Director: Guy Hamilton
Cast: Roger Moore, Christopher Lee, Maud Adams, Brett Ekland, Herve Villechaize, Soon-Tek Oh, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell, Desmond Llewellyn, Clifton James
Plot: Bond (Moore) is tracking down a missing solar panel scientist, when he is taken off the case, when MI6 realise that the world’s deadliest assassin is tracking him, the Man with the Golden Gun.
I seem to remember not particularly liking this Bond, but when I got to reviewing it, I actually enjoyed it a lot more than I was expecting to.
Someone pointed out to me that most, if not all, of the Moore Bonds were based on a movie, or genre, that was successful at the time. For example, Live and Let Die was a take on the gangster movies of the time, Moonraker is clearly influenced by Star Wars and Octopussy mimics the second Indiana Jones film. With this in mind, it was clear that the Man with the Golden Gun owes a lot to the martial arts movies that were widely popular in the 70s. You could say that I picked up on this vibe, because most of the action is set in Asia, including a scene where Bond fights off pupils from a karate school, that seems to have been directly plucked from ‘Enter the Dragon’. But it goes deeper than that. This is a movie about Bond facing off against his absolute nemesis. Not since Red Grant has Bond been so equally matched. And the main draw of the Man With The Golden Gun is the concept of these two powerful characters, slowly being drawn together for an epic shoot-out. That reminds me so much of martial arts movies and seeing it mimicked here was an enjoyable experience.
Of course, this idea wouldn’t have worked if it wasn’t for the brilliance of Francisco Scaramanga. In the book, we weren’t meant to like the character very much. Fleming based him on a kid who bullied him at school called Scaramanga, depicting him as a shallow assassin, who took pleasure in the pain of others. However, Hamilton takes this figure and breathes a little more depth into it. It helps that he is played by one of the best actors when it comes to nailing the role of creepy villain. Christopher Lee is a very sinister figure. On one hand, he is the other side of the coin to Bond. He is sophisticated, good with his weapons and is always around beautiful women. When Lee wants us to appreciate Scaramanga, he dials up the charm and we get the impression that the actor could have taken on the role of James Bond, in a previous lifetime. However, then there are darker, more eerie moments that really sets Scaramanga apart from other villains. It is the way he gets a sinister smile at the thought of killing someone; the way he caresses his mistress with a Golden Gun, getting some perverse pleasure out of terrifying his woman in bed. I am pretty sure this movie wouldn’t be half as interesting, if it wasn’t for this truly incredible bad guy.
One thing that did surprise me was the fact that Roger Moore actually put in a fairly good performance. Don’t get me wrong, he is still a little wooden and when the movie gets camp and farcical, he makes things worse. But, for one, when it comes to playing Bond straight, he is pretty adept at the role. During the finale, Moore handles exposition heavy scenes with ease, laying out everything in clear terms for the audience members who got lost beforehand. Also, Moore shows a darker, more violent side to Bond, that Connery only hinted at. There is a scene where Bond gets Scaramanga’s mistress alone and it becomes clear that she is too scared to talk. When seduction fails, he gets violent, twisting her arm and slapping her about. It was actually quite shocking, not something we expect our holier-than-thou hero in a 70s film to come out with. As horrible as watching the scene was, we left it respecting Moore a little more. Bond began to feel more dedicated to protecting his Majesty’s Secret Service and was prepared to dirty his hands a little bit more. In many ways, he was becoming more like Scaramanga.
I am sure one of the most memorable scenes from this movie will be the car chase. It is a pretty good one, even if the movie seems determined to ruin it. Clifton James returns, as the infuriating redneck cop, firing off stupid, racial slurs, whenever you are trying to enjoy the action. One of the best Bond stunts of the era – the 360 loop as he drives his car over a river – is almost ruined by an annoying sound effect played over the top of it. Personally, if you want to remember any scene from this movie pick the finale on James Bond Island. Scaramanga’s circus-like maze, where he and Bond have that gentleman’s duel, is probably one of the tensest moments in a Moore Bond. The suspense is brutally thick and we have no idea how it will turn out. It is another tribute to Scaramanga as a villain that he actually gets us believing that he might be the one man who could actually kill James Bond.
Sadly, that is where the good points about the Man With the Golden Gun stop. Mary Goodnight is one of the worst Bond girls yet. Not even Bond seems to want to spend time with her, trying to get rid of the agent whenever he can. He doesn’t even seem particularly bothered when Scaramanga kidnaps her. Brett Ekland is a terrible actress, delivering her dialogue as if she is a last minute addition to a porn parody of James Bond. She is simpering, pathetic and her one contribution to the film is a revealing dress. She suffers one of the most sexist moments in Bond history, when she is shoved in the cupboard, so Bond can sleep with another woman, instead of her. Yet at the same time, Goodnight is so useless that we can’t even summon sympathy for the character. Worse yet is Nick Nack. He is played for laughs and, while the script plays around with his true motivations for a while, it is really hard to take the character seriously. Both Goodnight and Nick Nack almost ruin the film and are a forewarning that we are about to plunge into the deepest part of the Moore era.
Final Verdict: The Man With The Golden Gun gives the audience a stand-off between two great characters. A martial arts movie with a James Bond twist. Thrilling.