Friday, December 23, 2011

Bondage, Pt. 9: The Man With the Golden Gun

Roger Moore is back for his second run at the Bond role in this, widely considered to be among the worst of the Bond films. While I don't disagree, this movie is something of a dichotomy: one of the least-inspiring Bond movies with one of the most inspiring Bond villains.

Since I'm way behind on writing these (I'm already up into the Daniel Craig films), I'm going to go with a "less is more" approach from here on out, just in the hope of actually completing these posts in a reasonable time frame. So here goes.

Synopsis: This one has Bond going after a device called the Solex Agitator that can harness the power of the sun to solve the energy crisis (which was supposedly pretty bad in 1973 in real life). The thing can also produce powerful solar rays that can (and does) do stuff like destroy airplanes. Throughout this process, Bond is up against Francisco Scaramanga, the proverbial "Man With the Golden Gun," a secretive and highly paid assassin with an island fortress.

The Villain: Scaramanga, the Man With the Golden Gun, gets $1 million per assassination. He literally has a golden gun and uses special golden bullets (the delivery of which allows Bond to track him down). Mi6 receives a golden bullet with "007" inscribed on it, which is Scaramanga's way of intimidating Bond. Scaramanga is played by Christopher Lee, who was already a veteran of B-grade Hammer films and whatnot by the time he did this. Late in his life, he'd have a major comeback playing villains like Saruman in the Lord of the Rings trilogy and Count Dooku in two Star Wars movies. Scaramanga is a noteworthy villain because, at least at this point in the series, the villains rarely engaged Bond personally in gunfights and fisticuffs. Scaramanga is every bit as skilled and dangerous as Bond himself, and Lee plays him with a cool, cold, smooth kind of style. The funniest thing about him is that he has a third nipple - a fact Bond uses to impersonate Scaramanga at one point in the movie. Scaramanga constantly tests himself. On his island fortress, he has a funhouse-style combat training room that his demented protege, Nick Nack, programs with animatronics, booby traps and other dangers. Of course, Scaramanga also uses this room to trap and torment his enemies, and, inevitably, Bond winds up here as well. Frankly, Scaramanga is the best thing about this movie, and he's one of my favorite Bond villains.

The Henchman: As far as I know, the only little person to be a henchman for a Bond villain was Nick Nack, played by Hervé Villechaize, who is best known as Tattoo on the TV show Fantasy Island. He plays a pretty evil little bastard in this, though he doesn't get a lot of action scenes. In fact, most Bond henchmen are there because the villains are, by and large, thinkers, not fighters. Nick Nack is really more like a manservant, though he does create plenty of problems for Bond. Vallechaize himself was a tragic figure, committing suicide in 1993. His suicide note said he was despondent over health problems. By that time he was an alcoholic who was said to spend every evening sitting in a darkened room drinking and screaming obscenities at re-runs of Fantasy Island. I've read that he was also an accomplished painter, but I had trouble finding images of his artwork (not that I really looked all that hard).

The Bond Girl: This time it's Mary Goodnight, played by Britt Ecklund. She was married to Peter Sellers at the time, who himself was in the Bond spoof movie Casino Royale (the original...which, in my opinion, is unfunny and awful). Britt Ecklund is pretty and she's a good actress...but the character of Mary Goodnight rivals Diamonds Are Forever's Tiffany Case as being, perhaps, the dumbest Bond girl. She's supposed to be a British agent, and clearly they set the bar very low for her. She keeps screwing things up and getting Bond into trouble, such as when she pushes a henchman into the power plant at Scaramanga's island, which leads to a chain reaction that blows it up. Bond only escapes in the nick of time. She also manages to get herself locked in the trunk of Scaramanga's car while trying to place a homing device on his car. Maud Adams also deserves mention as Andrea Anders, Scaramanga's mistress. She helps Bond track him down and gets a golden bullet for her trouble. Adams would later play a different role in a Bond film as the title character in Octopussy. In a funny scene, Bond makes Goodnight hide in a closet while he beds Adams in the same room.

The Sidekick: Actually, this is one of those where the sidekick and the Bond girl are sort of the same person. However, Bond does team up once again with the ridiculous Sheriff Pepper from Live and Let Die, who just so happens to be on vacation in Thailand. He remembers Bond, and gets mixed up in a pretty cool boat chase sequence. Other than that he's a digression into flat-out comedy that probably should have been avoided. Bond is also aided by Lieutenant Hip, his contact in Thailand and Hong Kong. At one point he and his two nieces take out an entire dojo of trained martial artists. This movie, in fact, camps martial arts films that were popular at the time, much as Live and Let Die was influenced by blaxploitation flicks.

Gadgets: Perhaps the coolest gadget in this movie isn't Bond's at all - it's Scaramanga's: the "Golden Gun" itself. It disassembles into innocuous items (a cigarette lighter, cuff links, a cigarette case, a pen). Scaramanga also has a flying car. Yes, a flying car. This complicates things for Mary Goodnight when she gets stuck in the trunk. And though it's more of a secret base than a gadget, Mi6 has a remote HQ in the sunken wreck of the RMS Queen Elizabeth, a British ship that had, in real life, sunk in the Hong Kong harbor. The funniest gadget is a little rubber nipple Bond wears to mimic Scaramanga's third nipple when he's impersonating him.

Music: Speaking of music, I should mention that really what I've been writing about here is "The Theme Song." I haven't really touched on the orchestrated scores, almost all of which were written by legendary film composer John Barry. Perhaps I'll get back to that with an appendix to these posts one of these days. The title song for this one was described as "one long string of smut" due to its sexual innuendo. But the truth is, it's really not that explicit at all, though this line is funny: "His eye may be on you or me / Who will he bang? / We shall see. Oh yeah!" It was performed by Scottish singer Lulu, and written by John Barry and Don Black. Even though he wrote the music, Barry later described how much he hated the song, and said it was his worst.

The Director: This was Guy Hamilton's last foray into the Bond-verse. He got sidetracked afterward by being tapped to direct the Superman film, in early pre-production at the time, that ultimately went to Richard Donner, I think because Hamilton was a tax exile or something. It's interesting to note that despite directing one of the best Bond movies - Goldfinger - Hamilton managed to direct some of the worst ones, as well.

Fun Facts: The producers originally asked Alice Cooper to do the theme song, and here it is. For whatever reason, probably due to the fact that Cooper was more infamous than famous (audiences are jaded now, but Alice actually used to piss people off back in the day, from Eisenhower-era conservatives to liberal hippies, who found him too violent). I rather like Alice's version. It sounds very much like an Alice song but it also sounds like a Bond theme. He would later re-work parts of the song into Muscle of Love. This was also the last Bond movie producers Saltzman and Broccoli worked together on. Saltzman sold his share in Eon Productions to solve some financial crisis he was having, and the resulting legal wrangling meant it took three long years until the next movie (the longest break in Bondage to that point).

Favorite Lines: Sort of a wonky script, but there are some good ones. I like this one:
Bond, to Nick Nack: "I've never killed a midget before, but there can always be a first time!"
I also like this exchange between Bond and Moneypenny, when he says, "Moneypenny, you're better than a computer!" She replies: "In all sorts of ways. But you never take advantage of them." There is also an Oriental girl called "Chu Me" which is probably the most ridiculous name of a girl in any Bond film.

Other: Scaramanga's flying car was actually based on a real prototype under consideration at the time. Unlike Scaramanga's, it never got off the ground. This movie also featured one of the wildest vehicle stunts yet seen, when Bond's car leaps a broken bridge and spins around 360 degrees, doing an aerial twist. Even now, when the hosts of the TV show Top Gear tried to replicate this stunt, they couldn't. But it was no trick photography: stunt man "Bumps" Willard actually pulled it off in an AMC Hornet.

Next up, one of the better Roger Moore films: The Spy Who Loved Me.

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