From Fleming to Film: The Search for Scaramanga
"You know that if you play in a James Bond movie, as a heavy or in the title role, almost everybody in the world is going to go and see it."
- Christopher Lee, quoted in "The Films of Christopher Lee"
In any look at the film career of Christopher Lee, one is struck by a major highpoint, that is to say his involvement in the ninth film of the juggernaut James Bond franchise, specifically "The Man with the Golden Gun". By far and away, this film was Mr. Lee's highest profile role to date, and would remain as a watershed, unchallenged to this day for mainstream appeal. Of course with his involvement in both the "Lord of the Rings" and the next "Star Wars" installment, that may change. It was also a strong move to counteract the typecasting which dogged Mr. Lee, after his success in a string of features as Hammer's resident Dracula. This film, as well as roles in "The Three Musketeers", "The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes" and "Hannie Caulder", went a long way to dispelling the notion that Christopher Lee is simply a horror actor. His subsequent appearance on Saturday Night Live and various films would confirm that Mr. Lee is a multi-talented professional who is at home in a great variety of roles.
Christopher Lee's connection to Bond begins somewhat earlier than this film and is interestingly tied to author Ian Fleming. As it happens, Ian Fleming's mother was sister to Mr. Lee's stepfather, Harcourt (Ingle) Rose, thus making them cousins through marriage. Mr. Lee's sister Xandra had also worked with Ian Fleming at the Admiralty during the War, making for another direct link. Around about 1962, Fleming suggested that Lee would be perfect for the role of Dr. No in the film version, but this did not come to pass. Some 12 years later, Lee was selected to play the part of Francisco Scaramanga, the title character in 'The Man with the Golden Gun".
In the film Mr. Lee portrays, a suave, sexually charged, "million-dollars-a-shot" assassin who is a sort of flip side of the coin to James Bond. In Mr. Lee's portrayal of Scaramanga we are treated to an urbane and sophisticated English - accented killer. The listing for Scaramanga in "The Complete James Bond Movie Encyclopedia" by Steven J. Rubin has this to say:
"According to British Secret Service sites/christopherleeweb.com/files, Scaramanga was born in the circus. His father was a ringmaster, and by the time Francisco was 10, he was a fabulous trick shot...his only friend in the circus was a huge African bull elephant who went berserk one day from his handler's mistreatment. When the handler emptied his gun into the elephant's eye, Scaramanga emptied his stage pistol into the handler.
"A local gunmen by the age of 15, Scaramanga was eventually recruited by the KGB, who trained him in Europe and made him another overworked and underpaid assassin. He went independent in the late 1950's. His current price is indeed $1 million a hit. No photographs of him are known to exist, but he is known to have one anatomical abnormality - a third nipple, or supercilious papilla, which in some cultures is considered a sign of invulnerability and great sexual prowess.
"For his assassinations, Scaramanga always uses a golden bullet, fired from the golden gun of the title. In the film, Scaramanga is working for a ruthless industrialist named Hai Fat, who is determined to steal a priceless solar energy component called a "solex agitator" - the key to harnessing the sun as a top fuel alternative. Aware of the solex's value, Scaramanga eventually kills Hai Fat and steals the solex for himself."
The above is a fairly good summation of the character, to which I will add a few bits and pieces. Scaramanga maintains an elegant girlfriend, Andrea Anders (played sympathetically by the sexy Maud Adams), an island paradise with a twisted indoor shooting range and a wicked little manservant by the name of Nick Nack (played to great effect by the diminutive actor, Herve Villechaize). Before killing a victim, he ritualistically sleeps with his girlfriend to improve his eye. Much is made of the sexual element of his third nipple. There is a question of sexual deviancy as well, due in most part to a scene that involves caressing the girl with his "golden gun". The gun can be seen as being a phallic metaphor or even possibly representing a substitute phallus, with the implication that Scaramanga may not actually be living up to his legendary status. This is further enhanced by the fact that it is the girl who attempted to bring Bond in to kill Scaramanga in the first place, thus freeing her from his attentions. The odd bit, is that this is the only sequence that really suggests that Scaramanga is something of a deviant. The gun itself presents a few interesting points, it is not a known design and can be broken down into its base components of a pen, cigarette case, lighter and cufflink. He deems killing as an art form and feels that Bond is the only real challenge left to him. His confrontation with Bond would be the crowning achievement in his eyes. But what of the literary Scaramanga created by Lee's cousin?
"Ian Fleming created a somewhat different version of Francisco (Paco) "Pistols" Scaramanga in what was his last Bond novel. Physically the similarities are good. Fleming describes him as:
"Age about 35. Height 6 ft. 3 in. Slim and fit. Eyes. Light brown. Hair reddish in a crew cut. Long sideburns. Gaunt, sombre face with thin "pencil" moustache, brownish. Ears very flat to the head. Ambidextrous. Hands very large and powerful and immaculately manicured. Distinguishing marks: a third nipple about two inches below his left breast. Is an insatiable but indiscriminate womanizer who invariably has sexual intercourse shortly before a killing in the belief that it improves the "eye.""
In essence, the business with the elephant is pretty much the same, with the exception that it wasn't the handler that killed the elephant, but a policeman, which was incidentally Scaramanga's first victim. He doesn't use a gimmick gun, rather a gold-plated, long-barreled, single action Colt .45. The bullets do have a gold core, but are jacketed in silver. The main difference in Scaramanga's history is that at the age of 16, after the elephant incident, he emigrated illegally to the US where he lived a life of petty crime on the fringes of the gangs, eventually becoming an executioner of cheats and other transgressors for "The Mob". After a time, the States became too hot to hold him and he was sent to the Caribbean, investing funds for various Las Vegas interests. While he was a KGB assassin, he is here controlled through Havana, Cuba, which incidentally is his base of operations. A Batista man until the results of the Revolution put Castro in power, a quick change of politics, and he became a political hitman and enforcer for the Cuban Secret Police. It is in this capacity that he has killed a number of British agents and by so doing, brought himself to the attention of "M", who promptly assigns Bond to dispatch him.
There is nothing suave, urbane or even vaguely English about "Pistols" Scaramanga. He first encounters Bond in a brothel that he frequents, later while explaining to a questioning Mafioso, he inelegantly describes it as a:
"Place where I go get my weed and a bit of black tail."
The whole story is pretty much about Bond being sent to kill this reprehensible killer who is basically just trying to squeeze more money out of the mobsters in a hotel investment scheme, fronted by the KGB, in Jamaica. Bond in disguise, acts as his personal bodyguard until he gets a chance to eliminate him. A jungle shootout follows and results in Scaramanga dead and Bond in hospital. End of story!
Does this sound like the civilized and sophisticated playboy of the film? Not hardly. By the time of this, the ninth film, Eon productions had run out of first rate Fleming stories to base films on. They basically grabbed a few characters, Bond, Scaramanga, Mary Goodnight and a title, but discarded the plot. Clearly a wise move, as Bond had become far more than a paid assassin. The audience expected, and still expects, a more menacing and globally important villain. The audience also needed something more internationally appealing as well.
Enter the script. The original screenplay by Tom Mankiewicz, with a heavy overhaul by Richard Maibaum introduced the concept of the screen version of Scaramanga asoutlined in Rubin's book. The final touches must of course be credited to both the enthusiastic direction of Guy Hamilton and of course, Christopher Lee himself. In an interview with John Higgins in The Times, Mr. Lee said:
"When I first read the script I visualized Scaramanga as a straight down the middle heavy. So Guy and I, after a lot of talk, decided to make Scaramanga a littlelike Bond himself, a counter-Bond if you like, instead of the unappetizing thug of the novel."
In his autobiography, Mr. Lee states:
"...it was much to their credit that they radically altered the figure Ian visualized, and replaced this lurid thug with a more diverse character, some ambivalence about his own compulsive sexuality (mysteriously linked to his third nipple, which my doctor surprised me by saying it was not uncommon), an edge of humor and a sense that he is indulging himself in a great game. This was Guy Hamilton's insight, directing me to play his encounter with Bond as an exuberant child."
Chris Knight's interview with Mr. Lee, for Cinefantastique in 1974 adds this:
"Guy Hamilton got something out of me in this picture which I've never been able to show on the screen. In his own words, he got the spook out of me. He got the Dracula out of me. Because, obviously, I can become very menacing, rather heavy, if I'm not careful, even with ordinary lines because I've done it so often. But on this picture, Guy got me to do Scaramanga in such a light way that you can hardly believe this man is as lethal as he is. He got me to smile and even made me laugh, something which, I admit, I haven't found very easy to do as an actor."
In the book, "The Films of Christopher Lee" by Robert W. Pohle Jr. and Douglas C. Hart, Mr. Lee gives his insight as to how he personally viewed the character:
"I saw Scaramanga not as a madman or cold character but as a very human person...and a very inhuman person in many ways. Here was a man who was totally deadly, a professional assassin...a million dollars a hit...professional, intelligent, highly articulate, a first class brain, had worked for the KGB, for whomever would pay. The man was lethal, deadly cold, calculating, brilliant: at the same time quite capable of being amusing witty and charming...A perfect example of how you can play a part and make it more interesting than in the book."
The performance by Mr. Lee is certainly one of his most memorable, more so, perhaps, than the film itself. There is a sly smile never far from his lips throughout the film. It is clear that he has taken Guy Hamilton's advice about "...an exuberant child..." to heart. I can’t help but wonder if some of the joy apparent on screen isn't a reflection of Mr. Lee's own pleasure in working on this film? He clearly appears to be enjoying himself. He moves about with a cat-like grace and without the viewer realizing it, literally steals the film from Roger Moore. The verbal jousting between Bond and Scaramanga is some of the best verbal interplay between Bond and a villain that the series ever produced. The sequence where Scaramanga calmly assembles the gun and kills Hai Fat is also remarkable. All charming and cool menace, but with a deadly pay-off. The throwaway line about putting Hai Fat in his mausoleum is a classic quip, and surprisingly for a Bond film, isn't made by the lead. That seems to be the real issue with this film, who is the lead? Scaramanga is likely the most sympathetic villain ever placed opposite Bond and repeatedly steals his thunder. He is really what Bond might have been, had he not been a representative of Her Majesty's Secret Service. I suspect that I'm not alone in cheering for the villain in this one! In this case, the question of faithfulness to original text was, in my opinion, wisely tossed aside making for a truly memorable world class villain, that not only suited the screen world of James Bond, but improved the series as a result.
"Tall, Dark and Gruesome" by Christopher Lee. Midnight Marquee Press, Inc. 1999
"The Films of Christopher Lee" by Robert W. Pohle Jr. and Douglas C. Hart. The Scarecrow Press Inc. 1983
"Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" by Alan Barnes & Marcus Hearn. The Overlook Press, Inc. 1998
"The Essential Bond" by Lee Pfeiffer & Dave Worrall. Harper Collins Publishers Inc. 1999
"The Complete James Bond Encyclopedia" By Steven Jay Rubin. Contemporary Books Inc. 1995
"The Man with the Golden Gun" by Ian Fleming. Jonathan Cape Ltd. 1965