Over the years I’ve been making my way, slowly, through the greatest series of movies ever (no arguments!), James Bond. I had been quite lax of late in my my journey, which is understandable to any fan who considers Sean Connery the best Bond ever, and is faced with a seemingly unending and progressively less-than-excellent series of Roger Moore entries. Still, the early Moore Bonds were quite good, and any Bond movie is hardly a debacle (except perhaps Die Another Day).
Now, I quite enjoy Roger Moore as an actor, but to me he’s not really the person fit to play Bond. Far too stiff and refined, with none of the menace Connery could bring to the role, or the brute force Daniel Craig shows nowadays.
But comparing Bonds is a task for another day. Let’s get down to business. Let’s get down to The Man with the Golden Gun
This 1974 Guy Hamilton feature — Moore’s second as the character — sees Bond marked for death by the greatest assassin in the world, Francisco Scaramanga (Dracula himself, the awesome Christopher Lee), aka the titular Man with the Golden Gun. And it is a golden bullet that Bond receives, marked with his 007 code. Tracking the bullet to its maker in Macau, Bond is led to Scaramanga’s aide Ms. Anders (Maud Adams) who reveals it is she who sent the bullet, she who wishes to be free from Scaramanga’s grip by having him killed — and James Bond is the only man who can do the job.
Despite the unusually (for a Bond film) lean and focused central plot — a ‘duel between titans’ as Scaramanga describes it — The Man with the Golden Gun is still a James Bond film, and manages to work in world domination plots, fancy technology (in this case a MacGuffin called the Solex Agitator which will solve the world’s energy crisis), gadgets, car chases, exotic locales — Beirut, Macau, Hong Kong & Thailand and more! — and of course, Bond girls galore.
But that central plot of man vs man, Scaramanga vs Bond is rarely strayed from, and this is what makes Golden Gun loom large even now in Bond film fans’ minds, even though it is not the greatest Bond film.
For this notability, one need only look to Christopher Lee. Scaramanga, on the face of it, is a nearly cartoon villain, in his island lair complete with fun house training facility, little person henchman Nik Nak (Hervé Villechaize, before his career-defining role on Fantasy Island*), and golden firearm assembled from cigarette lighter parts — he even has three nipples!
*(Yes, I can’t help but shout, “The plane! The plane!” every time he comes on screen either)
But Lee infuses him with such zeal, such calculated glee, that one begins to root for the tall, strange man who enjoys his job so much. Late in the film Scaramanga gives Bond a tour of his island’s fancy solar-power facility, and there’s definitely a geek vibe to him, the proud nerd showing off his cool lair to the guy he most identifies with as a peer. It’s an endearing rather than pathetic moment. Scaramanga isn’t a monster — no Dracula, this — and Lee playing him is one of my favourite Bond performances, and definitely one of my favourite Bond villains.
So while the rest of the movie has plenty to recommend it; the exotic East Asia locales; the thrilling boat chase and classic corkscrew car jump (which actually used computer simulations to get the math right); the unbelievable hotness of Maud Adams; there are also a few missteps that mean Golden Gun just doesn’t feel as good as previous Bonds.
The tone, I suppose, is the main thing; It’s frothier than any previous Bond, Diamonds are Forever included, and certainly nowhere as straight-faced as early Connerys. There’s something of an everything-and-the-kitchen-sink approach. Some of it works, like the bonkers but very cool car with a plane attachment, or the aforementioned boat chase. Others, like the utter bimbo behaviour of Mary Goodnight (Britt Ekland), the kitsch Sumo and martial arts fights, and even the return of Sherif J.W. Pepper (Clifton James), while not disasters, did leave me less than satisfied.
The Man with the Golden Gun has one of my favourite Bond villains and one of my favourite Bond girls. But it does mark a shift in the series to the more camp Roger Moore era. It’s not the greatest Bond film ever, but for a lazy weekend afternoon, when you want a movie, don’t want to pay too much attention, and nothing but James Bond will do, it’s a perfect treat.