Tim Wickens examines The Man With The Golden Gun (1974) starring Roger Moore, Christopher Lee and Britt Ekland in MoM’s ongoing series Our Word Is Our Bond.
With the relatively recent passing of screen legend Sir Christopher Lee it only seems fitting to start with him. Lee was related to Ian Fleming; Fleming reportedly thought Lee would be a good fit for the role of the title character in Dr.No (1962). It would seem Lee had missed his chance as the ever forgetful Fleming only remembered to mention him after Joseph Wiseman had already been cast. Lee’s time would come ten years later, with first choice Jack Palance turning down the role of the title character, Francisco Scaramanga aka The Man with the Golden Gun (1974), Lee single-handedly raises an otherwise mediocre Bond film with his performance.
Lee’s Scaramanga is like the Bizarro to Moore’s Bond’s Superman, the evil James Bond if you will. He appears mannered, almost aristocratic for a high priced assassin who charges a million dollars a shot. But Lee gives glimpses of a perverse, sadistic and crazy killer underneath all his good manners and white linen suits. His golden gun is similar to a James Bond gadget. Scaramanga is also a hit with the ladies (must have been all the training Lee received while playing Dracula in many a Hammer film).
This film’s pre-credit sequence centers on Scaramanga’s island hideout. Nick Nack (Herve Villechaize) , Scaramanga’s right hand man and chief cook, welcomes and pays a would be gangster assassin (Marc Lawrence, back for his second role in a Bond film after appearing in Diamonds Are Forever) to kill Scaramanga. Nick Nack will later tell Bond that if he kills Scaramanga, the island will be his. A lethal game of cat and mouse ensues in Scaramanga’s funhouse. It contains a room of mirrors, animatronic gangsters and gunslingers, a throwback 1920s sounding John Barry accompaniment and a climax with Scaramanga retrieving his single shot golden gun and, with it, killing the gangster.
At M’s (Bernard Lee) headquarters a golden bullet engraved with 007’s name, and carrying Scaramanga’s fingerprints, is delivered. M realizes that very little is known of Scaramanga, not even what he looks like, so decides to take Bond (Roger Moore) off his current assignment. Our story uses a very present day news story on many people’s minds, the energy crisis, for Bond’s assignment. It creates a MacGuffin in the Solex Agitator, a component that can harness and convert the sun’s rays into power. (A MacGuffin is a term made popular by Alfred Hitchcock: “a plot device that motivates the characters and advances the story.”)
Bond heads to Beirut in the hopes of finding the belly dancer who was with agent Bill Fairbanks before he was killed by Scaramanga. The golden bullet was never found and could give Bond a clue to Scaramanga’s whereabouts. Bond meets the belly dancer and swallows the now golden trinket from her belly button after being attacked by a group of men. An intense fight scene occurs with Bond even getting a bloodied mouth. Bond defeats the assassins and heads back to London where he learns the bullet was made in Macau by a gunsmith known as Lazar (familiar faced Marne Maitland). Bond threatens him with the loss of his …erm, manhood… by rifle shot with the line: “speak now or forever hold your piece.”
Bond discovers that Andrea Anders (Maud Adams), Scaramanga’s mistress, has taken the Lazar package of golden bullets. He roughs her up in her bedroom to make her tell of Scaramanga’s whereabouts. We later discover that Anders sent the golden bullet in the hope that Bond would kill Scaramanga, thus freeing her from his clutches. Our Solex Agitator and Scaramanga storylines merge when an operative in possession of the item is killed by Scaramanga, with the Solex being taken off his dead body by Nick Nack before the eyes of local agent Lieutenant Hip (Soon – Tek Oh). Bond is arrested by Hip for brandishing a weapon, but this is all a ruse to get Bond to local headquarters, housed within the sunken vessel Queen Elizabeth. These headquarters’ of M are one of the most original in the series, utilizing the real wreckage as a movie prop.
Here the story switches to Thailand, where Bond pretends to be Scaramanga to investigate whether businessman Hai Fat (Richard Loo) had anything to do with the assassination and disappearance of the Solex. Bond is captured and made to fight an entire school of kung fu trainees. Hip returns and with his nieces rescues Bond. He escapes on a longboat which is one of two spectacular action stunt scenes in the film. He later meets up with forever-not-getting-Bond-to-herself agent Mary Goodnight (the annoying Britt Ekland).
Anders appears at Bond’s hotel just when Goodnight is going to receive a very good night. Anders discloses that she sent the bullet and will get Bond the Solex if he will kill Scaramanga for her. At a Thai boxing match Scaramanga kills Anders, confronts Bond, who has found the Solex on the ground. Goodnight gets possession of the Solex only to be put in the boot of Scaramanga’s car. A wild car chase ensues with the added unnecessary cameo of Live And Let Die’s character Sheriff J.W. Pepper (Clifton James) riding shotgun with Bond. An amazing real car jump over a bridge becomes a future Bond highlight as does Scaramanaga’s getaway in his now converted car to a plane. This sets the stage for Bond to face Scaramanga on his island hideout for a duel to the death in Scaramanga’s funhouse.
The Man With The Golden Gun’s major flaw is it is a film of two tones that work against the whole of the movie. Within the first half we have a tough James Bond. Roger Moore still has that devil-may-care twinkle in his eyes and very laid-back charm, but there is an attempt to portray the character as tough. Bond gets in a fight to which we see Moore with blood on his mouth. His Bond even twists Maud Adams’ characters arm as well as slaps her. It is the height of brute strength we will ever see Moore’s Bond display in any of his subsequent portrayals. This is all undermined by a sloppy kung fu fight which degenerates into silliness when two young school girls defend Bond by kicking most of the bad guys’ asses. J. W. Pepper (Clifton James), the sheriff from Live And Let Die (1970), has an unnecessary appearance that only serves to add both the ridiculous and racist. His nonstop verbal racial utterances were such a poor decision to have included, his character adds (or rather attempts to add) a comedic relief that is not needed as it completely fails to succeed. But by far the worst decision made in the film was John Barry adding a slide whistle sound at the end of the incredible twirling car jump over a broken bridge. Barry himself regretted it as it makes the scene totally comic instead of thrillingly death defying. If there was ever a case to edit a new release it is here with that sound effects removal.
Despite many flaws and a very weak John Barry score – though I will admit to enjoying the Lulu sung theme song, even if that qualifies as a guilty pleasure – The Man With The Golden Gun has enough positives and action to raise it, in my opinion, above the last two Connery Bond films. It is Moore’s sophomore effort and signals the way for scripts tailored to his interpretation, as well as delivering more thrilling adventures.
MoM Rating: 7/10