Tuesday, June 12, 2012
BOND-A-THON: The Man with the Golden Gun
12 January 2012, Nottingham, England. Yours truly decides to host a Bond-a-thon on The Agitation of the Mind. I can only assume the rationale floating through my mind went something like this: Yeah, cool, I get to watch the Connery films, I get to re-evaluate the Timothy Daltons, there was that one with Brosnan that had a pre-credits speed boat chase along the Thames, and I get to wrap the whole thing up with Craig’s reinvention of the franchise. Woo-hoo! This is going to be so cool. Bartender, bring me a vodka martini, shaken not stirred.
I cannot recall, during this moment of deluded enthusiasm, whether it ever crossed my mind that, discounting Connery’s reprisal of the role in ‘Never Say Never Again’ as non-canon, Roger Moore has made more James Bond films than any other actor. And if even the vaguest consideration of the Moore years did cross my mind, there was probably another rationale to hand, something along the lines of: ‘Live and Let Die’ is pretty decent, ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’ co-stars Caroline Munro and Valerie Leon therefore eye-candy a-go-go, and ‘For Your Eyes Only’ marks something of a return to form. Hell yeah, let’s do this thing.
If, on 12 January, someone had whispered in my ear: Yo, Fulwood, you’re also going to have to watch ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’, ‘Octopussy’ and ‘A View to a Kill’, there might have been second thoughts. I might have re-envisage the project as a best-of-Bond-a-thon. In fact, if that rhetorical whisperer had put in an appearance, there would have been no need for them to mention ‘Octopussy’ or ‘A View to a Kill’. They’d have had me at ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’.
‘TMwtGG’ is the franchise’s nadir. Just looking back at my review of ‘Live and Let Die’ and the issues I had with it throws ‘TMwtGG’ into sharp relief. Bog awful theme song? Sir Paul McCartney, I apologise: your three minutes of widdle-wank is fucking Mahler compared to Lulu’s execrable effort. Racism? The treatment of black characters in ‘Live and Let Die’ is an exercise in race relations compared to the wholesale stereotyping of Asians. How bad is the racism? Let’s put it this way, there is a ludicrous amount of screentime, just after the halfway mark, where Sheriff J.W. Pepper (Clifton James), holidaying in Bangkok, repeatedly lambasts the locals, calling them “little brown pointy-heads”. Between this and the flying car, watching ‘TMwtGG’ is a two-hour exercise in losing the will to live. Yeah, there’s a flying car.
It would be twenty years and ‘Die Another Day’ before the 007 saga gave us anything as face-palmingly stupid. And, oh Christ, I’ve got that motherfucker to watch before this whole moviethon is over.
The annoying thing is that ‘TMwtGG’ could have good. It could, conceivably, have been fucking great. For all that the films have drastically departed from the books, often to their detriment, one genuine improvement is made in this case. Ian Fleming’s novel, written just prior to the author’s death, was published in its first draft without his customary revisions; consequently, it’s a thin and sketchy piece of work and suffers from the lack of an interesting villain. Scaramanga, in the novel, is a grubby little mobster whose much-hyped facility with a pistol barely compensates for his lack of personality. In Richard Maibaum and Tom Mankiewicz’s script, Scaramanga (Christopher Lee) is Bond’s equal – indeed, the opposite side of the coin to 007: a gourmand and a sybarite who lives well and has no qualms about what he does for a living.
Christopher Lee was Ian Fleming’s cousin and would probably have made a chillingly amoral Bond (in the alternative universe where Sean Connery accepted Matt Busby’s offer of a contract to play for Manchester United and became a footballer instead of an actor, I’m still undecided as to who would have made the most interesting Bond – Christopher Lee or Patrick McGoohan). As Scaramanga, however, Lee exudes serpentine charm and menace in equal measure. I’ve never known Lee not to be magnetic whenever he’s onscreen, and ‘TMwtGG’ is not exception.
The film also flirts with topicality in its choice of McGuffin: the “Solex Agitator”, a device that ramps up the efficiency of solar power. The energy crisis was big news as the film went into production, and still in the news at the time of its release. Scaramanga’s designs on the Solex, essentially setting himself up as auctioneer to the super-rich with unlimited energy and its conversion process to electricity up for grabs by the highest bidder, elevates him from mere assassin (albeit one who pulls down a cool million per hit) to the kind of über-villain audiences had by now come to associate with the Bond movies.
The presence of Christopher Lee and the inclusion of a newsworthy subject, however, are all ‘TMwtGG’ has to offer; and the filmmakers seem perversely determined to offset these things by as many stultifying creative decisions as possible. We have mentioned Lulu’s theme song (“the man with the golden guuu-uuu-huuu-uuun”) and Sheriff Pepper’s xenophobia. Let us also consider a ludicrous kung-fu sequence where two schoolgirls beat the shit out of a gang of tough customers (the fact that neither actress seems to have any facility for the martial arts just makes the whole thing even more laughable); an otherwise fine car chase ruined by comedic sound-effects; Britt Ekland’s simpering performance as Mary Goodnight, easily the dippiest Bond girl ever to don a bikini, (particularly annoying since the much more engaging Maud Adams – as Scaramanga’s kept woman Andrea Anders, is cavalierly disposed of); and the painfully unfunny Bond vs midget final scene.
Oh, and the potentially engaging business about the Solex? It comes down to a big laser that blows things up.
Towards the end, Scaramanga challenges Bond to a duel, declaring that “it will be a battle of titans”. “There’s a handy four-letter word,” Bond replies, “and you’re full of it.” Watching ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’, it’s hard not to feel a certain affinity.