Of all the james bond films, The Man with the Golden Gun is probably the one that most inspired those definitive spy spoofs, the Austin Powers films (Jay Roach, 1997–2002). Everything in it is incredibly camp. There is a villain with a private island, a giant laser and a midget manservant. There is much 1970s-style faux kung fu of the ‘Judo chop!’ type. And one of the plot’s chief calamities is brought about by Britt Ekland’s sexpot secret agent not watching where she is thrusting her beautiful, bikini-clad bottom. None of this, though, sums up the ridiculousness of the movie as well as the golden gun.
Owned by Christopher Lee’s expert assassin, Francisco Scaramanga, the precious pistol is built from a pen, cufflinks, a cigarette lighter and a cigarette case, and fires only one – 23-carat gold – bullet. The film seems uncertain whether the weapon is the deadliest gun in the world (thus glorifying it as an object) or, as a single-shot, soft-metal handgun that has to be precisely assembled before it can be fired, one of the most difficult to use (thus emphasizing Scaramanga’s prowess as a marksman).
As such, the gun is exceptionally silly and utterly wonderful. It is emblematic of a particular type of popcorn movie from the 1960s and 1970s that, considered in retrospect, seems so suffused with self-parody it is astounding Mike Myers and Jay Roach found so much in it left to mock. The golden gun is a quintessential action movie object: it seems impressive and yet, in reality, it would be totally useless. No real hit man would seriously consider using it and no secret agent with access to the cutting edge arsenal of Her Majesty’s Secret Service would fear any encounter with one who did. Consequently, Sacaramanga’s pistol sums up the ethos of the Bond movies far better than more obvious objects, such as the Aston Martin DB9 or 007’s own handgun, the Walther PPK. Indeed, the golden gun has such appeal that in 2008 a version of it, valued at £80,000, was stolen – possibly by an international criminal mastermind – from the props department at London’s Elstree Studios.