Saturday, August 05, 2006
(I must apologize. I know I said I would review The World Is Not Enough in the style of Gertrude Stein but the movie was a lot better than I thought it would be. I assumed it would be bad because they cast Denise Richards as a nuclear weapons expert. I was wrong. Sue me. Ms. Richards is not bad in the role. And I ended up liking the movie, which made it an inappropriate choice for what I wanted to do. I am currently working on a different perspective which should be posted very soon.)
I really liked The Man With The Golden Gun while I was reading it. If I had written the review last week, when I had just read it, I would be raving about it. Yes, I noted a few problems, such as the Four Amazing Coincidences which will be the focus of this review, and the ending leaves a little to be desired, but I was very pleased with it. I think the great strength of The Man With The Golden Gun is its brevity. It's only about three-fourths the length of the average James Bond novel, and it reads very quickly. I read it in two or three days when I had to make several long train trips to northern Los Angeles county. Such quick reading leaves little time to be critical.
It is very different from the film. The film version is a lot better than the book. In the film, Bond is lured into a trap, a death hunt with Scaramanga, the greatest assassin alive, the man with the golden gun, who gets a million dollars per kill. The movie has some great cat-and-mouse stuff, even remniscient of The Most Dangerous Game at times.
In the book, Bond returns to England a year after he was believed killed after the events of You Only Live Twice. He has been brain-washed by the Russians and sent to kill M, an event that is diverted in a most unlikely manner when M pushes a button that causes a panel of bullet-proof glass to fly down from the ceiling, protecting him from Bond's weapon. Fortunately, Bond waits patiently for the glass to come down before firing.
Bond then spends a few weeks or months reuperating from his ordeal before being sent on a mission to kill Scaramanga, the man with the golden gun, the most dangerous assassin in the world. Scaramanga operates from Castro's Cuba, and he has been taking a toll on British secret service officers. They send Bond because he is their best marksman and most resourceful agent, but also because they are not sure he can be trusted after his ordeal. If he survives the mission, it will be because he has succeeded, and he will have redeemed himself.
In the movie, the confrontation between Bond and Scaramanga took place in Thailand, but most of the action in the book takes place in Jamaica. The reason for this is simple: the previous film, Live and Let Die, took place in the Caribbean. When the filmmakers decided to make The Man With The Golden Gun next, they opted to pick a different locale and so Roger Moore was wandering all over the Orient.
Back to the book. Bond wanders around the Caribbean for a few weeks, following leads, and he is always a day or two behind Scaramanga. He ends up in the Kingston airport on the island of Jamaica, with no leads, and he is planning on going to Havana to see what he can find out there.
AMAZING COINCIDENCE # 1: Bond goes over to a bulletin board in the airport where people leave messages for each other. And there is a note for Scaramanga, giving a meeting-place in Jamaica for that very evening. The place is a whorehouse and it later turns out that Scaramanga is going there for a little "recreation" and also to buy some marijuana, which he gives to the locals as payment to burn the sugar cane and generally wreak havoc in Jamaica's sugar cane business because it helps Cuba's economy. I have a bit of a problem accepting that Scaramanga would use a communication system like this for a meet-up and marijuana purchase involving arson and sabotage. And he certainly wouldn't use hus own name. It is certainly an original method of intelligence gathering. Usually, the guy looking for information beats up people or gets his info in a very vague manner from contacts or from HQ.
So Bond changes his plans and makes a phone call to the British Secret Service station on Jamaica. Which leads us to ...
AMAZING COINCIDENCE # 2: The agent he gets hold of is his old secretary Mary Goodnight. She transferred to Jamaica after he disappeared. I could accept this coincidence pretty easily because it is an adventure genre tradition to have old colleagues run into ech other. But Fleming does so little with her. She helps Bond get a car and some basic information, and then she shows up for a moment later on at a very dangerous point in time and endangers Bond. Totally gratuitous.
So Bond goes to the brothel rendezvous and meets up with Scaramanga. They both put on a tough guy act, which leads us to ...
AMAZING COINCIDENCE # 3: Scaramanga is building a casino/hotel in Jamaica and there are investors coming to size up progress on the project (which is behind schedule) and decide if they want to continue. Scaramanga needs somebody tough to help with security, so he hires Bond to help out for a few days. Wow! That is just dumb. That is almost as dumb as Goldfinger sparing Bond's life because he needs help with paperowrk. Scaramanga is a big man in Havana, he is known all over Latin America, and he can't find his own security guys. He has to pick up a total stranger in a brothel.
And who is on the staff at the half-finished Scaramanga Hotel and Casino?
AMAZING CONICIDENCE # 4: James Bond runs into Felix Leiter at the hotel. He is working for the CIA again, and he is undercover at the hotel as the major-domo or something. The CIA is keeping tabs on one of the investors, a KGB agent. I think I can accept this because Bond is always running into Felix Leiter. It's just one of the genre traditions.
But it has just become a bit much at this point. The book is to short to bear the weight of so many coincidences.
Well, Scaramanga eventually becomes suspicious of Bond and he tries to kill him during a train ride through the jungle. The train crashes off a bridge and the rest of the investors are killed but both Bond and Scaramanga manage to jump off the train in time. Which should lead to a classic confronation between Bond and Scaramanga as hunter and prey and back again in the jungle. But it doesn't. Scaramanga has been badly wounded and he tries to kill Bond with a subterfuge, a derringer hidden in his hair. Bond turns in time so the bullet just grazes him and he quickly kills Scaramanga. BUT the bullet was coated with poison and Bond is only saved by the actions of a Jamaican policeman who, attracted by the smoke from the train crash, arrives on the scene just in time!
So that's The Man With The Golden Gun. It was the last Bond novel that Ian Fleming completed. It has been rumored that Fleming didn't complete it, that it was finished by someone else. I wonder if Fleming considered it complete. It is kind of short and he may have wanted to go through it again and iron out some of the problems I noted, but perhaps he died before he got around to it.
It may be the last Bond novel by Fleming, but there are a couple of shorter works, collected in Octopussy/The Living Daylights, which I hope to review soon.
For more on The Man With The Golden Gun, see the wikipedia entry.
NEXT: James Bond in the 1990s.