M pulls Bond off of a mission involving the current energy crisis, because he's been marked for death by the eponymous Francisco Scaramanga. Scaramanga is so good, he charges a million dollars per kill, and appears to have sent a warning to 007. M implicitly authorises Bond to hunt down and assassinate him, in order to restore his suitability as a field agent. Scaramanga appears to be more than a match for Bond, and a game of cat and mouse ensues, as the assassin searches for the means to power his solar cannon.
It's not the most empathetic career goal imaginable, but then he does also wind up trying to kill James Bond, and with what I've seen of Roger Moore's Bond so far, that's entirely reasonable. To me, Scaramanga is like Hank Scorpio, the spoof Bond villain who Homer winds up working under in The Simpsons. Though not as nice as Scorpio, he's reasonable enough, quite politely telling Bond to fuck off a couple of times, expressing no malice towards the guy as long as he stays out of his way.
The rest of the film, in tone and execution, approaches total anarchy. It cherry-picks from a number of different influences. It seems to make a pass at martial-arts cinema, following on from Live And Let Die's prevalent blaxploitative leanings. But this lasts for all of one setpiece, and all else is down to the largely Asian locations in which the film is set. There's a second-stringer bad guy called Hai Fat, but he's superseded by Scaramanga, both figuratively and literally, as the villain kills him halfway through.
The far more notable legacy of Live And Let Die is the exponential increase in piss-poor comedy. Unfortunately, this also means a return for Clifton James' character, bad-ol'-boy Sheriff J.W. Pepper. I cannot imagine that there is a worse character in any of the Bond films than this redneck cartoon character, who brings yet more racist invective to enhance the fun of another boat chase. And even though screenwriters Richard Maibaum and Tom Mankiewicz saw fit to include him in this pivotal sequence, you can tell by the way they use him that they had no fucking clue about why.
Similarly, Roger Moore's interpretation of the character seems to have gone from magnificent bastard to incompetent arsehole. Scaramanga may have a bunch of weird, mind-bending tricks at his disposal, such as his fearsome reputation, an island house of horrors for a HQ and a diminutive henchman called Nick Nack, but that's no excuse for some of his Bondfoolery here. When even Nick Nack gives him trouble at the film's ridiculous conclusion, the character seems to have lost any and all of the nous he's displayed in the previous eight instalments.
I haven't found a lot of time to praise Bernard Lee's M, in the previous eight months of BlogalongaBond, but finally, in The Man With The Golden Gun, I think I appreciated him most. Bond's boss starts off by deflating an unnecessarily convoluted chunk of exposition with a much-needed laugh, and thereafter, he's as frustrated by 007's gross incompetence as I was. That makes him one of two characters in the film who I actually sympathise with. Unfortunately, the other is Scaramanga.
|OK, I admit this part was pretty cool.|
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The Mad Prophet Will Return, With The Spy Who Loved Me... in October.