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.

About that whole ‘Blofeld Trilogy’ thing…

SPECTRE teaser image

SPECTRE teaser image

This blog’s recent post about suggestions for Bond 25 included the idea that it may be time to let the “Blofeld Trilogy” idea pass. But many don’t want to let go. So here’s a closer look.

What is it? The phrase was popularized by Raymond Benson in his 1984 book The James Bond Bedside Companion, referring to Ian Fleming’s novels, Thunderball, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and You Only Live Twice.

The term “Blofeld Trilogy” isn’t mentioned in the index. On page 123, the author introduces his analysis of Thunderball thusly:

The ninth James Bond novel, Thunderball, is a terrific book. It is the beginning of what could be called the Blofeld Trilogy, which also includes On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and You Only Live Twice. Thunderball also marks the change from the earlier novels to the later, more mature books.

Anything wrong with that? Not wrong, but perhaps more complex.

How so? First, Fleming almost certainly didn’t plan a trilogy. The Thunderball novel was Fleming’s way of recouping time spent on the unsuccessful film project spearheaded by Kevin McClory. McClory sued after the novel came out. In the resulting settlement, future editions of the novel indicated it was based on a screen treatment by McClory, screenwriter Jack Whittingham and Fleming.

Second, Fleming wrote four novels during this period. He also penned The Spy Who Loved Me, published in 1962, written from the perspective of a woman who encounters Bond in the last third of the novel. Bond is on the trail of SPECTRE but this only is mentioned in passing. Again, a sign this wasn’t a planned thing.

An important part of the Blofeld Trilogy: At the end of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Bond’s new bride, Tracy, is dead. Early in the You Only Live Twice novel, we’re told how Bond has fallen apart and is about to get his walking papers. He’s given a last chance to salvage his career. The unlikely mission leads to Blofeld and a final confrontation.

Yeah, so? The 007 film series adapted the novels out of order (as hard-core fans know all too well), so the Blofeld Trilogy, per se, wasn’t done. However, Eon Productions already has clearly cherry picked from the Blofeld Trilogy.

Example: In Skyfall, Bond has fallen apart after being shot by Moneypenny (Naomie Harris). He’s a shell of former self when he finds out MI6 has been attacked. Even then, it takes quite a bit of screen time before Bond is back to his former self.

I repeat, yeah, so? Some fans would like Bond 25 to adapt the setup of the Blofeld Trilogy, have Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux) killed and have 007 have a proper “revenge” story.

Initially, SPECTRE was a bit of a remake of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. During the scripting process, there was a henchwoman named Irma Bunt and the last line of the movie was Bond saying, “We have all the time in the world.” Both were deleted from the final film.

A couple of things, regarding Bond 25:

1) Do we really want Bond to fall apart for the second time in three movies? Remember, it’s not the Blofeld Trilogy if he doesn’t fall apart.

2) We’ve had either revenge story lines or elements of them in Licence to Kill, GoldenEye, Tomorrow Never Dies, The World Is Not Enough, Die Another Day and Quantum of Solace. Does the film series really cry out for another revenge story?

Nobody is going to change their mind based on this post. Just something to think about.

Benson post-007 character in development at ABC

Image for The Black Stiletto, a character created by former 007 continuation novel author Raymond Benson

Image for The Black Stiletto, a character created by former 007 continuation novel author Raymond Benson

The Black Stiletto, a character created in a series of novels by former 007 continuation author Raymond Benson, is “in development” at ABC, according to a story on THE DEADLINE: HOLLYWOOD entertainment news website.

Here’s an excerpt:

Black Stiletto, based on the novels by Raymond Benson, follows a young woman’s evolution into a modern-day hero when a family secret from the past is revealed and puts the only family she’s ever known in imminent danger.

Benson wrote 007 continuation novels published by Ian Fleming Publications from 1997 to 2002, as well as three movie novelizations (Tomorrow Never Dies, The World Is Not Enough and Die Another Day) as well as a number of Bond short stories.

Benson also wrote The James Bond Bedside Companion, a reference book about the 007 novels and films, that was originally published in 1984 and updated in 1988.

Why William Boyd isn’t the best salesman for Solo

William Boyd

William Boyd

This week, author William Boyd makes his 007 debut when the James Bond novel Solo comes out in the U.K. The problem is Boyd isn’t necessarily the best salesman for his own product.

This week, a series of brief Boyd monologues were uploaded to YouTube. In THE FIRST VIDEO he acts as if he had unearthed a startling secret about the literary James Bond.

I suspect there are aspects of Bond people aren’t aware of. Of course the Bond aficionados, the Bond fans will know. The casual readers of Bond will not know some of the things I’ve put in the novel…For example, Bond’s Scottishness. Bond is not English — he’s half Scottish, half Swiss.

Of course, Solo is coming out less than a year after 2012’s Skyfall (worldwide ticket sales: $1.11 BILLION), which made a HUGE deal about exploring Bond’s roots, including the fact he was raised in Scotland, where the climatic sequence takes place. The movie was about as subtle about 007’s Scottish heritage as a heart attack.

Nor was Skyfall the first time. The 1965 television special The Incredible World of James Bond devoted a short segment to Bond’s origins in Scotland, based on the 1964 novel You Only Live Twice. While the bulk of the movies haven’t explored the topic, the fact that Bond has a Scottish heritage doesn’t represent the deepest research into the literary 007. Anybody who has read, say, The James Bond Bedside Companion by Raymond Benson is already up to speed on the topic.

Last spring, of course, Boyd boasted why Solo was such a good title for a Bond novel while seemingly unaware that Fleming had used Solo not once, but twice: as a character in Goldfinger and as the name for the lead character in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. television series.

It may yet turn out that Boyd’s 007 novel is a good addition to the literary canon. But Boyd doesn’t do himself any favors in promoting the new novel. Some of his major talking points don’t withstand the slightest examination.

EARLIER POSTS:
OPEN CHANNEL D: WILLIAM BOYD’S FLEMING RESEARCH GAP

WILLIAM BOYD’S NEW 007 NOVEL TO BE TITLED, IRONICALLY, SOLO

Chicago television station interviews Raymond Benson

Raymond Benson's Die Another Day remains the most recent 007 film novelization. Photo copyright © Paul Baack

Benson


WGN, a Chicago television station that’s also available on U.S. cable systems, did a feature on Raymond Benson, the 007 continuation author from 1997 to 2002. To view the story on WGN’s Web site CLICK HERE.

The story presents Benson discussing the 50th anniversary of Dr. No. The piece also mentions his continuation novels and The James Bond Bedside Companion reference book first published in the 1980s (and recently reissued, though that’s not referenced). WGN also mentions his new series of books featuring a character called the Black Stiletto.

(A factoid for our readers outside the U.S.: WGN is short for “world’s greatest newspaper,” the former slogan of the Chicago Tribune, part of the same company.)

Highlights of The James Bond Bedside Companion

Photo copyright © Paul Baack

Benson

With the news that Raymond Benson’s James Bond Bedside Companion will be reissued in 2012, we dusted off our 1984 first edition copy of the book to remind ourselves what the fuss was all about. Here are a few examples:

It had an introduction by Ernest Cuneo, one of Ian Fleming’s friends: “Ian Fleming was of the twentieth century and indeed his creation, James Bond, who emerged full blown from his imagination as a Greek God from the brow of Zeus, may be one of the twentieth century’s landmarks.” And that was just the first sentence of a three-page essay.

The book originated concepts that still fans use today: The James Bond Bedside Companion analyzed both 007 novels and movies. On page 123 of the first edition, Benson introduces the phrase the “Blofeld Triology” to describe Fleming’s novels Thunderball, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and You Only Live Twice. The author says the novels mark “the change from the earlier (Fleming) novels to the more mature books.”

This theme has resonated with 007 fans, including the proprietors of this blog. Our parent site once ran an article saying that the Bond film series would have gotten more respect if it had adapted the trilogy in the order the Fleming novels were published. Instead, Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman brought out You Only Live Twice after Thunderball rather than Majesty’s while tossing out Fleming’s plot for Twice.

Then again, during the period Benson described, Fleming wrote *four* novels, including the quirky 1962 The Spy Who Loved Me, which has first-person narration from a woman character. Nonetheless, the term “The Blofeld Trilogy” has stuck since Benson introduced it.

Benson introduced diagrams of novels and films that still stick with fans: Pages 156 and 157 have a literal diagram of the Eon Productions film series up to 1984. Each movie is dissected by “places,” “girls,” “villain and employer,” “villain’s project,” “obligatory sacrificial lamb,” “minor villains,” “Bond’s friends,” “gadgets” and “remarks.” Many Bond fans were aware the movies had these elements but Benson, with that one diagram, helped crystallize those notions. To this day, 007 message boards refer to “sacrificial lambs” for Bond allies who get killed in the movies.

Benson didn’t pull punches: The author clearly is a fan of the literary and cinema Bond. But there are portions of the book where he doesn’t let his admiration get in the way of his analysis. On page 116 of the first edition, Benson quotes from Chapter 16 of Fleming’s Goldfinger novel which describes how Bond views Oddjob, Goldfinger’s Korean henchman, in less than admiring terms.

“So Bond is revealed to be a bigot as well,” Benson writes. “This aspect of his character is not particularly evident elsewhere in the series, though one should notice 95 percent of the villains in the novels are non-British.”

That’s tough stuff. Many fans want to hear about why the character they like is great. They don’t want to hear how the character, his novels or his films might possibly fall short of expectations. (Trust us, we know all about this.)

Benson established a template for a generation of fans regarding the movies: The over-simplified version would be Sean Connery good, Roger Moore bad. Benson is more detailed than that, but he captures the mood of many first-generation movie fans who saw 007 become the coolest thing on earth, circa 1965, only to see the character be less than that in the 1970s.

On pages 216-217, Benson diagrams the similarities between Connery’s You Only Live Twice and Moore’s The Spy Who Loved Me, which makes it hard to deny the 1977 film wasn’t a remake of the 1967 effort. The diagram was based on an article published in the 007 fan publication Bondage (which is credited), but Benson’s book gave it a larger audience.

To be honest, more space is required to analyze why The James Bond Bedside Companion had such an impact in the 1980s. Afterall, the first edition was 256 pages, including the index. The book was originally published before the Internet made it easier to do research. But it was also written by someone who clearly cared about the subject matter who wasn’t afraid to ruffle a few feathers.

The author is a friend of the publishers of this blog and its parent Web site. Still, we’re not blowing smoke that it struck a cord among 007 fans. The news that a new edition is coming in 2012 caught fire on various Bond Web sites. You don’t get that kind of reaction unless fans actually care.

Benson eventually became a participant in the Bond machine, penning 007 continuation novels and three movie novelizations. As we understand it, the new editions won’t update the book beyond its 1988 edition. And that’s understandable. Once you cross over to being a participant, you can no longer maintain your distance.

The new version of the Bedside Companion — coming out in time for the 50th anniversary of the 007 film series — will help preserve a work that was published at an important time for 007 fans.

James Bond Bedside Companion returns in 2012

The James Bond Bedside Companion is returning the “first or second week of January” in e-reader form, author Raymond Benson announced on his Facebook page. An audiobook and print edition will be out “in the coming weeks,” Benson said, without providing specifics. Presumably, the book is becomng available again because of next year’s 50th anniversary of 007 film series.

The book was originally published in 1984 and updated in 1988, years before Benson was hired to write James Bond continuation novels by Glidrose, now Ian Fleming Publications. The book examined the Bond films up until that time, plus Ian Fleming’s original stories and the continuation novels written by Kingsley Amis and John Gardner.

CLICK HERE to see a post on The Book Bond Web site that includes an image of the new cover.

UPDATE: If you CLICK HERE, you can view a 2004 interview on the Commander Bond Web site that John Cox, now webmaster of The Book Bond Web site, did with Benson. The subject of Bedside Companion comes up, including how Benson’s views toward Gardner’s work evolved after the original 1984 publication of the 007 reference book.