"The Man with the Golden Gun:" A Bad Book Amongst a Popular Craze
"We don't want to have Bond to dinner, or go golfing with Bond, or talk to Bond.
We want to be Bond!"--Ann S. Boyd
This perception of this James Bond phenomenon seems an accurate one--Bondmania has infiltrated modern society since its introduction in the 1950's by author Ian Fleming. Every Bond book graced the silver screen in an action-packed thriller, several Bond
movies have been made without a book as its predecessor, and new authors have continued the Bond literary tradition despite Fleming's death. It seems as though the world cannot give up James Bond. And based on the success of the newest Bond flick, "Tom
orrow Never Dies," the craze does not intend on fading. What is the allure behind James Bond? The books began the fad forty years ago with a suave British hero who always beat the bad guy and always won the girl. Sean Connery as James Bond in Hollywood
elevated the series from the literary genre, and turned the Bond phenomenon from the books to the movies, where it continues to thrive today. "The Man with the Golden Gun" was Fleming's last Bond novel and was published posthumously in 1965. Despite F
leming's success with his famous creation, this novel was not well-liked by critics, even though it graced the bestseller list for fifteen weeks in a row. Its movie portrayal in 1974 fared no better and was equally slammed by critics. However, despite t
he negative reviews of "The Man with the Golden Gun," the book and movie shared a very important role: they continued the James Bond tradition, added to its mystique, and kept the Bond image alive in the minds of modern society.
Even Fleming's staunch supporters were not kind in their reviews of "The Man with the Golden Gun." "It's a sad, empty tale," claimed Bond fan Kinsley Amis of The New Statesman. "The rank-and-file villains, too, have been reduced in scale." Anthony Bou
cher of the New York Times Book Review concurred: "This posthumous story contains no imaginative criminal plot, no worthy Bond-antagonist, and not even a Bond-girl." These observations are in part correct. The book's villain, Pistols Scaramanga, is not
frightful to any extent, and never seems to pose a real threat to Bond's prowess. Even Goldfinger and Doctor No made Bond sweat. Additionally, Fleming did not bother to invent a new and exciting Bond girl. He reverts to an old favorite, Mary Goodnight,
who does not play a major role in the plot, is not ever in any, and who meekly claims she will nurse Bond to health in the end. The few supporters of the book did so only on the grounds that some old Bond elements still existed. The New Yorker claimed
that "Scaramanga is a satisfactorily detestable monster, and the setting, as so often in Bond's distinguished past, is Jamaica." But even the nice reviewers had something negative to say about the book. "There is little else here to recall those earlier
days," the New Yorker continued. The movie, though retaining nothing of the original book's plot, was equally detestable. Mr. Showbiz, and Internet movie review site, calls it the "worst James Bond film of all time." As Time magazine put it, "It may h
ave been just as well that Fleming died when everybody still thought he could do no wrong."
If "The Man with the Golden Gun" was such a terrible book, then why was it a bestseller? There are several reasons for this phenomenon. This was the last book in a long line of 13 action-packed novels. Presumably, the final bout of Bondness should hav
e been satisfying to fans. Strong predecessors probably helped to boost the sales of "The Man with the Golden Gun." Secondly, this book was published posthumously, so it was the final true Bond story to come from Fleming's typewriter. Today, there exis
t such writers as John Gardner who continue Bond's adventures, but 007 was Fleming's brainchild. In addition, Fleming's name carried the ratings. In fact, Fleming's publisher claimed that one "Casino Royale" was sold every six and a half minutes--and th
at was only Fleming's first book (Lane 148). Bond's popularity was so large that President Kennedy named "From Russia, with Love" as number nine on his top ten list of favorite books (Lane 148). This sort of publicity increased Bond's popularity immens
ely, and fans continued to buy the books, regardless of the critics' words. Bond novels were always guaranteed to pack a lot of action and a lot of vice in 150 pages. Readers were not looking for great literature. "Don't try to read any of the Bond adv
entures seriously!" cries Ann S. Boyd, author of "The Devil with James Bond!" Though "The Man with the Golden Gun" contains considerably less sex, alcohol, and violence then normal, readers still learn such nuggets of knowledge as how to skin and eat a r
aw snake. Even if the book didn't deliver, it carried such an enormous amount of weight (Fleming's name, Bond's name, and a notorious reputation) that it was sure to sell. And sell it did: almost 100,000 cloth copies in the first year.
By the time "The Man with the Golden Gun" was published, the world came to expect a certain Bond image. What does this image consist of? To most, it is one of extreme adventure, intellectual prowess, and smooth, suave conduct. Bond always wears the m
ost expensive of suits, does the most daring of acts, and completes his mission. Additionally, he always gets the girl, and the last chapter of every book is devoted to a love scene. Many of the themes and figures in Bond novels are blatantly sexual. S
caramanga's golden gun is hinted at as a manifestation of his penis size. Fleming's women all have sexual names: Octopussy, Pussy Galore, Holly Goodhead, Plenty O'Toole, Goodnight, and Onnatop. "He is a gentleman always knowing what he wants, where to g
et it, and always having the money to pay for it" (Ibarguengoitia, 98). James Bond has retained a certain mystique since the 1950's that has not diminished despite a span of forty years:
James Bond is the best marksman of the Secret Service, has a magnificent body, is very handsome, dresses like no other, drinks like a fish and never gets drunk, conquers all women. If that's not enough, he has a knife attached to the sole of his shoe. (
Bond seems the ultimate fantasy to both men and women. Men want to be him...they want to exude sex and adventure and bed gorgeous women. Today, men take their sons to see the new Bond movies in hope of catching a glimpse of nostalgia (Smith). Conversel
y, women become caught up in Bond's sexy image and fantasize of being a Bond girl and shamelessly caught in his arms. These fantasies were not necessarily formulated because of the novels...Hollywood and Sean Connery have contributed to this rise in Bond
The James Bond phenomenon has affected modern culture in many different ways. The Bond image was found everywhere in the 1960's and continues to be popular today. Bond has proved to be very marketable, and this characteristic has boosted the hero out o
f the literary genre and into the lives of Americans and Brits alike. Boyd explains the infiltration of the Bond image in society:
The ubiquitous symbol of secret agent 007 was found everywhere--from bread and bubblegum to men's fashions and toiletries, from parlor games to children's dolls and paper dolls, from his own image to that of imitations in books, films, and television seri
es. More than two hundred commercial products were authorized to carry the official trademark, while hundreds of others hitched onto the Bond-wagon surreptitiously. (Boyd, 26).
Indeed, Bond toys were found everywhere in the 1960's. A child's attaché case full of Bond gadgets manufactured in 1965 sold for $1000 in 1992 (James Bond Toys). Dolls marketed by Sears sell for almost $300 today (James Bond Toys). Today, car replicas
from the movies and video games are still top sellers. A CD-ROM entitled "The Ultimate James Bond Interactive Dossier" has proved extremely popular and is critically acclaimed. In 1996 the first James Bond Jamaica Festival was held at Fleming's home, ti
tled "Goldeneye" in Jamaica, and over 1,000 Bond fans attended (Economist). Obviously, Bondmania has had its toll on Americans' wallets as well as their hearts. But there is more to Bond's popularity than merchandise sales.
James Bond offered fans of the 1950's and 60's an escape from reality and a supposedly inside look into the spy world, of which they were curious because of current world events. Hero figures abound in modern society, from Superman and other comic book
characters to Tara Lipinski and other sports figures. These figures act as role models for children and adults alike, and Bond represents the spy genre. On first glance, he has no faults and thus seems perfect for this role. Boyd believes "there is a r
eal need for a hero figure who can cope uniquely with contemporary insecurities" (55). In the 1960's , contemporary insecurities certainly included the Cold War, which was raging at the time. Bond offered a buffer against Cold War fears, and soothed the
minds of the public. Because of the Cold War, public curiosity for the spy world peaked (Boyd 56). During that time it seemed as if spies were all over the world, and that the public was kept in the dark about the secret happenings of their respective
leaders. Bond offered an inside look into this world. No matter how far-fetched Bond's adventures were, they offered a link between contemporary society and government secrecy. Boyd writes:
The very real yet mysterious world of the spies has become an object of concern for the average citizen who suddenly realizes that his own night's sleep might depend upon the activities or information gathered by some secret agent halfway around the world
The spy world thus seemed to have "appalling relevance to the real life myth and fantasy of the day" (Boyd 57). Bond helped reduce the Cold War tensions to a more human scale. Though he was an imaginary hero, he was nonetheless real, fighting the evils
of the world. In fact, he almost seemed to fit into the friendly neighborhood policeman image, increasing the safety of the public. As ridiculous as this identification might seem, it provided a link between the average citizen and the frightening outsid
e world. In addition, he represented the ideal model of how to deal with human relations. His motto was to use women, not love them (Boyd 62). This seemed perfect...he could fulfill his sexual desires without becoming emotionally attached. Because emo
tional attachment leads to heartache and pain, the public envied Bond because he did not possess this quality. He seemed incapable of hurting emotionally, and this feature contributed to his popularity. Finally, Bond bridged the gap between fantasy and
It appears that there is a constant tendency in man's nature which results in a flight from reality into fantasy, a retreat into the timeless myths of superhuman heroes who are able to conquer varying symbols of evil. The progression therefore from the s
habby reality of the actual secret agent to that of the fantastic exploits in the Bond movies and their derivations might be expected to result in the even more unrealistic figures of Superman and Batman (105).
Making the secret image seem more real and more plausible gave something to Bond fans that comic book characters didn't give: a sense of identity. Viewers watched Connery in seeming reality outwit the most vile of characters and identified with his human
qualities. This sense of identity boosted public morale, heightened their sense of security during the Cold War, and gave Bond one of the most popular hero ratings in history.
The Bond books were written during the same era, but the movies have appeared over the last forty years. This large time span of Bond movie production provides a map of cultural change since the 1960's. Anthony Lane of The New Yorker claims:
007 is riding higher than ever in the cinemas, and therefore in the public mind--a ride that is pulling him ever further away from the mind that conceived him. Fleming's fiction, both in spirit and in detail, is now deemed to be so outdated that I should
probably have looked for it on the history shelf. James Bond is doing just fine; it is Ian Fleming who needs help (148).
This new Bond image is the one today's fans see in "Goldeneye" and "Tomorrow Never Dies." What are the differences? Firstly, the foes are quite different. In the early days, Bond fought such villains as SMERSH and SPECTRE and communism. Now, he spars
with Elliot Carver, the "media baron" from "Tomorrow Never Dies." Claims Daniel Leab, a Seton Hall University professor, Bond as "gone from being an anti-Communist, to fighting rogue generals, to being against a combination of Bill Gates, Rupert Murdoch
and William Randolph Hearst" (Smith). Even the women have changed. In the new flick, Bond works with a Chinese communist (Michelle Yeoh), instead of fighting against her. Toby Miller, a New York University professor, states "the women are the key to th
e evolution of the Bond films" (Smith). He refers to one of Yeoh's own fight scenes, in which Bond is not even present. "She doesn't need Bond's approval and protection," Miller says (Smith). The Cold War is over, yet the Bond craze persists. This lon
gevity has to do with Bond's chameleon effect: he changes with the times. The foes are different, the girls may be more aggressive, but the movies still offer a suave hero that always saves the day.
Despite Bond's fame, he is by no means without strong criticism. Bond has faults too, even though his fans don't like to admit it. Fleming was obviously not without faults, either. After all, he produced a terrible novel: "The Man with the Golden Gun.
" Bond's image is centered around superficiality. This is seen in the novels as well as the movies. For example, the phrases "Bond, James Bond" and "shaken, not stirred" originated from the novels, not from the movies. Such lines make Bond out to be
as a superficial hero that relies on such trivialities as his name and his liquor preference to carry his mystique. This superficiality is readily admitted in The Economist: "Bond, of course, is a fiction. Perhaps the real secret of his staying-power is
as a marketing device. Bond taught fans less how to kill (himself or others) than how to shop, for Cartiers, Aston Martins and designer clothes." And these comments were just centered on the novels. The movies offer this same superficiality as well.
Bond drives a new car in every film. Also pertinent are Bond's faults overlooked by the audience. He drinks and smokes way too much, though he never seems intoxicated. He is a womanizer. "Men's Health" claims: "the drink, the smokes and the brothel-cr
eeping would have got him long before Oddball or political correctness did" (Economist). Additionally, Fleming constantly faced criticism about his unpolitically correct themes and even for racist passages aimed at Jamaican natives. "Fleming's creation
has long been chided, with naive literalness, for racism, sexism and countless other failings in regard to others" (Economist). Despite these problems, and despite their glaring visibility, Bond thrives. Lane writes: "There is something dark and nasty a
bout slipping into the poisoned moral swamp of Fleming's tales while the bright, silly plots fade from view."
Forty years later, the James Bond craze is still going strong. Granted, "The Man with the Golden Gun" has long faded from the public's memory, and remains just one in a successful series. But despite its shortcomings, it nonetheless continued the Bond
tradition. Based on the ratings of "Tomorrow Never Dies," "The Man with the Golden Gun" did its job, because the tradition is still successful. The new audiences enjoy the suspense of new movies, while older viewers enjoy the nostalgia. At such a large
success rate, it seems as if Bondmania will never die. But as all fads go, it must die sometime, possibly when the world no longer needs a secret agent as a hero.