Light Bondage: “The Man With The Golden Gun”

Bond, James Bond. For fifty years that has been the cinematic calling card of one of films most enduring heroes. Sure, Bond was born in books, but it was through film that he became a household name and one of the movies’ most enduring legends. He is a character so archetypal that he is bigger than the half dozen men who have played him across nearly two dozen films, and that kind of longevity is both unheard of and a little bit magical.

Light Bondage is my attempt to rewatch the series and try to recapture some of what made these movies worthwhile. I might not always succeed (I’m looking at you, Roger Moore!) but in this biweekly series of articles we’re going to take a ride through the time capsule of the last half century with the world’s most famous spy/action star.

The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)

I’m going to be up front right off the bat here: going into this project, I had a lot of fond memories of this movie. It’s the one I seem to have seen from the Moore years most often on TV, and I really liked a lot of it as a kid. So while I recognize that most of it is kind of terrible and it pulls much of the same bullshit I have and will tear movies apart for, I still like it on some level, mostly fuelled by nostalgia. That out of the way, let’s get to the most important part:

Christopher Lee should have played James Bond.

One of these men is way cooler than the other.

If all you know Christopher Lee from is Lord of the Rings and Star Wars it might be hard to picture it, but he is the Guinness record holder for most film roles ever, dating back to the mid-40s and most notably making a whole mess of UK-staple Hammer Horror films in the 1960s (usually as one of the best film Dracula ever). He was known for being tall, dark, and handsome in a severe, kind of scary sort of way.

But he was also served in the RAF in World War II, and he’s mentioned being part of SOE, which was the undercover espionage branch of the British military. There are half-joking remarks in the Lord of the Rings making of features about how Lee was able to explain explicitly on set exactly what I man sounds like when stabbed in the chest. Oh, and he is also Ian Flemming’s cousin.

I’m sure there were a multitude of reasons why he was never thought appropriate for the role, probably having to do with a history of playing villains and being a bit too intense for the role (especially as it developed into something more lighthearted), but eventually the time came when he got the chance to be in one of these movies. And god damn if it isn’t memorable.

I can't imagine that's good for ballistic accuracy, but I'm no expert.

The Man With The Golden Gun is a movie about Bond facing a would-be Bond. I mean, there’s a plot about a missing solar device that makes death lasers and could solve the energy crisis that was going on at the time, but that’s mostly just machinations to maneuver Bond and Christopher Lee into the best one-on-one fight the series has had before or since. Lee plays Francisco Scaramanga, an ex-Russian assassin who got so good he went independent, killing anyone for $1,000,000 a hit with specialty golden bullets. When one of these bullets shows up with 007 carved into it, Bond is given leave to investigate why exactly Scaramanga might be after him.

I’ll spare you the complexities, but it turns out that Scaramanga wasn’t after him. In fact, Scaramanga idolizes Bond as the one kindred spirit he has found in the world, a man with class and honor but who kills without compunction and makes it look more like art than murder. Scaramanga’s mistress, seeing how obsessed Scaramanga was, figured that if Bond got involved with Scaramanga’s plans it would bring the two men to fighting, and she could get free of his control.

What makes this movie work is entirely Lee. Moore is Moore, for better or worse, and he does an admiral if forgettable job with the material he’s given. But Lee is sinister and competent and with a wry sense of humor that Bond has always been known for. He seems like a potential womanizer, but is fixated on murder to the point where he can only get it up before he goes out to fulfill a contract. He is all pent up aggression and whip smart madness, and in comparison to Bond he feels like everything our hero is on paper just taken across some invisible line where it all turned incredibly wrong.

Scaramanga's crazy wax Bond figure that he practices on. Or maybe that's just Roger Moore being wooden. Hard to tell.

And it’s that reflective quality that makes the film work for me. Scaramanga self-styles himself and Bond as much the same person, which Bond of course vehemently denies by hiding behind his duty to his country, but I feel in reality this movie portrays the villain and the hero as being closer than even the script is comfortable admitting. For every ‘evil’ thing Scaramanga does, it’s countered by behavior that’s just as arbitrarily destructive by Bond, and the reality is that behind all of Bond’s aggressive womanizing at the end of the day he is a killer, motivated by whatever reason to kill, and that makes him at best a controlled monster.

The problem? This is all me reflecting on the film and how it fits into the general structure and tone of these movies more than it is much brought up by the film itself. It is overthinking it in the purest sense, where I am introducing subtext that the film seems to glance at more by accident than intent. At the end of the day, this movie is middling Bond at best, with an over-reliance on comedy and weird moments of racism and bigotry to sell beats that simply don’t really work, elevated mostly by my love for the admittedly movie-stealing villain.

Among these moments? Scaramanga being a mystery man only identified by a third nipple which they make great effort to point out a multitude of times. A return of the film to Hong Kong, portrayed with much more nuance in You Only Live Twice and here mostly used for ham fisted culture-clash sight gags, involving bizarre wedgie gags with sumo wrestlers (which originally led me to think this scene took place in Japan, because WHY WOULD YOU HAVE SUMO HENCHMEN IN HONG KONG?!) and a fight scene straight out of a really bad kung fu film when Bond tries to fight off an entire dojo full of karate mens.

This guy right here? Worst thing in any Bond movie ever. No joke.

Also? The awful, terrible, no good cameo by the ignorant redneck of Live and Let Die, replete with a Dukes of Hazard style car chase that includes Bond DOING A MID-AIR BARREL ROLL SET TO A SLIDE WHISTLE. Oh, also, Scaramanga’s henchman is Tattoo from Fantasy Island, replete with a bunch of humor revolving around making fun of how silly being a ‘midget’ (the movie’s words, not mine) is.

It’s these weird tangents into other genres, most of them poorly conceived and half-heartedly executed, that mark most of the problems of the 70s Bond. With the explosion of exploitation subgenres providing thrills and titillation, it seems like there was a refocus in trying to win back those audiences. The problem is it doesn’t do any of these digressions particularly well, leaving the whole thing feeling overburdened and compensating. Sadly, for as much as like the one notable thing about The Man With The Golden Gun, everything else is pretty bad.

The Theme Song/Opening Title:
Okay, well, maybe not everything. Lulu sings a ridiculous ballad here about our man Scaramanga or maybe it’s about Bond but it’s certainly rife with more penis and ejaculation imagery than any Bond film we’ve seen yet. It’s a surprisingly bawdy song, which makes me feel weird realizing as it was my favorite Bond theme growing up. Still, it’s solid enough, even if in the movie it translates to actually really awful ambient score. Anyway, here’s the titles, which involve a lot of suggestive gun-stroking.

Most Ridiculous Gadget:
Bond doesn’t really get too many gadgets in this one, though there are certainly some goofy things, like MI6’s bizarre Hong Kong harbor base inside a shipwreck, every room on a 45 degree angle like some sort of funhouse. Then there’s Scaramanga’s car that can turn into a  plane when he snaps on attachable wings. These would win the award in other movies, but The Man With The Golden Gun has the best gadget, one of the most memorable firearms in movies.

Scaramanga’s eponymous Golden Gun, a single-shot custom made pistol of gold, made to fire his custom-made gold bullets. Not only is it a singularly interesting design, a statement of character as much as it is a tool, but it holds within it a secret. To carry the gun over international borders, the golden gun can break down into several pieces, a pen and a cigar case and lighter, and a cuff link, that all appear outwardly to be legitimate (if showy) items anybody would carry on their person. Not only is it cool, but it’s practical (well, within the confines of movie logic), which is the one thing many Bond gadgets are sorely lacking.

Have extra vintage Christopher Lee, just because.

Bond Girl Award for Most Thankless Role:
Maud Adams plays Andrea Anders, Scaramanga’s reluctant mistress. It’s already a little uncomfortable that she seems disgusted by Scaramanga but is shown sleeping with him (at gunpoint, no less) during the film. But then when Bond wants information out of her he grabs her, in bathrobe, and pins her down and slaps her multiple times. This, as it always does in these movies, ends up with the two of them having sex. But cast in the light of her not-quite-kosher relationship with the villain, makes her seem more like the victim of a cycle of sexual violence and even rape, as these violent men use her and leave her to deal with the repercussions. I’d like to think the movie was trying to make a statement on this, but no, they really don’t seem particularly cognizant of that at all. Instead it just feels slimy, though admittedly in a way that I can at least read something into.

Anders, for going to the trouble of escaping her hopeless situation, gets shot. Maud Adams, who despite the ultimately thankless role managed to give the character a certain amount of grace, will show up again a few movies later as the title role of Octopussy.

Best Bondickery:
Bond ends up in Bangkok to do … something. I don’t know. Anyway, he ends up on a boat, which he can’t get to power up fully to escape the bad guys after him. As he goes, being an obvious well-dressed white man alone in a slow boat, a bunch of street urchins run along the side of the river, holding up items they want to sell. One adventuring young third world capitalist goes so far as to jump in the river and swim out to the boat to try to haggle for an elephant statue. Isn’t the results of Western imperialism funny?!

Anyway, Bond tries to ignore the kid, who keeps talking down his price until Bond finally snaps and says “Look, I’ll give you 20,000 baht if you can fix this boat!” This is after the kid was willing to part with the statue for 20 baht, so this is obvious motivation to a kid who probably lives on pennies a day. The kid, who apparently knows more than a well trained field operative, flips a throttle switch and the boat speeds up. The kid grins and demands some money. Bond, too bothered to pay for the information he just got out of a third world child, instead pushes him out of a speeding boat to get rid of him.

JAMES BOND will return in THE SPY WHO LOVED ME

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About M

Artist, ne'er do well, militant queer.
This entry was posted in light bondage and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Light Bondage: “The Man With The Golden Gun”

  1. justin says:

    REALLY the threatning to shoot a semi innocent man in the groin didnt win the award for Bondickery

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