Tuesday, 13 December 2011

MOST SECRET - The man with the golden gun

Now pay attention Double-O Section - I must remind you that as signatories to the Official Secrets Act everything you see, hear or discuss from hereon onwards is to be regarded as Most Secret...

O.K. then... alternatively, lets have a squizz at a Bond flick in detail - as it happens this is my favourite, although many would disagree. The Man with the Golden Gun is often cited as a poor example of a 007 film - Bernard Lee goes over the top growling at Bond, Miss Goodnight is so hopeless I'd have shot her on sight and theres even a comedy midget... but heres a peek at Roger Moore's second outing as Jimmy Bond, maybe a few people might give this overlooked classic another look.
1973 - Great Britain

Edward Heath's government sits on a powderkeg - in Northern Ireland children are attacking British troops, IRA bombs explode in London and the Royal Navy faces Icelandic fishing boats in the so-called 'Cod War'. Energy becomes another concern, the impending workers strikes adding to the tension.
In other areas, the deaths of Noel Coward and JRR Tolkein are announced, Pink Floyd release their eponymous album Dark side of the Moon - and on July 6th the British public gets its first look at new Bond Roger Moore in the fantastic Live and Let Die...

With such austere, grim news it is small wonder audiences flock to the cinema to see our favourite secret agent, with his enviable lifestyle and exotic locations. One such location was to be Hong Kong harbour, where, on 6 November 1973 the cameras rolled on the wreck of the liner Queen Elizabeth,
which became a secret MI6 base after the legendary Cubby Broccoli spotted it on a location scouting trip.
Shooting moved on; various locations were used in Thailand, notably an unknown island named Ko Tapu - now universally known as James Bond Island, a major tourist attraction since featuring as the headquarters of the evil Scaramanga. With further scenes shot at Pinewood studios, the production wrapped in August 1974.
Lulu belts out the theme tune, John Barry wrote the tune, Don Black the lyrics. Shock-Rocker Alice Cooper had written a theme-song, but it was rejected - you can hear it on the Muscle Of Love album, (The last featuring the Alice Cooper band - the end of a fantastic musical journey in my humble opinings).
Barry himself hated his work on Golden Gun, but it does the job, underscoring the Martial Arts sub-theme - the film goes a bit Bruce Lee cash-in, much as Live and Let Die went for the Blaxploitation ticket. (Nowhere is this ride-the-wave tendancy as horribly obvious as Moonraker, with it's 'Hey, Star Wars put bums on seats, lets do a Space-Bond!')

Yep - theres a Global Energy Crisis on, Gibson, a scientist invents the Solex Agitator

which is a gadget, not an Eco-Warrior. The solex gathers the power of the sun
to provide free energy. 007 is in London when M reveals a golden bullet with '007' engraved on it has been sent to MI6 - a warning from deadly assassin Scaramanga, known as the man with the Golden Gun after the solid gold weapon he is known to use - for $1,000,000 a 'hit'.
Off goes Bond on a chase leading from Beirut to the Far East, where he discovers that the bullet sent for him was actually from the beautiful Andrea Anders, played by Maud Adams. (So would I).
Bond makes a play for the Solex, but Scaramanga and his assistant Nick-Nack steal it, the diminutive actor HervĂ© Villechaize playing the latter role with a delightfully tongue in cheek touch rivaling that of Moore himself. 
After a car chase that ends with one of the most amazing stunts ever seen, Bond follows the tracking device issued to Mary Goodnight (The only useful thing about her, disappointing for a series where women have played such strong characters) to the island lair of the world's deadliest hit-man. The duel that follows is the dream of Scaramanga; to face James Bond Mano e Mano. After the inevitable, Bond is denied his usual chance to send the bad-guy's insurance premiums rocketing by the ever-hapless Goodnight, who manages to blow the whole place up for him.

Going back to the car chase, Bond dashes into an AMC showroom - in Thailand of all places, into a car already containing - of all people - Sheriff J.W. Pepper from Live and Let Die. Yes, if I was American and on vacation halfway round the World I'd be in an AMC showroom too... o.k. it's an excuse to work in a comedy character, but hey, picking holes in pre-Craig Bond films is fairly pointless - why take something seriously when it was meant to be light-hearted?.

The Villain
British actor Christopher Lee was a casting master-stroke, if an obvious one. The cousin of Ian Fleming, Lee was involved in the Cloak and Dagger goings-on in wartime London, a subject he remains silent on to this day. What is known, though, is his service included work for the R.A.F. and the legendary Long Range Desert Group, sister unit to the S.A.S. that wreaked such havoc amongst the rear echelon of the Afrika Korps and Luftwaffe.
Born in 1922, Lee's imposing six feet five inches presence and booming tones saw him rarely out of work - most famously as Dracula in the Hammer Horror films (I hated most of them.) 
Lee portrays Francisco Scaramanga sympathetically, a circus entertainer turned killer, with a moral compass distorted by experience. Despite the companionship of a beautiful woman (Anders) and his cheerfully morbid manservant Nick-Nack, there is something of the lost soul about Scaramanga - a lonely need for recognition, acceptance even that is revealed in his second meeting with Bond, now guest on the island.
In his turn, James Bond despises the assassin, dismissing him as a mere hired killer. Stung by rejection, Scaramanga engineers a duel in his training maze - his 'funhouse'. A twisted version of a funfair attraction, the funhouse is a theme-park of death, a suitable place for two crack-shots to settle their business.

Stories about this piece of film history are varied - as far as I can ascertain three Golden Guns were made; one solid model, one that could be stripped down to its component parts - and a blank-firing version. A cigarette case formed the pistol grip, a cufflink the trigger, a Colibri lighter the breech mechanism, with a pen screwed in place to form the barrel.  
Famously, one of the originals was reported stolen - and no, it wasn't me!.

The Man with the Golden Gun is a tad light where Petrol-Heads are concerned - Scaramanga has an AMC Matador, which converts to become a flying car with some clip-on wings while Bond steals an AMC Hornet to give chase. A heavily modified Hornet was used for the incredible Corkscrew jump, but really that's about it, unless you count Bond's seaplane, a Republic RC-3 SEABEE.

So, why should you sit through this film?, well, Roger Moore is getting into his stride in a slice of pure 1970's nostalgia - a stylish feast of exotic far-eastern action and excitement. This is the film that cemented the Reign of Roger - the dashing gentleman spy who dispatches the enemy with elan whilst never letting his manners slip. The plot is probably more relevant now, but succeeds in reflecting the anxiety of the time. Not the biggest box-office perhaps, but every time I see it, I'm a seven year old again and the magic and wonder of that now long-gone age lifts the weight of 2011 from me once more...   

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