There seems to have been hardly an attempt
to interest us in characterization.
- Tom Hutchinson in the Sunday Telegraph (December 1974)
The Man With the Golden Gun
Film: 1974 (#9)
Book: 1965 (#13)
Bond is taken off the hunt for a missing solar energy expert because M has received a gold bullet that has his number - literally. The bullet is presumed to be a message from Scaramanga, a highly-paid assassin. Bond is given leave to pursue the matter unofficially (that is, to hunt down Scaramanga and kill him), but ends up getting retangled in the Solex McGuffin plot, absolutely implausibly. Eventually he does kill Scaramanga, but like the rest of this film, it is a wholly unsatisfying event.
Book vs. Film
The book and the film have very little in common save the antagonist's name and his habit of firing gold bullets. (Incidentally, in the book, Scaramanga uses a gold-plated Colt .45 and his gold bullets have silver jackets.)
When we last saw Bond in the book continuity, he had lost his memory and was heading to Russia to find it again. Now, a year later, he turns up in M's office - and promptly tries to kill M (whom we learn has an instant-descending bulletproof shield in front of his desk). It turns out that Bond has been brainwashed by the Russians. He is deprogrammed and given a chance to prove himself - or is sent to be burned off, depending on how cynically you read it - on an impossible mission to kill assassin Scaramanga. That's pretty much it. He gets close to Scaramanga by infiltrating a sugar cartel/drug ring the former is involved in, runs into Leiter again (now back with the CIA), and they eventually smash the organization (despite Bond's cover being blown). Bond pursues Scaramanga and kills him. The end.
The book, published posthumously, was written while Fleming was in very poor health and is not very polished - it was essentially a first draft. Bond is robotic throughout. Scaramanga is a very different character in the book - basically a thug who just happens to be pretty good with a gun. No wit, no style. The action goes through the sweatier bits of the Caribbean without any joy or glamour. Its sole point of interest to a modern audience is its prescient concern with the rise in crime and political instability in the Caribbean and Central America fueled by the market for drugs to America.
Cold. Not having any fun, not really seeming to care much about anything happening in the film. This was apparently a relaxed and enjoyable shoot for Moore, but you couldn't prove that by his characterization here, which radiates "Can we just get this over with?" throughout. Some of it is very clearly that he was under orders to be more brusque to try to neutralize his natural charm (see remarks at previous film); unfortunately, the neutralization mostly worked, and yet also didn't make the brutal bits any more effective - when he has to get harsh with Maud Adams' Andrea, Moore looks thoroughly ill at ease.
Of course, given what he has to deal with in this film, perhaps his impatience and annoyance could be considered justified! In general, this is not a very good film for Bond, but then, it's not a very good film for anyone else, either.
Look: Obviously there is going to be, shall we say, a certain shallow emphasis on the physical when it comes to Bond women. Bond women must be attractive, that's the rule, like it or not. But even taking that into account, there are many, many, many beautiful women in the world who can act, so why does the Bond franchise seem to have such a horrible record at finding and hiring them? Is it that the women who can act turn their nose up at doing Bond films? Is it that the people doing the casting consider acting ability to actually be detrimental to these limited, often badly-written roles? Or is it just they're really bad at their job (the people doing the casting, I mean)?
Neither Britt Eklund or Maud Adams can act. That said, they are not served well by this script. Andrea is written in a way as to defy logic, the natural penalty of being nothing to the film but a plot link who is killed off as soon as she is no longer needed to connect the dots. Eklund's Mary Goodnight is written to not just be annoying and incompetent, but actually dangerous; she gets Bond in more trouble with her mishaps than any other threat in the film. Even reviews which were positive to this film were harsh on Goodnight. No one likes Goodnight. The Sunday Mirror review at the time described her as "astoundingly stupid." The question, then, is why the script found it necessary to paint her that way.
Interestingly, Goodnight is a Fleming creation, although the film does not explain it (leaving the fact that she has obviously worked with Bond before a complete enigma). In fact Goodnight was secretary to the 00 agents for the last few of the novels, replacing Loelia Ponsonby, who retires to marry during OHMSS. (Moneypenny is M's secretary, not the 00s', and is a higher pay grade. To the extent that there is any flirtation between Bond and the staff in the books, it is between him and Ponsonby; what little there was was displaced to Moneypenny in the films.) In general Goodnight is a less interesting character than Ponsonby, but neither of them is ever in the books except for a brief scene or two, so it may be moot. The point is, she's hardly incompetent - no one gets that sort of clearance by being incompetent - and in You Only Live Twice is seen to be trying very hard to get Bond back on track before M cashiers him. Thus this marks the second time that a Fleming woman is given a seriously retrograde portrayal in a film, the prior example being Tiffany Case.
Once again, I can't really work up much concern about how condescending Bond is to Goodnight throughout this film, because she is written in a way that the audience could be excused for feeling she had earned it. She makes her first appearance by ruining his tailing job for no good reason, and proceeds downhill from there.
Adams, at least, would have a chance to be served much better by a Bond script later.
During the production of this film, Albert Broccoli was asked by an interviewer about the state of his partnership with Harry Saltzman. Rumors had begun to seep out, fueled by an interview with Saltzman (see below). "Strained," Broccoli admitted. "Very strained."
In fact, the partners were barely able to work together, and had tacitly been alternating production duties. Diamonds Are Forever was mostly Broccoli; Live and Let Die was almost entirely Saltzman; and Golden Gun was Broccoli again.
This may have contributed to Tom Mankiewicz getting sacked after turning in his shooting script. The official word was that he quarrelled with director Guy Hamilton, but there is also a strong possibility that Mankiewicz was considered to be in the Saltzman camp. Richard Maibaum (who did not get along with Saltzman) was brought back for a rework. Unfortunately, this was not good for the script, in several ways (see general remarks on the film below).
The most noteworthy bit of casting was Ian Fleming's step-cousin Christopher Lee. Lee already had a long resume, but was most known at the time for playing Dracula in a series of Hammer films. He was on the lookout for typecasting-challenging parts. He was reportedly largely responsible for an important change in Scaramanga's character:
Scaramanga is not one of [Fleming's] most impressive murderers .... So Guy and I, after a lot of talk, decided to make Scaramanga a little like Bond himself, a counter-Bond if you like, instead of the murderous, unappetizing thug of the novel ....
It was a good idea, and it was a pity more was not done with it.
Hamilton would not go on to direct a fifth Bond. The offer was made, but he declined it (reportedly, to pursue the chance to direct Superman). I blame Hamilton for a tendency to use the script as a bare device to get from one major stunt/setpiece to another, without much thought for coherence of plot or character - although admittely it's not nearly as pronounced in his other three as in this one, so perhaps he'd just been on this job too long.
Saltzman had admitted in an interview in 1973 that he'd had enough of Bond and was planning to sell out. The thing is, Broccoli always figured Saltzman meant that he'd sell out to him. But in November of 1974, as Golden Gun was preparing to premiere, Saltzman announced he was selling his half of Danjaq to Columbia Pictures - uncomfortable not just for Broccoli, but for United Artists.
Saltzman needed the money. Unlike Broccoli, who stuck to EON and Bond, Saltzman had been investing in all manner of other side projects, not just non-Bond films. His last two films and a club he owned in London had all lost money, and he was effectively broke. However, due to his indebtitude (it wasn't clear whether there was, in effect, already a lien on his Danjaq rights) and Broccoli's insistence that Saltzman could not dissolve Danjaq without his consent, the sale to Columbia was delayed - and then eventually averted. In 1975 UA bought Saltzman's half of the rights, keeping them out of the hands of their rival and making it possible for EON/Danjaq to proceed with business as usual without Saltzman.
Since Harry Saltzman leaves our saga at this point, never to return, a word or two about his later existence is in order. Most of his post-Bond schemes didn't do well - a bid to buy Shepperton Studios was eventually killed by UK tax law changes which made it impossible for him to stay in the country, and he produced only two more (unsuccessful) films altogether after Golden Gun. He was able to live comfortably on the money he made from Bond films and his Danjaq sale, despite none of his plans quite working out. He died in 1994.
It's tricky trying to pinpoint exactly why this film wasn't better. Was some of it Guy Hamilton running out of juice, as I note above? Was it the last-minute change of cinematographer (regular Ken Moore fell ill and Oswald Morris stepped in)? Was it misuse of what should have been otherwise exciting locations? Was Roger Moore dramatically miscued in how he should play Bond here? I tend to think it's a little of all of those, but mostly it's the script's fault.
Mankiewicz's script was apparently a more-or-less straight pursuit of Scaramanga, similar to the book. Maibaum, perhaps in a misguided attempt to link the film to real-world events, added the "solex agitator" McGuffin - this was his main contribution, and a bad one.
The two plot strands just won't cooperate with one another. It defies suspension of disbelief that the Scaramanga hunt should eventually lead around to the solex, and the latter is increasingly nothing but a delay-of-game before we get back to the interesting bits - the Scaramanga bits - and the film only gets about halfway before this conflict pulls the whole mess apart.
This is doubly disappointing given that the film didn't need that second plot. All it really needed to do was play up the idea of Scaramanga as anti-Bond, as what Bond might have been had he gone to the dark side. Lee encouraged this, and his instincts were sound. But the producers and the scriptwriter didn't have the follow-through. Some of this may have been because of the general feeling at EON that OHMSS was a flop partly because it tried to explore character in depth (well, in depth by Bond standards). I can imagine the meetings at EON where they shook their heads solemnly and agreed that the all-important American audience (which must be pandered to at all costs, apparently) didn't go in for the more cerebral stuff. We need more action in this script, not more characterization! I imagine them saying.
And what sort of set pieces do we get in this bad trade? We get Scaramanga's utterly ridiculous Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (apologies to Fleming!) carplane. We get a corkscrew jump which is visually uninteresting, despite much being made of it, marred with an unnecessary "boing" sound effect, in a car which was already a bad joke (like everything else American Motors ever made). We get a boat sequence which only reminds us that these films did that material better a year before. Of the big set pieces, only the dojo one is actually good, and that's only there because the producers said, "Hey, kung fu films are really big right now, how can we throw that in?"
And, because characters are only used as a means to an end here, we get an Idiot Plot. Both Goodnight and Lieutenant Hip repeatedly act in ways that should have gotten them fired if this is indicative of their regular competence levels. To give you an idea of how this works, at one point Hip drives up without preamble (to get Bond out of the dojo sequence), and then drives off without Bond for no good reason (in order to get Bond into the speedboat sequence). His nieces are even shouting at him that Bond isn't in the car! Meanwhile, the genuinely good moment in between - when Bond says, "Stand back, girls" and they indicate, no, you stand back, mister, and proceed to kick ass while Bond watches bemusedly - almost gets lost in the haste to dash to the next setpiece.
One thing I noted about this film upon a recent rewatch is that pretty much everyone in MI6 is in a bad mood, including Bond. Moneypenny snaps at him (justifiably) for playing on her emotions to get information; Q and arms expert Colthorpe are extremely short with him; the Chief of Staff (hopefully not Bill Tanner yet) is unsmiling and constipated; and M offers Bond a stark choice of resignation or leave of absence (after providing, in the film's single best line, a short list of people who might want to kill Bond), and only perks up when Bond finally takes the hint that M wants him to knock off Scaramanga first.
"Dramatically, wouldn't you say?"
On the other hand, given the amount of incompetence displayed, can anyone blame any of them for ill temper? M's dressing-down of Bond and Lt. Hip later in the film almost comes as a relief.
Nothing is ever all bad, and there are a number of things to love in this film. I'm very partial to the pre-credits sequence, with Marc Lawrence reprising his gangster and the funhouse lights and the barrelhouse and Dixieland renditions of the theme. It also sets up the peculiar relationship between Scaramanga and Nick Nack - which, of course, is never again developed. The whole dojo sequence is good. I rather like the scene with Saida the dancer, and Bond swallowing the bullet gives occasion for one of the small handful of Bond one-liners (later, to Q) that actually amuses me in the entire series. I also like the sequence with Lazar the gunsmith; the gambling parlor with the little buckets - in general I think the crowded urban locations in Hong Kong and Macau are this film's best use of what M disparagingly calls "the land of Suzie Wong," and of course they are underplayed. The tilted Queen Elizabeth set is silly as hell, but visually striking.
But once Goodnight is locked in the boot of Scaramanga's car with the solex, you can safely turn this film off. Scaramanga can have her. All you will be missing from that point on is J.W. Pepper.
People below a certain age who are reading this will probably need to have it explained that in 1973 the industrialized world went a little bit crazy about the "energy crisis." This was not a well-founded energy crisis such as the actual impending exhaustion of the world's fossil fuels (which, by the by, is played far better as a plot point in Quantum of Solace), nor was it out of concern for global warming (which very few voices were warning about yet). It descended from the Yom Kippur war, when Syria and Egypt briefly attacked Israel. Western intervention in Israel led to OPEC placing an embargo on oil exports, at a time when there were not sufficient substitute sources. Much hand-wringing about alternate energy sources and reducing oil dependency ensued (good!), but as soon as the embargo was lifted and other sources of oil came online, we immediately stopped pursuing the sort of continuing research into alternate fuels we urgently need now, because as a species we are short-sighted idiots. Here endeth the sermon.
Another point which probably needs footnotes is that in 1970 a Taiwanese buyer purchased the by-then-decrepit passenger liner Queen Elizabeth with the idea of turning her into a floating university. She was brought to Hong Kong for a refit, which was nearly complete when she caught fire under mysterious circumstances (it's generally believed the fires were deliberately set, but there are competing theories as to why). The force of the water spray by fireboats capsized the ship. The abovewater portion of the wreck was cleared shortly after this film released.
The car-spiral stunt was designed by computer at Cornell; AMC had been using it in the travelling American Thrill Show they sponsored, and Broccoli saw it and wanted it in a Bond film. The car in the film is a Hornet with a few special modifications (notably, a lighter engine and a steering wheel in the center of the dash, so the driver doesn't unbalance the car). The stunt happens so fast that it's shown in slow motion in the film. They got it in one take; the stuntman refused to do another. You can see the peculiar shape of the bridge "wreckage" is actually a very carefully built pair of ramps. Some reports say that originally the script called for the police cars to attempt to do the same thing and fail.
There are any number of scenes which were not shot, including a sequence where Q gives Bond a camera to take to Thailand which does everything but take pictures; however, one sequence which was filmed is a considerably longer version of the final duel between Bond and Scaramanga. Parts of this showed up in some of the trailers for the film.
It's not clear to me, with their mania for dubbing, why the crew chose not to dub Britt Eklund. Not that there's anything wrong with her real voice, it's just that her Swedish accent is so heavy you forget this is supposed to be a British character. Nikki van der Zyl was certainly available, since she apparently dubbed Chew Mee (listed in the credits as Chula), a part so minor I haven't even mentioned her.
Again, pointing out plot holes here is folly, but it's never been clear to me why Bond has to go retrieve the bullet that killed 002, when he has a fine example of a bullet to analyze sitting right there in Headquarters with his number on it. Perhaps he isn't sure that one really is Scaramanga's, whereas he knows the one that killed 002 is? I suppose we'll have to use that. And, by the by, Scaramanga really should have noticed that Andrea swiped the bullet to send Bond, given that he has such a limited supply of the expensive things.
Shooting on and around Scaramanga's island led to the real-world location being renamed, in effect if not legally, "James Bond Island." Strangely, we will see it again in these films, pretending to be someplace else.
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