Tuesday, June 02, 2015

The Man with the Golden Gun (1974) | Story

Plot Summary

Bond learns that a notorious assassin is gunning for him and has to find the killer before the killer finds him. Also: solar power and kung fu.


After Live and Let Die, Saltzman and Broccoli were down to three Fleming novels, all of which had issues to overcome in bringing them to the screen. The Spy Who Loved Me is a romance/horror book in which Bond doesn't even appear until the final act. Moonraker is more or less an English cozy mystery. That leaves The Man with the Golden Gun, which - except for its exciting opening with brainwashed Bond - repeats a lot of elements not only from previous Fleming novels, but also from the early films.

Of course, by the mid-'70s the movies had already moved pretty far away from the novels anyway. Since You Only Live Twice, only the financially disappointing On Her Majesty's Secret Service stayed close to its source material. Without having to use the plots, all the movies needed were some superficial elements to build a new story around. With The Man with the Golden Gun, the idea of an infamous assassin - an evil version of Bond himself - was appealing.

The novel takes place in Jamaica, but the Live and Let Die movie had just been set in the Caribbean, so the filmmakers moved MwtGG to Southeast Asia. Tom Mankiewicz was brought back to write the script, but he didn't get along well with Guy Hamilton who was still directing the series. He was also reportedly feeling fatigued on Bond, so Richard Maibaum - who had resolved some of his own conflicts with Harry Saltzman - came back for a re-write of what Mankiewicz had turned in.

It was Maibaum who drew inspiration from the energy crisis to come up with the movie's MacGuffin, a massively powerful solar battery called the Solex Agitator. But that wasn't the only contemporary element that the film drew from. The Asian setting made it convenient to include martial arts and hopefully capitalize on audiences' interest in Bruce Lee and the kung fu craze. Kickboxing was also just becoming popular in the US, so Bond attends a bout.

Putting part of the movie in Hong Kong also allowed them to use the wreck of the Queen Elizabeth I, which had sunk in Hong Kong harbor a couple of years before under mysterious circumstances. No one knows for sure how it caught fire, but arson was suspected and the ship burnt to a crisp and then capsized from all the water used to extinguish the flames.

How Is the Book Different?

In almost every way except for there being an assassin who uses a gold-plated gun. In the book, the gun is simply a revolver, but the movie turns it into a much cooler contraption that's assembled from other, mundane-looking objects. The movie also has Bond get involved not as part of a regular mission, but through the machinations of one of the villains' enemies. And as already mentioned, the whole thing is moved from the Caribbean to Southeast Asia. I'll deal with other changes in later posts about Bond's allies and the women and villains he encounters.

Moment That's Most Like Fleming

M at first appears to be his typically (for the recent movies) cranky self with Bond. There's a moment of the old camaraderie from the books though when M offers Bond the opportunity to take some leave and go after Scaramanga. Bond's slow on picking up the hint, but I love the glimpse of the M who isn't totally comfortable with freeing up government resources to take care of personal issues, but does it anyway because he respects Bond and it's the right thing.

Moment That's Least Like Fleming

In Fleming's novel, Bond gets put on Scaramanga's trail thanks to a coincidence. It would be weirdly awesome to learn that the numerous ridiculous coincidences in the movie are an intentional homage to that, but there's no way that can be true. There are simply too many.

For starters, Bond is called off his investigation of a missing scientist in order to stop Scaramanga... who just happens to have a contract on the missing scientist. When Bond tracks one of Scaramanga's bullets to the weaponsmith Lazar, he gets there just as Lazar is ready to deliver the next package of Scaramanga's bullets. Quite convenient.

Later, after the scientist is killed, Bond is placed under arrest by someone he thinks is a Hong Kong policeman. Bond has many many opportunities to escape, but he doesn't, even when it's obvious that the policeman isn't who he says he is. It looks like Bond's curious about where he's being taken and it's totally in his MO to let himself be grabbed in order to find out who's behind it. But then he makes a break for it when the boat he's on passes the Queen Elizabeth. Where does Bond think he's going on a rusted hunk of metal in the middle of the harbor? It makes no sense and the only reason for it is so Bond can discover that MI6 has set up an office in there.

There are a few others, but they start to get nitpicky and some of them I'll deal with in other sections. Overall it's a really sloppy plot though.

Cold Open

The cold open is tons better than Live and Let Die. It reminds me of a wackier version of the one in From Russia with Love in that it's all about an assassin's practicing and features Bond's likeness even though the actual character doesn't appear. As fond as I am of the literary Bond and the movies that best capture that spirit, I do like things about the silly Moore era and this opener is one of them.

In addition to the crazy fun house sequence, it also does a nice job of introducing the bad guys. We see the deadliness of Scaramanga and the fact that he has a third nipple. Nick Nack is quirky and potentially disloyal, making him a lot more interesting than most of the other henchmen in the series. And we also meet Andrea Anders, a dramatically sad woman who will become much more than the simple gun moll she appears to be.

And of course, it gives us the greatest line in any Bond film: "Nick Nack! Tabasco!" Which Scaramanga never uses. Must be for Andrea.

Top 10 Cold Opens

1. Thunderball
2. On Her Majesty's Secret Service
3. Goldfinger 
4. The Man with the Golden Gun
5. From Russia With Love
6. Diamonds Are Forever
7. You Only Live Twice
8. Live and Let Die
9. TBD
10. TBD

Movie Series Continuity

We're back in M's office for the briefing, which is nice, but that doesn't mean that M's going to stay out of the field. Both he and Q visit Hong Kong for the last half of the movie, working out their offices in the Queen Elizabeth.

There are two extra guys in the briefing, which is going to become something of a thing as Bernard Lee gets older. Bond calls one of them "Chief of Staff," which I guess means that he's Bill Tanner. Tanner is Bond's best friend in the novels, but they only appear to be work acquaintances in the movies. Bond addresses the other man as Colthorpe and we don't really know why he's there at first. Later on, we discover that he's a forensic expert from Q-Branch, which makes sense because the scene is all about the golden bullet with 007 engraved on the side.

We hear about another Double-O agent for the first in a long time. Bill Fairbanks had been 002 until he was killed by Scaramanga five years earlier.

There's another example of Bond's notoriety when he visits Lazar and the weaponsmith immediately recognizes his name.

And finally, Bond is a know-it-all about a couple of weird things: Scaramanga and liquid helium. It's hilarious that he pretends to have to recollect the details about Scaramanga, but then recites them in nauseating detail.

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