AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY AND DVD
RUNNING TIME: 124 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
In London, a golden bullet with “007” etched into its surface is received by MI6, who believe it was sent by famed one million dollar a hit assassin Francisco Scaramanga, who uses a golden gun, to intimidate the agent. ‘M’ relieves Bond of a mission revolving around the work of a scientist named Gibson, thought to be in possession of information crucial to solving the energy crisis with solar power, and Bond sets out unofficially to find Scaramanga. After retrieving a spent golden bullet from a belly dancer in Beirut and tracking its manufacturer to Macau, Bond sees Andrea Anders, Scaramanga’s mistress, collecting the shipment of golden bullets at a casino and follows her to Hong Kong where he discovers that Scaramanga’s next hit is Gibson….
The Man With The Golden Gun was the first James Bond film I saw, which may possibly be why I have a soft spot for what is widely considered to be one of the worst 007 films of all. I do agree that it certainly belongs somewhere towards the bottom of the pile – I guess just slightly beneath Diamonds Are Forever – but as I said before the majority of the Bond films don’t seem to differ a whole of lot in quality to my eyes, so even the weakest [with a couple of exceptions which I’ll eventually come to] efforts manage to just about deliver. This one does indeed have many flaws, though many of them can be linked to what is an often illogical, very ill-thought through storyline which makes at least one big mistake and has almost as many holes in it as The Force Awakens, while it’s not the most exciting of adventures either, tending to stay on one level and never really catching fire. It does have, however, one of the best of all the Bond villains, a character who basically represents Bond’s dark side, and many of his scenes are extremely well written, while it also has my favourite of Roger Moore’s performance as Bond, who really isn’t the most likeable of heroes in this movie at all. The emphasis on humour which characterised the previous two films is even stronger in this one, though as usual much – though not all – of it is funny. All in all it’s a pretty good tongue in cheek thriller if taken on its own, if not a great Bond film.
It was considered in 1967 and 1969 before finally being put into production after Live And Let Die. The novel’s Jamaican setting was switched to the Far East and hardly any of Ian Fleming’s story was used. Tom Mankiewicz’s script was mostly about Bond and Scaramanga, and it was Richard Maibaum, brought on by director Guy Hamilton after the latter fell out with Mankiewicz, who added the part of the plot involving the energy crisis and the ‘Solex’. A funny sounding scene was removed from the script where ‘Q’ tries to give Bond a camera which has lots of fancy gadgets. Bond says to ‘Q’: “But I bet there’s one thing it can’t do – take a picture”. Jack Palance was offered the part of Scaramanga but turned it down, while Lee had actually been suggested by his step cousin Fleming himself to play Dr No. Talking of Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, the two were becoming more and more at odds and barely spoke while making this film. Saltzman would leave the series immediately after. Filming took place in Beirut, Macao, Hong Kong, Thailand – where Moore fell into a river and saw what the local undertakers did with the bodies of the less fortunate – and Ko Khao Phing Kan Island – where most of the cast and crew caught dysentery. Afterwards the island became widely known as James Bond Island. Oswald Morris was hired to finish the cinematography after Ted Moore became ill. Bond’s final showdown with Scaramanga was shortened and some of the cut shots can be seen in the trailer. The film was a hit, but was the lowest grossing Bond film to that date, despite being the first one to be shown in the Soviet Union.
As with Live And Let Die, the pre-credits scene doesn’t feature Bond. Instead, it showcases the main bad guy as a gangster [played by Marc Lawrence as virtually the same character he was in Diamonds Are Forever] visits Scaramanga’s remote island and engages in a duel with him in a bizarre shooting gallery with optical illusions, wax dummies [including one of Bond] and fake settings like a Western saloon. It’s sinister and intriguing and gives us the interesting setup whereupon Scaramanga’s diminutive aide Nick Nack sets up duels for his master so he can inherit the island if Scaramanga is killed, while Scaramanga enjoys this because it helps him keep his edge. The song is actually a cracking tune with its orientalisms, but is sunk by the highly crude lyrics and an out of tune Lulu, while the images of Asian girls in water caressing a golden gun and even one stroking her breast really are blatantly sexual even if they establish what the film’s essentially about. Bond is shown the bullet that’s been sent to Mi5 and one thing which always amuses me is how grumpy ‘M’ is throughout the film, even telling ‘Q’ to shut up twice, though it’s hardly surprising since the good guys – Bond, ‘liason officer’ Mary Goodnight [who once had a fling with Bond] and Lieutenant Hip – keep on bungling matters.
Bond first goes to Beirut where he engages in one of the best fights of the Moore era as he takes on three heavies in a belly dancer’s room, then to Macao, Hong Kong and Bangkok. The exotic locations really do look fabulous in this film, making it one of the best looking of the Moore films, and help take away from the fact that the plot really gets stupid pretty quickly [the way that the solar crisis plot and the golden bullet plot conveniently join] and we seem to be getting to some thrills which then don’t happen, the latter most notably when Bond is taken at gunpoint by Hip, who he doesn’t know yet, in a lengthy journey by car and boat to the wreck of the Queen Elizabeth II in Hong Kong harbour. The scene is just pointless. Also pointless is when Bond is knocked out, and, instead of being killed, is dumped in a martial arts dojo where has to fight people, though the fight scenes are actually rather good and it’s not really any more daft than the ninjas in You Only Live Twice, though this finishes stupidly when, after his two nieces have defeated the whole dojo[!], Hip just drives off and leaves Bond there! And then J. W. Pepper coincidentally [there are so many coincidences in this film] re-appears, happening to be on holiday at the time, though more on Bond’s side this time. He’s in one of the greatest stunts of the series when Bond does a 360 degree spin in a car while jumping over a river – albeit a stunt which somebody decided to place a comic whistle sound effect over. Scaramanga and Nick Nack flying off in a car/plane is also impressive, but by the time Bond finds himself having to duel with Scaramanga there are so many questions. Why does Scaramanga bother with this solex malarkey? How are the Chinese able to build a solex installation but not the actual device itself? And how the hell is ‘M’ able to ring Bond on Scaramanga’s junk?
In terms of romance – if you can call it that – there’s not just Mary but Scaramanga’s mistress Andrea Anders, and the story would have been so much stronger if the Domino [from Thunderball]-like Andrea had been the heroine instead of the klutsy Mary – though we would then not have had the astounding sexism of Bond about to get Mary into bed, then locking her in a cupboard while he has his way with Andrea, then opening the cupboard doors with the words: “Don’t worry darling, you’re time will come”. Bond has quite a cruel edge, pushing a small boy who fixed his boat into the river, and slapping Andrea and almost breaking her arm for information. Moore didn’t like doing these scenes but they help strengthen the interesting dynamic between Bond and Scaramanga, who aren’t really that different in their attitudes to sex and violence. Their meetings are smartly scripted, and Scaramanga even gets to talk of his background. In fact the dialogue is really good in this film throughout, almost making up for the poor plotting, including the immortal exchange between Bond and ‘M’: “I mean sir, who would pay a million dollars to have me killed?” “Jealous husbands! Outraged chefs! Humiliated tailors! The list is endless!”
Moore thinks that he only really settles into the role in the next film The Spy Who Loved Me and most tend to agree with him, but I really like the slightly rough edge he brings here which aids this film’s realisation of the character. Lee’s Scaramanga is very laid-back and yet positively reeking of nastiness. It’s one of Lee’s best performances and roles even if it isn’t one of his best films. Britt Ekland is okay but saddled with having to play a bimbo, while Maud Adams has the far more interesting female part, a manipulative but tragic character, and plays it well. Herve Villechaize is also a highlight as Nick Nack; no, he’s not menacing, but he’s funny and original though his fight with Bond at the end is far too short. John Barry’s score, written in three weeks, may be one of his lesser Bond efforts, with few real themes aside from the main one which is used throughout, but is still good. Though the most light hearted of his Bond soundtracks, with even the ‘action’ version of the main theme somewhat jokey in nature, and with even a theme for Nick Nack, it does have its darker passages and like You Only Live Twice includes some passages of Oriental sounding music, though less elaborately arranged. The Man With The Golden Gun makes some major mistakes, but doesn’t majorly disgrace the franchise overall. There really is some good stuff in it – it just needed some extensive re-writing before filming begun to sort out the story and a couple of genuine thrill sequences added, after which you’d then have a really good Bond film indeed.