Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Man With The Golden Gun - 1974

Background: if I had to give an award for the worst Bond film, The Man With The Golden Gun would go very close to taking out that unwanted honour, actually change that, it would win hands down.

Broccoli and Saltzman had originally wanted to make The Man With The Golden Gun right after You Only Live Twice (although I've heard other reports saying that they really wanted to do On Her Majesty's Secret Service then, so I guess it depends on where you get the information from, the book is also mostly set in Jamaica, not the near east), but wanted to film it in Cambodia and the political situation at the time was too unstable to consider making the film there.

It was a troubled production, and that was despite having a settled cast for the first film since You Only Live Twice. Relations between Broccoli and Saltzman had been strained for some time. Broccoli had always reined in his partner's grand plans and maybe he was becoming tired of it by now. The story goes that Saltzman insisted that because The Man With The Golden Gun was being filmed in Thailand that it had to have an elephant stampede. He even went ahead and ordered shoes for the elephants. A delivery man arrived on set with the shoes and asked where to put them. Broccoli asked: 'What shoes?' and the man said: 'For the elephants...the stampede.' 'What stampede?' Broccoli demanded. 'Mr Saltzman ordered these shoes for the...' the deliveryman trailed off.
That was apparently the last straw for Broccoli and the partnership was dissolved soon after.

I don't know exactly how they did it, but if there was a mistake to be made with a Bond film, they made it in this one.

Story: the story is very very silly. Now I know considering some of the others that's a big statement, but it is.

There's a few threads running through it. A bullet is received at MI6 addressed to Bond. It's a golden bullet with the number 007 engraved into it. That's a clear message from the world's most highly paid assassin; Francisco Scaramanga, The Man With The Golden Gun, who charges $1,000,000 per hit. M wants to take Bond off active duty until they can sort this out, because he doesn't want an agent with a price on his head wandering about the place being tracked by a notorious assassin. Bond then goes off on a globe trotting mission to track down Scaramanga. He eventually lands in Hong Kong. Scaramanga also didn't send the bullet, his girlfriend Andrea Anders did, because she was hoping it would lure Bond to her homicidal partner and the assassin would be killed by the agent.

In Hong Kong Bond is teamed up with a British liaison, Mary Goodnight. Even as a character Goodnight was both unbelievable and ineffective. It's hard to swallow that the British would send a young wet behind the ears agent, who seems to make bad decisions to Hong Kong without a lot of support, add to that the fact that her looks (blonde with blue eyes) make her stand out and it defies belief. 

At about this time it appears Broccoli and Saltzman had found another trend to try and hang on the coattails of; the kung fu movie. There are a number of sequences with karate experts kicking and chopping all about the place. Apparently Bond has some karate moves too, and I always thought he was a judo expert. In one laughable scene he's actually rescued from a gang of second rate ninjas by two teenage girls whose father runs a karate school.

There are some nice scenes between M and Q, both in the bowels of a sunken ship that MI6 use as a base in Hong Kong, where Q keeps geeking out about certain energy saving technology with another boffin and M keeps irritably telling him to 'shut up'. Moneypenny was also pretty much all business in her dealings with Bond this time too. It was about this time that she morphed from the sassy secretary to the moonstruck spinster type.

Scaramanga isn't really in the killing for hire business anymore, he's stringing a Thai based industrialist along to try and get hold of a revolutionary solar device. He plans to sell the technology to the highest bidder, or see which oil sheikh will pay him the most to not let the tech go public. It also doubles as a doomsday device, but Bond doesn't find any of this out until he goes to Scaramanga's island.

Scaramanga kills Andrea and leaves Bond in a stadium with the body after having his valet; the midget Nick Nack, get the drop on Bond from behind. As a physical adversary Nick Nack is totally ineffective, but he's a sneaky little creature and it doesn't do to turn your back on him.

Unfortunately some audiences out there reacted well to J.W Pepper so they put him in this film as well, cast as the typical ugly American tourist, he finds himself on a chase with Bond after Scaramanga and Nick Nack, who have Goodnight locked in the boot of their car. I actually think if Goodnight hadn't also had the solar device on her Bond wouldn't have bothered chasing her. There is one brilliant stunt where Bond actually barrel rolls the car to get it across a river. It was the first time the stunt had ever been successfully performed and my hat is off to whoever did the driving, it knocks the car on two wheels stunt from Diamonds Are Forever into a cocked hat.

After Scaramanga escapes pursuit with his flying car (yes, I did say flying car. M didn't believe it either), Bond flies to his island to take him on and get the solar device back. Scaramanga proposes an old fashioned duel, pistols at 20 paces. He cheats and Bond finds himself taking the assassin on in his funhouse, his own personal deadly shooting gallery. To make matters worse its controlled by Nick Nack. That's probably not as bad as it sounds. Nick Nack does his best to make things as difficult for his master as he can due to the fact that if Scaramanga dies, Nick Nack inherits everything.

While Bond is playing a game of kill or be kill with Scaramanga, Mary pushes her guard into a vat of stuff in the base housing the solar device. Once the goo heats up the entire place will blow. Bond kills Scaramanga, which was strangely anti climactic, and then goes to find Mary. She was actually a worse enemy than any evil overlord Bond had ever faced. First she set off the meltdown, then she nearly kills Bond on two occasions by accidentally pushing things she shouldn't have. They wouldn't even have been in that situation if when she got the device she'd rung the police like she was told to by local undercover agent Lieutenant Hip, instead of trying to place a bug on Scaramanga's car.

Despite Calamity Mary they do get off the island safely on Scaramanga's luxury junk. Bond has to deal with a murderous Nick Nack before continuing his slow boat AWAY from China. Just as he's snuggling in with Mary, the bedside phone rings with M on the other end. Bond hangs up on him. They replayed this gag at the end of at least the next two films.

About the only thing to recommend the film is Christopher Lee's performance as Scaramanga, he plays it with his tongue firmly in his cheek, but does it with such style that you have to admire it.

If this one didn't kill the franchise then nothing would.


Director: maybe directors get stale if they do too many. It seemed to happen with Terence Young, and it certainly appears to be the case with Guy Hamilton in The Man With The Golden Gun. Most of actors, except for the real old pros like Bernard Lee, Desmond Llewelyn and Christopher Lee, seem to play their parts without any real direction. Even in Live And Let Die there were signs that Hamilton seemed more interested in how big he could make the stunts and how far he could push the envelope. That reaches epic proportions here. The whole thing is overblown, and to be honest, kind of boring, there's a definite lack of tension and involvement with the stories and the characters.

James Bond: Roger Moore agreed to return to the role and for the first time since the early films the same actor played Bond twice in a row. That gave the whole franchise a feel of stability. Moore may have been stung by criticism that he was too bland, too light in Live And Let Die and consequently in The Man With The Golden Gun tried to channel Sean Connery and it failed miserably. He's too civilised. What he needed was a balance between the two. I also noticed that he'd put his own stamp on the role by smoking cigars on screen. Fleming's Bond and the one that both Connery and Lazenby played was a cigarette smoker. Moore favoured large, expensive cigars, and he was often seen smoking them in the first two films he played the spy in.

Francisco Scaramanga: by the time they made The Man With The Golden Gun, Christopher Lee was a highly respected actor with a long list of credits and honours behind him. At the time he was best known for his portrayal of Count Dracula for Hammer Horror. He was actually a cousin of Ian Fleming and the author suggested him for the role of Julius No in Dr. No, but was ignored. Just as well because he got this role and was the only good thing about the film. he would later go on to play significant roles in both Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit films as well as the Star Wars prequels.

Nick Nack: the character of Nick Nack doesn't appear in the book, he was entirely created for the film. I'm not sure when or why they decided to cast him as a midget, but they did and French artist and actor Herve Villechaize got the role. While when compared to the likes of Oddjob, Nick Nack is a pretty useless henchperson, Villechaize did his best with the role. He would later find lasting fame playing another valet, Tattoo in the TV show Fantasy Island.

Peripheral roles: the regulars returned for their usual roles. I honestly think as the films went on Bernard Lee became grumpier and grumpier as M. He was always much shorter with Moore's Bond than he ever was with Connery's. Interestingly enough despite the fact that Moore is older than Connery, he looks younger and Moneypenny's flirting is looking ever more desperate the older Lois Maxwell grew. Viewers get to see at least 2 of Q's labs and he discusses things with others and Bond while his minions spectacularly test out his inventions in the background. The filmmakers seem to be trying to make up for no Q in Live And Let Die by giving us extra Q in The Man With The Golden Gun.

Andrea Anders: Maud Adams was the second Swedish supermodel in The Man With The Golden Gun and she far outshines her fellow Swede Britt Ekland in her role as Scaramanga's scared for her life girlfriend. Adams was extremely impressive and that impression remained with the Bond franchise.

Sheriff J.W Pepper: yes, they put him back in the films. He apparently tested well with audiences. I don't know who said this, because I haven't been able to find anyone who did actually like the character. Hamilton did like him, though, and I suspect that's the real reason behind his reappearance. Clifton James turns in the same over the top performance, and as he's in a foreign country it's even more offensive than it was the first time around. Another huge mistake.

Mary Goodnight: it's a ridiculous name and it's held by an equally ridiculous and useless character. Britt Ekland was a Swedish model and professional celebrity, who was always better known for who she happened to be going out with (she was married to Peter Sellers and a long time girl friend of Rod Stewart) than any actual acting talent she ever displayed. What Ekland did well was stand around and look pretty (she did this wonderfully well as Duchess Irma in Royal Flash), but she could not act. She lobbied Eon quite heavily for this role and was eventually rewarded with it. It was badly written in any case and I don't even know that a decent actress could have done a lot with it.

The Curse of the Bond Girl: I'm sure Britt Ekland expected her career to go somewhere after the film. She did work and work plenty, but her lack of acting ability always held her back. As before the film she was always more in the news for her partners (she sensationally married Stray Cats drummer Slim Jim Phantom in 1984, who was nearly 20 years younger than her at the time) than her acting endeavours. The fact that she appeared in the British version of I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! says it all really.

Pre credit sequence: for the second film in a row Bond does not appear in the pre credit sequence. It serves to introduce Scaramanga, Nick Nack and Andrea, as Scaramanga takes on and kills a Chicago gangster and hit man in his funhouse.

Gadgets: despite Q appearing a fair bit in this film, Bond doesn't seem to have many gadgets to play with. The Golden Gun is a pretty neat gadget though. It's composed of a few separate pieces and as most of them look like smoking paraphernalia (the butt is a cigarette case, the barrel a holder, the bullets are kept in a cigarette packet) it allows Scaramanga to carry it around without comment. Scaramanga's flying car also deserves some comment. It's an ordinary car for the most part until you switch the dash around to flying instruments and attach a pair of wings to the side with a high powered motor. The solar device which harnesses the power of the sun to provide energy and a high powered laser beam also qualifies as a gadget.

Music: one word for the Lulu sung title tune: awful. It's not the artist's fault. I'm sure she did her best. It's just a horrible song. It was also released nearly a decade after the artist's peak popularity (the franchise makers seem to be behind on the artist's popularity a lot. Paul McCartney and Wings are one of the few exceptions). Alice Cooper also recorded a song called The Man With The Golden Gun, but it was rejected, he included it on his Muscle of Love album. Even John Barry, who wrote the song, doesn't like it.

If they ever wanted to write a book about how not to make a Bond film, The Man With The Golden Gun would provide most of the material for it. Even as big a fan as I am, and I did like the film when I first saw it, but I was all of about 9 years old at the time, I can't muster up much love for this one and do my best to forget it exists.

James Bond will return in The Spy Who Loved Me.

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