Musings on Bond at 50: The Man with the Golden Gun

Posted: 3 September 2012 in entertainment, film
Tags: , , , ,

The Man with the Golden GunCubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman reach a parting of the ways as the franchise reaches an all-time low with The Man with the Golden Gun.

With the success of Live And Let Die at the box office and the acceptance of Roger Moore as the new James Bond, producers Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman immediately entered production on the ninth film in the series The Man with the Golden Gun. The result was a critically derided mess that is generally regarded as the absolute creative nadir of the entire series.

For inexplicable reasons Harry Saltzman had been keen to film Ian Fleming’s posthumously published final James Bond novel for quite some time. Originally mooted as the 1969 release to follow You Only Live Twice with plans to film in Cambodia and invite Roger Moore to assume the role of 007. Ultimately production was cancelled due to the the outbreak of war in the region and its place in the schedule was taken by On Her Majesty’s Secret Service with George Lazenby performing the lead role.

Whilst Live and Let Die had borrowed heavily from the blaxploitation genre, The Man with the Golden Gun would reap wholesale from the popular 1970s martial arts genre. Once again Bond was following trends and not setting them – another clear indication of the decline in inventiveness of the series. The martial arts theme influenced the choice of Hong Kong and Thailand as settings for the film after initial location scouting in Iran and Lebanon.

Whilst scouting locations in Hong Kong, Broccoli viewed the wreckage of the former RMS Queen Elizabeth and came up with the idea of using it as the covert base for MI6’s operations in the Far East. Subsequently MI6 stations began to appear in odd locales all across the globe, with M, Q, and Moneypenny with seemingly with nothing better to do than trot around after 007. The distinctive hideaway of Scaramanga was shot was shot on the island of Khow-Ping-Khan, one of a cluster of islands near Phuket off the Malay peninsula. Subsequently referred to as “James Bond Island” by locals, the location would be used again nearly a quarter of a century later in 1997 for Tomorrow Never Dies.

The Man with the Golden Gun - Bond, Mary and AndreaInitially The Man with the Golden Gun was shaping up as the third collaboration in a row for screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz and director Guy Hamilton following their work together on Diamonds Are Forever and Live And Let Die. In order to develop a workable premise Mankiewicz had to throw out virtually all of Fleming’s original story and create his own. The initial script sought to portray a battle of wills between Bond and the villain Scaramanga, who Mankiewicz viewed as 007’s alter ego – what the British agent might have become if he were not working for MI6.

The major problem in the film’s initial aim of portraying Bond and Scaramanga as equals was the lightweight nature of Roger Moore’s version of Bond. It was once said of Sean Connery’s Bond that his dark ruthlessness nature gave the writers the option to have him kiss a girl in a scene or to stick a knife into her. No such opportunities existed with Moore’s Bond. In From Russia With Love Bond’s slapping of Tania is a startling dramatic moment, in The Man with the Golden Gun Bond’s roughing up of Andrea Anders is just silly and undramatic.

Later versions of the script reduced the concept of the battle of the titans and added the subplot of Bond and Scaramanga being in competition for possession of the Solex agitator. This MacGuffin was suggested by Broccoli’s stepson Michael G Wilson and inspired by the energy crisis of 1973. From the next film onwards Wilson would assume ever important roles within the franchise.

By the time the subplot of the Solex had been introduced Mankiewicz had fallen out with Hamilton and departed the project. Mankiewicz’s replacement as screenwriter was six film veteran Richard Maibum, perhaps the best adaptor of Fleming’s material as evidenced by the likes of From Russia With Love and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. However Maibum was quite vocal in his dislike of the Roger Moore version of James Bond. He always indicated that Connery was needed to make the films “real”.

The diminutive Nick Nack rates as the very worst character of any James Bond film. Ever! Any future Bond film would need to make an extraordinary effort to render up a more laughably idiotic character than this. The screenwriters should never have created him. The producers and director should have excised him from the script. Bond being in fear of such an idiotically conceived character as this brings regard for the British agent to an all-time low. Connery’s Bond would have simply stamped on Nick Nack, wiped him off his shoe, and thrown him out of the nearest window.

The Man with the Golden Gun - ScaramangaIn addition to the woes of watching Bond quake in the presence of Nick Nack comes the return by “popular demand” of Sheriff J W Pepper, the bigoted redneck “comedy” relief of Live And Let Die. And why on earth would a resident of Louisiana be requesting the test drive of a car in the Far East?! This is a prime example of the apathetic plot and scene progression that plagues the entire film.

The decline of the Bond leading lady continues apace with the casting of Britt Ekland as 007‘s colleague Mary Goodnight. Wooden is a kind description of Ekland’s acting talents and it is obvious she is there merely to look good in a bikini. Maud Adams does her best with the role of Scaramanga’s mistress but is fighting a losing battle. Thankfully the chemistry between her and Roger Moore did not go unnoticed and she would return a decade later in Octopussy – to date the only leading lady to play two separate roles in the series.

Christopher Lee’s casting as the main villain Francisco Scaramanga is the only aspect of The Man with the Golden Gun that deserves accolades. Step-cousin to, and frequent golf partner to, Bond creator Ian Fleming, Lee had been considered for the role of Dr Julius No for the very first Bond film. Lee was the second choice for Scaramanga after Jack Palance turned down the role and he took on the project as a way to escape the typecasting that had plagued him since his roles in various Hammer Horror films dating back to the 1950s.

The Man with the Golden Gun - bridge jumpBreaking the “fourth wall” and accompanying dramatic and action scenes with intrusive comedic noises or asides became an obsession of the Bond films from the start of the 1970s until the arrival of Timothy Dalton. In The Man with the Golden Gun the clearest example of this came with the idiotic sound effect that accompanied the impressive, but ridiculous stunt that saw a car leaping the gap between a broken bridge and twisting 360º in mid-air.

Despite returning a box office of $97.6 million on a $7 million The Man with the Golden Gun was met with critical derision that highlighted the general sense of apathy and creative stagnation that had crept into the series of late. Granted the filmmakers were now adapting Fleming’s lesser material and being called upon more and more to create their own scenarios but behind the scenes ructions were hardly helping matters, especially when a long simmering dispute between Harry Saltzman and Cubby Broccoli finally boiled over during the making of the film.

Saltzman had been experiencing financial difficulties due to poorly received films that he had produced outside of the Bond franchise, including The Battle of Britain (1969) and Tomorrow (1972). Less than a month before the premiere of the new James Bond film, Saltzman announced that he was selling his 50% share in Danjaq, the parent company of EON Productions to alleviate his growing debts. The prospect of an outside company owning an equal share of the cinematic 007 was not one that Broccoli was prepared to entertain as he had hoped to buy out Saltzman.

The resulting legal issues would delay production of the next film The Spy Who Loved Me for nearly 3 years. Ultimately the enforced delay would prove beneficial as the tenth James Bond film would be the best received since the halcyon days of Sean Connery.

1 From Russia With Love
2 Goldfinger
3 On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
4 Thunderball
5 Dr. No
6 You Only Live Twice
7 Diamonds Are Forever
8 Live And Let Die
9 The Man with the Golden Gun

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