One of the more memorable features of Ian Fleming’s final James Bond novel The Man With The Golden Gun was the way that the main assassin, Francisco ‘Pistols’ Scaramanga, used a gold-coloured pistol. This theme was given an even more imaginative creative spin in the EON movie version in 1974, where Christopher Lee’s version of the character could assemble his golden gun from a number of seemingly ‘everyday’ parts.
But the idea of a ‘golden gun’ is perhaps not as outlandish as it might have appeared when the 007 author penned his last full adventure or, indeed, to cinema audiences who saw Lee’s superbly designed pistol in 1974-75. A recent article in the London Times newspaper (June 6th) offered some fascinating insights into the role of golden guns in recent history. Written by journalist Anthony Loyd, reporting from Misrata in Libya, the article revealed that the late Libyan dictator Colonel Gaddafi owned a golden gun (a 9mm Browning Hi-Power). He even pulled it out to use just before he was captured and dragged away. And the gun was apparently picked up by a young Libyan man, who found the pistol lying in the sand beside Gaddafi’s wrecked convoy.
Moreover, a number of other people in history have tended to favour ‘golden’ guns as a sign of wealth, status or evil power. In fact, as Loyd noted, Francisco Scaramanga’s golden gun in the Fleming novel was perhaps ‘merely a milestone in the history of gold-plated weaponry’. The German dictator Adolf Hitler, for example, owned a golden 7.65 Walther, with ‘AH’ embossed on its ivory grips. It was seized by a young American officer in the last days of the war and later disappeared and reappeared several times in the USA before ending up in the hands of a keen collector. Another apparent fan of golden guns was the later dictator of Iraq, Saddam Hussein, and this demented behaviour was passed on to his sons, who had a habit of using golden AK-47s.
There are plenty of other examples. Clearly, then, possession of a golden gun has quite a history, and Fleming certainly hit upon something interesting when he gave his last major villain, Scaramanga, a gold-plated, long-barrelled, single-action Colt .45. In light of all this, the JBIFC offers (00)7 bullet points of our own on the significance of the golden gun in the Bond universe.
001: Origins of ‘Gun’
Ian Fleming’s final full novel had been published posthumously in 1965. By 1964, Fleming had become increasingly dogged by serious health problems, and writing Golden Gun was something of a struggle. It is often viewed as one of his less effective stories, although in recent years there has been a renewal of interest in the novel. The Bond continuation author William Boyd, for example, argued in July, 2014, there is still much to admire in the novel: it is ‘realistic’ rather than ‘fantastical’, and ‘Scaramanga is a credible scumbag hit man with delusions of grandeur’, whose eventual drawn-out demise is ‘low-key’ but as well written as anything Fleming achieved. Some commentators detected a hint of sexual ambivalence to Fleming’s Scaramanga in the novel, and some of this was transferred to the movie treatment – but with a greater focus on the ‘fetishistic’ side to the character and the possible phallic symbolism of his golden gun. After killing a victim, the movie Scaramanga likes to use the barrel of his recently used gun to caress the face and lips of his clearly unhappy mistress Andrea (played by the beautiful Swedish actress Maud Adams).
002: The Dark Side?
There were certainly interesting gun-themed undercurrents to the original Fleming novel. After the climax to Fleming’s novel You Only Live Twice had seen Bond leave for Vladivostock, the plot of Golden Gun saw James Bond return to London, having been brainwashed by the Russian KGB to attempt an assassination of MI6 boss ‘M’ with a cyanide gun. This is foiled by the quick-thinking Sir Miles, and Bond undergoes special medical care and therapy under the supervision of Sir James Moloney to restore him back to health and his old self. However, still concerned about the mental wellbeing of Bond, ‘M’ decides to test him in the field once again. He sends 007 to Jamaica on a tough mission to assassinate a professional killer named Francisco Scaramanga (also known as Francisco ‘Pistols’ Scaramanga), a freelance killer who has worked for the American ‘Spangled Mob’, the Russian KGB and is currently working for the Cubans, and has already carried out the murder of at least six MI6 agents. As Fleming describes him, Scaramanga is ‘widely feared’ and is ‘something of a local myth’: he is also known as ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’ because his main weapon is a gold-plated, long-barrelled, single-action Colt .45, and he uses special bullets with a gold core.
003: Duel to the Death
Once in Jamaica, Bond arranges to ‘accidentally’ meet Scaramanga and ends up working for him as a ‘security consultant’ for an important conference out in the swamp-lands at a half-built hotel. Increasingly suspicious of James Bond, Scaramanga ends up in a confrontation with 007 on a private train which is travelling across the under-developed marshy mangrove areas of the Jamaican bushlands. The climax to the Fleming novel is a duel between Scaramanga and Bond in the marshes, and another ‘golden gun’ (this time a small golden Derringer) plays a key role here. It is also evident at this point that Bond did not enjoy killing other men: ‘He forced himself to think of the broken bodies of the men that Scaramanga had killed, of others the golden gun would kill if he weakened now’. This core theme of a gritty confrontation and ‘duel’ between two highly skilled gunmen was something that was taken up for the EON movie version, but other story elements were also added, and the ‘duel’ idea was watered down somewhat, no longer taking centre-stage.
004: Another Kind of Duel?
As well as a ‘duel’ on screen between 007 and Scaramanga, there may have been another kind of duel going on behind the scenes, although ‘duel’ might be too strong a word to describe it.
Tom Mankiewicz (1942-2010), scriptwriter on Diamonds Are Forever and Live and Let Die, recalled that he was given the tricky task of drafting a script for Golden Gun even before Live and Let Die had opened in the cinemas. Mankiewicz’s first draft in 1973 was rooted in the original Fleming plot theme of a duel, or battle of wills, between Bond and Scaramanga. Mankiewicz said he saw Scaramanga (in a sense) as Bond’s alter ego: ‘a super-villain of the stature of Bond himself’. He also saw the actor Jack Palance as a possible candidate for playing Scaramanga. However, it is clear that there were some tensions between Mankiewicz and the director Guy Hamilton (1922-2016), and these had become noticeable during a brief Golden Gun location recce that Broccoli, Hamilton and Mankiewicz had made to Iran. During the summer of 1973 Mankiewicz finally went to see Cubby Broccoli in his London office and asked to be released from the film.
It is possible that Mankiewicz’s emphasis on a gritty realism to the duel did not quite meet Hamilton’s desire for a more ‘fantastical’ dimension to the movie. For Hamilton, who was working on his fourth (and final) Bond film, the first draft needed additional ideas and some spectacular stunt action (of the kind seen in his two previous Bond movies). Mankiewicz had been finding it quite difficult to come up with some new and original action ideas, so various people were then invited to come up with some ‘action’ suggestions, including members of the production crew who had worked on the two previous films. Broccoli then approached Bond screenwriting veteran Richard Maibaum (1909-1991), who agreed to return to the series and work on Mankiewicz’s first draft.
Maibaum’s first draft screenplay, delivered on 7 January, 1974, kept the bare outline of the Golden Gun script but added more plotline material. In fact, much of the core emphasis on the original duel between Bond and Francisco Scaramanga was downgraded in favour of a more ‘fantastical’ plotline that was influenced by the 1973-74 energy crisis, and centred on a device for harnessing solar power (the ‘Solex agitator’). However, Mankiewicz’s original idea of a tense duel was still retained and finally played out, forming the climax of the movie, although not quite in the form that Mankiewicz had envisaged. The scriptwriter suggested some years later that the movie could have been a very different kind of film had his main idea of a ‘wild duel’ between two gunmen been properly used in the way he had wanted.
005: The Guy Who Won The Gun
As mentioned earlier, Mankiewicz, in his original vision of the storyline, had seen the tough Hollywood actor Jack Palance (1919-2006) as the ideal man for the role of Scaramanga. He recalled later that he originally envisaged the plot of Golden Gun as a reworking of the famous gun battle between Jack Palance and Alan Ladd in the classic Western Shane (1953) – a ‘heavy’ against a ‘hero’. However, when the producers approached Palance, the Oscar-nominated actor apparently said he was not interested. The search had to focus elsewhere. Guy Hamilton (according to most versions of the saga) was particularly keen on casting Christopher Lee in the role. Chris Lee (1922-2015), famous for his Hammer Horror roles (especially as Count Dracula) had become rather fed-up with being typecast as a ‘horror’ actor and increasingly wanted to try his hand at new roles. Guy had now found his guy (so to speak).
Interestingly, Lee (who claimed that he had served some kind of clandestine role in the UK’s ‘Special Forces’ in World War Two), had a pretty clear vision of how he would interpret Fleming’s villainous gunman. In one interview, given to The Times newspaper, Lee explained his concept of Scaramanga and how he had further developed the character with the aid of Guy Hamilton, the director: ‘When I first read the script I visualised Scaramanga as a straight-down-the-middle heavy’. Lee noted that Scaramanga was not one of Fleming’s most impressive murderers: ‘Ian was already ill when he wrote Golden Gun and I think he knew that the wells of his imagination were beginning to run a bit dry. So Guy and I, after a lot of talk, decided to make Scaramanga a little bit like Bond himself, a counter-Bond if you like, instead of the murderous, unappetising thug of the novel’.
Similarly, in another interview, Lee said: ‘I saw Scaramanga not as a madman or a cold character but as a very human person – and a very inhuman person in many ways’. Indeed, Lee sought to portray Scaramanga as much more than the straightforward hardman that Fleming had originally written about in his final novel; he very much wanted to make Scaramanga more complex and interesting – a combination of the lethal and the charming, a sophisticated assassin who was highly paid and who, like Bond, enjoyed the best things in life.
006: Walther PPK versus Golden Gun
This vision certainly came across on the screen, when Lee and Moore had some of their best scenes together. Over dinner on Scaramanga’s island, Scaramanga taunts Bond for working ‘for peanuts’, mocking 007’s allegiance to Queen and Country, but also claims: ‘Apart from that, we are the same. To us, Mr. Bond. We are the best’. Needless to say, Bond does not accept this at all: ‘There’s a useful four-letter word – and you’re full of it. When I kill it’s on the specific orders of my government. And those I kill are themselves killers’. Scaramanga, clearly hurt at this strong reaction, but still seeking to ‘test’ their skills in gentlemanly combat, reveals that he wants to fight Bond in a duel to the death, ‘mano a mano, face to face’. The ‘duel’ sequence at the climax of the movie was arguably one of the more successful and genuinely tense parts of the movie, helped in particular by some excellent atmospheric music by John Barry. The ‘fun-house’ and hall of mirrors sequence (also used briefly in the pre-credits), where the assassin hunts his prey, remains one of the stronger parts of the movie.
What is perhaps less well-known is that the duel was originally slightly longer, but some of the beach scenes in the early part of the sequence ended up on the cutting-room floor. The late Sir Christopher Lee referred at various times over the years to an interesting scene where Bond throws a molotov cocktail in the air and Scaramanga shoots it, causing Bond to think that his opponent has used his last bullet (but he has another one hidden in his belt buckle). Ironically, though, some of this edited footage did appear in the cinema trailer for Golden Gun.
007: The Gun of Guns?
In a sense, the film-makers had already made use of a ‘golden gun’ in the Bond movies: Gert Frobe’s Auric Goldfinger in 1964 was seen using a golden revolver during the battle at Fort Knox. But with Golden Gun in 1974-75, one huge asset available for the EON movie’s marketing campaign was undoubtedly Francisco Scaramanga’s unique ‘golden gun’ itself, which has assumed near iconic status among Bond fans over the years. The eye-catching gun and its stunning design was also highlighted in various posters for the movie. Three golden gun props were made for the film, based on a design by Pinewood SFX engineer Burt Luxford, one of which was also used for a major round of publicity as part of the marketing campaign. It was an ingenious design, consisting of an interlocking fountain pen for the barrel of the gun, a cigarette lighter for the bullet chamber, a cigarette case for the handle, and a cuff-link for the trigger. A golden bullet was hidden in Scaramanga’s belt buckle. The idea that the gun could be quickly dissassembled by Scaramanga into everyday fashion accessories was thus a real bonus for the publicity campaign: an attractive female model was photographed with the various parts of the gun, and these publicity stills were sent to local and national newspapers in the UK and elsewhere.
Did You Know?
There have been various theories about who may, or may not have been, a real-life model for Ian Fleming’s villain Scaramanga. Fleming also clearly had a habit of just ‘borrowing’ the names of people for characters in his novels, rarely asking their permission! According to his biographer Andrew Lycett, however, another possibility is that: ‘Scaramanga is a good name and perhaps Fleming just liked it’.