The Man with the Golden Gun (1974) – The 9th James Bond Film; The 2nd (of 7) Roger Moore Films – Directed by Guy Hamilton – Starring Roger Moore, Christopher Lee, Hervé Villechaize, Britt Eckland, Maud Adams, Soon-Tek Oh, Desmond Llewelyn, Clifton James, and Bernard Lee.
THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN is a very underrated movie. I say this because according to the Never Wrong, IGN named GOLDEN GUN as the worst Bond movie of them all, and Entertainment Weekly chose it as fourth worst. MSN’s critic chose it as the tenth best and while I dislike lists and haven’t seen all of the Bond films recently enough to make a definitive statement on lists, I’m guessing GOLDEN GUN is much closer to #10 than #Last Place.
(Of course, as we all know, lists are stupid.)
Roger Moore’s rep over the years has become defined by his later movies, and if you only think of Moore as the self-parody that he became (lampooning himself wonderfully in Cannonball Run), you won’t recognize him in his second Bond film.
Because let us be clear on this point: Roger Moore is an absolute bad-ass in THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN.
This is a take-no-crap Bond that very much fits the style of the current Daniel Craig portrayal. Bond believes the world’s best assassin, Scaramanga (played wonderfully by Christopher Lee), is after him after receiving a golden bullet with “007” trabscribed on it, and so he decides to go after Scaramanga. The twist is that that Scaramanga isn’t after Bond at all, but his mistress/lover/hooker/whatever Andrea Anders wants him dead, so she sends the bullet to MI6 in the hopes of getting Bond to kill him.
Moore spends much of the film angry and determined, generally keeping his wit restrained and tight. It’s not that there aren’t some clever lines, but Moore delivers them in a such a manner as to downplay them, rewarding you for paying attention but not pandering for a laugh.
And he’s fantastic. From start to finish and to an even greater extent than in LIVE AND LET DIE, Roger Moore owns James Bond in GOLDEN GUN. His performance is so assured, so focused that it’s a joy to watch, even when the material fails him in the film’s second half.
Sex and violence are always present in a James Bond film, but this time out they are intertwined, and sex has become almost a chore. He seduces fellow British agent Mary Goodnight (who first resists his advances and then comes running to his room), but while their starting their foreplay there’s a knock at the door and Andrea Anders arrives with the info on the plot twist. She wants Bond to kill Scaramanga and offers him anything he wants, including himself. Bond, of course, being the perfect gentleman, decides to have sex with her for the good of God and Queen, but not before pulling Goodnight out of bed (she was hiding beneath the sheets) and jamming her in the closet.
Where she spends the night while Bond and Anders have sex about ten feet away from her.
Sex with Anders is almost complete business for Bond. I’m sure he’s not all, “Oh, man, I’ve got to have sex with this hot woman? I hate my job,” but there’s no seduction here at all. Earlier in the film he’d broken into her room after tailing her pick up Scaramanga’s gold bullets, and watched her shower behind clouded glass. They end up on the bed, but it’s all business and when Anders gets evasive, Bond slaps her and twists her arm behind her back.
“You’re hurting my arm,” she wails.
“I’ll break it if you don’t tell me where those bullets go,” he threatens roughly.
When Anders visits him later she offers herself in a manner that suggests she’s a broken woman. An actual gentleman would have refused simply on the pathetic nature of her offer; she’s telling Bond in this moment that her body, her sex, is something she trades with to get what she wants. If you have an inclination to get all moralistic, you can certainly do it, but I like the film’s approach on this relationship – Bond and Anders are professionals playing a very dangerous game. Trading sex is no different than trading secrets.
Anders comes out the better in relation to Goodnight, who’s allegedly MI6, but is nearly completely useless. She plays an MI6 staffer like she’s gotten a job at Daddy’s law firm and she’s never taken a legal course in college. Britt Eckland’s character is basically there to look cute, put on a bikini, and be stupid. She does the whole, “I will not sleep with you, James Bond because you don’t repsect me and … and … oh James, I can’t resist you.”
There’s a whole plot about a stolen part to some fancy sun-generated death ray and it’s unfortunate that the film doesn’t give us more scenes with Bond and Scaramanga. Christopher Lee is great as the assassin who kills people with a golden gun for $1 million a pop. He’s cool, casual, ambitious, and given to theatrics. He goes about his business with a disturbing professionalism, killing people without any remorse. After Bond has bedded Anders and she’s promised to bring him the fancy part to the death ray that he wants, they meet at a fighting match the next day and when Bond arrives, Anders is already dead. Nobody notices this because she’s sitting perfectly still. We don’t see the kill but we see the aftermath, with Scaramanga plopping himself down next to Bond to have a little chat about what’s what.
Scaramanga is a terrific villain and GOLDEN GUN is totally worth watching just for Bad Ass Moore and Suave Killer Lee. Unfortunately, the big showdown between them ends with a limp bang inside Scaramanga’s funhouse/killzone. Nick Nack (played spectacularly by Villechaize) hires people to come to the island to try and kill his boss as practice/fun for Scaramanga to stay sharp. The first time we see this funhouse is in the pre-credits sequence. It shouldn’t work because Scaramanga is pitted after a wiseguy that looks like he just stepped out of a 1930s mafia movie, but it does. The second time we see it is should work because Scaramanga is pitted against Bond, but this time it doesn’t.
Killing Scaramanga should be the climax, but then the movie tacks on this ridiculous stop-the-death-ray sequence that I just didn’t care about. Scaramanga is an assassin so I want to see him and Bond trying to kill each other. I don’t really care that he has aspirations to be a criminal mastermind and I certainly don’t care about his stupid death ray.
GOLDEN GUN certainly isn’t a great film. For starters, it all feels incredibly derivative of the former regime. Hey, look, let’s put “gold” in the title. Yeah, and get a Shirley Bassey knock-off to sing the song. A visually distinct henchman is always good. Ooh, and a crazy secret hideaway. It’s in these moments when GOLDEN GUN is at its worst. We don’t need to see a car fly because you’ve strapped some wings to the roof. Heck, we don’t need to see Bond driving around in a cheap ass AMC Hornet, especially not when the racist Louisiana sheriff from
LIVE AND LET DIE is back to be even more racist.
Villechaize’s Nick Nack never really devolves into “hey, let’s make a bunch of short people” jokes, either. He’s a pretty solid, clever character and it’s a shame that he ends up getting defeated by being stuffed inside a piece of luggage. Bond tells him, “I’ve never killed a midget” at one point and, as odd as it might sound (and certainly as non-PC as it may sound to our 2011 ears), it actually comes off as a sign of respect. Bond’s letting Nick Nack know he’s not going to underestimate him so he’d better not try jerking Bond around.
GOLDEN GUN gets points for a great use of Q (he’s here to explain things, not just provide the gadgets Bond will just happen to need to save the world) and a nice visual with the sunken, tilted Queen Elizabeth serving as a secret base of operations for MI6. There’s a whole kung-fu sequence that works pretty well (Bond takes advantage of one opponent’s show of respect; as he bows, Bond kicks him in the face), and the car chase is okay even with the Hornet and Sheriff Redneck Stereotype along for the ride. I like Soon-Tek Oh’s Lieutenant Hip in the “foreign agent who helps Bond” role, and the bit with him having two nieces who wear schoolgirl outfits and kick much ass as karate experts foreshadows the film fetishes of both Tarantino and Rodriguez.
While not perfect and while it loses steam at the end, THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN holds up surprisingly well. Moore really is fantastic here as a rougher, driven Bond, and the subtle use of humor rewards repeat viewings. I’d never had much love for GOLDEN GUN (I probably watched it a few times as a kid without it having much effect) but I’ve got some now thanks to Moore and Lee.