Reel Talk

The Man With the Golden Gun and Seeing What Sticks

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Roger Moore’s tenure as James Bond started off with a hell of a bang. I don’t really need to harp on more about Live and Let Die, since I’ve now written two full articles about it, but needless to say, it set a pretty high bar for Moore. Especially after the sheer absurdity of Diamonds Are Forever, it was nice to see a Bond that at least tried to skew further away from the insane, and get back to some Fleming grit. It didn’t necessarily accomplish that, and had some seriously wacky moments, but by and large it was a step further toward the classic Bond movies. And then there’s The Man With the Golden Gun. This movie is a completely ridiculous experience that almost defies explanation. It’s obviously a little pointless to discuss the general opinions to this movie, since people’s opinion on them tend to be completely subjective, but you sure do happen to see it taking up the rear on a lot of lists. I personally hold it in rather low regard, putting it down as one of the weaker entries to the series, but as I’ve said before, there’s no such thing as a bad Bond movie. They all have some little nuggets of brilliance, scenes that are iconic, or elements that work in spite of the movie. And The Man With the Golden Gun is no different. This movie has a whole bunch of flaws, but it also has some really great moments that keep me enjoying it the whole time.

The Man With the Golden Gun actually is one of the last semi-accurate adatations of a Fleming novel. The next few will take bits and pieces, namely titles, from Fleming’s novels and short stories, but most of them bare almost no resemblance to the source material. The Man With the Golden Gun however does at least feel similar to the novel that it’s name come from. It was actually the last novel that Fleming wrote, and he actually wasn’t able to finish it before he passed, leaving the finale to be written by his friend Kingsley Amis. The novel is not really one of the better examples of Fleming’s series, but the concept of James Bond fighting the world’s greatest assassin was obviously too good to pass up, so they adapted the novel. But beyond this being the last Fleming book, this is also the last film to be produced by Harry Saltzman. Saltzman and Cubby Broccoli worked well together for he first nine movies of the franchise, and helped shape modern cinema as a result. But during their ninth outing together Saltzman realizes that he just couldn’t deal with the franchise any more. There are stories that that decision was helped along by the fact that Saltzman came up with an idea for a setpiece involving elephants, and bought all sorts of equipment for the set piece without telling anyone, so it never made it into the script and ended up being worthless, but I don’t know if that’s actually true. Whatever the real reason was, Harry Saltzman took his bow with this film. Whether or not this film is a fitting departure is up to you.

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The cold open of the film begins on a tropical island where a man we’ll later learn is renowned assassin Francisco Scaramanga is lounging around, enjoying life. But his pleasant day is interrupted when his butler, the diminutive Nick Nack, brings a cartoonish gangster to the island, seemingly to kill Scaramanga. The gangster is lured into Scaramanga’s home, which has an insane fun-house inside, complete with a life-like dummy of James Bond. Scaramanga and the gangster fight in the fun-house, until Scaramanga is able to grab his signature Golden Gun, and kill the gangster, throwing us into the crazy credit sequence and the silly Lulu song. After that we catch up with James Bond who is ready for a meeting with M. He’s been summoned because MI6 has received something odd. A golden bullet with 007 engraved on it. They believe this is a sign that Scaramanga is planning on killing Bond, and they offer him the chance to hunt Scaramanga down and stop him. But that’s going to require getting some information on Scaramanga, and not many people know anything about him. However, there was a fellow agent who was killed by him, with one witness, so Bond heads to Beirut to find the woman who was with the agent when he died. Bond has to seduce her a bit, but ends up finding that she keeps the bullet that killed that man as a good luck charm. So Bond swallows the bullet, and brings it back to MI6 for it to be analyzed. And, lucky for them, Q is familiar with the handiwork of the bullet, and tells Bond that it had to have been made by a man in Macau. Bond then heads out to Macau and meets with the man, and after some threatening the man tells Bond that he’s sending a shipment of bullets out to his contact with Scaramanga.

Bond then heads to a casino and keeps his eyes on the bullets. They’re picked up by a mysterious woman named Andrea Anders, so Bond of course tails her to her hotel where he breaks into her room and watches her shower. Bond then lays some pressure on her, and she admits that Scaramanga will be at some seedy night club that night. So Bond heads out to the club later that evening, and as he heads in there’s a gunshot, and a man leaving the club drops dead. Bond goes to investigate and is stopped by an undercover police officer named Lieutenant Hip, and neither of them notice Nick Nack stealing something from the corpse. Hip starts to take Bond away, but he ends up escaping when they take a boat out to the wreckage of the RMS Queen Elizabeth. However, it turns out that M is hiding out in the sunken ship, and Hip is working for them. The man that Scaramanga killed was a scientist working on some sort of device that could perfect solar power, and Nick Nack stole the device when he was killed. They decide that Scaramanga must be working with a Thai industrialist named Hai Fat. So Bond and Hip head to Thailand, along with his airhead assistant Mary Goodnight, and sneak into Hai Fat’s compound, figuring that he’s never actually seen Scaramanga. Bond then pretends to be Scaramanga and meets with Hai Fat, warning him that the British are onto his plan. However, Hai Fat actually does know Scaramanga, and knows that this is Bond. But he doesn’t let on, and invites Bond over for dinner that night. And when Bond does arrive he’s caught by two sumo wrestlers and Nick Nack, who knock him out and drag him to some dojo where he’s forced to fight to the death. But instead he just escapes, and meets up with Hip and his kung fu nieces. But he ends up getting separated from them, and gets into a high speed boat chase with the Hai Fat’s goons.

However, at this point Scaramanga decides he no longer needs Hai Fat, and since he was for some reason made a high-ranking member of Hai Fat’s organization, Scarmanga kills Hai Fat and usurps his company. He also steals that Solex Agitator, the device that he acquired for Hai Fat. And things are made more complicated when Andrea shows up in Bond’s room, hoping to help. Turns out she was the one who sent the bullet, and she wanted Bond to come kill Scaramanga for her. She also offers him the Solex, and tells him to meet her at a boxing match the next day. Bond arrives meets up with her the next day with Goodnight and Hip, and finds her already dead. Scaramanga arrives, gloating about the kill, and tells Bond to lay off. However, Bond also finds the Solex, and gives it to Goodnight. She then proceeds to leave, mess with Scaramanga’s car, and gets kidnapped by him and Nick Nack. Bond chases after Scaramanga, along with a surprise appearance of Sheriff JW Pepper. However the car chase ends when Scaramanga hooks some sort of plane onto his car and flies off with Nick Nack, Goodnight, and the Solex. But because Goodnight had a tracking device on her Bond is able to track her down to Scaramanga’s secret island, where he’s waiting for him. Scaramanga warmly welcomes Bond to the island, and gives him the grand tour. Hai Fat for some reason turned Scaramanga’s island into a solar power plant and now Scaramanga is going to charge governments and companies to come look at it and build their own. But that’s not all, because Bond is on the island Scaramanga tells him that the only way he’ll leave is if he wins a duel. Bond has no choice but to accept, and heads into Scaramanga’s fun-house, dealing with all of its twists and turns while being harassed by Nick Nack. But Bond gets the upper hand on Scaramanga by pretending to be the dummy of James Bond, and wins the duel. However while all of this was going on Goodnight accidentally set off a chain reaction in the plant that will lead to it exploding. Bond and Goodnight manage to get the Solex out of the plant and escape the island on Scaramanga’s boat. They’re briefly attacked by Nick Nack, but Bond is able to subdue him and stick him in a suitcase, letting Bond and Goodnight have the ceremonial sex on a conveyance.

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This movie is hard to nail down. When I rewatched this movie for the project it had probably been at least three years since seeing it, and I honestly always forget just how weird it is. There are some really great parts about the movie, but they’re kind of unbalanced by the strange or bad parts. Roger Moore puts in a decent performance here, but he’s a little goofier than Live and Let Die. The real highlight of the movie is Christopher Lee as Scaramanga. Lee was actually a huge Bond fan, and related to Ian Fleming, and he nailed this role. The guy was a great actor, especially as villains, and he was really tremendous as the icy and evil assassin. The idea of an evil James Bond is a great one, and one which hadn’t really been used since From Russia With Love, and it worked very well here. Hervé Villechaize is pretty great as Nick Nack, despite the fact that the character is pretty cringe-inducing in 2017. But other than that the movie is kind of a hot mess. Britt Ekland is incredibly wooden as Mary Goodnight, delivering the worst Bond girl yet for the franchise. Bond holds her in contempt for most of the movie, when he isn’t trying to sleep with her, and she’s just incompetent. There’s also the fact that they put Sheriff JW Pepper back in this movie, for some goddamn reason. But it even goes beyond that. This movie is just incredibly strange to watch. There’s a scene in this movie where they do a practical stunt where a car drives off a ramp, and does a complete corkscrew turn before landing safely on the ground. It’s a ridiculously impressive stunt, but they chose to put a goofy slide-whistle over it, negating a lot of the impact. And that kind of sums this movie up in a nutshell. Some really cool moments undercut by some silly bullshit.

And that’s kind of the biggest deal with this movie. It’s incredibly jumbled and strange. The thing that most strikes me about the film is that they’re just throwing everything they can think of at the wall, and seeing what sticks. Which seems a little strange, but at the same time makes perfect sense. On one hand, this is Roger Moore’s second film, and you’d think that they would still have a bunch of fresh ideas for this new James Bond. But on the other hand, this is the ninth James Bond movie overall, made by the same group of people. Just because we have a new Bond doesn’t mean that they have a new creative team, and it really felt like they were grasping at straws with this movie. The Blaxploitation in Live and Let Die worked well for them, so it makes sense that this movie would try to chase a similar aesthetic, this time the chop-socky flicks from the early 70s. But that didn’t really last, and gets fairly quickly abandoned. We see Bond get tossed into some sort of Game of Death dojo, but after that they lose that whole aesthetic. After that the movie takes a wild turn and becomes fixated in this insane energy crisis plot with the Solex. The idea of just having a film where James Bond fights against the deadliest assassin in the world is a pretty great one. But then they reach a point where Scaramanga suddenly becomes some sort of solar-energy baron with a plot to corner the world’s energy market. And that comes almost completely out of nowhere. It kind of feels like they were writing a script about Bond vs Scaramanga, and then heard about the energy crisis and figured that they could shoehorn that in and become topical. At times Bond is making goofy faces and swallowing bullets and other times he’s slapping Maud Adams and being violent. Scaramanga is running around a silly fun-house with fake cowboys and gangsters, and also has a secret base where he’s developing solar power. I enjoy The Man With the Golden Gun, but it genuinely feels like they were running out of ideas, and had no idea how to guide the franchise anymore, and were just tossing out all kinds of things to see what the public reacted to. And the weird thing is, when you look at the next couple of movies I kind of have no idea what it was that they took away from this movie. But I guess we’ll find out!.

The Man with the Golden Gun was written by Richard Maibaum and Tom Mankiewicz, directed by Guy Hamilton, and released by United Artists, 1974.

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