To mark the 50th Anniversary of one of the most successful movie franchises of all time and with filming well underway on James Bond’s 23rd official outing in Skyfall due for release later this year, I have been tasked with taking a retrospective look at the films that turned author Ian Fleming’s creation into one of the most recognised and iconic characters in film history.
With Roger Moore well and truly established in the lead role after just one film, work began on a follow-up to Live And Let Die almost as soon as it was released into cinemas. Keen to capitalise on the renewed success of the character, producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman chose Fleming’s final Bond novel, The Man With The Golden Gun as their ninth film featuring the British secret agent.
With the novel taking place largely in Jamaica, it was felt that after Dr. No and Live And Let Die, both having been set in Jamaica, that this would have to be changed for the film version. After much scouting around the world it was decided that the production would use a number of exotic locations in the Far East, primarily, the unique Phang Nga islands off the coast of Phuket in Thailand, the Thai capital Bangkok and further locations in and around Hong Kong.
Guy Hamilton, fresh from Live And Let Die, returned to the director’s chair for this, his fourth and subsequently last Bond film, working with an increased budget allowing more globetrotting and more elaborate sets than before. The screenplay was written by Tom Mankiewicz but after a falling out with Hamilton a further draft was provided by veteran Bond screenwriter Richard Maibaum, however the focus remained on Moore’s sense of humour and a larger than life approach to the characters.
Roger Moore returns to the lead role after claiming it from Sean Connery to make it his own after just one film. With this film coming within a year of his debut in the role he continues his portrayal of the character in much the same way. He has a confidence and sly sense of humour that quickly distances his Bond from Connery. Although many of the character defining lines of dialogue, style and mannerisms remain the same, it is Moore’s delivery that sets him apart.
James Bond: Who would want to put a contract on me?
M: Jealous husbands! Outraged chefs! Humiliated tailors! The list is endless!
Moore shares some great scenes with the supporting cast showing a great understanding of the required chemistry with the two Bond girls and underplaying his anger when lead villain Scaramanga, accuses him of being the same as him, taking pleasure in killing. Moore is the perfect fit for Bond as the series developed to become larger than life throughout the decade.
Pre-Credits & Theme Song
As was the case at the beginning of Live And Let Die, Bond does not appear in the opening pre-credits sequence of The Man With The Golden Gun. The scene focuses on establishing the villain of the film, Scaramanga and his bizarre fun house shooting gallery where he pits himself against other assassins to test his abilities.
Beginning with an American gangster known only as Rodney, played by Marc Lawrence, who had made a brief appearance in Diamonds Are Forever playing basically the same character, he is paid an amount of money by Nick Nack, Scaramanga’s loyal henchman. Inside the fun house, Rodney is confronted with a number of challenges ranging from a house of mirrors, to animatronic waxwork models springing out from behind doors to surprise him and force him to use his bullets before a final showdown with Scaramanga himself. He kills Rodney with ease before being confronted with a waxwork figure of James Bond which he shoots removing the fingers from the model’s left hand.
Much like the opening of the previous film, the sequence sets the main plot in motion and also sets up the intriguing notion that Scaramanga is already aware of Bond and sees him as a threat, indicated by the waxwork model in his collection.
After missing scoring duties on Live And Let Die due to other commitments, John Barry returns to provide another memorable musical accompaniment to the film. Scottish singer Lulu was chosen to sing the theme song with suggestive lyrics provided by Don Black while the main theme is used throughout the score particularly during the film’s action scenes. After the film’s release Barry went on record to say that the score for the film was probably his least favourite of all the scores he provided for the Bond series, partly due to the fact that he was only given three weeks to complete it before the film’s premiere.
When MI-6 receive a golden bullet with secret agent James Bond’s code number, 007, etched into its surface they believe it is a warning that he has been marked for assassination by Francisco Scaramanga, a hit-man who charges $1 million per kill. Bond’s current mission regarding information into solving the world energy crisis is put on hold and Bond sets out to find Scaramanga.
Bond discovers that Scaramanga has been hired to kill solar energy scientist Gibson, whose Solex agitator is a critical component of a solar device that can create a virtually unlimited amount of energy by harnessing the power of the sun. Scaramanga steals the Solex agitator to complete the construction of the device with plans to sell it to the highest bidder. With the assistance of Bond’s assistant Mary Goodnight and his Hong Kong contact Lieutenant Hip, Bond attempts to put a stop to Scaramanga’s plans and retrieve the Solex agitator.
In 1973, the world was in the grip of an oil crisis as a result of the members of the Organisation of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries oil embargo which led to increased oil prices and a disruption to the worldwide supply of oil. As a reaction to this it led to pressure in the energy industry to find alternative sources of renewable energy such as solar and wind power. Screenwriters Mankiewicz and Mailbaum used this energy crisis in their screenplay in a bid to keep the story current and relevant as well as providing the perfect “MacGuffin” for the film with the Solex agitator.
As Mankiewicz’s screenplay for Live And Let Die had been influenced by the Blaxploitation genre of the early seventies, The Man With The Golden Gun took inspiration from the martial arts films that were beginning to find their way into the mainstream with the films of Bruce Lee, in particular Enter The Dragon, with which the film shared its Hong Kong setting. At one point Bond finds himself in a dojo of kung-fu experts and finds that he lacks the skills to oppose those trained in martial arts, however with the help of Lieutenant Hip and his two teenage nieces, he is able to make his escape despite the fact that the fight scene lacks the dynamism of true films of the genre.
Lazar: Mr. Bond, bullets do not kill. It’s the finger that pulls the trigger.
James Bond: Exactly. I am now aiming precisely at your groin. So speak or forever hold you piece.
Production designer Peter Murton furnishes the film with some truly memorable sets aping the unavailable Ken Adam’s style with great success. The most interesting design has to be the offices for MI-6’s Far East operations housed inside the wreckage of RMS Queen Elizabeth lying on its side in Hong Kong harbour. The set has a look inspired by German Expressionist cinema with sharp skewed lines and canted angles. Scaramanga’s fun house set is designed as a twisted take on the traditional American theme park with a house of wax and hall of mirrors forming a part of the series standard villain’s lair. There is still a place for the more traditional cavernous set of vats of cooled liquids and control panels with spinning dials that is destroyed before the credits roll.
In the absence of Felix Leiter, Bond’s CIA counterpart, a similar role is filled by Korean American actor Soon-Tek Oh as Lieutenant Hip, Bond’s main contact in Hong Kong and Bangkok. Essentially fulfilling Leiter’s usual expositional role, he assists Bond helping him contact key people in his investigation while offering information on local traditions, Soon-Tek Oh brings a good sense of humour and likeability to the small role. After a small but memorable role in Live And Let Die, Clifton James returns as Sheriff J.W. Pepper for an extended cameo. While the character may not be to everyone’s tastes, the broad humour he brings shifts the tone of the film slightly but it still works within the aesthetic of a Bond film, particularly in the Roger Moore era where there seems to be a more room for humour. He finds himself in the heart of one of the film’s key action sequences and rather than overshadowing the scene, he manages to make it even more fun with some great lines of dialogue and a fun chemistry with Moore.
Sheriff J.W. Pepper: What the hell you doin’ now, boy? The bridge is that way!
(Pepper sees the wrecked bridge ahead)
You’re not gonna……
James Bond: (Mimicking Pepper’s Southern accent) I sure am, boy!
The standout action set piece of the film begins as a car chase through the streets of Bangkok with Scaramanga driving a golden AMC Matador pursued by Bond in a stolen red AMC Hornet with Sheriff J.W. Pepper in the passenger seat. Weaving in and out of the traffic on the busy streets the chase is brilliantly filmed with a great sense of speed and danger. The chase culminates in the two cars becoming separated on either side of a river with no clear way across. Bond sees a decrepit wooden bridge that has collapsed and warped over time. Realising this is his only way across he lines up the car for the jump before performing a perfect barrel roll landing the car firmly on four wheels on the opposite bank of the river. The stunt was performed by stunt driver “Bumps” Willard turning the car through 360 degrees between the two ramps. The timing and angles of the stunt were calculated by the Cornell Aeronautical Laboratory to ascertain if the jump was even possible. Completed in just one take, the stunt remains one of the greatest car stunts of all time but the whole effect is slightly marred by the decision to add the comedic sound of a penny whistle on the soundtrack during the jump. The scene ends with Scaramanga escaping in his flying car, inspired by an actual flying car prototype that eventually killed its inventor; the film effect was achieved by an elaborate fully working scale model designed by special effects director Derek Meddings.
While the film is not one of the greatest of the series it still meets the expectations of the classic Bond film formula with a great villain, beautiful women, exotic locations and incredible action sequences and stunts. The approach to Bond in the seventies was to go bigger than the previous adventure and The Man With The Golden Gun certainly showed every penny of the increased budget on the screen.
The Bond Villain
Tom Mankiewicz had hoped that Scaramanga would be played by Jack Palance writing the film with him in mind however after Palance turned it down, the role was offered to another screen legend synonymous with playing the villain, Christopher Lee. This was not the first time Lee had been offered the chance to play a Bond villain, his cousin, Ian Fleming had put his name forward during the casting of Dr. No but Joseph Wiseman had already been cast.
Scaramanga is a near perfect villain distinguished by his unusual anatomy, a third nipple he is an ideal foil for Bond. The two characters are the opposite sides of the same coin and while both kill for a living there is a clear distinction that for Bond it is his duty rather than a pleasure. Lee brings the same sophisticated menace to the role that defined many of his earlier characters from Dracula to Fu Manchu. At 6’4” he is significantly taller than Moore yet the two seem evenly matched as many of their scenes together are a war of words and a battle of wits.
Francisco Scaramanga: A duel between titans…my golden gun against your Walther PPK.
James Bond: One bullet against my six?
Francisco Scaramanga: I only need one, Mr. Bond.
Scaramanga’s diminutive butler Nick Nack, played by Hervé Villechaize, is yet another memorable Bond villain henchman. While not immediately threatening, he assists his master in his fun house challenges controlling the room to the detriment of those opposing Scaramanga. He is also not adverse to getting involved in physical confrontations either, assaulting Bond while dressed as a statue in an oriental garden and during the pre-end credits scene attacking Bond and Goodnight as they make their escape on Scaramanga’s junk. Bond eventually subdues him by closing him in a large suitcase. Villechaize would go on to find further fame on American television playing a similar, if slightly less aggressive character, on the long running TV show Fantasy Island with co-star Ricardo Montalban.
The Bond Girl
The lead Bond girl in the film would be playing the character of Mary Goodnight, a recurring character in the original Fleming novels. Appearing in three books she is described as a secretary working for MI-6’s double O section. With the character’s appearance in the film there is an assumed notion that she has a history of working with Bond and initially shows frustration and annoyance at being assigned to help him again on his mission in Hong Kong. As with all Bond girls however she soon falls for his charms ending up sailing off with him at the end of the film.
Swedish actress, Britt Ekland, was chosen for the role after she contacted the producers herself and expressed her desire to play a Bond girl having been a fan of the series since Dr. No. Impressed with her tenacity she was offered the lead part of Mary Goodnight. The film character differs greatly from that in the novels, with Goodnight played more as a ditzy blonde constantly making poor decisions and putting herself in danger much to Bond’s dismay. While undeniably beautiful she falls into the typical stereotype of the vacuous Bond girl making her one of the weakest of the series so far.
For the role of Andrea Anders, Scaramanga’s mistress, another Swede was chosen for the part. Maud Adams, who would return to the series nine years later to take the title role of Octopussy, makes a good impression and shows a dynamic chemistry with Moore. The character of Anders is far better written than that of Goodnight and shows real depth missing from the lead Bond girl. She plays a key role in the overall plot of the film developing a complex relationship between both Bond and Scaramanga.
In a rare turn of events it is actually the villain who has the best gadgets in The Man With The Golden Gun. In addition to the previously mentioned flying car, Scaramanga’s greatest gadget is naturally his golden gun. Split into four gold plated component parts, a cigarette lighter and cigarette case, a cuff link and pen, all of which prove deadly when brought together to form the gun itself. The weapon only holds one round, a specially made 4.2 calibre bullet proving that he is such an expert marksman he only needs the one bullet to get the job done. Lee reportedly found the gun “extremely difficult” to assemble and disassemble but the gun remains one of the most iconic props of the whole Bond series.
James Bond Will Return…..
The Man With The Golden Gun, while not quite as successful as Moore’s debut, proved to be a success at the box-office with worldwide takings just below the $100 million mark only going to prove that audiences had fully embraced Moore in the lead role. Despite the continued success of the series producer Harry Saltzman was about to make a decision that could potentially bring an end to the series by breaking a partnership that had lasted over a decade……
To catch up on previous installments of the James Bond Retrospective click here:
- 8 Actresses Who Tricked You Into Thinking You Saw Them Nude
- 11 Irresistible Movie Moments That Wore Out Your Pause Button
- 100 Things Wrong With The Dark Knight Rises [Video]
- 10 Scenes You Won't Believe You Missed in 2012
- 10 Most Infuriating Movie Cliffhangers
- 10 Major Plot Holes You Probably Missed
- 10 Happy Movie Endings That Probably Had Horrific Consequences
- 12 Ruthless Movie Villains Who Were Defeated By Complete Fools