Novel publication year – 1965
Film release year – 1974
007 – Roger Moore
Fleming’s thirteenth Bond publication (the twelfth novel); the ninth film. This will be a short post, mostly because I lost my notes for the movie and don’t feel like watching it again (that’s not to say I find the movie terribly bad, I’m just not up for it again for a while).
The basic premise in both the novel and the film is the same: kill Francisco Scaramanga, a professional assassin known as the man with the golden gun. The critical difference, however, is that, in the novel, Scaramanga has no clue who James Bond is at first and unwittingly hires him to act as his assistant during a gangster meeting Scaramanga hosts in Jamaica to raise funds for a hotel he is developing called the Thunder Bird. Scaramanga only learns that Bond is an MI6 agent sent to kill him when one of his guests – an agent sent from Moscow to kill Bond – identifies 007 and informs Scaramanga. In the film, by contrast, Scaramanga actually looks forward to meeting Bond because he views 007 as a world-class professional who might be a sporting challenge for Scaramanga, who keeps his gun skills sharp by inviting other assassins to his remote island hideout for duels in an elaborate fun house.
There are few similarities to explore. In the novel, Scaramanga is a gruff and unsophisticated – but thoroughly ruthless – sociopath hell-bent on saving his investment in the Thunderbird and expanding his criminal syndicate’s operation. In the novel, Scaramanga is a suave and charming loner, offering Bond champagne when he arrives on Scaramanga’s beach. In the film, one gets the sense that Scaramanga, rather than being desperate for cash, is enjoying a relaxing life of semi-retirement and luxury that leaves him a bit bored.
An interesting contrast is the continuity in the novel from 007’s previous mission in You Only Live Twice. There, the story ends with 007 suffering from complete memory loss, but enjoying a quiet married life on a remote island with Kissy Suzuki, the gorgeous diving girl who saved his life following his final battle with Ernesto Blofeld, until 007 sees a Russian name that jogs his memory and leads him to leave the island and travel to Russian. In The Man with the Golden Gun we learn that Bond did, in fact, make it to Russia, where he was brainwashed by Soviet intelligence and sent back to England with orders to murder M. Bond attempts to kill M with cyanide but is foiled; M, realizing that 007 was brainwashed, does not hold the episode against him, and Bond is ultimately un-brainwashed with electro-shock therapy. M decides to send 007 after Scaramanga – which M. considers an impossible mission – as a way for Bond to get back into good graces (or, presumably, be killed off).
A detailed analysis of the differing plotlines isn’t very necessary here. In the film, Bond gradually makes his way to Scaramanga’s island for the final battle, while in the novel, Scaramanga gradually learns about who Bond is and why he is in Jamaica. Of course, 007 ultimately prevails in both: in the novel, Bond finishes Scaramanga off after foiling his plans by blowing up a train carrying Scaramanga and his gang (followed by a slow chase scene where Scaramanga nearly has the last laugh). In the film, Bond turns Scaramanga’s deadly fun house against him by tricking him into thinking that 007 is a harmless mannequin until he puts a bullet through his heart (and, thereafter, destroys Scaramanga’s solar power station, which was part of some half-explained scheme to sell the technology to foreign governments).
A final interesting point of contrast is Mary Goodnight, 007’s former secretary who (in the novel, is now an assistant in MI6’s Jamaica office while in the film is stationed in Hong Kong) plays a prominent role in both. The novel version of Goodnight is more serious and plays a greater role in helping Bond on his mission, while the film version is slapstick, with Goodnight constantly getting herself and Bond into trouble. That said, in both versions, Goodnight is kidnapped by the bad guys and Bond comes to her rescue.
At the end of the novel, the Queen offers Bond a knighthood in recognition of his successful mission (he turns it down, but looks forward to convalescing for the next three weeks in Goodnight’s villa); in the film, Bond gets just a nice thank you from M, but similarly enjoys Goodnight as he sails away from Scaramanga’s island.
In the end, I found both the novel and the film to be somewhat sub-par and lacking in genuine 007 credibility. The film was particularly disappointing, as Christopher Lee (Scaramanga) and Hervé Villechaize (Scaramanga’s henchman, Nick Nack), could have both benefitted from a stronger script. As noted, Scaramanga comes off as slick and genteel — rather than the menacing and diabolical villain the audience knows he can pull of from his typical role in horror films. Nick Nack simply is used mostly for his comedic appeal, but the viewer gets the sense that — despite his diminutive size — Villechaize had the ability to play a more ruthless, more typical, Bond-villain.
(Next: Octopussy and The Living Daylights (probably separate posts)