Here’s my latest IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column, published in the July 2015 edition of THE HORROR WRITERS ASSOCIATION NEWSLETTER. It’s a special column this month, in memory of Christopher Lee, who passed away on June 7, 2015, and it’s on the James Bond movie THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN (1974), in which Christopher Lee played the villain, Scaramanga.
IN THE SPOOKLIGHT
Christopher Lee passed away on June 7, 2015 at the age of 93.
It should come as no surprise then that today’s IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column will be on a Christopher Lee movie.
But which one?
Most of the films I would have chosen to write about— HORROR OF DRACULA (1958), THE WICKER MAN (1973), THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957), and DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE (1968) to name just a few— I had already penned columns for.
So, I decided to choose a movie that I knew I hadn’t written about, which is why today In The Spooklight it’s THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN (1974), the James Bond movie where Christopher Lee played the villain, the million dollar hit man, Scaramanga. This decision is not without precedent since I have written about non-horror movies within these pages before.
There’s something apropos about choosing a non-genre film featuring Christopher Lee, since for a large part of his career he tried to become more established in mainstream movies. Lee is quite good in THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN. In fact, many Lee fans cite his performance as Scaramanga as one of their favorite Christopher Lee roles. I know it’s one of mine.
And you can’t get much closer to James Bond Meets Dracula than with THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN. At times, that’s exactly how this film plays out, which makes it all the more fun.
Although this isn’t the only time Bond tangled with “Dracula.” In OCTOPUSSY (1983) the villain was played by Louis Jordan, who, as mentioned in my previous SPOOKLIGHT column, played Count Dracula in the outstanding BBC production of COUNT DRACULA (1977). So, Roger Moore, who played Bond in both these films, got to clash with “Dracula” twice as 007.
THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN opens with a cool pre-credit sequence where a hit man seemingly has been hired to kill Scaramanga (Christopher Lee). But it’s all a trap, an exercise for Scaramanga to test his skills, as the hit man finds himself in an elaborate maze, where he is eventually shot dead by Scaramanga.
Later, James Bond (Roger Moore) learns that he’s the next target for the elusive Scaramanga, the man with the golden gun, infamous for commanding a million dollars a hit. Bond decides to seek out Scaramanga first and take the battle to him. Bond’s investigation leads him to the discovery that Scaramanga is part of an elaborate scheme to harness solar energy for the purposes of a new super weapon. It’s all very silly, but Christopher Lee as Scaramanga is not.
As photographed by director Guy Hamilton, Lee comes off as powerfully dark and handsome, and like his portrayals of Dracula, he exudes a sensuality which is even stronger in this movie since he’s not wielding fangs and red bloodshot eyes. There’s one scene with Scaramanga and his lover Andrea (Maud Adams) that is so reminiscent of similar scenes where Dracula enters his victims’ bedrooms that you can’t help but think that what you’re watching is indeed “James Bond meets Dracula.”
And speaking of the Dracula connection, Maud Adams who played Andrea in this scene and enjoyed considerable screen time with Christopher Lee in THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN, also just happened to play Octopussy in OCTOPUSSY, where she co-starred with the other Dracula, Louis Jordan.
There is yet another Dracula connection to this movie. The filmmaker’s original choice to play Scaramanga was Jack Palance, but Palance had to turn the role down because he was committed to another project. The project? Dan Curtis’ TV production of DRACULA (1974) where Palance was playing Dracula. So, producers Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman turned to the more famous Dracula to play their villain, Christopher Lee.
One of my favorite scenes in THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN is when Bond and Scaramanga finally meet at a sporting event, and their verbal exchange is one of the more memorable scenes in the film. It’s one of Lee’s better moments in the movie, especially when he tells the tale of how he first shot a man, after the man had shot a circus elephant in the eye.
Lee is also involved in the famous scene where the car he’s driving flips upside down as it jumps across a river, impressive because in those days they actually performed the stunts rather than rely on CGI effects.
The actual golden gun Scaramanga uses in the film is also pretty cool. It’s put together from ordinary items, a pen, a cigarette lighter, etc., so Scaramanga can enter a room without a weapon and assemble it without anyone noticing.
THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN is also graced by the beautiful Britt Ekland as Goodnight, one of my all-time favorite Bond girls. Speaking of Ekland, she also co-starred with Lee in one of his best movies, THE WICKER MAN (1973).
One part of THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN that I’ve never been a fan of is its ending. I’ve always thought the climactic gun battle between Bond and Scaramanga was a letdown. You wait the entire movie for their confrontation, as it’s been building for the whole film, and it never really materializes. Their “battle” is not much more than Bond sneaking through Scaramanga’s maze. I mean, this scene works fine, but it’s after this scene that’s a letdown. You expect them to meet and have either a major shootout or a physical fight, but they don’t.
Still, THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN is one of my favorite James Bond movies, and a major reason for this is Christopher Lee’s portrayal of Scaramanga. In fact, I knew a guy once who did not like James Bond movies at all, except for one. He loved THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN. I asked him why, and he told me it was because he liked its cool villain, Scaramanga.
That being said, THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN was one of the least profitable James Bond movies. In fact, it performed so poorly at the box office that it nearly killed the series. Of course, back in 1974, hardcore Bond fans were still pining for the return of Sean Connery. It really wasn’t until the next film in the series, THE SPY WHO LOVED ME (1977), before audiences finally welcomed Roger Moore as Bond.
Like most James Bond movies, THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN has many memorable lines of dialogue. In fact, the screenplay by Richard Maibaum and Tom Mankiewicz contains one of my favorite Bond lines of all time. Bond aims a rifle at the man he’s interrogating, and he says, “I am now aiming precisely at your groin. So speak or forever hold your piece.”
There’s also this neat exchange between Bond and Scaramanga, where Scaramanga speaks of their epic gun duel, of his golden gun vs. Bond’s Walter PPK, to which Bond asks, “One bullet against my six?” And Scaramanga answers, “I only need one, Mr. Bond.”
THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN features one of Christopher Lee’s best film performances, and he does it on the grand stage, in one of the cinema’s biggest franchises, the James Bond series. For an actor who played villains, it doesn’t get much better than playing a villain in a Bond flick, and Scaramanga as played by Christopher Lee is one of the more memorable baddies in the entire series.
Want to remember Christopher Lee this summer? Then check out THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN.
For the horror fan, it truly is James Bond vs. Dracula.
—“You see, Mr. Bond, I always thought I loved animals. Then I discovered that I enjoyed killing people even more.” —Christopher Lee as Scaramanga.