2012 marks the 50th anniversary of James Bond on the big screen. To celebrate, SFX’s Nick Setchfield revisits each and every 007 adventure in a week by week countdown to Skyfall…
MISSION 9: THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN (1974)
“A DUEL BETWEEN TITANS”Live And Let Die was a hit, and the Bondmakers scrambled to capitalise on their crowdpleasing new 007. Roger Moore’s encore mission was a fast-tracked adaptation of Ian Fleming’s final, frustratingly under-finessed Bond novel, published posthumously in 1965. “I had always envisioned it as a classic shoot-out; as Shane, if you will,” revealed screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz, who walked from the project after a first draft, citing personal conflict with director Guy Hamilton. For all the sun-struck dazzle of its Thai locations it’s a film that feels as distinctly undercooked as Fleming’s book. Sure, there’s a gutsy rock swagger to the title song but Maurice Binder’s traditional parade of nymph-candy feels tired and uninspired, like a showgirl whose heart just isn’t in it anymore.
Elsewhere the movie flagrantly reheats elements that made Live And Let Die popular: Bond steals a speedboat in a bid to replay the bayou boat chase while redneck sheriff J W Pepper returns, implausibly relocated from Louisiana to Thailand as the ugly-shirted Tourist from Hell. Britt Ekland is even locked in a wardrobe, just like Madeline Smith.
And, once again, a Bond film feels reactive, its martial arts trimmings chasing the Bruce Lee-inspired boom that also brought us Hammer’s Legend Of The Seven Golden Vampires, Marvel’s Master Of Kung Fu comic book and Carl Douglas’ number one single “Kung Fu Fighting”. It’s all deeply 1974. Ironically, the film’s plot revolves around the contemporary energy crisis – despite the redoubtable star wattage of Roger Moore, the Bond franchise looks to be having an energy crisis of its own.
HE HAS A POWERFUL WEAPON Veteran Hollywood gunslinger Jack Palance was an early candidate for the role of the triple-nippled master assassin. Christopher Lee eventually won the glittering pistol, bringing the familiar chill of his Dracula gaze to the Bond universe. “We have so much in common, Mr Bond,” he claims – and it’s true. Dapper and cultivated, a world away from the thug of Fleming’s novel, this Francisco Scaramanga is the shadow-Bond, a man with a self-appointed licence to kill. Is government bureaucracy all that separates him from 007? It’s a thought that triggers a steely flash of morality from Bond himself: “When I kill it’s on specific orders of my government, and those I kill are themselves killers.” You can certainly imagine the pair sharing a dry martini in some smoke-and-leather Piccadilly club, though when Scaramanga’s claim to be a gentleman is met by Bond’s comment “I doubt if you qualify on that score” it’s a rebuke that visibly wounds the weapon king. It’s revealed that Scaramanga was raised in a circus, an elephant his only friend. We’ve all been there.
DANSE MACABREThe Man With The Golden Gun is a film saturated with a uniquely queasy sense of the weird and macabre. Soundtracked by honky-tonk piano, Scaramanga’s murderous, kaleidoscopic funhouse feels like something from The Avengers at its most surreal and darkly carnivalesque, its hypnotic iconography of giant eyeballs, swirling circles and doors to nowhere torn straight from The Twilight Zone. Bond’s world has never seemed as treacherously strange – MI6 sets up base within the skewed, tilted remains of the Queen Elizabeth, wax effigies of sumo wrestlers come to life in a night-dark garden and a woman sits in the centre of a cheering crowd, a single bullethole in her chest, frozen in the moment of her murder. The film’s eeriest moment finds Bond staring at shopfront televisions in an empty, neon-lit street, only to see bowler-hatted homunculus Nick Nack smile at him from a screen. As John Barry’s uneasy score reminds us, this secret shadow-world of Bond’s is one of eternal, unshakable danger, only ever one golden bullet away from death.
CUT TO THE VILLECHAIZE First glimpsed almost toppling beneath a tray of Moet, Scaramanga’s lethal factotum is one of the most improbable, unforgettable Bond icons. Much of this is, naturally, down to the sheer physical oddity of Herve Villechaize, the 3’ 11” French-born actor who brought the ever-immaculate henchman to life. Villechaize was an aspiring artist, photographer and occasional Off Broadway performer who was working as a rat catcher’s assistant in South Central Los Angeles when his life-changing Bond break came. By all accounts he was a womanising wildcard and partied hard on location in Thailand, propelled by a libido that would leave Bond himself feeling undersexed. As a character, Nick Nack has a conflicted, taunting relationship with his gun-toting master – mocking and malicious, his loyalties ever shifting, he prowls the movie like some tormenting storybook imp.
BACK FOR MOORE Roger Moore continues to define the ‘70s Bond in The Man With The Golden Gun. There’s a winning boyishness that’s so very different to Connery – he adjusts his tie when a bellydancer tells him he’s handsome, a signature tic of his light comedy style and another of Moore’s little winks to the audience that he’s not taking it all terribly seriously. It’s not all dancing eyebrow and irony, though. This Bond bleeds in the fight with the goons in the dressing room and there’s a conscious attempt to darken his characterisation – he threatens Andrea Anders with surprising physicality and slaps her hard in the face when she frustrates him. Moore and the screenwriters would come to regret this, considering such bounder behaviour a bad fit for their charming leading man. Certainly Moore’s Bond would never be quite so brutal on screen again.
“EVER HEARD OF EVEL KNIEVEL?”Golden Gun’s setpiece stunt finds Bond corkscrewing a car across a broken bridge, a spluttering, bacon-faced J W Pepper in tow. Yes, it’s slightly spoilt by a daft swanee whistle sound effect – one of director Guy Hamilton’s least inspired touches – but it remains one of the great showstoppers in the franchise’s history. Stunt co-ordinator WJ Milligan Jr originally created the Astro Spiral stunt for a show at the Houston Aerodrome. He started designing the 360 degree turn in 1971, feeding records of highway accidents into an IBM computer to calculate a formula for a ramp that would provide the optimum angle. The car needed to be perfectly balanced, with the steering wheel placed in the exact centre of the vehicle. “Bumps” Willett performed the stunt, lying beneath a pair of dummies, controlling the car with his feet. He did it in one take, watched by an anxious Roger Moore. Hamilton thought it was too perfect and asked him to do it again. Willett refused. It was the first time he’d ever attempted it.
TRIV AND LET DIE
While Fleming’s novel was set in Jamaica, the producers toyed with the idea of shooting in Iran before settling on Thailand.
Ghoul-faced rocker Alice Cooper was in contention for the title song. Listen to his hymn to Scaramanga here.
Christopher Lee was Ian Fleming’s cousin, and an early choice for the role of Dr No.
The movie’s Phuket location work opened up the islands to the global tourism industry.
There’s a brief reprise of the Live And Let Die soundtrack when Pepper first spots Bond.
Scaramanga’s golden gun is pieced together from a fountain pen, a cigarette lighter, a cigarette case and a cuff-link. Lee struggled with the assembly, calling it “a wretched gun.”
This was the first Bond film to be screened at the Kremlin.