Friday, October 12, 2018

Forgotten Books: THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN by Ian Fleming (1965)

I've read this one two or three times since its first publication in 1965, but as with most Bond novels, the images retained in my brain come from the movie. In this case, as in most, those film images have nothing to do with the book. 

To begin with, the titular villain Scaramanga is a crass American, a far cry from the urbane Christopher Lee of the movie. In the audiobook I just finished listening to, he talks like a movie gangster from the '30s, with a touch of cowboy thrown in. And remember that annoying movie midget Nick Nack? He's nowhere to be seen. Also gone is the boxy golden gun of the film. The book's Scaramanga carries a "long-barreled" .45 - longer, no doubt, than the Peacemaker portrayed on the first edition dust jacket, but presumably shorter than Wyatt Earp's Buntline Special. 

Whatever world-beating nonsense Scaramanga was up to in the flim, his plan here is pretty simple. Working with a consortium of American Mafia bosses and a representative of the KGB, he's smuggling Jamaican marijuana into the U.S., and trying to establish a foothold for mob/Russian-owned casinos in the Caribbean. 

There are several nods to the Old West, including a scene where Scaramanga puts on a gun-twirling exhibition, and another where 007's girl Mary Goodnight is presumably tied to the tracks of an onrushing train.

At the time of Fleming's death in 1964, the novel had been completed in polished first draft, but had not been fleshed out with the detail seen in the early Bond books. It is therefore shorter and thinner than the others, and didn't much impress the critics. I found it pretty interesting, though, to see the bare bones story without any attempted literary acrobatics. 

And I found the beginning especially interesting. At the end of the previous book, You Only Live Twice, Bond was presumed KIA in Japan, and his obiturary was published in the London Times. So when he returns to London, demanding to see M, folks are understandably suspicious--and with good cause. He's been brainwashed by the Russians and sent to perform a mission on their behalf. How the story gets from there to his new mission--to kill Scaramanga--is one of those thin spots, where I wish Fleming could have provided more detail. 

The illustrations above are from the 1965 serialization in Playboy, by Howard Mueller. Those below, from the same year, appeared in the Italian newspaper La Domenica Corriere


Unknown said...

When I was in my early teens, at the beginning and height of the 007 phenomenon, the Fleming novels were all over the place in the old Signet editions, Sad to contemplate that, these days, any of them could be considered Forgotten, but I think you're quite correct. If anyone thinks of GOLDEN GUN at all, surely (tragically!), it's the silly Roger Moore movie that comes to mind. GOLDEN GUN, the novel, still held up pretty well when I re-read it a few months ago. I liked the gimmick of the KGB-Mafia conspiracy, but then I've always thought Fleming was at his best when he was at his pulp-iest. I imagine some of the rough spots would have been smoothed over if Fleming had had a chance to flesh out and revise.

TC said...

IIUC, Christopher Lee was considered for the part of Dr. No in 1962.

In an interview, Lee mentioned that Scaramanga was "a common thug" in the novel. He said that he believed the change to a more urbane character was an improvement. He also said that he believed Ian Fleming would have approved.

Gerard Saylor said...

Neat to see the illustrations.