So now, we finally reach the end Mr. Bond! After eleven other novels and two short story collections, we arrive at The Man With The Golden Gun, Ian Fleming’s final James Bond novel.
We have been re-reading all of the original Fleming Bond novels in order. Our Fleming Revisited series can be found at the following links: Casino Royale, Live And Let Die, Moonraker, Diamonds Are Forever, From Russia With Love, Dr. No, Goldfinger, For Your Eyes Only, Thunderball, The Spy Who Loved Me, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and You Only Live Twice,
We stepped out of order to do Octopussy And The Living Daylights last time around, even though that short story collection was the last Fleming 007 work published, after his death. We wanted to end with the final novel as our last installment – The Man With The Golden Gun.
As we have frequently shown in this series, James Bond movies veered very far from their source material at times, especially in the later installments. Before we look at the book, as is customary…
Love Is Required, Whenever He’s Hired
The 1974 movie was the ninth in the James Bond series and the second to star Roger Moore as 007 following 1973’s Live And Let Die. The Man With The Golden Gun was originally set to follow You Only Live Twice, with Roger Moore replacing Sean Connery in the role. With You Only Live Twice they had effectively thrown Fleming’s story away and started from scratch, something they would do again with The Man With The Golden Gun.
The plans to shoot in Cambodia were halted by the Samulat Uprising and then Roger Moore was no longer available. The producers spoke to Timothy Dalton about the role, but at twenty-three he thought he was too young. Instead, they adapted On Her Majesty’s Secret Service with George Lazenby.
Lazenby was due to return in either The Man With The Golden Gun or Diamonds Are Forever, the decision on which movie was to follow had not been made. Then Lazenby quit, and with Connery being lured back, plans for The Man With The Golden Gun were put on ice.
After the upheaval of Lazenby quitting and Connery’s record payday to return one final time for Diamonds Are Forever, producers again turned to Roger Moore, who had been in the running to play the role back at the very beginning before they cast Sean Connery in Dr. No. United Artists greenlit another James Bond film immediately after viewing dailies of Moore’s performance in Live and Let Die and Broccoli and Saltzman finally got to make The Man With The Golden Gun.
It was the last movie to be produced by the pair. Harry Saltzman had financial issues and sold his 50% stake in the production company to United Artists. The ensuing legal issues combined with the lackluster box-office performance of this movie to delay the next entry, The Spy Who Loved Me, by nearly four years.
Tom Mankiewicz wrote the first draft of this version in 1973. It is said it was a very dark story, featuring a battle of wills between Bond and Scaramanga, who he saw as Bond’s evil alter-ego and 007’s equal.
Director Guy Hamilton didn’t like this take and brought back screenwriter Richard Maibaum for a rewrite. The veteran of six previous Bond movies, he turned to the headlines of the time and the energy crisis to create the Solex Agitator as the Macguffin of the script.
So how much of the novel made it into the movie? Well, there is a guy called Scaramanga who has a golden gun, and Mary Goodnight features. Other than that, practically nothing makes the leap from page to screen. The novel features no energy crisis, no villain’s lair with a twisted games room, and certainly no midget butlers.
He Has A Powerful Weapon
The Man with the Golden Gun was the twelfth and final novel written about James Bond by Ian Fleming. It was first published by Jonathan Cape in the UK on 1 April 1965. This was eight months after Ian Fleming had passed away from his second heart attack at the age of just fifty-six.
The novel was somewhat unfinished, therefore was lacking in the high level of detail usually associated with Fleming’s work.
The first draft and part of the editing process were completed before Fleming’s death and the manuscript had been worked on by copy editor, William Plomer, but it needed attention. Fleming frequently fleshed out the detail he was fond of in his second and third drafts.
Kingsley Amis was asked for his thoughts and he provided copious notes but the publisher chose not to use them. Instead, Amis was chosen to write a continuation novel that became Colonel Sun, under the pen name of Robert Markham. So The Man With The Golden Gun is something of an incomplete book. However, the opening scenes are among the most shocking ever written about James Bond.
In the finale of You Only Live Twice, in the process of killing Blofeld with his bare hands in revenge for Tracy, and destroying Blofeld’s castle in Japan, Bond suffered a massive head injury.
For over a year he has been missing, presumed dead. He was living in Japan as the husband of Kissy Suzuki before flashes of restored memory led him to travel to Vladivostok in Russia. He turns up out of the blue in London, calls the Secret Service switchboard, and requests to come in for a debrief.
The novel expands in some details on Fleming’s imagined inner workings of MI6 at this stage. The layers to deflect prank calls, how to determine who is genuine, how anyone would have to pass through certain defenses to get to the inner sanctum. These defences are just as well, as immediately those involved smell a rat. Something is not right with James Bond.
During his debriefing interview with M, Bond tries to kill M with a cyanide pistol and is thwarted because they were prepared. He was brainwashed by the KGB and deployed as an assassin. A furious M considers how best to deal with Bond. Twenty years in prison would be the sentence for what he has just done. Out of respect for all 007 has achieved as an agent, M thinks it better if he is given a chance to fall on the battlefield rather than rot in prison.
After being handed over to a team of psychologists and doctors for deprogramming and therapy he is handed an impossible mission. Cuban assassin Francisco “Pistols” Scaramanga has killed several British secret agents. Scaramanga is known as The Man with the Golden Gun because his weapon of choice is a gold-plated Colt revolver, which fires specially made, silver-jacketed, solid-gold bullets. Scaramanga is a crack shot, devious, powerful and it is considered suicide to go up against him. Bond is sent, which prompts Chief Of Staff Tanner to call M a:
“…cold hearted bastard!”
Scaramanga is operating on British territory in Jamaica using a hotel development as the front to destabilize Caribbean sugar crops, boosting the value of Cuba’s harvest. The KGB is involved. The front is also being used to run drugs and prostitutes into America, and stir up tensions between locals and tourists across Western colonies and protectorates throughout the region.
In a plotline that was adapted for Licence To Kill Bond sets himself up as ambiguously useful to the villain, who has many similarities to Sanchez from the Timothy Dalton outing. He then works to disrupt things from the inside, assisted by his old friend Felix Leiter and by Mary Goodnight.
The character of Mary Goodnight in Bond lore is worth commenting on. She gets a bad rap due to her portrayal in The Man With The Golden Gun where Britt Ekland is mentioned as a weak Bond girl by fans and casual viewers alike. Her history in the novels is much more interesting, particularly in how it relates to the character of Moneypenny.
The character of Moneypenny that we know from the movies, particularly the smitten and romantic foil to 007, is an invention purely of the films. She has next to no role at all in any of the novels. There is no sexual tension or flirtation with Bond and she barely appears.
The more rounded secretary character is Loelia Ponsonby, nicknamed Lil. She is the principal secretary of the Double-O section and as such, she is the shared secretary of Bond himself, plus the other two Double-O operatives that make up the section in the novels.
She appears in the novels from Moonraker (1955) until On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1963) and subsequently appeared in period continuation novels Devil May Care (2008) and Trigger Mortis (2015).
It is her whom Bond enjoys a flirtatious relationship with, and the flirting is two-way. Bond frequently wonders to himself if they should do more than just flirt:
“Later she had kissed him goodbye with a sudden warmth, and for the hundredth time Bond had wondered why he bothered with other women when the most darling of them all was his secretary.”
Between books, she becomes engaged to be married to another which makes Bond rue his missed chances, and leaves the service. Her replacement is Mary Goodnight and she appears in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service through You Only Live Twice and The Man With The Golden Gun.
Following Bond’s presumed death in You Only Live Twice, she is transferred to the Jamaica station of the Secret Service and it is here where she reunites with 007.
The Moneypenny we know from the movies is an amalgamation of these two characters., and nothing like the very minor role in the novels.
You Were Expecting Someone Else?
The character of Bond himself is interesting in The Man With The Golden Gun. He is clearly still coping with the effects of his brainwashing at the hands of the KGB. However, he is also somewhat underwritten this time around. This is highly likely to be due to Fleming dying before he could refine and rework aspects of his original draft, as was his usual approach to writing.
Author of the Bond continuation novels, Raymond Benson is on record as stating that he feels that Bond’s character is robot-like in this installment and does not develop as he did in the other books.
Bond scholar and academic Jeremy Black discusses his character at length in some of his work and notes that Bond has two opportunities to kill Scaramanga quickly, cleanly and in cold blood. On one occasion Bond sits in a car behind Scaramanga and decides not to shoot him in the head as the KGB would do. Clearly, Fleming expected better of his creation.
This novel is the first time we find out M’s real name – Admiral Sir Miles Messervy KCMG. The scene with a clearly troubled M, agonising over what should be Bond’s fate at his club, adds depth to the character not really seen since Moonraker.
The villain suffers in the novel. The original movie idea of having him as Bond’s dark side, a version who had chosen villainy rather than heroics, is better than Scaramanga as presented in print. Perhaps he is another victim of the lack of a rewrite by Fleming.
Benson, again, is critical here. He refers to him as:
“…a second-rate, smalltime crook who happens to have gotten lucky with his shooting.”
Other Bond scholars such as Comentale, Watt, and Willman note that Scaramanga, in first draft form, appears to be a reworking of Herr von Hammerstein, the former Gestapo officer who is the chief of counterintelligence for the Cuban secret service in For Your Eyes Only. Again, we will never know how Fleming intended to develop this character.
The plot clearly captures some of Fleming’s feelings about what was happening in his beloved Jamaica, and across the Caribbean at the time. Scaramanga’s plan is to supply the Rastafarians with drugs in return for fires in the sugar plantations. Beyond this, he is fostering attacks on tourists by locals, and working with a KGB connection to destabilize the entire region through industrial sabotage against companies based in Jamaica, including Reynolds Metal, Kaiser Bauxite, and Aluminia who were all highly profitable at the time.
The cynical actions of the Jamaican police to try and take credit for Bond’s success at the climax of the novel seemingly reflect Fleming’s disgust for the new world of a non-colonial, independent Jamaica, underlining the collapse of the British Empire.
As the author is weary, so is his Bond in this novel. Once the mission is completed, Bond is offered the KCMG, but he refuses the honor.
Even if Fleming had survived, it is likely this would still have been the last 007 adventure. Having nearly killed him off several times, Fleming really was calling it a day with James Bond:
This is, alas, the last Bond and, again alas, I mean it, for I really have run out of puff and zest
Ian Fleming, letter to William Plomer
So there you have it. Every single Bond novel from Ian Fleming read and discussed here in turn. We are sad it’s now over. But all is not lost, as the 25th Bond movie is now just hours away from release.
If you are a Bond fan, we have loads of great content for you. Interested in our complete rundown and ranking of all the 007 movies? Check it out here.
With No Time To Die the final outing for Daniel Craig, we check out the runners and riders to take over the mantle of 007.