The editors of this august publication made this request of your humble scribe:
"We want you to write a piece for HMSS."
I'm honoured, filled with a sense of pride. My spirits soar. I feel like Sally Field on that Oscar night many moons ago I'm liked.
My elation is suddenly swept away by a tsunami of fear. I cower, resembling Fekkesh confronted by Jaws at the Pyramids (See, there is some Bond content to be found here at last, folks!)
"I don't know what to write!"
"It's going to be a special issue on villains," Big Paulie continues, ignoring the quivering wreck before him.
"Yeah," chimes in the verbose henchman, Tom Z.
"Bond villains? I don't have anything I want to write about Bond villains!" I squawk
"Not the usual stuff," the big man declares.
I'm at a loss. Bond villains what could I possibly write? Suddenly, a thunderball from the blue -- I speak my mind: "I've always thought Franz Sanchez had a crush on James Bond."
Big Paulie's mouth plops open like a landed trout's. The silent henchman is at a loss for any of the few remaining words left in his possession. Expressions not dissimilar to that of Jaws when ripping off his own steering wheel on approach to a waterfall cross their faces.
"I'm serious! It's a fascinating aspect of a film I find, by and large, lacking anything interesting," I plead.
The reactions could not have been worse had I suggested Casino Royale could do with a couple of musical numbers
The world of Bond, in book and film, has a patchy history at best when tackling the subject of homosexuality. In Goldfinger, Fleming has Bond pity homosexuals, or "pansies" as Fleming has Bond refer to them. They are seen as a confused bunch, mainly the result of the increasing move towards sexual equality with Bond believing they're not truly homosexual, just a bunch of "sexual misfits" suffering from a hormone imbalance! Bond is sorry for them, but has little time for them.
Whilst it's possible to mount a reasonable defence of Fleming's novels against accusations of sexism -- many of Fleming's female characters are empowered, independent and strong -- it's probably harder to counter charges of homophobia when his main character harbours sentiments such as these. In one amusing passage in The Man With The Golden Gun, of which more later, Fleming has M suggest homosexuals are incapable of whistling!
The majority of homosexual characters in Fleming's fiction: Rosa Klebb; Pussy Galore; Wint and Kidd, are all villains. That is at least until Bond converts Pussy Galore from a life of crime, and lesbianism, in what must be one of the most controversial elements in the entire Fleming oeuvre. Fleming writes that Ms Galore offers the same sexual challenge all beautiful lesbians offer to men, and then has Bond succeed where mere mortals fail. It could be argued Fleming had, in fact, created a bi-sexual character at a time when bi-sexuality wasn't viewed as a choice and Bond had merely appealed to her taste for male companions. Tilly Masterson, on the other hand, is a lesbian not swayed at all by Bond's charms and is the only homosexual character on the side of the angels.
This is made all the more fascinating considering some of the suggestions regarding Fleming's private life hinted at in Robert Sellers' The Battle for Bond.
In 1963's film of From Russia with Love, Rosa Klebb's homosexuality is readily apparent, yet Pussy Galore's lesbianism in 64's Goldfinger, is considerably toned down, presumably lest it give offence to gay and straight persons alike. Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd, portrayed as a pair of vicious homosexual killers in Fleming's Diamonds Are Forever, become a couple of camp characters in the 1971 Bond film, one even taking delight at Bond thrusting a time-bomb into his genitals! Even Charles Gray's Blofeld seems just a little too camp in this outing, although he does take time to appreciate Jill St John's derriere, so perhaps he's not so gay after all
Even Mads Mikkelsen believed the line in which Le Chiffre expresses his admiration for Bond's body in 2006's Casino Royale suggested an undercurrent of homosexuality to the character.
Which brings us back to Fleming's The Man with the Golden Gun, (told you we'd get back there) the novel which insists Gay Guys Can't Whistle.
Fleming's final novel was rumoured to have been vetted by future continuation novelist Kingsley Amis prior to its posthumous publication. It has even been suggested the book was far from finished and Amis performed ghost writing duties. Any efforts Amis may or may not have made seem to have been in vein, as the novel is arguably the weakest of the Bond books, but it does offer intriguing little parallels with the Bond film, Licence to Kill. The novel features an undercover Bond entering into the confidences of the villain with a view to bringing him down; pretty much the same method employed by Bond in the 1989 film. Franz Sanchez, like "Pistols" Scaramanga, is a common hood, curiously small-time for a Bond villain; he is also vulgar and crude. Scaramanga and Sanchez may also have another thing in common: an attraction to James Bond.
In his James Bond Dossier, Kingsley Amis suggests Fleming had written the impotent Scaramanga as a frustrated homosexual. This suggestion has been roundly refuted and ignored, and it's likely that was not Fleming's intention. However, I am going to proffer the suggestion 1989's Licence to Kill took this idea and ran with it . a little.
When we first encounter Sanchez he has rather foolishly comes out of hiding to venture into US territory in pursuit of a woman, Lupe Lamora. A woman we are supposed to believe is his lover, yet when Sanchez finally catches up with Lupe we learn that not only are her "escapades getting more creative" (i.e. she has done this before), but that Sanchez, Mr. Loyalty, is content to whip Lupe with a sting-ray's tail whilst cutting out the heart of her lover. Quite why Sanchez is prepared to cut Lupe slack is never adequately explained. Sanchez seems to display little interest in the woman and, presumably with his money and influence, could get any woman he wants - and one with a greater sense of loyalty. What exactly Sanchez gets out of whipping Lupe makes for interesting discussion, is he just a woman-beating creep or is their an element of self-loathing because Sanchez cannot satisfy Lupe so she seeks the company of other men?
Indeed it seems Sanchez shows greater affection for his henchman Dario (portrayed by an unbelievably young, slim and handsome Benicio Del Toro), gently stroking the young man's face whilst warning Milton Krest to keep his hands off Lupe, than he ever shows Lupe. Later, he even shares a hug and a kiss with the man when the Stinger missiles are being loaded.
Is this just plain old Latin machismo or something more?
The eventual face to face meeting between Bond and Sanchez offers an intriguing subtext should one look deep enough. Whilst it plays out like one of those routine Spaghetti Western face-offs with sly insults giving way to cautious chuckles of admiration all round, there is a fascinating bit of business from Robert Davi buried in the middle. Just as Bond offers his services to Sanchez, and makes mention of the villain's reputation from rewarding loyalty very well (advertised in "Drug Dealers' Monthly" one supposes) Davi's reaction is extraordinary, he's initially at a loss for words, almost rendered breathless by Bond's offer. He then catches himself and continues, but it is a very interesting acting choice from Davi. The scene then ends with Sanchez willingly offering his hand to Bond, after initially refusing the British agent's handshake at the top of the scene.
Their next encounter commences with Bond waking in a guest room at the Sanchez household and stepping out to a waiting Sanchez, who embraces Bond warmly, with little reason for him to do so. Now it's the turn of Timothy Dalton's Bond to be thrown. He is genuinely puzzled by Sanchez's sudden concern and affection. Sanchez at this point has leapt to all the right conclusions, as far as Bond is concerned, and Bond can play him at will, with Sanchez lapping up every word. Sanchez even insists Bond remain his guest. Yes, it's more than likely down to the deficiencies of the script as opposed to Sanchez really falling under Bond's spell, but the latter does add extra layers, no?
Following the death of Krest, Sanchez cannot wait to get back to Bond. He even enters the man's room in the middle of the night and wakes him. Of course, this is designed to increase the suspense, with the audience wondering if Bond will get back in time before he is discovered to have been involved in setting Krest up, but the fact that Sanchez has entered Bond's room, sits on his bed and showers him with gifts of money does add another element to a routine scene.
Then there's the finale, an enraged Sanchez has Bond at his mercy, machete drawn back to deliver the fatal blow, yet Sanchez cannot help voicing the lament: "You could have had everything!" What does he mean "everything"? And why does he wait for Bond to tell him why he betrayed him?
"He means the money and the drugs, you dope!"
I was told by HMSS editor "Special" Ed W during my pitch. I know that. However, again, with a little imagination, it could be open to interpretation.
So, doubtless you too are reading this, slack-jawed and incredulous, like my HMSS colleagues, but give it a little thought next time you're watching Licence to Kill. I know it's a stretch, and doubtless writer Michael Wilson would tell me I'm way off base and, ultimately, who cares if Sanchez is gay (not that there's anything wrong with that)?
But, for me, it does offer new depth to an otherwise shallow Bond outing.
Copyright © 2008 Mac McSharry
Contact the Author: MAC McSHARRY
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