The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)

Posted: September 29, 2019 in James Bond
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For the first time since 1967 the same actor plays Bond for two consecutive films, Roger Moore is back and this time it’s not about Blaxploitation. Oh no, this time it’s about Kung Fu! Oh, and it’s about Bond vs Dracula too.

The Man with the Golden Gun tends to get a rough ride from fans and critics. I’m not entirely sure why. It’s not as good as Live and Let Die obviously, but for me it’s a fun Bond romp featuring an iconic villain. Not top five material sure, but hardly bottom of the pile either. Maybe it was put together too quickly, and it’s probably quite telling that this was the last time a Bond film would be churned out within a year of the last one. From here on it’s a two-year gap minimum between films, sometimes longer (yes, I am looking at you, Daniel!).

For the second time in the row Bond is absent from the pre-title sequence, well ok not entirely absent, and for the second film in a row we get to see the villain before we see Bond. Whilst this didn’t really work in Live and Let Die, here I think it’s a good narrative choice. Right from the off we get to see how dangerous Scaramanga is, even when he’s caught on the hop. In fact it’s a great bit of movie making in general, showing not telling for the most part. Scaramanga is cold eyed and deadly, Nick Nack is mischievous and duplicitous (albeit it seems with his boss’ approval) and Andrea Anders is an unhappy woman trapped in an abusive relationship. Yes, the maze isn’t really that tricky, and just why do the saloon and gangster dioramas come complete with period versions of the title song (even before we’ve heard it!)? Frankly I don’t care, I love it.

Knowing who Scaramanga is helps generate some tension when M hands 007 a golden bullet with his number on it, and Moore does allow a moment of unease to penetrate that cool exterior, not sure M’s explanation for why someone would pay a million to off Bond is entirely good man management, but his giving Bond leave to get to Scaramanga first is. Shame Bond’s going to have to put on hold his search for Gibson and the Solex Agitator…

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After the usual pleasantries with Moneypenny it’s off to Beirut for an encounter with a saucy belly dancer who has one of Scaramanga’s bullets. I think I’d always thought this scene somewhat silly (no doubt thanks to the laxative implied punchline) but watching it again the fight in Saida’s dressing room is really good. It’s brutal and Roger more than holds his own, demonstrating his physicality.

Heading back to London Q and Colthorpe (who seems a pointless inclusion) point Bond towards the Far East. From here on the film flits between Macau, Hong Kong and Thailand. His hunt for Scaramanga will see him intersect Nick Nack, Andrea Anders, an MI6 agent named Goodnight and Gibson.

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Having Scaramanga kill Gibson, and Nick Nack nick the Solex Agitattor, might seem contrived, but it actually comes together nicely, thanks to the presence of Anders. On the surface she’s a victim, a helpless woman doomed to die, but think about it, this is a woman so terrified of her lover that she concocts a really clever plan to kill him, and it works—that it works a little too later for her shouldn’t detract from the fact that far from a helpless damsel she does have some agency. Adams (in her first Bond role) does well in the part. Roger slapping her around works less well, perhaps a holdover from Connery.

goodnightAs the other, in fact main, Bond girl, Britt Ekland’s Mary Goodnight gets a lot of stick, and usually winds up bottom of most Bond girl lists. Again this is a trifle unfair. Is Ekland the best actor in the world? Hardly, but let’s be honest a large proportion of Bond girls are equally wooden. Yes you can argue she’s a bit klutzy, but damn at least she tries. Getting dumped into Scaramanga’s car is stupid, but trying to bug it is hardly a bad idea, and how’s she to know knocking a guy into liquid helium will blow up the island? Instead of focusing on that, let’s consider this is a woman taking matters into her own hands to take out a creepy guy who has clearly unsavoury designs on her. Yes she’s something of an idiot at the solex controls and she does seem a trifle too obsessed with shagging Bond (but maybe this is a field agent bucket list thing, and she does seem to treat it as more of a notch on the bedpost than anything romantic) but for some reason she’s grown on me, Ekland is gorgeous, but more than this I found myself amused by her increasingly flouncy indignation at failing to shag 007!

The film perhaps loses its way in the middle section, some of the Thailand scenes are a trifle offensive, though in fairness the most racist character in the film is the returning JW Pepper, and he is portrayed as a blustering idiot so who has the last laugh (that elephant really). I liked Clifton James in Live and Let Die, but he has no reason to be in this film, and even less to somehow end up in a car chase with Bond (although you have to love that “You’re that English secret agent…from England!”) and the film really would have been better off without him. He is of course involved in one of the films missteps, though it’s not really his fault. The car jump across the river, designed by computer, is stunning, but completely undercut by that stupid slide whistle. I’m really not a fan of films being messed with after the fact, but I’m still amazed this has never been removed.

The karate bits of somewhat silly as well. Moore handles himself better than I remembered, but he still looks more the part brawling with thugs in Beirut than he does going toe to toe with trained martial artists. The high kicking schoolgirls are fun, but again it seems somewhat ridiculous they could take out that many.

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Luckily many flaws are covered over by our villains. Christopher Lee is great, and Scaramanga is very different to Dracula, much more playful, albeit a very cold playfulness. Still not sure having a one shot pistol is the greatest idea, but Lee always manages to seem in control, and he and Moore have some great scenes together. It’s clear Scaramanga admires Bond, yet also feels he’s his inferior. Pretty sure Bond wouldn’t be foolish enough to leave a real PPK in a wax dummy’s hand, however.

Lee also has some great scenes with Hervé Villechaize as Nick Nack, who’s a wonderful counterpoint to Scaramanga, and the two make for an amusing, yet dangerous double act. Whatever you think of this film you can’t help but like the pair of them, and Nick Nack’s another rare example of a henchman surviving, even if Goodnight thinks Bond’s tossed him overboard. Nick Nack does seem quite angry at the end, is this because he loved Scaramanga really, or just because Bond and Goodnight blew up the lavish home he was about to inherit!

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Roger is great, although this might be one of the last times he’s quite so brutal, and while for the most part he stays the right side of charm/smarm, on occasion he shows glimmers of where he’ll eventually end up. Telling Goodnight her turn will come soon being the prime example. Damn the man was so wonderful I can pretty much forgive him most things though.

As is so often the case, the set design is wonderful. From Scaramanga’s off kilter maze, to MI6’s similarly canted secret base aboard the wreck of the Queen Elizabeth. Scaramanga’s gun is a wonderful bit of design as well.

As for the title track, Lulu gets as much stick as the film, but you know what? I really like the song. It’s trashy and obvious, but incredibly catchy.

It sags a bit in places, and a few of the set pieces are a bit ropy, the thrill-less boat chase for example, but this is still a really fun film for me.

Next up, Russia’s top agent, XXX, who I can only presume is a bloke…

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