With the moderate success of Roger Moore’s first outing as James Bond, in the southern fried Live and Let Die, producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman decided to have Bond return to the Far East in a thriller that would pit the world’s most famous secret agent against an evil alter ego, a notorious assassin who uses a golden gun.
As is standard for most Bond films The Man with the Golden Gun bears very little resemblance to Ian Fleming’s book, in the novel Bond is after a Cuban assassin named Scaramanga who is believed to have killed several British secret agents and is now working with both American gangsters and the KGB to destabilize Western interests in the Caribbean’s sugar industry, which would increase the value of the Cuban sugar crop, running drugs into America, smuggling prostitutes from Mexico into America and operating casinos in Jamaica that would cause friction between tourists and the local people. Sounds like an awesome plan, right? Well, pretty much none of that happens in this film. In the movie adaptation James Bond (Roger Moore) is called into ‘M’s (Bernard Lee ) office and is told that MI6 had received a golden bullet etched with ‘007’ on it, which implies that Bond is to be the next target of world-renowned hitman known as Francisco Scaramanga (Christopher Lee) and thus Bond is pulled off his current mission, which was to find a missing energy scientist named Gibson (Gordon Everett) who has invented something called the “Solex Agitator” which is a revolutionary solar energy device that could end the energy crisis, and he is sent after Scaramanga instead.
Note: Christopher Lee depicts Scaramanga as a shadowy reflection of Bond and is easily one of the more interesting foes to face off against Bond.
The plot to The Man with the Golden Gun doesn’t make a lot of sense, something to do with Scaramanga getting into bed with a Thai millionaire industrialist named Hai Fait (Richard Loo), who had employed Scaramanga to assassinate Gibson and get the Solex, but mostly the film is about Scaramanga wanting to test his skills against a worthy opponent ie Bond. The film opens with an American gangster being brought to Scaramanga’s private island to ostensibly kill him, hired by Scaramanga’s dwarf manservant Nick Nack (Hervé Villechaize) and lured into an elaborate funhouse type shooting gallery. The gangster is handily dispatched by Scaramange but while “touring” this shooting gallery we see that Scaramanga has a wax statue of James Bond, who Scaramanga clearly considers to be a worthy opponent. Question: Where would someone like Scaramange get a lifelike statue of James Bond?
The problem here is that we later learn that the golden bullet etched with “007” was actually sent by Scaramanga’s mistress Andrea Anders (Maud Adams), who had hoped Bond would track down and kill her rather dangerous and mentally unbalanced lover, and throughout the film Scaramanga allows Bond to live – he inexplicably leaves him alive on multiple occasions – and their final confrontation is only due to Bond chasing after the Solex and a kidnapped fellow agent. So we are left wondering if Scaramanga actually wanted a duel with Bond or if he simply wanted to admire his career from afar, the movie is never clear on this part. What is clear is the film’s opinion on women, and it’s not a good one. First, we get the aforementioned Andrea Anders, who is murdered by Scaramanga after sleeping with Bond and stealing the Solex, which once again proves that Bond is worse than a sexually transmitted disease.
Secondly, we have Mary Goodnight (Britt Ekland) an astoundingly stupid blonde British agent who is sent to help Bond and basically serves as a receptacle for Bond’s slew of sexual innuendos and double entendres, now, we do get one brief moment of hope when she rebuffs one of his advances by saying “Oh, darling, I’m tempted. But, killing a few hours as one of your passing fancies isn’t quite my scene.” Unfortunately that resistance is short-lived as moments later she shows up in his room dressed in a nighty, and when Bond asks “What made you change your mind?” her response is “I’m weak.” This is a far cry from Britt Ekland’s more interesting pairing with Christopher Lee in The Wicker Man and her turn here as Holly Goodnight will go down as one of the worst Bond Girls.
Roger Moore’s turn as James Bond in this outing is a little harder to enjoy, at least when compared to what we see in his later films, his violence and attitude towards women may have worked for Connery’s Bond but here it seems rather out of character. When Moore isn’t torturing a woman he’s pushing some poor kid into the water which makes him seem cruel and callous and not the charming and suave Bond we think of when Moore’s incarnation of Bond comes to mind. The Man with the Golden Gun does have some solid action set-pieces and a couple of excellent hand-to-hand combat moments, which Moore pulls off quite well, but then director Guy Hamilton thought bringing back the racist sheriff J.W. Pepper (Clifton James) was a good idea and it really hamstrings the second act of the film. I understand the character was a fan favourite from Live and Let Die but he is completely out of place in this outing and that Bond runs into him twice, while zipping around Thailand, is patently ridiculous and unnecessary.
• Nick Nack hiring killers to attack his master is very reminiscent of Cato attacking his boss, Inspector Clouseau, in the Pink Panther movies.
• Scaramanga is believed to have killed agent 002 so it’s rather odd that in the five years since then that MI6 hadn’t put more of an effort to find and take out this notorious assassin.
• Bond poses as the mysterious Scaramanga to get a meeting with Chinese millionaire industrialist Hai Fait yet he acts surprised that Fait doesn’t know of famous British agent James Bond, but if Bond is so famous he’s risking the fact that Hai Fat may have recognized him at first sight, third nipple disguise notwithstanding.
• Bond being saved by Agent Hip’s young nieces, who wades through a horde of martial arts trained goons as if they’re nothing, is easily one of the few great feminist moments in the franchise.
• Sadly, that Hip accidentally leaves Bond behind, driving away like a clueless idiot, is one of the dumbest moments in the franchise.
• If Anders was the one to send MI6 the golden bullet, in the hopes Bond would kill Scaramanga, why did she make Bond twist her arm for information when they first meet?
• The use of the slide whistle sound effect when Bond’s car did that amazing corkscrew jump completely undercut what was clearing an amazing car stunt.
• The villain’s lair isn’t destroyed by Bond this time out, instead, it’s Holly Goodnight who is responsible for knocking a henchman into a liquid helium vat that causes the plant’s temperature to spiral out of control.
• Why would Nick Nack try and kill Bond after Scaramanga’s defeat? It was established that Nick Nack was Scaramanga’s heir so why would he risk his life trying to take out James Bond?
Note: In the end, Nick Nack is not killed by Bond, instead he suffers a rather humiliating defeat by being stuffed in a suitcase, which is not something your standard Bond henchman would ever have had to put up with.
The Man with the Golden Gun is one of the weaker Bond entries – though far from the worst – which is a shame when you consider the fact that it has Christopher Lee as the film’s primary villain but instead of getting a true match for Bond we got a villain who turns out to be nothing more than a glorified henchman with delusions of grandeur. This is no slam on Christopher Lee whose performance is spot on but on the weak script that gave his character a ludicrous plot that didn’t match his personal motivations. Worse is the fact that they gave him a giant laser gun that was practically pointless. Why give Christopher Lee a giant laser gun and not have him demand world domination? There is some fun to be had in a viewing of this particular spy adventure, most of that due to Christopher Lee always being a joy to watch, it’s only sad that they didn’t have a script worthy of him.
Trivia Note: Christopher Lee worked in British Intelligence during WWII and later he was tasked with helping to track down Nazi war criminals. Where’s that movie?
The Man with teh Golden Gun (1974)
Movie Rank - 6.5/10
This middling to fair Bond film has us travelling to exotic locales filled with action and danger but we still have to deal with a script that lacked any sense of self-awareness and a villain who though underutilized was still more interesting than Bond.