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?)
- Hai Fat
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.
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.
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.
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.