This review is part of Project Bond, wherein over the course of 2014 we watch all of the James Bond movies in production order.
Summary: in which Bond meets his assassin-y match and there’s something about solar power? Also, Bond seems surprisingly disinterested in teh ladeez. With bonus Christopher Lee!
Alex: another Bond that I’d never seen before! So that was exciting! … which was something, at least, since this is another film that took us two sittings. Partly that was tiredness on our part, but partly that was because this film so soooo slooooow. Better than Live and Let Die, but slow nonetheless. Probably the most exciting part of the entire film was thinking, “hey, Scaramanga looks familiar. He actually looks a bit like Christopher Lee!” And then realising omg it IS Christopher Lee!!
I’m being slightly unfair, I guess. Let me start then with ways in which this film shows its cleverness. I had always thought that the theme song for this, sung by Lulu (does that make it the most pop song of the lot? does she beat Madonna and A-ha?), was an amusing conflation of the villain with Bond. Turns out that all of the lines are actually applicable to Scaramanga, right down to the “Love is required/ Whenever he’s hired / It comes just before the ki-ill.” But the entire film is actually intent on making the similarities between Scaramanga and Bond quite clear. Scaramanga himself draws the parallel – “Ours is the loneliest profession” – noting somewhat tartly that the main difference is that he makes good money from it, as opposed to Bond. Bond of course defends himself by saying he only kills on HM’s government’s orders, but that’s after quite a strong assertion of kinship from Scaramanga, and I must say Bond comes off as less than convincing. So I do really like that the film is problematising Bond’s position as ‘licensed to kill’.
Let’s talk about Scaramanga, since we already are. He’s shown in the prologue and immediately established as evil, because he’s physically different from the norm: he has “a superfluous papilla or mammary gland,” as Bond – that supercilious snob – so pretentiously puts it (he means a third nipple). He also has a servant named Nick Nack, a cordon bleu-trained chef who happens to be a dwarf. Again, this clearly places Scaramanga in the villain category for the Bond universe, because who else would tolerate a ‘freak’? This sort of ableism and Othering is really, really wearing. Anyway, from a narrative perspective Scaramanga and his servant are intriguing. Nick Nack allows an assassin – whom he’s paid – into Scaramanga’s inner sanctum. The assassin and Scaramanga proceed to play hide and seek, with Nick Nack sadistically commenting from behind the scenes. Turns out, this is a game they play – Nick Nack will inherit everything if Scaramanga is killed. So Scaramanga is fearless and rates his own abilities, but is also very keen to keep honing his skills. And he’s obsessed with his beautiful hand-crafted golden gun.
Backtrack: to plot. Bond takes on the task of chasing Scaramanga down when a golden bullet with ‘007’ inscribed on it arrives at HQ. Scaramanga turns out to be connected in some way to Bond’s earlier assignment, tracking down a solar energy scientist, who appears to have gone rogue and maybe defected to the Chinese? This was unclear to me. There’s also a Thai businessman, Hai Fat, somehow connected to everything; his appearance really confused me because I thought Bond went from Macau to mainland China, but it turned out that he went to Thailand. Hai Fat ends up dead, Bond and Scaramanga fight – partly over who’s a better assassin, partly over who is better – the one who makes money or the one with ‘morals’ – and partly over Scaramanga having access to solar power that will not only power lots of batteries but can also (natch) be turned into a laaaaaserrrr. Um, the end. Oh, except for Bond zipping Nick Nack into a suitcase, because that’s always hilarious.
There are three women in this film, and they have far less significant roles than in the last couple of films. They’re even more boring than Solitaire, who at least got reasonable airtime. There’s Goodnight (yes, seriously), an MI6 agent that Bond’s slept with previously. At one point she gets feisty, declaring “Killing a few hours as one of your passing fancies isn’t quite my scene” – but it’s ruined by the incredibly thick layer of Vaseline on the lens, and that she ends up in his bed very soon thereafter (“My hard-to-get act didn’t last very long” – I kid you not, that’s what she says). This in turn is ruined when Ms Anders walks in. She’s Scaramanga’s latest lover, who is actually responsible for the 007 bullet. She initially seems to be awesome – Bond surprises her in the shower, but she gets out all cool and calm with a gun in hand, demanding her robe – but goes all to pieces quickly. Mind you, this is after Bond has been very rough with her, so maybe I’m being too harsh. When Anders walks in, Bond puts Goodnight in the cupboard… then when Anders leaves, Bond apologises with “next time.” Goodnight is further shown to be incompetent when she leans on a master override switch that will destroy Scaramanga’s base, with her and Bond still left inside – Bond gets very cranky, as if she did it deliberately. The other woman in the film? A bellydancer, from whom Bond plucks a bellybutton charm with his mouth. Yes, really.
Racially… well, again we at least have non-Anglos being played by non-Anglos. I really enjoyed Soon-Tek Oh, playing a Chinese agent in Macau and Thailand (even if Oh is Korean…) – he was great, even if they did give him some cringe-worthy stereotyped moments like he and his nieces being ace karate experts. He’s a good sidekick and hurrah! doesn’t die. Richard Loo, playing Hai Fat, does die but he’s a villain and is done in by his ally, and what do you expect anyway? I don’t think there’s anything mean said about him for not being white, which is at least a bare minimum. Oh, and as befits Bond the Great White Messiah, he’s quite good at fighting karate experts – he ignores the expectations of respect, and kicks his opponent while he’s bowing.
The very weirdest thing about this entire movie is the inclusion of JW, the absolutely appalling, tobacco-chewing/spitting, nigh-unintelligible good ol’ southern boy sheriff from Live and Let Die. How is it even possible that he was popular enough as a character to be worth imagining as someone who would take a trip to Thailand? So that he could see Bond and end up ‘helping’ him? Every scene he was in made me want to throw something at the screen.