The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)

James Bond film #09 (Roger Moore Bond)

The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)

Roger Moore returns as James Bond in 1974’s The Man With the Golden Gun to uncover a devious plot by an assassin with a third nipple. It was  a year in which the effects of the energy crisis were still at the forefront of Britain’s collective consciousness, so Francisco Scaramanga’s plot involves using newly-developed solar energy to take control of the world. Though Moore made an impressive entrance to the series with Live and Let Die, Golden Gun plays like an attempt to emulate the Connery films. The resulting film is a disappointing follow-up and the worst Bond film in the series so far.

The stand-out feature of Man With the Golden Gun is the titular villain himself, Francisco Scaramanga. Played by Christopher Lee with poise and plenty of sneering, Scaramanga is a sophisticated assassin, a mirror image to James Bond. He’s so competent that he makes a sort of game of his kills, trapping a Chicago gangster in a cheesy funhouse before finally putting him down. Combined with that superfluous nipple, Scaramanga comes off as a strange guy, but it’s a stately sort of weirdness. This “Most Dangerous Game” angle is appropriate for Lee , who’s always been a master of the elegant heel.

The Bond that Scaramanga goes up against is one still in development by Moore, who alternates his portrayal with equal parts cad and asshole. While Connery had playful moments, Moore’s entire disposition has an underlying levity to it. That doesn’t mean he can’t kick ass – after flirting around with a belly dancer early on, he backs up his mouth with his fists in an awesome closed-quarters dressing room brawl. But he also has a mean streak to him, pushing a local Thai boy out of a moving boat and forcefully wresting information from Andrea Anders, Scaramanga’s mistress, who later offers herself to Bond to kill Scaramanga with the self-confident assurance that she’s “not unattractive.”

Though Anders is weak in the face of Bond’s charm, at least she’s taking steps to assert herself. Bond’s assistant, Mary Goodnight, is an awful inclusion to the story, a woman like Miss Moneypenny in that she desires Bond but rarely receives reciprocation. For being a secret agent, she’s awfully incompetent, coming off as a petulant child most of the time. She tries being “hard to get” to Bond, but it only lasts 30 seconds before she gives up, on account of her self-professed weakness. Then she stays the night in a closet while Bond bangs Anders outside of it. This kind of inconsiderate behavior on Bond’s part only adds to that special flavor of douche bag that Moore is cooking up.

Perhaps part of my problem with this version of Bond is that he seems to suffer from Superman Syndrome. Bond started off as a competent spy who still got himself into trouble, but now all of a sudden he’s become a brain alongside his brawn. For some reason, Bond knows more about Scaramanga’s laser than he does, taking away the intellectual upper hand that the man with the third nipple had. At least Q makes a quiet return to snark him down some.

The Man With the Golden Gun has some great action scenes, as to be expected. The chase scenes include some really cool exterior shots of vehicles being driven with abandon, from cars to seaplanes (the interior shots are still cheesy green screens). The most memorable stunt in some time occurs when Bond flips a car and lands it, impressively shown in a single take. Moore pointedly remarks that he’s never done that before, drawing snide comparisons to Connery’s films even as this one tries to emulate those in style and tone.

The worst part about Golden Gun is the return of J.W. Peppers, the loud blowhard sheriff from Live and Let Die. He’s inexplicably in Thailand and jumps in as a sidekick for a while, much to no one’s delight. I don’t know why this type of “comic relief” is being forced into these films that have enough one-liners to fill a canyon, but Peppers’ screentime is once again marked by nonsensical racism (“pointyheads”?) and sputtering frustration. Bond’s other part time sidekick, Lieutenant Hip, is much more competent, displaying impressive martial arts alongside his two nieces (gratefully strong and free from Bond’s bed), but lest he appear too helpful, he’s marked by a cowardice that eventually leaves Bond stranded among henchmen.

All in all, though it has one of the series’ most-developed villains (and main henchman) yet, The Man With the Golden Gun tries to fit itself into a mold that these movies have outgrown, resulting in a plodding and dull feel throughout. Even Maurice Binder’s opening segment is growing old as it loses any subtlety in its masking of nude women. This film would mark the last co-produced by Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, with Saltzman selling his share of the series afterward due to personal financial problems. I’m glad that there’s about to be a shake-up in the minds behind Bond, since The Man With the Golden Gun feels like an overcooked and worn-out film.

Final rating: 5/10

–James A. Janisse

Stray Observations:

  • Props to Nick Nack for being an awesome henchman. Not only does he keep Scaramanga on his toes by throwing obstacles in his way during his hunting games, he’s also on the verge of putting a trident through Bond’s neck before Hai Fat stops him.
  • That wasn’t the only time Hai Fat was blatantly foolish. How you bout to stand there and talk shit to Scaramanga even as the man assembles his golden gun? You know he’s gonna shoot you with it. Get out of here, Hai.
  • For such a built-up villain, Scaramanga’s death is awfully lame. You’d think he would shoot at all Bond lookalikes in that situation, but no, Bond gets away with a trick straight out of Scooby Doo, pretending to be a cardboard cut out of himself.
  • Wait, also: Nobody knows what Scaramanga looks like, but they have his fingerprints on file? Does that even make sense?
  • Those closed-quarter combat scenes have so far been the best parts of these movies.
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