Bondathon #9: The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)

Posted: March 24, 2016 in Movie Review
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Man with the Golden Gun (1975)

Director: Guy Hamilton

Starring: Roger Moore, Christopher Lee, Britt Ekland, Maud Adams, Hervé Villechaize

The way that some film critics would tell it, this one should have been the golden bullet through the heart of the James Bond franchise. It did underperform at the box office, that’s true. But considering the fifteen additional films (and counting) which have followed, “The Man with the Golden Gun” obviously wasn’t an unmitigated, franchise-killing disaster. It’s not even the worst film in the series’ 50+ year history. Though it does suffer from some of the same problems as “Diamonds Are Forever” and “Live and Let Die” did before it, I believe there is enough positive still leftover to, if not outweigh the negatives, at least find something to latch onto and remain entertained.

A golden bullet with ‘007’ inscribed on it has been sent to the headquarters of MI6. Clearly sent as a message meant for one James Bond (Roger Moore), it is assumed the bullet comes from master assassin Francisco Scaramanga (Christopher Lee). This perceived threat against the life of one of his best agents forces M (Bernard Lee) to remove Bond from a mission involving a solar energy scientist named Gibson. If you think that’ll never come up again, you’d be wrong.

Sent to find Scaramanga, Bond traces the manufacturing and shipping of the man’s golden bullets. This leads 007 to Scaramanga’s mistress, Andrea Anders (Maud Adams), who is collecting the shiny ammunition for its eventual owner. In Hong Kong, Bond corners and interrogates Ms. Anders who tells him to check out the Bottoms Up Club. Scaramanga is there, it’s true, but outside perched on a rooftop in prime position for an assassination. Lucky for Bond that he isn’t the target (for now). Instead, Scaramanga kills the scientist whom MI6 had been trying to contact. Apparently, Mr. Gibson had with him a Solex agitator, which is in no uncertain terms the most important piece of a solar energy station. In the wrong hands, it could be made into a dreadful weapon, and the Solex was swiped by Scaramanga’s vertically-challenged henchman, Nick Nack (Hervé Villechaize). Bond’s mission is now to eliminate Scaramanga and retrieve the Solex. It is also in Hong Kong that Bond runs into Mary Goodnight (Britt Ekland), a British agent and prior acquaintance of Bond’s. As such, Ms. Goodnight is the only Bond girl with whom 007 has ever been shown to have a history.

Switching the scenery to Bangkok, Thailand, Bond seeks an audience with the man suspected of ordering the hit on Gibson, a businessman named Hai Fat who is now in possession of the Solex. Bond even goes the extra mile of posing as Scaramanga, not knowing that Scaramanga is already set up as a guest there. Hai Fat arranges to have his fighters kill Bond, not anticipating that Bond would have backup in the form of Lt. Hip and his highly-trained nieces. The resulting chase produces an involuntary cringing reaction, because of the negative association with speedboats resulting from their use in that momentum-killing sequence from “Live and Let Die.” Sure enough, there’s Louisiana Sheriff J. W. Pepper (Clifton James), on vacation with his wife. *Sigh* Damn it. Not this again! The sequence is brief and so relief sets in that, finally, we’re done with the overbearing, unfunny, blithering racist buffoon once and for all… Yeah, you wish.

Scaramanga having killed Hai Fat and taken the Solex for himself, his mistress Ms. Anders approaches Bond with the promise of retrieving it for him if only he will kill Scaramanga. Anders reveals that it was she, not Scaramanga, who sent the ‘007’ gold bullet to MI6. At the rendezvous, Bond discovers that Anders is dead, shot through the chest. Before he can leave, Scaramanga sits down to have a face-to-face chat. Keeping him talking, Bond discovers the Solex on the floor at Anders’ feet. Carefully, he picks up the Solex and is able to pass it to Lt. Hip (posing as a peanut vendor), who in turn hands it to Mary Goodnight. It is at this point that Ms. Goodnight begins proving herself to be one of the most useless of all the Bond girls. In the act of putting a tracer on Scaramanga’s car, Goodnight winds up getting nabbed and tossed into the boot (or trunk, if you prefer). Bond would like to be able to chase after her, but she’s got the keys to his car. Worse still, the car Bond does eventually use has J.W. Pepper in the passenger seat. You know… it really gets under my skin when franchises I legitimately love go out of their way to do things that only serve to annoy me. When the car chase ends, so does Pepper’s part in the narrative. FINALLY!

Somehow, don’t ask me how, Scaramanga and Nick Nack turn their car into a working airplane and take off with Goodnight still trapped inside the boot. Apparently, the tracking device actually works, as Bond is able to locate Scaramanga’s position on an island somewhere in Chinese-controlled waters. When Bond arrives, Scaramanga shows off his solar-powered death ray by blowing up Bond’s plane, and subsequently challenges Bond to a duel, to which Bond consents. Bond suggests that the six bullets in his Walther PPK to Scaramanga’s one golden bullet gives him the advantage, but Scaramanga is skeptical. After the prescribed 20-count, Scaramanga disappears. Nick Nack leads Bond into his boss’s funhouse (which we saw used in the film’s prologue), where Bond ultimately outsmarts his enemy by posing as the life-size figurine of himself which Scaramanga had stupidly set up. With Scaramanga dead, there is still the second half of the mission: the retrieval of the Solex.

This is where the film really gets carried away with showing how much of a ‘dumb blonde’ Mary Goodnight is. First, she defeats an enemy by knocking him into a liquid helium tank, which would normally be great except that it means the island is about to tear itself apart. Next, her cute little derriere manages to hit just the wrong button, activating the solar beam and almost incinerating Bond as he tries to pry loose the Solex. It’s all supposed to be funny but, like with J.W. Pepper, it simply isn’t. Anyway, the job is done and the island is dead. There’s one more battle with Nick Nack… but whatever, let’s just end this thing already.

I don’t know if the term ‘mixed bag’ fits any James Bond film quite like the way it does with “The Man with the Golden Gun.” Part of that comes from the indecision on just what kind of movie the ninth Bond film wants to be. Is it a spy thriller? Is it a western? Is it a Hong Kong martial arts film? Is it a slapstick comedy? It tries to be all of the above, with varying degrees of success in each area. In the minus column you have one of the worst Bond themes, the unforgivable misuse of actress Britt Ekland, the return of J.W. Pepper, and the inclusion of Hervé Villechaize in any capacity. The pluses? At no point is “The Man with the Golden Gun” ever boring. As much as I can’t stand Hervé Villechaize, he did serve as inspiration for Mini-Me  from the “Austin Powers” trilogy. But the biggest positive of all is Christopher Lee. Always excellent at playing villains, Lee practically keeps this movie afloat all by himself.

The thing is, if I tally everything up, it leaves me with something of a neutral opinion of “The Man with the Golden Gun.” I neither love it nor do I hate it. The series could do worse… and believe me, it has. Want to watch a truly excellent movie featuring both Christopher Lee and Britt Ekland? Seek you the 1973 horror classic, “The Wicker Man” (not the 2006 Nicolas Cage version, which is unspeakable poo poo). Back on the subject at hand, if a fun two-hour cinematic romp is what you’re after, you may experience that with “The Man with the Golden Gun.” If you go in expecting a truly classic Bond adventure, however, all you’ll find is fool’s gold.

  1. Sylvia Williams says:

    I have to tell you that your outstanding review is really inspired and it made me laugh out loud A LOT!
    You are really on top of your game in your critique. Even though we know the movie has pluses and minuses, the review is just plain fun to read, so thanks!

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