The Man with the Golden Gun (Guy Hamilton, 1974) is small-scale Bond. The film runs counter to the logic of the franchise which routinely seeks to up its spectacle in order to consistently grow the appeal of the formula and steer off competition. Roger Moore’s second outing as the iconic MI6 agent did not match the scale of this strategy given its intimate focus on a personal Western-style duel. Pairing Bond with a nemesis of his calibre is a strong and sensible concept given the film’s play with martial arts culture. What has made it the locus of much criticism is its campy engagement overtly outlandish gadgets and scenarios, epitomized by the titular villain’s flying car.
I still value the basic premise of the film, the competition between Bond and Scaramanga, played by screen titan Christopher Lee whose role, unfortunately, is too thin and obscure to ever materialize into a true opponent for Bond. Setting the scene for a confrontation between the two most accomplished gunslingers in the world is a fan-centric construct, but the narrative remains too conceptual throughout the film, while shenanigans and antics take over.
Like every Bond film, even those generally considered lower-tier, the film has well-designed action and suspense sequences that remain stimulating. In The Man with the Golden Gun, it is the final duel between Bond and Scaramanga which crystallizes the film’s theme of hubris, all the while putting the more ridiculous elements of the horror cabinet setting to good use. The motoring gaze of surveillance cameras, and the doubling reflections of mirrors create a panoptic environment that manages to immersive, almost submerge, viewers. It is a cinematic vision of the Vertigo effect, displayed multiple times over the course of the film.
Still, The Man with the Golden Gun remains but a small exercise in the Bond franchise, and at the time both audiences and critics largely dismissed it. I still find myself drawn to the premise, but the film unfortunately does not develop an engaging story around it. The lukewarm reception of the film may also be tied to Moore’s performance which still oscillated between his television roots and an unsuccessful Sean Connery impression. This would change, however, with the subsequent entry in the series.
This blog will return with … The Spy Who Loved Me.