bond pops out from behind a wall and the golden gun man shoots all four fingers of Jimmy B’s right hand. Bond is the ultimate adversary, and golden gun must be forever sharpen his skills and be at the ready if he is to face 007. The use of mazes in a training exercise that ends with the injury of a faux Bond immediately brings to mind From Russia With Love’s (1963) open. And like that classic pre-credit sequence, this open plays as a great teaser, throwing us right into the action while raising a ton of questions.
Bond’s Mission: When M hands Bond a golden bullet with his number on it, literally, its game on. Marked for death, Bond is immediately placed on sabbatical. With his new found free time, Bond carries out the first mission in which he is the very thing at stake. This time, it’s personal and Bond treats it as such. The mission is simple; who is the man with the golden gun and who paid the $1 million to have Bond offed? Since no photos of the man with the golden gun exist and his address not listed on his Facebook page, Bond follows his only lead to Beirut where 002 was taken out while in the arms of belly dancer. The man with the golden gun is the lone suspect but he was never confirmed as the kiiler because the bullet was never found. Since this was a double O killed while on assignment, one assumes the investagtion into finding the killer and tracking down the bullet was thorough. Alas, MI6 came up empty. Bond on the other hand finds the golden projectile in .04 seconds and recovers it from the navel of the last person to see 002 alive.
Villain Actor: Christopher Lee. As Ian Fleming cousin and frequent golf partner, Lee was quite familiar with the world of Bond. In fact, Fleming wanted Lee to play Dr. No in the first film but it never came to pass. By 1974, the once and future Hollywood go to bad guy jumped at the chance to be a Bond villain as he was looking to get out of his vampire rut. Believe it or not, before Twilight or even Buffy Hollywood made movies about the blood sucking undead, the most famous being Count Dracula. Throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s Lee was famous for playing Bram Stoker’s Transvainain bat boy in several features but he also appeared in films about Frankenstein (as the creature), The Mummy (as the Mummy), and Jekyll and Hyde (as Paul Allen, co-creator of Microsoft). By the 80’s Lee found himself languishing almost exclusive in low budget horror films and made for TV movies. He kicked off the 90’s with an enjoyable turn in one of the most underrated and twisted sequels ever made, Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990) and by the end of the decade he was rescued from C movie jail by Tim Burton. Lee once again hit the big time when he was cast as Saruman in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings Trilogy. But a year later his parole from bargain-basement schlock was revoked by George Lucas who cast him as Count Dooku. Count Dooku, it must be noted, is nothing like Count Dracula despite Lucas’ winking attempt to use the similar names as some kind of attempt at humor.
Villain’s Name: Francisco Scaramanga AKA the man with the golden gun. Scaramanga is given a rich back story that includes a childhood in the circus, a stint as a killer for the KGB, and now a freelance gun for hire that charges a cool million a hit. (This is 1974, when a million dollars actually meant something.) Lee further added texture to Scaramanga playing him as the dark side of Bond. In Scaramanga’s eyes, Bond and he are equals plying the same trade; they both kill for a living, they just collect their paychecks from different people. A scene with a weapons maker in Moroccan marketplace hammers this idea home. Q determines the golden bullet that did 002 in was made by Lazar, a Portages weapons maker of great skill. When Bond comes calling Lazar welcomes 007 with open arms calling the superspies visit “an unexpected honor.” Working the gun biz, he is aware of Bond’s exploits and to craft a weapon for such a proficient shooter would be a career highlight. He too, sees no difference between Bond and Scaramanga, nor does he see a conflict in interest by doing business with both. After all, he never tells any of his clients who any of his other customers are; honor among thieves and all that. Bond, of course, immediately take offence to any such suggestion, turns a gun on Lazar and demands information about Scaramanga. The gun makers reaction lets us know that none of his other clients have pulled such a stunt confirming that Bond can be as much of a thug as the guys he chasing, sometime more so if the situation calls for it. The idea of Bond setting out to capture his cloak and dagger evil twin is so tasty I was nearly giddy with the prospect. And for the first half to two thirds of the film, The Man with the Golden Gun delivers on this promise. It’s a crime the producers and screenwriters didn’t trust this concept to carry the film and had to gum up the works in a third act riddled with Bond clichés. For the first bit of the film, Scaramanga is the most compelling and complex Bond villain up to this point.
Villain’s Plot: At first, it’s quite straight forward. Kill Bond. Everything comes to a head one night in Hong Kong. The night air is thick with tension as Bond crosses the street in front of the Bottoms Up club while an unseen Scaramanga keeps him locked in the sights of his golden pistol. (Why would one shoot from a snipers position with a pistol?) Things become even more mysterious when a shot rings out and a second man, not Bond, falls to the pavement dead. Scaramanga had a clean shot, how did he miss? Turns out, Bond was not the target and the man that was shot was Bond’s last assignment, the one he was taken off of thanks to the contract on his head. This is a fantastic twist, further enhanced by the idea that Scaramanga considers himself an artist and Bonds assassination would be his “masterpiece.” To gun him down the street would be a disservice to then both. However, this compelling story is pretty much abandon when it turns out that Scaramanga, the worlds greatest assassin who gets a million a hit and own his own freaking island paradise, wants to try his hand at running the electric company. He strives to be a clean energy mogul at that, and steals a 95% effect solar panel known as the Solex Agitator. (The dude he shot outside the Bottoms Up was the gizmos inventor.) Like the words companionate and conservative, green energy tycoon and deadly assassin somehow seem incongruence and completely at odds with one another. This is not exactly a diabolical “take over the world” scheme, yet the film treats it as such.
Villain’s Lair: “Welcome to my island Mr. Bond.” Scaramanga does indeed have one badass pad. His island rests in Chinese waters and the Red Army works as his doorman, informing him whenever anyone is approaching by air or by sea. His beach front home is nestled into the sides of cliff-mountains that resemble upside down bowling pins. His home contains the funhouse training rooms and a 1/3 size kitchen where the midget manservant cooks meals. And docked in the deep water is a wooden “Junk” ship, one of those Asian sailboats that only exist in storybooks. It of course has all the modern amenities and a full on wine cellar. The other cool evil base belongs to Hai Fat, the Chinese millionaire and energy mogul who paid to have the inventor of the Solex taken out. He too has a fascination with 3 ring circus chic and litters his otherwise pristine grounds with war like garden gnomes and life size sumo wrestler statues. Fat also owns the karate school but you know, if you’ve seen one one-thousand year old Chinese karate school, you’ve seen em all. The feature that makes this one stand out is the footbridge going over a small river, good for throwing guys off of.
Villain’s Coolest Accessory/ Trait: He is a master marksman able to uncork a champagne bottle from 75 yards with a single shot. He also, much to my delight, has a telltale deformity, a superfluous papilla or a third nipple. Apparently it’s a sign of sexual prowess and rumor has it Mark Wahlberg sports one. However, his publicist is not returning my calls so I can neither confirm nor deny the existence of Marky Marks third nip. No rumors here a BlogJamesBlog, only the cold hard facts. This is after all the internet, we have standards to live up to.
Badassness of Villain: Third nipple aside, the dude is a capital “K” creep when you get him in the bedroom with the ladies. He has a bizarre fetish with his golden gun which he’s been known to rub the barrel of along the face of his lady friend as she lay in bed. She is freaked out by this bizarre foreplay but what can one do when a loaded phallic symbol is dragging across ones lips? The gold gun dose in fact lead to her end when Scaramanga bumps her off for having relations with Bond. He justifies this murder by telling Bond “A mistress can not serve two masters.” 007, not at all shaken up by the dead woman next to him, seems to agree and offers the lady killer a peanut. Throw in Scaramanga’s fantastic back story, the fact that he lives on an island protected by the world biggest army, and he is perhaps the best assassin in the world and is all adds up to the man with the golden gun being one bad mother father.
Villain’s Asides/ Henchmen: Nick Nack, played by the 3’9” Parisian painter Herve Villechaize who went on to international stardom playing Tattoo (“Da Plane, Da Plane!”) opposite Ricardo Montalban on the inexplicably popular television show “Fantasy Island.” Scaramanga’s miniature manservant is almost as badass and sadistic as his master. Nick Nack giggles with delight as he pits his boss against armed opponents in the house of mirrors. He disguises himself as a sea creature from hell and is only seconds away from killing Bond with King Netptune’s pitchfork before Hai Fat stops him. (Something about not wanting a dead body in his garden.) When forced to fight hand to hand, he’s like a snarling Gremlin, kicking, biting and grabbing anything nearby that can be used as a weapon. Yes, for the climax of the film, Roger Moore as James Bond gets into a fight with a midget. It’s much nastier that it sounds as Nick Nack, armed with a wine rack full of bottles, does considerable damage. That is until Bond shuts him into a suitcase and hangs him in a wicker cage from a ships mast. Did I mention The Man with the Golden Gun can be quite silly?
Bond Girl Actress: Maud Adams has the distinction of being the only Bond girl to be so dubbed in two films and when watcher her in this, her first, it’s not hard to see why. (Ed, Note: yes yes, she also has a cameo in A View to a Kill (1985). Got it, moving on.) Elegant, beautiful in a much more adult way that some previous Bond woman, and classy even while throwing herself at Bond, she has enough going on to understand why Scaramanga would trust her and why Bond would be weary. In other words, she is the opposite of Britt Ekland, the blond haired, blue eye Swede who was married to Peter Sellers, had an affair with Rod Stewart, and bragged about her nights with Warren Beatty. She apparently appeared in some films as well.
Bond Girl’s Name: Britt Ekland’s Mary Goodnight is everything that is wrong with Bond girls rolled up in one package. Bond himself can’t even pretend to give her an ounce of respect and the truth is, she deserves less. Bond first encounters Goodnight when her convertible blocks his pursuit of Maud Adams’ Andrea Anders much to 007 annoyance. Indeed, for the rest of the film Goodnight serves as an obstacle for James to overcome. She falls into the hands of the enemy moments after being entrusted with the golden solar gizmo. She proves to be a complete ass when she nearly gets Bond fried by triggering a laser with her ass. Every time the alleged “fellow agent” showed up I found myself wishing Al Pacino’s character from Glengarry GlenRoss (1992) was on hand. “You are here to help us! Not to f**k us up!” If Goodnight is (bad) comedy then Andrea Anders is most certainly tragedy. She is also one tough cookie. Bond has a habit of walking into hotel rooms to find women bathing, but never has one been armed. “Water pistol?” Bond proceeds to knock to gun out of the bathing beauties hand and smack her around a bit putting Anders in a tight spot. It was she, not Scaramanga, who sent the golden bullet to Bond. She knew 007 would track the assassin down and her hopes were once he found her, a prisoner in Scaramanga’s gilded cage, she would be rescued. But after taking a beating at Bond’s hand, Anders is left wondering if she is about to leave one abusive killer for another. Scaramanga and Bond are again proven to be opposite sides of the same coin and they view the woman between them as nothing but a pawn. Anders sad story reaches its inevitable conclusion when she turns up dead seated next to both men while they continue their egotistical and deadly game. The Bond girls in TMWTGG stand as the embodiment of the two competing tones of the film. Andres is the complex and nuanced story that could have been and Goodnight is the muddled shallow movie that won out in the end.
Bond Girl Sluttiness: The entire plot of the film is set off by an Andrea Anders international booty call, with a (golden) bullet. She offers herself to 007 hoping he will rescue her from Scaramanga but Bond is in fact “just using her you see darling” as he explains to Goodnight. All he cares about is finding Scaramanga and yes, the golden solar McGuffin. But you can’t blame Anders, she got in with the wrong guy and hoped Bond was her ticket out. She is simply playing the hand she’s been dealt. Goodnight on the other hand doesn’t know is she’s coming or going, which is appropriate given her characters IQ is 007.
Bond’s Best Pick-up Line: “Mrs. Anders. I almost didn’t recognize you with your clothes on.”
Bond Girls Best Pick-up Line: Since there were no real stand-outs the winner is a putdown line delivered by Goodnight. She and Bond sit at a table drinking wine, “Phuyuck, with the complements,” while being entertained by a dozen showroom dancers, natch. (By the by, is that Scaramanga’s boat in the background?) Bond starts to work his magic, “There is really nothing for us to do tonight … OR IS THERE?” Goodnight responds by telling her colleague she refuses to be a notch in his bedpost and a plaything with which he is simply killing time. As she delivers this putdown the crowd in the restaurant applauds, presumable because the dancers finished the number but none-the-less, it was a perfectly timed ovation. For a moment even I was taken aback. “Good for you sister, don’t take any gruff from that swine!” All the goodwill vanished in the very next scene.
Number of Woman 007 Beds: 2, Goodnight and Anders. And now, one of the more awkward scenes I’ve ever witnessed. The set-up is pure Bond and at first, it works on that level. It’s also quite funny, at first. Right after Goodnight turns Bond down she shows up in his hotel room wearing short teddy. Bond simply gestures toward the bed and Goodnight jumps right in. The two are just getting started when someone is heard tampering with the lock on the door. Bond throws the sheets over Goodnight and intercepts Anders breaking and entering. The two sit on the bed next to the lump which Bond convincingly dismisses as “the old pillow trick.” Anders throws herself at Bond who accepts the advances but first, she must leave to slip into something more comfortable. Has anyone, moments away from getting naked anyway, left the room to “slip into something more comfortable?” et, it happens in movies all the time. Maybe I’m hanging out with the wrong people. Anyway, Bond quickly shoves Goodnight into the closet and gets down the business with Anders, who returns wearing something more comfortable. The idea of the horn-dog agent successfully juggling two women in the same room is a good one and it’s correctly treated lightly and with humor. Cut to Bond smoking a stogie and sporting a blue terrycloth robe as he liberates Goodnight from the closet after two hours. She is rather pissed. Might I add, rightfully so. To ease her fury Bond half heartedly explains “I was just using her you see darling. Your turn will come.” How many ways is this wrong? Bond then looks confused as to why Goodnight would storm out, but only for a moment. This also doesn’t stop the two from getting it on twice later in the film, bookending the midget flight. “Oh James” cooes this twit who was treated poorly throughout the entire film but still dutifully shows up when her turn has come. Told you she doesn’t deserve any respect, she can’t even respect herself. The behavior also speaks rather poorly of our hero.
Number of People 007 Kills: 1. This single kill must be intentional to show no, Bond is not like Scaramanga. The man with the golden gun on the other hand eliminates Anders, Hai Fat, the Solex guy and the guy in the hat from the top of the film. Bond none-the-less dishes out his share of bumps and bruises and shoots a gun at Lazars crotch (everything remains intact). For the climax of the film, Bond finds himself in the same funhouse world where the hat guy was murdered. But Bond is smarter than the average hat guy and once again evens the score by changing the game, this time literally jumping off the field of play to hide in the rafters. Nick Nack can’t see him in the cameras and Scaramanga is equally stymied. Bond then pulls of a quick change switch-a-roo and stands in for his fingerless target practice double. By the time the worlds greatest assassin gets wise, it’s too late and Scaramanga is taken out with a single bullet to the chest. This is a fitting end and a final example of Bond using deception to tilt the game back into his favor.
Most Outrageous Death/s: Another possible reason for the low body count is that Scaramanga doesn’t employ a small army of faceless minions that typically serve as bullet fodder for Bond. In fact, outside of Nick Nack the only other employee is a jumpsuit sporting Reggie Jackson lookalike who runs the solar power plant on the island. He is also a creep who leers at Goodnight and her small bikini a little too long. Goodnight does Bond’s dirty work for him by tossing the dude into one of the liquid nitrogen cooling tanks. What makes this death outrageous is a conveniently posted sign that clearly tells everyone not to do that, throw people into the tank that is. See, his 98.6 F body temp raises the temperature of the gazillion gallon vat of liquid nitrogen enough that the entire island explodes. Even in Bonds world, this is beyond all reason.
Miss. Moneypenny: After turning up in the field the last few outings, Moneypenny is back in her office off M’s. She sets Bond on the path to tracking down Scaramanga by informing him where 002 was when he was killed and who he was with at the time. Bond “You’re better than a computer.” Moneypenny “In so many ways.”
M: I missed M’s office and I was glad to see its return. Although he is home M is as grumpy as ever. “What do you know about Scaramanga 007?” Bond, better than a computer in so many ways, rattles off the man with the golden gun’s vital statics and is then handed the golden bullet “It’s even got my number on it. But who would pay $1 million to have me killed?” “Jealous husbands, humiliated chefs, outraged tailors, the list is endless” M huff back in his delightfully fun curmudgeon mode. M then kicks Bond off the solar doohickey case and tells him to go on sabbatical, essentially an order to sit around and wait to get shot. I found this a rather heartless reaction from the old man until Bond caught on and asked “What if I found him first sir, that would change things?” “Dramatically” M responds with a small smile. M couldn’t order his agent to go after Scaramanga because it has nothing to do with state business, but as a freelancer, Bond can do what he has to do. Good show M! Bond returns the favor when it becomes clear he will need to enter Red China to get Scaramanga and the solar thingamajig. “If the PM were to get word of this he would hang me from a yardarm,” M grouses. “Officially you won’t know at thing about it, sir.”
Q: Thankfully, Q makes a triumphant return and as a bonus, we find ourselves in Q’s lab for the first time since I can’t remember. (Ed note: OK, I can remember, Goldfinger (1964). You’re welcome.) The gadget guru is not at all concerned with the wall crushing missile tests being conducted in the background. Q is to busy performing ballistics analyses on the bullet Bond recovered in Beirut. In a role reversal it is Bond who is short and temperamental with Q and on one level the frustration is understandable. Q and his egg-head partner conclude the bullet is a .42 caliber, a caliber that is not standard for any gun manufacture and therefore must come from a unique, custom built firearm. The lab coat sporting duo tell Bond this development makes the bullet “impossible to trace.” Que Pasa? Wouldn’t a one of a kind bullet that can only be shot from a one of kind gun make tracing the bullet a dream? Find that one unique gun and then you have 100% confirmation what gun shot the bullet and who owns it, no? Any who, egg-head and Q figure out the bullet was crafted by a Portuguese chap named Lazar who lives Macao about 17 seconds after declaring the bullet “untraceable.” PS, I love characters like Lazar, the underground black market guys who channel in shady waters with elusive parties regardless of what “side” is paying. These seem exactly like the kind of “glamorous” individuals who would fit squarely into Bond’s world and I wish 007 came across more of them.
List of Gadgets: Despite Q’s return the film is quite flimsy on the gadget front. Bond does make a custom order for Q to craft him a nipple he can affix to his chest so he can pass as the tri-titted Scaramanga.
Gadgets/British Government Property Bond Destroys: Once Bond has infiltrated Hai Fat’s palace the faux nipple indeed becomes a superfluous papilla and is unceremoniously tossed into a ditch on the side of the road. I feel this ingenious bit of Q craftsmanship deserves a better fate. Perhaps it could end up in the “20th Century Spy Museum” or be sold off at auction to make up for budget short falls. Bond also manages to get a seaplane blown-up. This is a little more than a monetary concern considering it was destroyed while Bond was operating without M’s “official” knowledge inside China’s boarders. How M explains the missing plane to PM is never addressed. Perhaps we will learn what smooth talk M used to avoid being hung from a yardarm in the next film?
Other Property Destroyed: The belly dancer’s dressing room is trashed when Bond fends off three thugs. Mirrors are cracked, chairs are smashed, and bottles containing perfume are spilled and broken. The cabin in Scaramang’s boat is trashed when Bond fends off Nick Nack. Mirrors are cracked, chairs are smashed, and bottles containing wine are spilled and broken. Lazar will need to make a trip to the tailor thanks to a well placed bullet-hole in the crotch of his trousers. Then there is the collateral damage that occurs during a second act foot/boat/car/car plane chase. The boat chase is slightly reminiscent of the boat chase in the previous film, perhaps due to the appearance of one racist loud mouthed Louisiana sheriff who happens to be vacationing in Asia. Bond causes general confusion on the canal prior to splitting the baddies boat in two. Then there is the car chase that once again somehow has Sheriff J.W. Pepper smack dab in the middle. Roadside stands are put out of business (unless they have insurance covering crazy 70’s movie car chases) and cop cars pile up in the wake of our speeding secret agent. What was it about the 1970’s and the love of car chases/smash ups? Entire films like Smokey and the Bandit (1977) (with Jackie Gleason playing the J.W. Pepper role) and television shows like “The Dukes of Hazard” (featuring three J.W. Pepper characters) were based on 20 car pile-ups that people walked away from with nary a scratch. Perhaps because 70’s cars had such hefty mass, weight and girth they were just more fun to smash up? (Ed Note: For my money, The Blues Brothers (1980) features one of the best car chases and police car pile-ups ever captured on film.) Finally, Bond blows up Scaramanga’s island because it’s written somewhere in the Magna Carter that Bond films are required to end with an island exploding.
Best One Liners/Quips: After the fight in her dressing room, the belly dancer looks down to discover her navel jewelry, IE the golden bullet, has disappeared. When she screams “I’ve lost my charm!” Bond, who swallowed the bullet during the fight, cracks his jaw and adjusts his tie just so and responds “not from where I’m standing.” The idea that Bond could deliver this after such a physical fight it quite funny and Moore’s timing is perfect.
Bond Cars: Red AMC Hornet X. The American Motors Company, which was bought out by Chrysler in 1985, spent considerable money on product placement in this film. The company’s logo is prominently displayed on screen in several times and I saw the letters AMC in my sleep after watching this movie. It is while driving this AMC car with Pepper riding shotgun that Bond finds himself on the wrong side of a river with nothing more than a broken bridge on the shoreline. I was prepared for the upcoming auto jump but I was not at all prepared for the car, an AMC Hornet, to rotate 360 degrees in a corkscrew trans-river leap. Picture a spiral fired off by John Elway circa 1989 but only with a car, an AMC Hornet to be exact, and you get the idea. And like the crocodile hop from the last film, this stunt was actually done for real. In the 1970’s audiences didn’t just go to the movies for their car wreck jollies. Demolition derbies were extremely popular as were “auto stunt shows.” These grew out of vogue when the much more sophisticated “Monster truck rallies” of the 1980’s came along but in 1974 a paying audience of 20 thousand or so packed the Huston Astrodome to see the 360 degree AMC car jump performed live. I’m a 36 year-old jaded New Yorker and I shit you not when I say I was thrilled and taken 100% by surprise by the “car go spin in air” trick in the film. It’s a go for broke moment that shouldn’t work but does. At some point in the making of the film I picture a PA running up to producers after hearing about the Astrodome stunt for his brother-in-law. “Boss! Why jump a car over a river when we jump a car over a river AND MAKE IT SPIN!” “Yah, that’s sounds great kid, lets do it! Get AMC on the phone! Maybe we can get them to pay for it!” This is a very slippery slope; just because you can do a thing doesn’t mean you should. The advent of digital effects has given rise to a terrible mindset that says “Hey, we can do anything!”
This is a toolbox that many a filmmaker can not be trusted to use wisely. For stuntmen to pull of the spiral creek jump, every measurement had to be 100% precise or the AMC car and stuntman would go boom. In order for the stunt to work in the context of the movie, all measurements have to be likewise or the stunt will go boom. The actors, the writers, the producers and editors must pull off the silly and unbelievable with the correct mix of tone, set up, humor, music, pacing, and execution or all bets are off. Case in point, not five minutes after the thrilling corkscrew jump, performed by an AMC car, Nick Nack and Scaramanga get away from Bond. They do so by disappearing into a barn, pushing two buttons, and emerging from the barn to revel their car has been converted into an airplane. They then simply takeoff into the wild blue yonder as everyone else stands around gawking. As if things couldn’t get hokier, Goodnight, who is in the trunk of the car-plane, declares “I think they have stopped” and crowbars open the boot to find herself looking down on the Asian country side. It’s too much and it proves to be a fatal misstep that derails any good will that existed previously. We all know at the end of the day Bond is an inherently ridiculous character who finds himself in equally impossible situations that we all know he will negotiate with easy and look great doing so. We are willing to suspend our disbelief in exchange for the promise of an entertaining, well told story. Just don’t go too far into crazytown. When the car plane flew away my wife turned to me and said “when did we get to the land of make believe?” She was 100% right, obviously the entire thing is make believe but within the films own rules and context it worked, until a car turned into a plan, and then it didn’t. I return once again to the immortal words of Spinal Taps David St. Hubbins “It’s such a fine line between stupid and clever.” Ed. Note: This section of BlogJamesBlog was brought to you by American Motor Company, out of business since 1985.
Felix Leiter: No Felix, but Bond does have an American law enforcement partner; one Sheriff J.W. Pepper who (I guess) was such a popular character in the previous movie that EON had no choice but to bring him back. I avoided talking about him as much as I could in the Live and Let Die entry, just assuming I could forget about him. Now that he’s back, in an expanded role none-the-less, I guess we need to acknowledge him. Truth is, I want to like him. There are parts of the character that are great, like his overt racism for starters. If a fat vacationing southern cop calling the locals “pointed headed pajama wearing morons” isn’t a perfect send up of the ugly American abroad, I don’t know what is. I love that he always yelling about “getting the commies” and I love that he is the exact opposite of Bond. But for some reason, he just rubs me the wrong way. Perhaps because he’s such an exaggerated one dimensional cartoon. He just never fits in with anything going on around him. It’s almost like his character wandered in from another film and everything comes to a screeching halt when he’s on screen. That said, I still laughed when, while being handcuffed by the Chinese police, Pepper yelled “I’m going get the FBI on your ass, the CIA, God damn it, I’m going to get Henry Kissinger!” That’s humor.
Bond Timepiece: Rolex Submariner, but not the tricked out model from the last movie. Still, the watch looks good and tells time.
Other Notable Bond Accessories: Bond’s Walther PPK might not have the flash of the Golden Gun, but it gets the job done and serves 007 quite well.
Number of Drinks 007 Consumes: 3. After smacking Andrea Anders around a bit Bond proves he’s not such a bad guy by opening a bottle of Champaign. During his last trip to the Orient, Bond was all kinds of pissed off by the “Siamese Vodka” he was forced to drink. This go around he’s equally displeased when the house buys him a bottle of Phuyuck wine. He continues to bitch about it even when he gets back to his hotel room which I found to be quite endearing. Much later when 007 flies onto Scaramanga’s island, Nick Nack fails to note the “De plane, De plane” is coming but he does offer Bond a bottle of Dom. Sadly, Bond never gets around to drinking it. However, Scaramanga does honor the Bond villain tradition that started with Dr. No by serving 007 a top notch meal complete with drink, in this case some vino. Bond declares the wine is “Excellent, and slightly reminiscent of a ’34 Mouton” prompting Scaramanga to scribble a note to order some more for the cellar. It appears he also shares Bonds taste for finer booze.
Bond’s Gambling Winnings: Every good Bond film should have at least on location that makes you say “I want to go there!” The Floating Palace Casino in Macao is that place in TMWTGG. I have no clue what game was being played but it involved mahjong tiles and players gathered around not only the table but hanging over rails a flight above. These players had bets and winnings delivered via a network of hanging baskets that zipped to and fro in an elegant dance. Bond is in the gambling den tailing Mrs. Anders and he jumps up from the table as soon as she leaves. He doesn’t appear to grab any money and if he did I have no clue how much.
List of Locations: In addition to the fantastic casino, Hamilton does a far better job of capturing The Far East than Lewis Gilbert did in You Only Live Twice. The market streets in Hong Kong and Macao have the perfect blend of the familiar and exotic. The karate school and Hai Fat’s palace are in the story book looking ancient city of Thailand and couldn’t be more perfect. A lot of water front real estate is featured in this film and as we discussed above, Hong Kong Harbor is used to maximum effect. Scaramanga’s hideout is so fantastic it’s hard to believe the location is real but it is. Shot on the then remote islands of Khow-Ping-Kan in the sea near Phuket, Thailand, the location is now a popular tourist sight and is named “James Bond Island.” Even the throwaway scenes in Beirut (which I’m sure were shot on a back lot in England) feel real and not like a set. Then there is the obligatory big industrial underground set that the bad guys always have and always looks terrible. This one, like all the warehouse size sets from the previous films, looks like it was put together with rejected erecter set parts. The solar energy complex is need by Scaramanga because…… he clams to power his island by I suspect a few panels on the top of one of those rock cliffs would do the trick. Nope, the reason an assassin has this monstrosity of a power plant is so it can blow up at the end. Guy Hamilton says as much on the DVD extras. There is this feeling among the production team that Bond must destroy a huge industrial complex at the climax of the films. Why? I have no problems with Bond blowing stuff up when it’s part of the story but we never see this room, nay, zip code of the island until late in the third act. In look and feel the room is completely incongruous with the funhouse/cave house vibe created by the rest of the joint. And not to beat a dead horse but I must again ask, why in the hell does Scaramanga care about becoming a solar energy CEO in the first place? Rather than allowing the action to unfold in the world around it we are left with Bond and a girl in a bikini running away from exploding barrels and falling girders. Disappointing.
Bonds Special Abilities Displayed: One of the hallmarks of true intelligence is being smart enough to know when you don’t know something, and then asking the right questions. While escaping the Kung Fu students Bond jumps on a little outboard motorboat and takes off down the canal. The boat however begins to sputter and slowdown to a near stop with the Kung Fu boat fast approaching. A little boy swims up to Bonds craft, jumps in, and start trying to sell him a wooden elephant for 40 bucks. Still monkeying with the motor, Bond turns to the kid and in a my kingdom for a horse moment offers “20 thousand if you know how to make this boat go faster.” Quicker than you can say “Richard the 3rd” the kid flips a switch, the boat takes off like a rocket, and the kid has his hand out. “20 thousand!” Bond, shocked he’s moving again, simply tossed the kid overboard, “I’ll have to owe you.” At the top of the film Bond is able to recall Scaramanga’s dossier off the top of his head. Bond also picked up a course in solar engineering 101 somewhere along the way as he is able to bark orders to Goodnight about what buttons to push and levers to pull on a control panel that runs the entire power plant. He’s clearly a skilled shot; he just missed Lazar (on purpose) and bulls-eye’s Scaramanga. And then there is the flip over the water in his hot little red car. (An AMC I believe…) Finally, for the first time, Bond pilots a plane. This is one of the last vehicles by my count that he had yet to drive (no spaceships yet but I suspect that will be remedied soon with Mookraker looming on the horizon) and it’s kind of a big deal to learn Bond is pilot. The film treats it as a given when we cut, and there is Bond, calmly sitting in the cockpit of a seaplane as it brushes the tops of trees and fly between two rock-face cliffs. He is flying this low, you see, so he can get to Scaramanga’s island without being detected on radar. I am no pilot and I’ve never been in the military but this whole flying under the radar thing never held much water with me. I mean, does flying under the radar really work? It’s a given in film that it does. It’s kind of like a guy pulling out a credit card to open a locked door. We as an audience never question it. Ahhh, OK, fly under the radar, got it. But if it is that easy then why have radar in the first place? Why not just take a boat if radar somehow doesn’t work near the surface of the earth? Anyway, Bond is an ace pilot who not only lands the seaplane perfectly but is able to beach it earning a perfect 10 for style points.
Thoughts on Film: The Man with the Golden Gun is an enjoyable but ultimately frustrating film. It introduces and plays around with potentially wonderful ideas that no one involved in making the movie seemed at all concerned with exploring in any real depth. Like all veterans with a history of success, when producers found themselves in unknown territory they quickly returned to the old playbook. “Hell, it worked so many times in the past…” The idea of Bond going after the ying to his yang thanks to a price being put on his head is just fantastic. Scaramanga and Bond could have matched wits in a game of cat and mouse but the Goodnight character, the J.W. Pepper return, the entire solar energy angle, and several other plot devices are shoehorned in so producers feel like they are making a capital “B” Bond Film. Why does the villain need to be hell bent on world domination? The fact that he can kill anyone, anywhere at any time, including Bond, is not enough? Apparently not, there is the need to go BIG! And in doing so, the film is reduced to a cliché rescue mission; Bond must save the girl and the dingus. I understand 100% that part of why we love Bond is because he is big, bold, and loud, but he doesn’t have to be, and the beginning of this film proves it. Very few albums in rock and roll are bigger than Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run, The Darkness on the Edge of Town, and The Wild, The Innocent and the E. Street Shuffle. Those records put Bruce on the map and he was known at the leader of a huge arena filling band. But that didn’t stop the poet laureate of New Jersey from releasing Nebraska, a demo he recorded alone on a four track that he carried around for two weeks in his back pocket before he realized he was sitting (literally) on a classic. Even thought Springsteen was famous for Phil Specteresk Walls of Sound, he trusted his music could be just as powerful without Clarence, Max, and Little Steve. And that is why he’s the Boss, he trusts his instincts. Broccoli, Saltzman, and Hamilton should have trusted in the story and their character here, and audiences would have happily followed. But they gave up on Bond, and fell back on Bond formulas. Which brings us back to where we walked in, is The Man with the Golden Gun a long lost forgotten masterpiece? No, like Magical Mystery Tour, it’s got amazing elements and limitless potential, but ultimately the movie never comes together. It could have been one of the greats for sure, on par with the character driven From Russia With Love, but ultimately to much noise gums up the works and the finally act doesn’t gel with the promise, tone, or even the story set up in the first two. That said, TMWTGG is worth revisiting. Even at the end, as Moore is steering the ship away from the exploding island, he gives the fireball behind him a sideways glance and allows himself a subtitle smile. He’s in on the joke, and I’m sure it’s a lot of fun to make a living running around in front of movie cameras as shit blows up. For parts of this movie, we share in the fun as well.