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James Bond Retrospective: ‘The Man With The Golden Gun’ Review

So now that they have Roger Moore—who actually likes the job—they’re going to make these movies as fast as possible. This one tries to focus on creating an antagonist with a mythology as grand as Bond himself. The acting caliber is certainly a match: Christopher Lee graces the film as Francisco Scaramanga. A skilled assassin with some quirks about him. He’s got a third nipple, he only makes love before he kills, oh and he’s also:

The Man With The Golden Gun (1974)

I’m still seeing this image in my dreams.

So I said in my last review that these Moore films are really created and judged by their gimmicks. Not just the typical Bond gimmicks, but the gimmicks they can create for the film. I came up with this theory watching this film, because holy crap this movie has a lot of them. It’s so many for what should be a very simple plot. I’ll make this one short and sweet.

The Plot

James Bond is investigating the disappearance of a solar energy scientist named Gibson. He is interrupted by his superiors when MI6 receives a golden bullet with his number on it. This is taken as a warning from famed assassin Francisco Scaramanga. Scaramanga always gets his man and nobody has ever seen his face. M considers Bond a dead man.

Bond hunts down any lead he can on the bullet, eventually taking him to a bar where Gibson just so happens to be assassinated. There’s an emergency MI6 meeting with Bond and they tell him to recover a “Solex agitator,” a component essential to a groundbreaking solar power station. Everyone concludes Scaramanga has it. There’s a stretch of time dedicated to the guy that hired Scaramanga and a dojo; don’t worry about it.

I don’t mean to sound rude, but who is your tailor? Not saying it’s a surprise it fits you so well, but it’s totally a surprise that fits you so well.

Bond is able to convince Scaramanga’s girlfriend (who was the person that sent the bullet to MI6) to give him the Solex, but Scaramanga had prepared for this and murdered her. They talk and Bond’s partner Mary Goodnight is able to get the Solex, but is then locked inside Scaramanga’s car. Bond chases the car but the car flies away. Don’t you hate it when that happens?

Bond traces the car back to Scaramanga’s island and the two agree to a duel. There’s also some solar energy laser thing; again, I implore you to not worry about it. Bond wins and escapes the island with Goodnight. He locks Scaramanga’s dwarf butler Nick Nack inside a cage to presumably die from heat exposure. End.

A Closer Look

So this film tries very hard to be a good film and it fails entirely because everyone involved just isn’t great (except for Lee). That’s not to say nobody that participated in this film is incapable of making a great film, it’s just that nobody’s bringing their A-game. I imagine the writers are however, and this is probably where the biggest problems are.

The goal of the film is to get excited about James Bond facing an equal. They wanted a Moriarty that wasn’t so much of an evil genius like Blofeld but a charming killer like James himself. The casting is good, but they don’t know what to do with Scaramanga. So they give him everything. We don’t need to know nearly as much about him as they tell us. They throw everything at him. Former circus sharpshooter, anonymous but renowned assassin, golden gun, giant secret island, third nipple, very specific kind of libido; all of this stuff is fluff. It’s almost intentional. Bond’s best line is probably when he says, “There’s a four letter word I’m thinking of and you’re full of it.” The grand display of everything is supposed to make us feel like he’s important, when in truth, the gun being gold does nothing other than make it a worse gun.

One of the Moore images in this review is actually a wax figure replica of him. Let’s see if you can figure out which one!

This extends to beyond just the backstory and character traits, but the actual deliberate pacing of the film. The film’s real problem is the meat of the film is Scaramanga versus Bond, but there’s not enough of it to go around. What little suspense and excitement is undercut at every possible moment. Bond tells us in exposition everything we need to know about Scaramanga in ten seconds. Then we get probably what amounts to a half hour of content we absolutely do not need. Did we really need JW Pepper to come back? What about the dojo? Or the general solar plot? Now imagine if Bond had no idea who this guy was at all at the start of the film. The only thing he has to go on is the bullet. Have the entire film be a cat and mouse game. Make the island segment longer. Have the entire film shorter. That sounds like a way better movie to me.

Still, you want to like what’s going on in the film. You want to care. The most important climax of the film still works. His little fun-house is disorienting, but it’s supposed to be.

The Good

Moore does another good job. This film also does Moore’s performance justice. Moore portrays Bond like a hero. A sleazy hero, but whatever. This film tries to create a dichotomy between Bond and Scaramanga. Scaramanga sees Bond as an equal; Bond sees them as polar opposites. The film services this by making Scaramanga the killer of pretty much everybody. The only person Bond kills is Scaramanga himself. This is emphasized by the quote:

When I kill, its on the specific orders of my government. And those I kill are themselves killers.

James Bond, The Man With the Golden Gun
So the one thing I like about the weird structure of the film is the first portion where Bond is following leads for the bullet. There are locales, he’s asking questions, he’s interrogating. I like when a Bond film switches gears and this film is all about that.

Lee’s performance is what saves Scaramanga’s character. Scaramanga was given so much mediocre material. Lee kept it to the bare essentials in the performance and it shows. Lee portrays a man with naked and ostentatious pride that’s deadly because his skill can match it. Villechaize as Nick Nack is enjoyable, if you look past the idea that he’s another gimmick. My favorite Nick Nack moment is when he looks like he’s busy watching the boxing match to pay attention to Bond. Good stuff.

I’m just kidding, guys. The dojo section is not part of the good review. It’s bad.

The Bad

I complained so much about the music last time, and here it comes again. Barry came back to do the score this time, but even he is like “I screwed up guys. This is my C-game at best.” That’s an actual quote; don’t worry about a source. It’s the mediocre pop song theme mixed with a very underwhelming score that really does it for me. It’s a score so bad it makes really impressive stunts in the film feel mediocre. Don’t ever use a slide whistle in your car chase.

Goodnight is an awful Bond girl. Absolutely mediocre. She’s the worst kind of clumsy. It’s really telling when the most we are made to relate to Bond in the entire film and possibly the most emotion Moore has ever shown in these films is when he’s getting annoyed she can’t press the right button.

I’m glad they give acting roles to the Hutt aliens from Star Wars now.  Equal opportunity I guess.

Oh, and I haven’t talked about it yet, but I’m getting to a boiling point with the puns. Connery era puns were dumb, but never offensively bad. Moore has not only the corniest puns, but he says them at the most inopportune times. I’m sure I’m going to give a rant about this for some other film, so I’ll just move on. 

Looking Forward

We are going to hit a very strong high note with The Spy Who Loved Me. Finally the stars align and everything they’ve been trying to do with these movies makes complete sense.

Then we uh… holy crap. We go to the moon.  Everything they’ve been trying to do with these movies will quite literally go to the moon. It won’t be nearly as fun as it sounds.

What I Drank

It’s this one. You couldn’t tell could you? Well he doesn’t have his fingers, that’s probably the big clue.

I went for a gold bubbly–a champagne cocktail. This is remarkably simple. Take Angostura and douse a sugar cube with it. Then drop the sugar cube in a flute of champagne. Garnish with whatever, but it’s usually a citrus twist. That’s the classic, standard way to do it. You can also add or replace different elements. One of my absolute favorite drinks at home requires Lillet Blanc (corpse reviver #2 for the curious) and I found out that a variation includes a little bit of it in the drink. Lillet Blanc is a type of white wine that’s really meant for cocktails. It’s good, I promise.

★★½

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