A little over over forty years ago, on 18 December 1974, Roger Moore’s second James Bond adventure The Man With The Golden Gun (1974) was given a Royal premiere in Leicester Square in central London and, the very next day, opened at cinemas in the UK and USA simultaneously. As the world celebrated the New Year and entered 1975, the movie also hit cinema screens in other markets across the globe, but to rather mixed critical reactions.
As Golden Gun has just celebrated its 40th birthday and we have also entered a New Year (with a new Bond adventure on the horizon and the possible return of an old foe), the JBIFC looks back on some familiar and less familiar aspects of Sir Roger Moore’s second turn as Ian Fleming’s secret agent, especially Bond’s confrontation with the main villain, Scaramanga. Our retrospective celebration is arranged under (00)7 bullet points.
001: Preliminary Process
The ninth EON James Bond film was (very loosely) based on Ian Fleming’s final full novel, which 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.
Fleming had not been able to fully revise and polish his first draft of Golden Gun before he tragically passed away in August, 1964. Tom Maschler of Jonathan Cape, his UK publisher, at one point asked the distinguished novelist and Bond aficionado Kingsley Amis to have a look at the Fleming typescript for Golden Gun; Amis made various suggestions for improvement, but these were not taken up (Amis did not ‘finish the novel’, as some people seem to believe).
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 unhappy mistress Andrea (played by the beautiful Swedish actress Maud Adams).
002: Primary Themes
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 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.
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 swamplands at a half-built hotel. Increasingly suspicious of Bond, Scaramanga ends up in a confrontation with Bond on a private train which is travelling across the under-developed marshy mangrove areas of the Jamaican bushlands.
The climax to the novel is a duel between Scaramanga and Bond in the marshes. This core theme of a gritty confrontation and ‘duel’ between two highly skilled gunmen was something that was certainly 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.
EON’s movie version had a bit of a convoluted evolution in itself. It has emerged in recent years that, when Sean Connery stepped down from Bond after You Only Live Twice, producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman were interested in giving Roger Moore the role of 007, and wanted the sixth Bond movie to be The Man With The Golden Gun, to be shot on location in Cambodia. Saltzman even telephoned Moore to sound him out about ‘doing Bond’.
However, a combination of Roger’s TV career commitments (to another series of The Saint) and the outbreak of some peasant rebellions in Cambodia in 1967-68, scuppered these plans. It is also known that Harry Saltzman, commenting to the press at one point about a second movie for their new Bond actor George Lazenby, said it would either be The Man With The Golden Gun or Diamonds Are Forever. In the event, after Roger Moore made his debut as Bond in Live and Let Die (1973), Golden Gun became his second 007 adventure. According to Moore’s diaries, Harry Saltzman had told him during his very first week of filming on Live and Let Die that Golden Gun would be the next film.
Tom Mankiewicz (1942-2010), scriptwriter on Diamonds Are Forever and Live and Let Die, 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’.
However, it is clear that there were some tensions between Mankiewicz and director Guy Hamilton (b. 1922), 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’).
In terms of locations, one early plan (as noted earlier) was to set the movie in Iran, but during the recce to the country it was decided the desert locations they looked at would not be suitable for the movie. Scouts were also sent to Beirut, in the Lebanon, but the outbreak of the war in the Middle East in 1973 quickly ended such plans. In the end, Broccoli and Hamilton settled on the Far East again. A large recce team flew out from London in the autumn of 1973, and spent three weeks identifying suitable locations, including in Hong Kong harbour (the wreckage of the RMS Queen Elizabeth liner), Macao, Bangkok (the Thai capital), and the various narrow canals (known as klongs) that formed a network of waterways near the Thai capital.
But, arguably, the most exciting find for the recce team came in October, 1973, when Cubby Broccoli, Guy Hamilton and production designer Peter Murton came across Phuket, a tiny hamlet on the end of the Malay peninsula. A set of small islands near Phuket caught their eye especially, and one of these derelict but beautiful islands was to become the lair of Scaramanga and his side-kick, Nick-Nack.
It was here that Mankiewicz’s original idea of a tense duel was retained and finally played out, forming the climax of the movie, although not quite in the form that Mankiewicz had envisaged.
004: Production and Principal Photography
The main production and filming on Golden Gun lasted from April to late August, 1974. Although principal photography with the main cast did not begin until April, 1974, some early shooting commenced on 6 November, 1973, at the site of the partly-submerged wreck of the RMS Queen Elizabeth in Hong Kong harbour.
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 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. Lee, 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.
Interestingly, Lee (who had served a clandestine role in the UK’s ‘Special Forces’ in World War Two), had been a step-cousin of Bond author Ian Fleming (his mother married Fleming’s brother), and they had regularly played golf together. In fact, Fleming had once told Lee that he had Lee in mind when he created the role of Dr. Julius No for his sixth Bond novel, and the 007 author said he was also going to suggest Lee for the role of Julius No in the movie version (a part taken in the end, of course, by Joseph Wiseman).
In many ways, the casting of Lee as Scaramanga was an inspired piece of casting. Critics of the movie, while less enthusiastic about the film as a whole, still heaped praise on Lee’s performance, and Lee had clearly relished the role. Lee said later that Scaramanga was a ‘marvellous part’ and: ‘I had great fun making it’.
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.
This 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 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. Christopher Lee has 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.
The Royal premiere of Golden Gun took place at the Odeon theatre in Leicester Square on the evening of 18 December, 1974. HRH Prince Philip (the Queen’s husband) was in attendance and was introduced to the traditional line-up of main cast. This included Bond star Roger Moore, Maud Adams, Britt Ekland and Herve Villechaize.
Christopher Lee was absent because he had travelled to Los Angeles in the USA to be a guest on the famous Johnny Carson Show and help promote the film. Lee also took one of the golden gun props with him as part of this publicity drive. However, when he arrived, his golden gun prop was confiscated and held by US Customs officials! A representative from United Artists had to intervene and explain the background.
Press reviews around the time of the premiere, and just after, were notably mixed. Significantly, though, Lee’s performance was seen as one of the better elements of the movie. According to the respected film critic John Higgins, for example, writing in The Times: ‘Lee plays the role lightly, urbanely, with a smile on the killer’s face… he and the camera crew carry off the major honours of the movie’.
006: Product Placement and Marketing
Although not as explicit as in some later Bond movies, product placement still played a major role in the movie. In particular, the American Motors Corporation (AMC) supplied many of the cars for the Far East sequences, clearly aware that an association with James Bond could help their sales considerably. If you look carefully, for example, the AMC logo is showing prominently in the car showroom in Bangkok. A key and now famous stunt sequence (shot in June, 1974), also involved Bond’s red AMC Hornet hatchback, in pursuit of Scaramanga’s Matador Coupe, doing an amazing 360-degree barrel role over a broken bridge.
As with Live and Let Die (when Moore was seen in advertising photos and cinema adverts drinking a pint of milk in between takes), a tie-in campaign for Golden Gun was arranged once again with the UK’s Milk Marketing Board, who were keen to encourage people to now see Bond villain Christopher Lee drinking milk in between takes. Product placement and marketing deals for Golden Gun were also done with Guinness drinks, Faberge toiletries, Nikon cameras, and Seiko watches, while Sony supplied all the CCTV monitors seen in the film.
But, in other ways, the actual marketing of the movie was surprisingly low-key compared to some of the other Bond films. In terms of tie-in toys, Lone Star re-issued its traditional James Bond toy gun in retail outlets (a Walther P38) – but merely as a golden Walther P38, not the design used by Scaramanga in the movie.
EON’s publicity people were able to secure some fairly good coverage in the British and international press and on the covers of some major movie magazines, such as Photoplay and Films and Filming. A new Pan edition of Fleming’s original novel was also released, to tie-in with the movie. A multi-part ‘story’, designed to read like a novel, but specially written and closely based on the actual plot of the EON movie, was also syndicated in some local newspapers in the UK.
The main Golden Gun film poster, however, was uninspiring and fairly similar to the one designed for Live and Let Die; most of the other Golden Gun posters were just slight variations of this. At some point, it was also decided to make stronger use of the familiar and distinctive facial features of Christopher Lee himself and emphasise the role of Scaramanga in the movie publicity campaign. To this end, a poster with an image of Lee, with him partly in shadow in the background, was issued. But, for some reason, this was not distributed very widely. The poster also emphasised the continuity in traditional Bond film ‘villainy’, pointing out that: ‘The World’s Greatest Villains Tried to Kill James Bond – Now It’s Scaramanga’s Turn to Try’.
One huge asset available for the movie’s marketing campaign, though, 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 thus 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.
The film opened to great success at the box office but, by the early weeks of 1975, it was increasingly evident that it was not going to generate the kind of spectacular business that previous Bond movies had achieved. The movie was made on a budget of $7,000,000 and attained an estimated worldwide gross of $97,600,000. In this sense, the movie was hugely profitable, but there were still serious concerns on the part of EON and the main studio United Artists (UA) that the series had entered a possible downward cycle. The crucial American box office figures (the movie grossed only $21 million) were especially disappointing.
Cubby Broccoli, in particular, especially after the departure of his partner Harry Saltzman shortly after Golden Gun was completed, was detemined to demonstrate that this ‘decline’ was reversable. He decided to pull out all the stops on the next entry in the 007 series and think ‘big’, on a movie which he would now oversee as a solo producer. United Artists, who had purchased Harry Saltzman’s share of the partnership, fully agreed with Broccoli’s bold approach. The budget for the next Bond movie, The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), was thus double that of Golden Gun.
Did You Know?
In 2007, it emerged in the UK press that there may have been a real-life model for Ian Fleming’s villain Scaramanga, a boy Fleming had been at school with, who went on to become a quiet and rather unassuming countryside Vicar!
George Scaramanga, who came from a wealthy landed family in Sussex, had been a fellow pupil of Fleming at Eton public school in the 1920s. George Scaramanga’s grandson, Dave, told the British press in 2007 that he believed that his grandfather had fallen out with Fleming and, years later, to get his revenge, the Bond author had stolen the name and given it to the villain in his final 007 novel.
After leaving Eton, George Scaramanga served in the British Army, became a gentleman farmer, and later served as a Vicar in Sussex. However, the claim that there was a feud between the two young schoolboys is difficult to prove. Moreover, there may be a simpler explanation for Fleming using the name. Fleming had a habit of ‘borrowing’ the names of people for characters in his novels.
According to his biographer Andrew Lycett, another possibility is that: ‘Scaramanga is a good name and perhaps Fleming just liked it’.