Blog 010: The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)

Going into this rewatch of the James Bond cinematic catalog, there was one movie I was less-than-thrilled to check out again: The Man with the Golden Gun (Guy Hamilton), for the simple reason I remember not liking it at all as a kid, so much so that I hadn’t seen it since its original 2000 DVD release.

Much to my surprise, though, I rather enjoyed seeing The Man with the Golden Gun this time. Its premise is simple but effective, Bond (Roger Moore) pursues the assassin Francisco Scaramanga (Christopher Lee), who appears to be targeting 007. Eventually, Bond discovers a plot involving a solar-powered weapon, a concept that played on contemporary energy crisis fears.

Like Live and Let Die (Guy Hamilton, 1973), the film follows Bond to a variety of settings. While the sequence in Beirut is almost entirely set indoors, there is some great use of locations in and around Hong Kong and Thailand. The island that doubles for Scaramanga’s lair is one of the most incredible locations featured in any Bond film. The Far Eastern setting – like the American and Caribbean setting of Live and Let Die – provided the filmmakers an opportunity to tap into one of the cinematic trends of the moment. Whereas the previous film went in the direction of blaxploitation, here it’s martial arts.

Scaramanga, as played by Lee, is a menacing antagonist, who set a precedent for later villains that see something of themselves in Bond (such as nearly every Pierce Brosnan-era villain). Moore’s Bond, likewise, is at his most menacing here, as we see him brutally handling Scaramanga’s mistress Andrea Anders (Maud Adams, who would return to play the title role in Octopussy [John Glen, 1983]) and pushing a pushy child off a boat (a moment that the UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Moore is certainly not proud of).

But… there are many, many ridiculous things in this film.

The pre-credits sequence doesn’t feature Bond but does introduce Scaramanga, his servant Nick Nack (Hervé Villechaize) and the former’s urgent request of the latter to acquire tabasco sauce. While the idea of pairing Lee and Villechaize is interesting, Nick Nack never appears as threatening as Scaramanga. In fact, his final confrontation with Bond aboard a junk is played for laughs (and his fate is left strangely ambiguous, as if to suggest that the character might return for a future film – which never happened).

While Adams does a good job with Miss Anders’s vulnerability, Britt Ekland’s Mary Goodnight is beautiful but comes off as an idiot. At one point, she nearly kills Bond by accidently hitting a button with her backside.

Also assisting Bond is a character returning from Live and Let Die: the Louisiana sheriff J.W. Pepper (Clifton James), who has decided to vacation with his wife in Thailand. Perhaps 1970s American audiences taken with the Southern movement (typified by bands like Lynyrd Skynyrd, films like Smokey and the Bandit [Hal Needham, 1977], and TV series such as The Dukes of Hazzard [1979-1985]) would’ve been glad to see Sheriff Jay-Dubya Pepper return, but my girlfriend certainly didn’t. In fact, she let out a noticeable groan when he appeared on screen. I guess that’s the problem with the 1970s Bond films having chased so many era-specific trends: not all trends stand the test of time.

Even M (Bernard Lee) seems off here, with some uncomfortably abrasive interactions with Q (Desmond Llewelyn), who I’m sure contemporary audiences were happy to see after his absence from the previous film.

Finally, it’s worth mentioning that this movie features one of the most amazing car stunts of any movie. However, the impact of this stunt is nearly ruined by the confusing accompaniment of a slide whistle on the soundtrack.

Still, The Man with the Golden Gun is never dull. It’s far from the worst Bond movie, but it’s nowhere near as bad as I remember it being. I recommend it for anyone who enjoyed Live and Let Die, given that it attempts to repeat that film’s formula but adds a slide whistle, Kung-fu, and tabasco sauce.

This blog will return with… The Spy Who Loved Me (Lewis Gilbert, 1977).

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