Carmen – Northern Ballet Theatre at the Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 6th May 1999
The always stunning and elegant Northern Ballet Theatre brought their production of Carmen, choreographed by one of our favourite dancers, Didy Veldman, to the 1999 Swan Dance season. Set in Rio de Janeiro, in 1999, this Carmen was a packer in a cigarette factory, Jose was a police officer and Escamillo a Rock Star. A fantastic re-imagining of the classic work, with superb performances by Charlotte Broom as Carmen and Daniel de Andrade – who today is Northern Ballet’s Artistic Associate – as Jose.
Nederlands Dans Theater NDT2 – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 23rd May 1999
Another wonderful tour from the NDT’s youth company. The programme started with Round Corners, choreographed by Johan Inger, then we saw Déjà vu, choreographed by Hans van Manen, Skew-Whiff, choreographed by Paul Lightfoot, and finally Indigo Rose, choreographed by Jiri Kylian. It’s always a privilege to see this amazing company.
La Sylphide – Ballet de l’Opera National de Paris at the Palais Garnier, Paris, 18th June 1999
Moving past a fairly bland revival of Anthony Shaffer’s Sleuth at the Wycombe Swan, starring Peter Bowles and Michael Maloney, our next show was a glamorous visit to the Palais Garnier in Paris, during a wonderful ten day holiday in the French capital. La Sylphide, with choreography by Pierre Lacotte, was given a tremendous, pure production, with Fanny Gaida dancing the title role, Manuel Legris as James and Delphine Moussin as Effie. I had never seen a production quite like it. And since then we’ve always tried to see a ballet at the Palais Garnier if we go to Paris.
Rent – Shaftesbury Theatre, London, 19th August 1999
Rent had already been playing at the Shaftesbury for more than a year by the time we finally got around to seeing it. It was a great production, but for some reason – probably my age and latent conservatism – I’ve never quite got on with it as a show. Three of the roles – Mark, Mimi and Maureen – were played by understudies; I’m not sure if that played a part in how the show came across. Whatever, this production by Michael Greif, is a major part of musical theatre history.
Rambert Dance Company 1999 Autumn Programme – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 14th & 16th October 1999
Rambert returned to Wycombe with two programmes – so we saw them both. The first programme started with Gaps Lapse and Relapse by Jeremy James, followed by my all-time favourite dance, Christopher Bruce’s Ghost Dances, and finally The Golden Section choreographed by Twyla Tharp.
The second programme was the full-length dance God’s Plenty, Christopher Bruce’s dance exploration of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. The classic company included Paul Liburd, Hope Muir, Matthew Hart, Laurent Cavanna, Christopher Powney, Glenn Wilkinson, Vincent Redmon, Didy Veldman, Marie-Laure Agrapart, and Rafael Bonachela.
The Lion King – Lyceum Theatre, London, 19th October 1999
A good friend worked for one of the companies that sponsored The Lion King, and as a result he received an allocation of tickets for its first night, and he kindly invited us! So we walked on the red carpet (briefly) and went star-spotting in the bar. The show was good too! The original cast featured Josette Bushell-Mingo, Rob Edwards, Roger Wright, Martyn Ellis and Paul J Medford. Very enjoyable!
Mark Morris Dance Company – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 23rd October 1999
I’ve always really liked the choreography and style of Mark Morris, so it was great to catch this brief tour, over from the United States. The programme was Dancing Honeymoon followed by The Argument; then after the interval, Bedtime followed by Grand Duo. All pieces were choreographed by Mark Morris. Hugely entertaining!
Closer – Milton Keynes Theatre, 13th November 1999
We didn’t get to see the original West End run of Patrick Marber’s Closer so when this tour was announced it seemed like the perfect opportunity to plug that gap. A harsh and uncomfortable play, but beautifully performed and produced, with Amanda Ryan, Barnaby Kay, Darrel D’Silva and Lizzy McInnerny.
Richard Alston Dance Company – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 3rd December 1999
We were really looking forward to seeing the return of the Richard Alston Dance Company, on what had already become a regular annual event. The programme was: Red Run, followed by Light Flooding into Darkened Rooms (which we had seen the previous year), and Roughcut. All pieces were choreographed by Richard Alston. A Sudden Exit had been scheduled for this performance but was replaced by Light Flooding at the last minute. The company was led by Martin Lawrance, but all the dancers were magnificent.
Comic Potential – Lyric Theatre, London, 29th December 1999
Passing over yet another visit to see Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake, this time visiting Milton Keynes, and with Simon Cooper and Tom Ward in the iconic roles, our next show was the most recent Alan Ayckbourn to hit the West End, Comic Potential. Janie Dee and David Soul (yes Hutch himself) led the excellent cast that also featured Matthew Cottle. Low paid actoids have replaced actors in this sci-fi comedy set in a TV station of the future. Rather weird, but tremendous fun!
All good things have to come to an end. And even though it’s not a good thing, let’s hope the pandemic is one of them. But before that, Sunday night saw the last (allegedly) of the excellent online comedy gigs hosted by The Atic and The Comedy Crate through the unbelievably helpful Zoom. Once again our host was Ryan Mold, getting to know some of the online attendees, including part-time actor and recycling expert David, who may have to instruct our new local council in all things Green Bin – important work! Ryan also shared some of his new material relating to the pleasures of Facebook Marketplace, which is funnier than it sounds!
Five acts for our entertainment again, and first up was Laura Lexx, with a very sparky and confident approach to the world of zoom comedy, looking back on all the most dreadful moments of the lockdowns, including home haircuts and the unashamed purchase of a pricey dog. She also had some great material contrasting natural feminism with the need to be in comfy clothes. Very engaging and funny!
Next up, and new to us, was Philip Simon, who used a very showbiz backdrop to make us feel we really were at a comedy club. By contrast he has a rather gentle delivery, and enjoys clever wordplay in his material, giving rise to excellent observations about Geordie sheep-shaggers, withdrawal agreements, and how to make a man happy. He also had some entertaining material about home-schooling, which is something a lot of people can relate to!
After Ryan was concerned about one of the audience members who had gone off – only to discover he was doing the washing-up (such is the dynamic of a zoom gig), our third act was Nick Page, also new to us, who has a very wry and dour persona; the kind of comic that makes you laugh even though he himself never breaks into a smile once. I really enjoyed his material about posh relatives, and the joys of becoming a father at the age of 50. He communicated a lot with individual audience members which integrated really well into his act – that can be a risky strategy online, but his natural authority meant no one wouldn’t dare co-operate! Very entertaining, and someone we would like to see again when the world gets back to normal.
Then came Eshaan Akbar, whom we’ve seen a few times now and always mixes great observational comedy with food for thought. I really enjoyed his sequence about getting annoyed that people don’t pronounce his name properly – which has a nice sting in the tail, his struggle to get the attention and affection of his father, and why the Covid vaccine is the perfect Empire product. He always delivers his material with great fluidity and pinpoint accuracy, and I look forward to seeing him again sometime soon too.
Our headline act was Paul McCaffrey, who had appeared on one of the other gigs earlier this spring. He also has great style and attack, and I loved all his stuff about marketing clothes through what celebrities wear, and also his observations about Twitter. He did repeat some of his material from his previous gig – but, if you hadn’t heard it before, it was very funny!
So this has been described as the last of these zoom gigs as we start to emerge from the blur of lockdown – but I wouldn’t be remotely surprised to see more online comedy from this team in the future!
From the very beginning of Lockdown 1.0 it seemed to me that dance was the most “at risk” sector of the Arts. Like sports players, dancers train from an early age to reach a physical peak probably in their early 20s and then they have, what, ten good years to perform to the best of their ability, before injuries start to take their toll? Dancers simply don’t have that many years to perform at their best. And when you lose complete years out of your repertoire – well that’s tough. Fortunately, even a pandemic can’t extinguish the desire to create and find new ways for artistic expression. Of course, live theatres are not an option right now; but performers may have a new friend in the form of Zoom. A year ago, we’d barely heard of it; today, where would we be without it?
In an action-packed fifteen minutes, Liam Riddick’s new work for Ffin Dance, The Three Sections, takes the restrictions enforced on it by both Zoom and the pandemic, and works them to its advantage. He has taken Steve Reich’s 1987 composition The Four Sections for its vibrant musical accompaniment, dropping its longer string first section and leaving us with the remaining three parts in all their quirky orchestral splendour. It’s a great choice for contemporary dance, as it challenges both performer and audience to react to and interpret all its different moods and meanings.
By inviting us into the private living spaces of the dancers, Riddick has created an intimate but expansive piece, which reveals not only the claustrophobic imprisonment of working within one room but also the desire to reach out and spill into others. With Catrin Lewis beside her bed, Georgina Turier-Dearden accompanied by a chest of drawers and Julian Lewis in front of his TV set, Riddick gives us a virtual dolls’ house; you’re aware that in real life those rooms aren’t in the same building, yet the movement builds a connection and a story that unites them. At first performing independently, the links start to forge between the dancers, sometimes two by two, sometimes all three, so that their movements start to harmonise.
Despite the inevitable problems and frustrations they will have faced during the creation of this piece (during Lockdown 2.0) with all four people being in separate buildings – indeed, different countries! – together they have created a lively, charming, witty and strangely moving piece that both highlights the individual performers’ characters and encourages them into an ensemble.
Even though individual small spaces have their natural limitations, it’s great to see how combining them can create a much larger performance space. With the dancers sometimes clinging to their back walls, at other times coming right out into the camera at the front, you really get a surprise feeling of performance on a grand stage.
I particularly admired that inexorable progress towards performing as a perfect trio. By linking the dancers and their separate spaces with dynamic choreography, flashes of humour, yearnings for freedom and their tacit shared understanding of how they all relate to each other, The Three Sections not only leaps from room to room but also successfully makes the big jump from the screen into our homes too. Technically superb, and exciting and entrancing to watch – a beautiful new work for the online age.
Photos of the dancers (in An Inspector Calls) by Paul Trask
In which James Bond sets out on an unofficial mission to track down Scaramanga, who has sent MI6 a golden bullet with 007 carved on it; he has to find Scaramanga before Scaramanga finds him! However, there are no photographs of his enemy, so no one knows what he looks like – whereas everyone knows what Bond looks like. A big task for 007, but is he up to the challenge? Of course he is!
For a pay cheque of $240,000 plus 2.5% of the profits, Roger Moore was willing to reprise the role of Bond for a second shot. This would be the last time that producers Harry Saltzman and Cubby Broccoli would work together as Eon Productions; after the film was released, Saltzman sold his 50% stake in Eon’s parent company, Danjaq, to United Artists, the legalities of which delayed the appearance of the next film, The Spy Who Loved Me, for three years. The Man with the Golden Gun was a box office success, although not as successful as Live and Let Die, grossing $97.6 million at the box office on a budget of $7 million.
Ted Moore was once again engaged as Cinematographer, but was replaced during filming by Oswald Morris, due to illness. Morris didn’t want the job, because he’d been in the position of taking over from another cinematographer several times before, knew the pitfalls, and he didn’t enjoy it. But he was wined and dined by Cubby Broccoli and allowed himself to be bribed into it. Morris was a seasoned cinematographer whose first film, The Card, was made in 1952, and whose last, The Dark Crystal, was in 1982. This was Morris’ only work on a James Bond film; and it was also Ted Moore’s last, even though he remained active in the industry for the next eight years. Raymond Poulton returned as editor, along with John Shirley; Guy Hamilton returned for his fourth and final time as Director, refusing to do more Bond films afterwards as he had run out of ideas. Regular composer John Barry returned to score the film but only had three weeks to work on it, and considers it the least successful of all his scores for Bond. Design was by Peter Burton, who had designed Thunderball, and the screenplay credits were shared by Tom Mankiewicz, who wrote the first draft, and Richard Maibaum, who was brought back to revise it.
The Man with the Golden Gun was published posthumously in 1965 and was the twelfth and final novel in Ian Fleming’s series of books, although Octopussy/The Living Daylights was published later as a collection of short stories. Fleming wrote it in the first few months of 1964 but ill health prevented him from enhancing the bare bones of it, and the relative thinness of the plot is probably due to the fact that Fleming never had the opportunity to fill the story out at a second re-writing stage. As often happened, some of the characters were based on people Fleming knew in real life; he was at school (and often fought with) a boy he loathed by name of George Scaramanga.
The film is a very loose adaptation of the book. In both, Bond works his way into meeting Scaramanga, whose weapon of choice is a gold Colt 45 that shoots golden bullets; eventually he corners Scaramanga and kills him. Beyond that, the film and the book diverge. In the book, Bond had been brainwashed in the Soviet Union into attempting to assassinate M – fortunately he fails; Scaramanga’s evil plans are to destabilise the Jamaica sugar industry, with drug running and smuggling prostitutes as side interests; and Bond meets up with old CIA pal Felix Leiter who helps him to kill Scaramanga. The book is largely set in Jamaica, but the production team thought that was too repetitive after Live and Let Die, so they relocated the story to Macau, Hong Kong, and Thailand, which allowed them to cash in with some karate and kung fu scenes that were very popular at the time – but nothing to do with the book. The characters of Nick Nack, Andrea Anders, and Pepper were all creations for the film.
Perhaps unexpectedly, the book received polite, if lukewarm reviews. Knowing that its writer was ill when it was written, and had since died, reviewers tended to give Fleming the benefit of the doubt. The Observer commented “perhaps Ian Fleming was very tired when he wrote it. Perhaps … he left it unrevised. The fact remains that this posthumous Bond is a sadly sub-standard job.” Time magazine was less generous, saying “it may have been just as well that Fleming died when everybody still thought he could do no wrong.” Ian Fleming’s biographer, Henry Chandler, noted that the novel “received polite and rather sad reviews, recognizing that the book had effectively been left half-finished, and as such did not represent Fleming at the top of his game.”
The film, however, couldn’t blame problems with the screenplay on a largely unfinished novel. The Guardian was savage with its critique, saying that “the script is the limpest of the lot and … Roger Moore as 007 is the last man on earth to make it sound better than it is.” The New York Times considered the film to suffer from “poverty of invention and excitement”, criticising the writing and Moore’s performance and finding Hervé Villechaize as Nick Nack and Christopher Lee as Scaramanga, as the only positive points for their “sinister vitality that cuts through the narrative dough”. Of the more recent reviews, American critic Danny Peary wrote that the film “lacks invention … is one of the least interesting Bond films” and is “a very laboured movie, with Bond a stiff bore, Adams and Britt Ekland uninspired leading ladies”.
As usual, the opening credits begin, with Maurice Binder’s iconic glimpse of Bond walking across the screen whilst being captured by the barrel of a gun, only for him to turn around, see us, and shoot; and then for the blood to start filling up the screen. What makes it slightly different in this film is the rather jaunty, easy-listening treatment given to Monty Norman’s James Bond Theme, with some enjoyable strings and brass.
The opening scene features Scaramanga and Anders on a beach, being brought some champagne by Nick Nack – her sensually drying him off providing the cue for some visual humour with the fizz popping and spuming in time with the sexual undertones of the scene. Then there follows a rather long and drawn out encounter between a Chicago gangster who’s been engaged to kill Scaramanga both as an exercise for keeping Scaramanga alert and on top of his game, and also for the chance for Nick Nack to inherit his money if the gangster were to be successful. After being confused and disturbed by a number of fairground attractions, that have been installed in Scaramanga’s lair, Rodney the gangster is disadvantaged and Scaramanga eventually kills him instead. However, it’s all rather slow and humourless, and comes across as probably the least interesting opening scene of any Bond film so far.
Then the credits resume with Lulu’s performance of The Man with the Golden Gun, an innuendo-filled theme that has not stood the test of time at all well. “He has a powerful weapon […] Love is required whenever he’s hired […] Who will he bang? […] He’ll shoot anyone with his golden gun.” The silhouette of a naked dancing lady cheers the title sequence up a bit, but for the most part it’s a rather unimaginative series of faces and bodies distorted by water reflection. They’re insufficiently artistic to impress you with the artistry, and insufficiently sexy to inspire you the other way. In fact, the film doesn’t have a lot going for it so far!
And the locations? The original plan – which sounds bizarre today – was to film in Iran, and in fact the creative team travelled out there to spec out locations. But on their way back, the Yom Kippur War started and that put an end to that plan. So Plan B was for Bond to track Scaramanga down through an eastern Odyssey of Macau, Hong Kong and Thailand, plus, of course, M’s office in London. Some of the filming took place around the capsized Queen Elizabeth in Hong Kong Harbour, before the authorities removed it. Whilst filming in Hong Kong the cast and crew stayed at the Peninsula Hotel, which also features in the film and looks every inch the best place to stay. As does Hai Fat’s pad in Bangkok – the location for filming his Pad Thai (sorry, I had to include that pun) was the Hong Kong Dragon Garden, in the New Territories. The outside of the Bottoms Up strip club was filmed in Kowloon, although the interiors were filmed at Pinewood; and they used the floating Casino de Macau because there weren’t any casinos in the more “puritan” Hong Kong.
Bond, James Bond. Although he received quite a lot of criticism for his performance, I thought Roger Moore warmed into Bond better than he did in Live and Let Die. He’s less smarmy, less of a smart-arse (although I’m sure you can blame the scriptwriters for that), a little more animated and a little more believable. He does get to say the magic words, Bond James Bond – in fact, the full “Good evening, my name is Bond, James Bond” when he introduces himself to Beirut Belly Dancer Saida, played with enthusiasm by sometime Royal Shakespeare Company actor Carmen du Sautoy (the “du” is omitted from the credits on the film.) He also says it when he introduces himself to Lazar. A rather dark tone is set by having the character of Bond noticeably more sadistic in this film. He gives Andrea several slaps about the face, he rejoices in aiming to shoot Lazar in his nether regions, and he even pushes the souvenir-selling boy out of the boat. Apparently, Moore wasn’t happy with either his treatment of Andrea or the boy, believing that Bond would have worked out a more elegant solution to both problems. Lazar’s goolies, however, seemed to be fair game.
Boo-boos. As always, a few mistakes made their way onto the screen. When Andrea Anders is sitting, dead, next to Bond, you can see Maud Adams move twice; once her nostril flares, and another time you can see the level of her hat go up and down in time with her breathing. And when Nick Nack starts flinging the wine bottles at Bond to keep him at bay, hardly any wine splashes out from the bottles – because they’re fake, empty bottles! And then when Bond and Goodnight walk around all the glass debris, they don’t cut themselves. When Bond gets roughed up in Saida’s dressing room, you can see the reflection of camera and crew members in her full length mirror; and you can also clearly see the actor who plays the mannequin of Al Capone blink twice.
The Bond Girl. As usual, it’s not entirely clear at first who is going to develop into the role of Bond Girl at the beginning of this film, and to be fair, the honours are shared by having two Bond Girls. First we see Maud Adams, as Andrea Anders, Scaramanga’s lover, reclining sexily on the beach; and as her part in the story increases, she starts to switch sides to Bond’s favour. She reveals to Bond that it was she who sent the bullet to MI6, to encourage Bond to seek Scaramanga out and kill him, because she saw that as her only chance of escaping his clutches. However that disloyalty dooms her to an early death; thus she’s the tragic Bond Girl in this film. Maud Adams was born in Lulea, Sweden, in 1945 and also plays “The Bond Girl” in Octopussy, in 1983. She’s enjoyed a long and successful career as an actor and model.
Playing the more positive and sunny aspects of Bond Girlhood is Britt Ekland as Mary Goodnight, who was originally written as Bond’s secretary in the novels by Fleming, but by the time of The Man with the Golden Gun, Fleming had imagined her as an agent based in Kingston, Jamaica. Britt Ekland plays Mary Goodnight with more vacuousness than is really good for her – part intentional, and part not. The Sunday Mirror described Goodnight as “an astoundingly stupid blonde British agent”. Britt Ekland was also born in Sweden, in 1942, and has also enjoyed a long and successful career as both actor and celebrity. Although there are two Bond girls in this film – for the first time in the series – although I think Goodnight trumps Anders, to be considered as the main Bond Girl – if only because she’s still alive in the final reel.
What Bond Girls Are Like. Apart from the Japanese heritage that sets You Only Live Twice’s Kissy apart from the rest of the Girls, our currently agreed list of attributes common to the Bond Girls is: sexy, exotic, unpredictable, as equally likely to attack Bond as to support him, strong and self-reliant up to a point, sometimes tragic, professional, scary, vengeful, bossy – but with a vulnerable side. How well do these two Bond girls conform to the role? Goodnight has some of those qualities – she definitely gets resentful when she thinks Bond is with another woman – and she’s also rather dumb and liable to get things badly wrong, such as when she turns on the Manual Overide (sic) button with her bottom, without realising it. Where Goodnight brings a certain clumsy charm to the Bond Girl persona, Andrea Anders brings sophistication as well as being dangerously vulnerable. So, on the whole, both girls fit the bill pretty well.
The Villain. In an unusual structure for a Bond film, we meet the villain in the first few seconds. Francisco Scaramanga, played by Christopher Lee, is a top-notch assassin, charging a million dollars per kill, known for his personal secrecy and anonymity. From that point of view he is a million miles away from the likes of Goldfinger, who lives a brash and showy lifestyle. He has a fascination with all things circus, because his father used to run one. Allegedly, the boy Scaramanga was a trick-shot pistol marksman at the age of ten and by the age of fifteen was an international assassin-for-hire. I blame the parents. Whereas most Bond villains are very snappy dressers, always appearing immaculate in their expensive suits, Scaramanga is a much more casual type, frequently found loafing around in his open necked shirt. Nevertheless he is charming and urbane, and generous in his appreciation of others’ talents. He’d still kill you as soon as look at you, though. Christopher Lee, best known for his appearance in countless horror movies, was actually Ian Fleming’s step-cousin, and Fleming’s own first choice to play the role of Dr No back in 1962. He was born in 1922 and died in 2015 at the age of 93.
Other memorable characters? Probably even more memorable than the villain himself, is his sidekick Nick Nack, who acts as his personal servant, butler and henchman, enabler of villainy, encourager of challenges and all-round aide-de-camp. Unusually, he doesn’t actually die at the end of the film, he’s simply hoist inside a dangling cage on the junk sailing out to sea. He was played by Hervé Villechaize, a French-American actor born in Paris in 1943, who got his big break with this role, and who went on to spend seven years as Tattoo in the American TV series Fantasy Island. Despite his success and popularity, his is a sad story; he died by suicide in 1993, unable to endure the chronic pain he suffered from having internal organs too large for his small body.
Clifton James returned as the loutish Sheriff J. W. Pepper, a creation of the writer Tom Mankiewicz, who had written him into Live and Let Die. He was given this extra role because Guy Hamilton had really enjoyed him in the previous Bond film. Here he is on holiday with his souvenir-hunting wife Maybelle, first getting splashed by Bond being chased, and then being pushed into the canal by a baby elephant. He accidentally gets caught up in Bond’s car chase – an experience he thoroughly enjoys. Personally, I thought he was a dire inclusion in Live and Let Die, but provides a good comic interlude in this film.
Elsewhere, Richard Loo played Hai Fat, the millionaire Thai industrialist who had paid Scaramanga to assassinate the inventor of the Solex energy device so that he could steal it. It’s an enjoyable, no nonsense performance. Richard Loo was originally a businessman, but the Wall Street Crash made him think again, and he ended up appearing in around 120 films, The Man in the Golden Gun being his last film appearance.
There’s also a nice performance by Soon-Taik Oh as Lieutenant Hip, Bond’s contact in Hong Kong and Bangkok. Born in Korea, his family emigrated to the United States just before the Korean war, and he enjoyed a successful acting career on stage, TV and in film – his biggest success being the voice of Fa Zhou in Disney’s Mulan. His agent was Bessie Loo – the wife of the aforementioned Richard Loo! And Marne Maitland played the self-confident but ultimately outsmarted Lazar, the gunsmith who creates Scaramanga’s bullets; he appeared in many TV programmes and films over the years, including Pandit Baba in Granada TV’s The Jewel in the Crown.
As usual, Bernard Lee and Lois Maxwell reprise their roles as M and Moneypenny; she just for one scene, but M, unusually, appears in four scenes, because he travels out to Hong Kong to keep an eye on what Bond is up to. His secret office is located on board the capsized Queen Elizabeth, in a piece of genius set design and imagination. Q is back, having missed out on Live and Let Die, still played by Desmond Llewellyn, and is given a couple of opportunities to dismiss and disapprove of Bond’s tactics and demands.
And what about the music? John Barry was his own worst critic for his soundtrack for this film, and is quoted as saying “It’s the one I hate most… it just never happened for me.” Ironically though, I feel that the oriental instrumentation on the familiar themes makes rather a pleasant change on the ears. There’s not much in the way of incidental music though, and what little there is, is rather repetitive. Lulu’s voice for the title theme doesn’t feel as though it suits the style of the song to me at all, and it certainly doesn’t feature in the list of iconic Bond themes and performances.
Car chases. There’s one exciting car chase where Bond, accompanied by a buoyed-up Pepper, drives a car out of a showroom (directly through the plate glass) and takes it on a mad run, following Scaramanga and Nick Nack through the streets of Bangkok; with the inevitable accompaniment of also being chased by the police. There’s one particularly exciting scene where Bond performs a corkscrew jump to cross a river, but it’s ruined by a ridiculous comedy swanee whistle sound effect, which John Barry later regretted because it undermines the entire stunt. Before then, there’s also a boat chase through the klongs of Bangkok, with Chula and others from the Karate School tracking Bond over water, until their boat gets stopped by another turning around, and Bond takes the opportunity to slice it in two by driving through it.
Cocktails and Casinos. No cocktails here, just plenty of champagne, including a bottle that pops saucily on the beach in the opening credits, another bottle opened between Bond and Andrea after he’s given her the rough treatment, the bottle of Phuyuck (not strictly champagne, and an obvious pun intended) that Bond shares with Goodnight at the Thai hotel and one that Scaramanga treats as target practice when he greets Bond as he arrives on his island. There is also one casino scene – it’s at the Casino de Macau where Andrea receives the golden bullets from Lazar.
Gadgets. There are some gadgets, but the majority of them are used by the enemy. Lazar’s gun, made for a client missing two fingers, where you squeeze the butt rather than pull a trigger; the Solex Agitator itself (“the essential unit to convert radiation from the sun into electricity on an industrial basis”, according to Q), the false third nipple that disgusts Q, the homing button on Goodnight’s dress. The golden gun itself is a cleverly constructed piece of kit, as it gets made out of three other golden accessories! But the crowning glory must be Scaramanga’s car that converts into an aeroplane.
In Memoriam. In a running count of deaths in Bond movies, Dr No previously held the record for the lightest number of fatalities at around 11; Thunderball is looking pretty heavy at around 50 people; but Diamonds are Forever is lethal at around 70. How does The Man with the Golden Gun compare? Let’s briefly look back at those who gave their lives so that Bond can finally have his junk and a good night (with Goodnight):
Rodney, the gangster
3 guys in Saida’s dressing room (but they might not be dead)
Two men who die in fights to the death at the Karate School (one of them is definitely dead, the other might just be stunned!)
Ten or so left clinging on to life at the Karate school (who knows how many of them are dead?)
That’s actually a very modest toll for a Bond movie.
Humour to offset the death count. It’s a sad reflection on the film that there are very few of the regular smart-alec bon mots whenever someone dies or whenever someone has a sexual encounter. The few funny lines that there are, tend to be given at other plot points.
When Saida realises that her belly-button charm is missing after the fight in her dressing room, she cries “Ah! I’ve lost my charm!” “Not from where I’m standing” replies Bond.
When Bond catches Andrea in her hotel room shower, and she opens its door to reveal a gun pointing at him, he asks, “a water pistol?”
When Bond explains that Hai Fat invited Bond to dinner, he tells Hip, “he must have found me quite titillating.”
Goodnight talking of how she killed Kra (by pushing him into the absolute zero helium tank): “I laid him out cold”.
Bond, to M, who wants to speak to Goodnight on the phone whilst Bond is making passionate love to her: “She’s just coming, sir.”
Any less frothy elements? So once again it’s time to consider if there are any outstanding themes or elements that don’t sit well with today’s audience, and perhaps surprisingly there’s not a lot to go on. There’s a little latent racism from Pepper towards the locals; and the creepy henchman Kra, treating Goodnight’s body as a plaything doesn’t feel entirely right. But this is an under-written Bond, so there’s little scope for offence.
Bizarre other stuff that occurred to me and a few observations.
My original reaction to the film was that it’s quite dull, boring and with very little story! Watching this film, it felt for the first time that my James Bond Challenge could be an arduous experience. There are two main scenes of exposition – the first two that feature M – where we find out what Bond’s tasks in the film are. Everything else is how he does or doesn’t meet those tasks, so it feels very pedestrian. However, I must admit that after watching it three times, I warmed towards it a little – it has an understated elegance which is quite appealing. It does, however, truly miss out on humour.
Although Oswald Morris was unhappy at taking over the role of cinematographer from the ailing Ted Moore, visually this film is superb. It’s down to the script that sometimes you feel like it’s more of a travelogue than a spy movie, but it always looks luscious.
It’s never explained why the three thugs attack Bond at the Beirut night club. If they’re working for Scaramanga and guarding Saida’s bullet-belly-button-charm, so that no one can trace it back to him, you can’t help thing there are easier ways of keeping that charm safe. But as someone said many years before – it’s best not to think too hard about the plots of Bond films. It was a nice touch for Bond to squirt the great smell of Brut into one of those henchmen’s faces, as Moore had been part of an advertising campaign for the company.
The fascination regarding solar power seems very old hat now! Many people now have their own solar panels on their roofs. It’s hard to believe it was once seen as a route to world domination.
A duel to the death seems remarkably formal and traditional – but it was a feature of Fleming’s novel. It was based on the duel in the 1955 film, Shane. Scaramanga describes it as “the only true test for gentlemen”. Although the script is slight, the fact that Nick Nack will inherit all Scaramanga’s wealth if Bond kills him does add an unexpected twist to the final showdown.
The actors who played Hip’s two young lady companions – his “nieces”, whom Bond at first tries to protect, but turn out to be karate experts – were actually members of a local judo club. But are they really his nieces? Maybe Bond is not the only womaniser on MI6’s side.
Wei Wei Wong, who played the topless waitress at the Bottoms Up club, and who also danced in the opening titles, appeared in a few films but was best known for her Saturday night BBC TV appearances as part of the light entertainment dance troupe, The Young Generation.
Why did Hip and the two karate girls drive off and leave Bond behind?
To sum up: Despite a few nice moments and surprising subtleties, I’d say this was the worst of the Bond films so far. The primary problem is with the script, which is lifeless and boring, and doesn’t provide any memorable lines or jokes. Although it may not have been Britt Ekland’s sparkling vocal delivery that got her the job in the first place, her performance tends towards the bland and faltering. Moore is better than in his first role, and the cinematography is excellent. Otherwise this is a very disappointing film! There would be a three year wait until the next film, The Spy Who Loved Me. Let’s hope it’s worth the wait!
My rating: 2 Sparkles
All photos from the film of course belong to their various copyright holders.
Ennio Marchetto – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 12th February 1999
A hilarious show in the company of this brilliant impersonator who uses unfolding paper costumes to reveal his characters. Sadly mis-booked by the theatre, in that it was clearly designed to be one part of a double bill, so that when we were all packing up to go home, barely forty minutes after we’d sat down, front of house were visibly embarrassed at how short-changed we’d been! Nevertheless, hugely funny and entertaining.
The Prisoner of Second Avenue – Oxford Playhouse, 15th February 1999
Neil Simon’s 1971 play, that was made into a hit film four years later, toured with the terrific casting of Richard Dreyfuss and Marsha Mason, Neil Simon exponents par excellence. I remember feeling that the story itself was quite dated and not terribly interesting, but it was great to see such a distinguished cast doing it superbly.
Twisted – Motionhouse Dance Company at the Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, February 1999
An exhilarating return of this exciting contemporary dance company to Wycombe’s Swan Dance season. From the programme: “An airborne toxic event has occurred – “something” has been released into the atmosphere. What is more dangerous – the unknown substance or the mystery that surrounds it? News spreads like wildfire – hype begets rumour which creates panic. Fortunately help is at hand, or is it? As events become distorted so people and things become twisted.” In retrospect, incredibly prescient!
Mark Baldwin Dance Company – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 26th February 1999
Mark Baldwin’s own dance company, which he ran from 1993 until he became Artistic Director of Rambert, always starred Baldwin’s own elegant and attractive choreography. This programme featured Pulcinella Disperato, Darkness Visible, M-Piece, and Song of the Nightingale. The small company were Shelley Baker, Bart de Block, Richard Court, Martin Lindinger and Mark Baldwin himself.
The New Rocky Horror Show – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 1st March 1999
I’m not entirely sure what was new about this; I don’t think the show itself had changed, must just have been a new production. It’s a shame that I don’t remember much about Jason Donovan’s performance as Frank N Furter, but I do remember that Nicholas Parsons was absolutely brilliant as the Narrator. The cast also featured Laurie Brett, better known as Eastenders’ Jane Beale. Rocky Horror is often a bit… messy, I reckon, and this was no exception!
Dance Bites – Royal Ballet at the Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 11th March 1999
The last ever Dance Bites tour featured four ballets of the highest quality, and with a company that included Darcey Bussell and Deborah Bull. First up was Love’s Fool, to music by Karl Jenkins, and choreographed by William Tuckitt. Next was Walk and Talk, choreographed by Ashley Page, followed by Monotones with music by Erik Satie, and choreographed by Frederick Ashton. The final piece was Towards Poetry, music by Julian Anderson and choreography by Mark Baldwin. We were always very appreciative of the Royal Ballet coming out to perform on our patch!
The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) – The Reduced Shakespeare Company at the Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 18th March 1999
Even though the original production was still running in London, this touring production of the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s hilarious adaptation of the works of William Shakespeare called at the Wycombe Swan for a couple of nights of sheer comedy perfection. The brilliant cast were Rick Bland, Christian Malcolm, Michael O’Connor and John Schwab. We still quote lines from this today.
The Return of Don Juan – Arc Dance Company at the Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 23rd March 1999
It’s still extraordinary to think that we bought front stalls to see this show, with principal dancer Irek Mukhamedov, for a mere £6.25 each! Kim Brandstrup’s comic ballet had premiered earlier that month at Sadlers Wells, and the lavish production virtually bankrupted Brandstrup’s Arc Company. Full of excitement and showing-off, a really fun and virtuoso night of dance!
Earth and Sky – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 10th April 1999
Douglas Post’s thriller starred Sam Janus (before she became Samantha Womack) and Joe McGann and had originated at the now defunct Nuffield Theatre Southampton. Mr Post’s website gives a fascinating account of what this play is about. If only I could remember one thing about it. But alas I can’t.
Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 26th April 1999
Our second ever visit to see the Trocks featured a classic programme beginning with Swan Lake Act II, then (as always) a mystery pas de deux to be announced on the night, Go for Barocco (which is always hilarious), The Dying Swan, executed by Comrade Ida Nevasayneva as it nearly always was when she was in town, and finally Raymonda’s Wedding. It’s a sign of the times that the programme includes the statement “Les Trockadero would like to dedicate this performance to the memory of all Trocks who have died of AIDS”. It was an always present threat. As always, an evening of blistering joy.
Time for another Lockdown Armchair Travel memory, and we’re still on the letter S. And S is, of course, for Spain, a country I’ve visited so many times during my life, from the Costas to the cities to the islands, and I always love it. I hummed and hahhed a lot deciding where in Spain I should pick for this travel memory and decided on the beautiful Andalucian city of Granada, which we visited for a long weekend in June and July 2017. So, what do you think of, when you think of Granada (apart from the Manchester ITV station and TV rental sets of course!) Probably here:
The Alhambra! And where better to start our roaming around the city. I was lucky enough to go there when I was twelve, on holiday with my mum, and it’s a place that’s full of history, and beauty and memories.
Doors and alleyways lead you into room after room of Moorish moreishness!
Arabesque archways and Islamic calligraphy abound
And you just get lost in the beauty of it all
The Courtyard of the Lions is probably the most famous part
With those lions everywhere
In the Alhambra, there are no trials and tribulations, only tiles and tessellations!
The Courtyard of the Palace of Carlos V is used for concerts
And the views from the top are stunning!
And the Generalife gardens are the perfect place to relax after a couple of hours’ intense sightseeing