SCARAMANGA DO THE FANDANGO
Main Cast: Roger Moore, Christopher Lee
Director: Guy Hamilton
Leah, my gal Friday who has been holding the fort at Casa Maine, arrived in Bangkok yesterday with wonderful news. A registered letter had arrived from Amazon Studios offering me carte blanche to remake a classic American musical for their streaming service. She wanted to make sure I received this precious missive in person so she hopped on the first Thai Airways flight she could find out of LAX and made it to the Normitainia, still docked here in Bangkok. I’m absolutely thrilled and decided I must embark on this project right away. There’s no time to sail back across the Pacific. We’re going to make the film locally using authentic Thai locations to bring a sense of Oriental exoticism to our indigenous American art form. I told Leah to quickly start assembling my production team and booking them flights to Thailand post haste. There’s more than enough room for everyone on the yacht and we can use it as a makeshift studio. However, we’re going to have to move out of Bangkok as the level of pollution is hurting my delicate vocal mechanisms and I want to be in tip top shape. We therefore weighed anchor and headed for Phuket which promises to be a bit less crowded while still maintaining that sense of local culture that will be essential to the success of the project.
While we were steaming down the coast, Leah and I sat around the table in the green salon trying to decide which property would best show off my prodigious talents as well as let us make full use of Gulf of Thailand locations. My first thought was A Little Night Music, transposing the setting from fin de siècle Sweden to the Royal Thai Court of Rama V but Desiree is a role that doesn’t really show off my coloratura. Dolly Levi is much too old a role for me at my ever youthful 39. We thought Brigadoon, in which a traditional 18th century Thai village reappears once every one hundred years complete with ceremonial dances and a cameo from the Buddha, might have possibilities but I’ve never cared for the score. Ultimately, our decision was a new version of The Pajama Game, set in a Thai T-shirt factory that’s making the fall line for H & M. (If nothing else, we can repurpose the props as VickiWear for the holiday season this next year.). I called Joseph, my manager, with the good news and he is contacting Justin Bieber’s people to see if he is available to play Sid to my Babe. He should bring in the youthful demographic without eclipsing my greater star power.
Having accomplished a great deal of work in a short period of time, Leah and I settled back in the yacht’s spacious theater to watch a film which might give us some ideas on how to best use the exotic locales of the Gulf of Thailand to full advantage as we tell our story of feuding garment workers. In flipping through the available titles, we chanced upon The Man with the Golden Gun, the 1974 entry in the long running James Bond series, and the second to star Roger Moore in the central role. The film memorably uses some of the Gulf of Thailand’s islands as the villains lair, to the point where the locals and guide books continue to refer to them as James Bond’s island. The film makers were attracted to these sheer limestone pillars rising up out of the waters and they maintain this look, even today.
In 1974, Asian martial arts movies were all the rage and, in addition, the western world was suffering from the energy crisis and the effects of the Arab oil embargo. These two themes made it into the finished product and make The Man with the Golden Gun a bit more dated than some of the other films in the series. In this one, we are introduced to the assassin Francisco Scaramanga (Christopher Lee) who takes on high profile targets and eliminates them with his specially made golden gun, a contraption he assembles from fountain pen, cigarette case, and lighter. A golden bullet engraved 007 is sent to MI-6 and M (Bernard Lee) pulls Bond off his current case, involving a new type of solar power. Bond goes looking for Scaramanga on his own and tracks him to Macau where Scaramanga takes out his latest target, the scientist who has been working on the new solar power designs. Bond seduces Scaramanga’s mistress (Maud Adams) for more information, and then teams up with agent Goodnight (Britt Ekland) to track Scaramanga and his villainous side kick Nick Nack (Herve Villechaize) to their island lair where there is a duel between Bond and Scaramanga in his fun house shooting gallery and ultimately lots of explosions as good triumphs.
Plots aren’t terribly important in Bond films. What’s important is a high level of tension and suspense, some jaw dropping stunt work and a good chase scene or two. The Man with the Golden Gun has all the requisite elements but it’s a bit undone by the jokey tone that tended to bring all the Roger Moore entries in the series down a notch. There’s a great car chase complete with barrel roll that should have been a highlight but it’s undercut by scoring the stunt with a slide whistle sound effect and the presence of Clifton James as Sheriff Pepper (from Live and Let Die) who has been shoehorned into the proceedings as inappropriate comic relief. A kung fu fight in a dojo reads as a comic send up of the chop-sockey movies of the period rather than the homage it is intended to be. Then there’s Britt Ekland hanging out the trunk of a car that’s being dangled from an airplane.
When Roger Moore and Christopher Lee are on screen together, The Man with the Golden Gun crackles with some energy as they are worthy foils for each other and there is some suspense as to the possible outcomes (if not the ultimate as we all know that Bond has to win in the end). Christopher Lee gets the way in which Ian Fleming originally conceived of his characters (he and Fleming were actually step cousins) and he brings both gravitas and humanity to the proceedings. Moore was starting to settle into the role; (He fully settled in with the next entry in the series, The Spy Who Loved Me) and actually comes across as more human than he often did later in the series. The supporting cast are serviceable as they are mainly playing archetypes, not characters. Modern audiences filter Nick Nack through our collective memories of Tattoo on the TV series Fantasy Island but this film predates that so the original audience would never have expected Nick Nack to exclaim ‘Da plane, da plane’ even though Villechaize obviously brought much of this role to his later one.
The photography of the limestone islands is appropriately spectacular, even if there is some rather tacky matte work to superimpose solar power antennae on top of pristine natural features. There’s also great use of locations elsewhere in Thailand, Hong Kong, and Macau. The production values, in general, are top notch as they usually are for the series, although Scaramanga’s fun house where he stages his duels looks more like Knott’s Berry Farm than Disneyland.
The Man with the Golden Gun was not much liked and critically drubbed at the time of its release. It has gained some in reputations on repeated viewings, especially on the strength of Christopher Lee’s performance. The golden gun itself has, of course, become an iconic film weapon and instantly recognizable. Check out the film some afternoon when you’re doing the ironing. It’s better than you remember.
Navel bullet. Kung fu girls. Floating market boats. Gratuitous Al Capone. Kick boxing meet. Frozen technician. Exploding seaplane. Cantilevered office.
Originally from Seattle Washington, land of mist, coffee and flying salmon, Mrs. Norman Maine sprang to life, full grown like Athena, from Andy’s head during a difficult period of life shortly after his relocation to Alabama.