The Man With the Golden Gun novel, a re-evaluation

Cover to a U.S. paperback edition of The Man With the Golden Gun

A friend of mine makes a point of re-reading Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels every year. He refers to it as “reading the scriptures.”

I haven’t read the texts in a while. 007 continuation novels, yes. But not the originals, at least not beyond researching them for posts.

As a result, I got one out. But I opted for the runt of the litter, Fleming’s last novel, The Man With the Golden Gun.

The novel doesn’t get a lot of fan love. Raymond Benson, in his James Bond Bedside Companion, says it’s “a major disappointment and is the weakest book in the series.”

The novel is, essentially, a published first draft. Fleming wrote it in early 1964, just months before he died in August of that year of a heart attack.

“He died before he could revise, polish, and add the rich detail he always incorporated after he had completed the first draft,” Benson wrote in his 1984 evaluation of the book. In the 1990s, Benson took over as author of 007 continuation novels and movie novelizations.

That said, The Man With the Golden Gun is still an interesting novel. Fleming, despite failing health, was still a spinner of tales.

The novel begins with Bond, brainwashed by the Soviets, trying to kill M. The plot is foiled because a “great sheet of armour-plated glass hurtled down from the baffled slit in the ceiling.”

M decides that Bond is to be un-brainwashed and sent after the supposedly invincible Francisco Scaramanga, the novel’s title character. If Bond dies trying, well, he dies as a hero. If he succeeds, he’s accepted back into the Secret Service.

So far, so good. The problem is Scaramanga doesn’t seem that invincible, other than being a quick draw with his golden gun.

He’s not very smart. Scaramanga comes across as more bluster than brains. He hires Bond (who catches up to Scaramanga in Jamaica thanks to luck) as an assistant.

Meanwhile, Scaramanga’s operation has already been infiltrated by the CIA. The Langley contingent, of course, includes Felix Leiter, who has once again been drafted back into active duty. You would think a guy with one hand and a hook would be a little obvious to deploy in undercover work. But hey, he is awfully capable.

The novel reminds a reader of Fleming’s Goldfinger novel. Instead of a “Hood’s convention” discussing Auric Goldfinger’s Fort Knox robbery plot, Fleming has “The Group,” representing the Mafia, KGB and Castro. The Group’s objectives, though, are less ambitious than Goldfinger’s.

Besides Scaramanga, one of Bond’s adversaries is Mr. Hendriks, the KGB’s representative in this affair. You would think the KGB — by now knowing its plot to have Bond kill M failed — would make sure all of its operatives knew what 007 looked like. But Hendriks has no clue.

“I have no informations or descriptions of this man, but it seems that he is highly rated by my superiors,” Hendriks says at one of The Group’s gatherings.

Still, the novel does get its second wind once Leiter makes his appearance. The Bond films have never really captured the Bond-Leiter rapport of the novels. As far back as Jack Whittingham’s first 007 script draft for Kevin McClory, screenwriters have tried to give Leiter more to do. But it never works out.

One of the best Bond-Leiter bits of this novel comes toward the end. Leiter is getting out of the hospital first. The two have their final Fleming-written banter.

Bond comments how Scaramanga “was quite a guy” and should have been taken alive.

“That’s the way you limeys talk about Rommel and Donitz and Guderian. Let alone Napoleon,” Leiter responds. “Once you’ve beaten them, you make heroes out of them….Don’t be a jerk, James. You did a good job. Pest control. It’s got to be done by someone.”

Each also has trouble actually saying “good-bye” to the other. An exhausted Bond lapses back into unconsciousness. “Mary Goodnight shooed the remorseful Leiter out of the room…”

The Man With the Golden Gun is far from Ian Fleming at his best. But it’s still Fleming. And that’s what makes the difference.

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1970s: Future of the literary Bond?

The Ian Fleming Publications 007 logo

By Nicolas Suszczyk,

Guest Writer

Forever and a Day, the new James Bond novel, came out this week. Based on material Ian Fleming wrote for an unproduced TV series, British author Anthony Horowitz placed Bond in a pre-Casino Royale era, sent to investigate murder of the man who carried the 007 number before him in the Cote d’Azur.

Looking Backwards

It is not the first time that Ian Fleming Publications decided to look backwards.

Devil May Care, published in 2008 to coincide with Fleming’s centenary, put Bond in 1967, after the events of The Man With The Golden Gun. Solo (2013), by William Boyd, saw Bond in 1969 after the events of Kingsley Amis’ Colonel Sun. Horowitz’s first 007 novel Trigger Mortis (2015) was a direct sequel of Goldfinger in 1957, taking as reference the unused Ian Fleming treatment Murder on Wheels.

On the other hand, IFP tried to do the exact opposite in 2011 with Jeffery Deaver’s Carte Blanche, where a rebooted Bond in his early 30s dealt with organized terrorism in the 21st century.

After Ian Fleming and Kingsley Amis, Bond continuation authors John Gardner and Raymond Benson set 007 stories from the early 1980s to the early 2000s without rebooting while escaping the reality that Bond should be an elderly man in those adventures. Much like The Simpsons, 007 remained the same age for years.

Where To Next?

So, what should be next in store for the literary James Bond? The answer seems obvious but not less interesting: the 1970s.

In that decade, three literary Bond pieces were published. In 1973, we had John Pearson’s The Authorized Biography of 007, a fictionalized encounter between the author (Fleming’s biographer) and the “real” Bond, who checked or contradicted facts about the previous novels.

Later in the decade (1977 and 1979) saw the publication of Christopher Wood’s novelizations of the James Bond films he wrote: The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker, respectively.

The novelizations were officially titled James Bond, The Spy Who Loved Me and James Bond and Moonraker.

Although these were adaptations of the movies, they had few ties with the 1970s.

Between 1968’s Colonel Sun by Kingsley Amis and 1981’s Licence Renewed by John Gardner, there were no original James Bond novels.

That’s why it would be a lucrative and accurate alternative for the post-2018 literary Bond to follow, the possibility of taking an interesting and creative angle.

Volatile Era

The 1970s were a politically convulsed era where a James Bond story could perfectly fit. In 1974, a longtime ally of Great Britain, the United States, was affected by the Watergate scandal that ended with the resignation of President Richard Nixon. Also during the decade, the CIA came under scrutiny by reporters and the U.S. Congress.

Richard Nixon, with Efrem Zimbalist Jr. and Roger Moore, while campaigning for president in 1960. He wouldn’t be elected until 1968 and was forced to resign in 1974.

In the rest of the world, Latin American countries were ruled by dictators: Augusto Pinochet in Chile, Jorge Rafael Videla in Argentina (this junta would lead to the Falklands war with the U.K. in 1982) and Hugo Bánzer Suárez in Bolivia, to name a few.

All these governments had their origins in the early or mid-1970s, something that should serve as the background for an original Bond plot.

The novels have utilized such settings. William Boyd’s novel Solo has Bond dealing with a civil war in a dictatorial African nation of Zanzarim.

Prime Minister of Rhodesia Ian Smith declared the independence of his country in 1970, cutting its last link with the British Crown. This created a conflict with the British PM Harold Wilson, who refused to recognize the new regime of the African nation and was backed by the United States.

IRA Bombings

Also in the 1970s, England was the target of many IRA bombings which could also serve as a background for a more British-oriented plot.

Munich suffered a terrorist attack during the 1972 Olympic Games executed by a Palestinian cell that ended with 11 athletes killed and convulsed the whole world.

The 2005 film Munich, starring Eric Bana and Daniel Craig, dealt with the revenge mission taken by the Mossad years later. Bond may not be related to the Olympic Games but terrorism has been the enemy in John Gardner novels like For Special Services, COLD and Win, Lose or Die and, of course, the recent films like The World Is Not Enough, Casino Royale, Skyfall and SPECTRE where terrorist attacks have played a major role (MI6 being bombed twice).

By the end of the decade, in November 1979, employees of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran were kidnapped by followers of the new leader Ayatollah Khomeini for more than a year.

Some embassy employees managed to escape thanks to the Argo operation executed by the CIA with the aid of Hollywood which faked the production of a film in the region.

It is known that British diplomats aided in the mission, despite being written out of the 2012 Ben Affleck movie. Bond, known for bearing a diplomatic passport on occasions, could have been directly or indirectly involved in this operation.

In a decade shaken by social, racial and political events there could surely be a place for the literary Bond. The decade of the 1970s was not a part of any of the 40 James Bond novels published to date (not counting the novelizations or Young Bond series).

The ’70s could serve for a series of stories set year by year, resulting in 10 James Bond book written by Anthony Horowitz or whoever who follows him and, perhaps, adapting more unused Ian Fleming material.

The 1970s, done right, would be a perfect gold mine for any creative storyteller to place James Bond in.

Bond 25: The annoying Monica Bellucci edition

Monica Bellucci during filming of SPECTRE.

File this under “A” (for annoying) and under “C” (for “click bait”).

Back on Oct. 14, the Mirror tabloid ran a story saying that 007 actor Daniel Craig wants Monica Bellucci, who had a very small role in 2015’s SPECTRE, back for Bond 25.

An excerpt:

One insider told us: “He wants Monica Bellucci back, that’s for sure.”

Monica made headlines as the oldest Bond girl ever when she appeared, aged 51, as Lucia Sciarra, widow of a notorious assassin.

The problem? The Mirror earlier ran a story in July claiming Bond 25 would be based on a Raymond Benson novel, despite making no attempt to talk to the one-time 007 continuation novel author.

You’d think that would give people pause before citing the Mirror story on Bellucci. But you’d be wrong.

A site called The List ran with it, citing the Mirror. Forbes.com, citing The List, did likewise.

Earlier today, Variety got into the act.

“Bellucci’s agent told Variety on Wednesday that the actress is neither confirming nor denying rumors that she might appear in the 25th film to feature the suave super-spy, which is scheduled to hit theaters in 2019,” the trade publication said in an online story.

Variety didn’t note how this originated with the Mirror, the publication with the shaky reputation for accuracy.

According to Variety, Bellucci herself was being coy during a Tuesday night event, telling scribes,” I can’t say anything.”

Meanwhile, here’s a question nobody has been asking. If Bellucci really is in the picture for Bond 25 (not a given), would she have to play her SPECTRE character? Or could she pull a Maud Adams and play two different characters in two Bond films?

Another question: Is this a lot of hooey for a movie that, two years before its announced release date, still doesn’t have a distributor to actually get the film into theaters?

Paul Baack, extraordinary 007 fan, dies

Paul Baack (1957-2017 ) in 2013, wearing headphones to utilize his voice-activated software.

Paul Baack, co-founder of the James Bond fan site Her Majesty’s Secret Servant, died today at 60.

Paul and Tom Zielinski began the site, intended as a James Bond “e-magazine,” in 1997. HMSS, according to the founders, was the equivalent of a “toy train” for them.

It was more, of course.

From 1997 until 2011, HMSS presented magazine-length articles about James Bond and related topics. Contributors included Raymond Benson, the 007 continuation novel author from 1997 to 2002.

Benson named a character after Paul in his 1999 Bond novel High Time to Kill.

Normally an obituary refers to its subject by his or her last name. But the Spy Commander, for this obit, will refer to him by his first name.

Paul, from the beginning, designed the HMSS pages. His graphics enhanced the articles. He had a way of prodding the authors to make their contributions just a little bit better. Paul would make suggestions to improve the articles.

Those suggestions came in the form of a gentle nudge, not a dictate. HMSS, after all, was a hobby — the toy train analogy — not life or death. Nevertheless, Paul’s instincts were excellent. He was right far more than he was wrong.

Paul Baack-designed promo for the fall 2011 issue of Her Majesty’s Secret Servant, the e-magazine’s last issue.

Paul led a tough life. In 2003, he was paralyzed after being struck by a car. Despite that, he carried on. He utilized voice-activated software to do his HMSS work and follow his various other interests, which included doing artwork such as THIS and THIS and THIS.

This blog was, in fact, Paul’s idea. He wanted a way for HMSS to have a presence on the internet between “issues.” The Spy Commander was among the HMSS contributors.

Eventually, I took over the blog. But I was always aware he was reading. I was always glad to receive his feedback.

HMSS had a good run. It went offline in 2014.

“Bond and Holly” by Paul Baack

Paul was one of the most memorable people I ever met. I cannot imagine the pain and suffering he endured since 2003. But he endured it with warmth, and grace and humor.

James Bond fandom is richer for what Paul and Tom Zielinski started. This blog, obviously, would not exist without Paul’s encouragement.

After HMSS went offline, the blog published THIS POST about how it was now on its own. Paul posted this comment:

“‘Upward and onward’ indeed! Heartfelt thanks to you, Bill, for keeping the flame.”

Thanks to you Paul, for lighting the flame in the first place.

The Spy Command marks its 9th anniversary

Today marks the ninth anniversary of The Spy Command.

The blog began with the name The HMSS Weblog. The first post on Oct. 8, 2008 concerned how three Raymond Benson James Bond continuation novels had been collected under the title The Union Trilogy. The post was penned by Paul Baack, who had the idea of the blog.

The Spy Commander, who has been running the blog for some time, didn’t weigh in with his first post until Oct. 19, 2008. That concerned A Man Called Sloane, the short-lived spy adventure with Robert Conrad and produced by QM Productions.

The blog began to hit its stride (and find its own voice) with a 2009 series of posts about the 45th anniversary of Goldfinger. It later had series of posts about the 50th anniversary of Dr. No and From Russia With Love as well as series about Dr. No’s script and behind-the-scenes financial issues of Dr. No. (CLICK HERE for part I.)

The blog formally was on its own in September 2014. The blog changed its name to The Spy Command in February 2015.

Assuming the blog is still around next year, we’ll have to do something more elaborate for the 10th anniversary.

Who did more to make 007 popular in U.S. — JFK or Hefner?

John F. Kennedy statue in Fort Worth, Texas

2017 has been an eventful year related to the growth of U.S. interest in James Bond. This was the centennial of the birth of President John F. Kennedy and it was the year Playboy founder Hugh Hefner died.

JFK, unquestionably, gave the literary Bond a huge boost in 1961. Kennedy — the first U.S. president born in the 20th century — listed Ian Fleming’s From Russia With Love among his 10 favorite books.

At the time, Kennedy provided a youthful image. He was the youngest elected president at the age of 43. Theodore Roosevelt was the actual youngest president (at age 42), but he assumed office with the assassination of William McKinley.

Regardless, JFK was sworn into office after the then-oldest president, Dwight Eisenhower, departed. Kennedy brought a sense of glamour. That’s why his presidency was dubbed “Camelot.”

As a result, Kennedy’s including the Fleming novel in that 10 favorite book list was an enormous boost. It occurred just as the Eon film series was getting started. Eon founders Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman struck their deal with United Artists in 1961, with Dr. No beginning production in early 1962.

Still, you could make the case that Hefner’s interest in Bond had a longer-lasting impact.

Playboy published Fleming’s The Hildebrand Rarity short story in 1960, a year before the famous JFK book list. Playboy serialized Fleming 007 stories. And Playboy’s ties to Bond would be referenced in the Eon films On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and Diamonds Are Forever.

Hugh Hefner (1926-2017)

What’s more, Hefner’s Bond interest remained. Playboy published Bond-related pictorials for decades. In the 1990s, the magazine published short stories and serialized novels by 007 continuation author Raymond Benson.

As an aside, the Spy Commander once interviewed Benson about becoming the Bond continuation author. Benson mentioned, in passing, he was a friend of Hefner’s.

My memory is I asked him to go over that again. It was true. And one of the Benson 007 short stories (Midsummer Night’s Doom) was set at the Playboy mansion and Hefner showed up as a character.

The purpose of this post is to pose the question. The answer is up to the reader.

Hugh Hefner, who helped popularize 007, dies

George Lazenby’s 007 reading a copy of Playboy

Hugh Hefner, founder of Playboy and who helped popularize James Bond for American audiences, has died at 91, according to CNBC, citing a statement from Playboy Enterprises.

Playboy published the Ian Fleming short story The Hildebrand Rarity in 1960, beginning a long relationship between the magazine and the fictional secret agent.

At the time, the literary Bond has his U.S. fans but the character’s popularity was far from its peak. Things changed a year later when the new U.S. president, John F. Kennedy, listed Fleming’s From Russia With Love as one of his 10 favorite books.

As Bond’s popularity surged in the 1960s, Playboy serialized the novels You Only Live Twice and The Man With The Golden Gun.

The relationship spread into the Bond movies produced by Eon Productions. In 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Bond (George Lazenby) kills time looking at an issue of Playboy while a safe cracking machine works away. Two years later, in Diamonds Are Forever, the audience is shown that Bond (Sean Connery) had a membership card at a Playboy club. Also, over the years, Playboy published Bond-related pictorials.

In the 1990s, the Playboy-literary Bond connection was revived. Playboy published some 007 short stories by continuation novelist Raymond Benson, including Blast From the Past as well as serializations of Benson novels.

One of Benson’s short stories published by Playboy, Midsummer Night’s Doom, was set at the Playboy Mansion. Hefner showed up as a character.

During the 21st century, Playboy “has struggled in the face of tough competition from the available of free pornography online,” CNBC said in its obituary. The magazine experimented with no nude photos “before returning to its previous formula,” CNBC said.