Friday, March 4, 2016

Now and Then People Notice Me (The Man with The Golden Gun)

My wife, Anne, and I like most of the same things, pop-culture wise. We were both raised by parents who were big in to Star Trek, we both enjoy the cape-and-cowl fisticuffs currently all over the TV and movie landscape, and we both love slightly more nutritious fare like Mad Men & The Americans. We're even rooting for the same person on The Great British Baking Show.

There's one piece of pop-ephemera on which Anne and I can't agree, and it's James Bond. She's seen Casino Royale and thought it was okay, fell asleep during Quantum of Solace, and didn't make it through Skyfall before boredom overtook her. James Bond's unflappability, infallibility, and general smugness--even in the Craig era--turn her off completely (this is down to good taste) and the reasons I for instance enjoy these movies--exotic locales, gadgetry, action-adventure, spy aesthetics--aren't enough to hold her attention or detract from the problems with the franchise.

Early on in this process, I got about a week ahead in the whole watch-to-review process, which meant that by the time Anne had the free time to watch one of these pictures, I was already past The Spy Who Loved Me and well on to The Man with The Golden Gun, which is a shame as Loved is easily the quintessential Bond film--certainly it is the quintessential Roger Moore entry--and Golden Gun is, well, not.

I wanted to set aside an entry in this retrospective, though, to give space to her general distaste for the character and the tropes, so if this recap is a little more plot-heavy than usual, it's down to Anne occupying the role of Mystery Science Theater 3000 host and reacting in sarcastic disbelief.

"Is this gonna be some Asian Fetish shit?"

When James Bond is first introduced to cinema audiences back in 1962, it is after a flurry of activity and escalating tension. He's glimpsed from behind at first before the camera finally takes him in. Finally, he gives his name to the baccarat dealer.

"Bond. James Bond."

Fast forward twelve years. It's 1974. Roger Moore is in the dinner jacket for his second outing as 007, and that catch phrase, and the subsequent films' insistence on this master-spy deploying his given name at the earliest opportunity has finally caught up with him. See, this time out, Bond is the target, of a deadly assassin whom nobody has ever seen but everyone seems to know the Wikipedia stub article about by heart. He uses a golden pistol, and gold bullets. He charges a million dollars a hit. He has a superfluous third nipple. Yes, nobody knows what the evil Francisco Scaramanga's face looks like, but e'erbody knows how dude looks with his shirt off.

Perhaps the world was indeed a quainter, less cynical place than this benighted age with our drive-through coffee and online porn, but it seems to me even in the bygone era of 1974 when you go about blabbing your Christian name so much that you can say--to your boss, the head of British Intelligence--"There are very few people who haven't heard of me--as Moore does here, you've probably dropped the ball in the "secret" bit of secret agentry.

The trail of Scaramanga leads Bond to a belly dancer who keeps one of his spent golden bullets as jewelry...

"Oh, that's dark. I like her."

...and to Miss Andrea Anders, Scaramanga's Kept Woman, who it turns out arranged this whole hit business so Bond would take the master assassin out for her, a fact Our Stalwart Hero learns a few scenes after creeping on a naked woman alone in her shower.

"Oh my God so inappropriate."

He gets another round of exposition aboard MI:6's Hong Kong HQ, a shipwrecked ocean liner that allows for some memorably off-kilter set design.

"This is making me dizzy."

Turns out Scaramanga is attached to an entrepreneur and technology genius Hi Fat (Anne: "Is this going to turn out to be a big fat guy?") who's invented a conveniently-sized processor for solar power that will revolutionize the energy industry. To the extent that Golden Gun has its finger on the pulse of the concerns of the era, it is the 1970's concern with the looming energy crisis. Seeing as nobody knows what Scaramanga's face looks like but everyone seems to know what his nipples look like, Bond infiltrates Hi Fat's mountain retreat on the flimsiest of pretexts.

"Does everybody he meets just automatically want to bang him?"

He's promptly caught, because he didn't know Scaramanga and Hi Fat are old buddies (or at least they will be long enough for Scaramanga to murder the businessman and take hold of his empire). As all this is going down,  Bond is treated to the type of martial arts instruction that comes with mountain fortress ownership, and which is a direct reference to the craze of martial arts films that had been sweeping the world in the early 70's. Enter the Dragon was less than a year old. That in mind, it's hard not to imagine Bruce Lee in the role played here by Soon-Tek Oh, that of Our Man in Hong Kong And Also Bangkok. Lee died in 1973 and prior to his meteoric stardom, he had a history of playing second banana to square-jawed whitey hero types.

"Good fight choreography."

Bond escapes, and leads Hi Fat's goons on a merry chase through Bangkok waterways, memorably pushing an adorable moppet off his klong as he's trying to make a getaway. Moore was decidedly unhappy with this bit--as he was with the previous instance in which Bond gets uncomfortably physical with Andrea, two moments in this film where the specter of Connery is most keenly felt. Indeed, it almost feels worse coming from Moore. Connery's Bond was more naturally suited to the kind of casual, off-hand cruelty demonstrated here, but after spending five weeks with Moore's version of the character, the note rings incredibly sour.

"Just the contempt with which he treats everyone."

Turns out Scaramanga never intended the hit for Bond. It was Andrea all along, meaning tales of his exploits have not only made it to paid assassin types, but also their mols, and Andrea masterminded the whole scheme so that Bond would kill Scaramanga for her. This revelation plays out about how you'd expect, with an emotional confrontation that quickly turns to sex.

"Is he really going to bang her while the other lady is stuck in the closet?"

Of course, Scaramanga finds out about this, as bad guys usually do when their girlfriends make time with James Bond, and he reacts accordingly. He kills Andrea with some kind of trick shot that not only ends her life but keeps her sitting upright on a bench at the circus like nothing's wrong.

"Is that a mannequin?" 

This is odd for several reasons. One: how? Second: I'm not sure if they couldn't get Maud Adams to hold still to the director's satisfaction or if there was some abandoned reason for it, but that's a mannequin sitting next to Roger Moore. A very lifelike mannequin, but it's not Maud Adams holding her breath. Third: the fact that it is a dummy and not a person seems to clumsily recall the beginning of the film, when a Central Casting Gangster is led through Scaramanga's funhouse murder maze. That place was stocked with animatronic dummies, including one that looks just like James Bond as well as a cowboy that also looked suspiciously like Roger Moore, so to have a plot point rest on a number of repeated shots of a facimile person is either an artifact of a previous version of the story or just very, very strange.


"Why don't you just whip 'em out and measure 'em?"

After the business at the circus, Scaramanga absconds with Bond's other girlfriend in this picture, the Act Three Girl Mary Goodnight, and, more importantly to the cause of international welfare and the like, the Solex Agitator. Not only does the little McGuffin work wonders for the photovoltaic industry, but it fits like a glove into a crackerjack laser gun. For some reason. 

It seems a narrowness of vision for Scaramanga to want to build a gun when he could be unbalancing all sorts of industries with readily available solar power, but it's enough to draw Bond into his web for the duel the film promised since the posters came out.


Bond makes it to the funhouse, and what's interesting is what happens next. He goes backstage, almost immediately, exiting out of the story Scaramanga plotted for him, and taking the reins of it. It's extremely clever, and along with the tilted set design of Britain's Hong Kong HQ, makes me wish it were wedded to a more thematically together movie. Beyond Bond's ability to be clever about these types of things, it doesn't add a lot to our understanding of his character, or of any themes the film might be trying to approach. After diving in to set design and how it reflects these adventures for the last entry, I'm a little disappointed that such cleverness isn't much more than window dressing here.

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