Written by Ian Fleming, Richard Maibaum, and Tom Mankiewicz
Directed by Guy Hamilton
The ninth installment of the James Bond series of films doesn’t bring any fancy new gadgets. It doesn’t bring any new faces into the familiar recurring roles in the series. In many ways, it’s just more of the same. At times, it might be too much more of the same.
Francisco Scaramanga (portrayed by Christopher Lee) is an ex-KGB agent who’s decided to strike out on his own as a paid assassin. He lives in a tropical lair with his girlfriend, Andrea Anders (portrayed by Maud Adams), and a henchman/servant by the name of Nick Nack (portrayed by Herve Villechaize). In the opening sequence, a Chicago hitman is lured to the island, thinking he is there to assassinate Scaramanga himself. However, the entire sequence is just a form of entertainment to present Scaramanga with something of a challenge. Eventually, he slays the mobster the same way he slays all of his victims: with a gold bullet shot from a golden gun.
Back at MI6 headquarters, a gold bullet is sent to 007 as a warning from Scaramanga that he’s targeting him. The game seems to be afoot. M (portrayed by Bernard Lee) pulls Bond off of his current assignment for his own safety. Bond decides to take the bull by the horns and go after Scaramanga himself. His first stop is Beirut, where an MI6 agent was killed by Scaramanga back in 1969.
The clues take Bond to Hong Kong, where he meets up with a fellow agent and former lover by the name of Mary Goodnight (portrayed by Britt Ekland). He tracks down Andrea Anders and forces her to tell him where he can find Scaramanga. While staking out the club, it would seem Bond manages to dodge an assassination attempt. In reality, he was not the target. Bond is whisked off Lieutenant Hip (portrayed by Soon Taik-Oh) who is on the trail of a stolen technology called a Solex Agitator and a missing British scientist. Like any good suspense thriller, the two soon find that their paths are one and the same.
I really liked Christopher Lee in the role of Scaramanga. He’s set up to be cold and sinister and carries it quite well. Watching him use the golden gun to caress Andrea sets up plenty in the way of sexual overtones with what the golden gun represents. I didn’t need to know much about him before because he is so sinister and cold that knowing he was ex-KGB was enough to seal him as an evil dude who would stop at nothing for the trophies he wanted. Lee carries it all off, and quite well. The surprising performance here is from Maud Adams as Andrea. She has so many dimensions to her character and is almost as cold and calculating as Scaramanga, while also not above using her sex appeal to get what she wants, or at least what she wants at that moment.
I first became acquainted with James Bond during the run of Roger Moore as the super-spy. Having watched other actors before and since I have a different opinion than I had originally. Moore is a fine actor in many respects, and he carries Bond with the dignity and suave coolness one would expect from a cultured man. However, in The Man With the Golden Gun, Moore doesn’t always seem convinced by what he is doing, nor does he seem to be trying to convince the audience that he is for real. I also felt that at times he was already looking old for the part. He was 47 when this was filmed, and he appears at times to be more weathered than I would expect. Perhaps it is just a poor job on the part of the make-up department.
Most of the other characters work well, which is the saving grace of the film. Britt Ekland is great as the somewhat inept Mary Goodnight. She is comic relief and carries it well, making her character believable as an agent by not becoming too wacky. Soon Taik-Oh is great as a side-kick of sorts for Bond, although he isn’t allowed to overshadow the spy by actually succeeding in helping him. I think some of the shortcomings of the various secondary characters who are there to make up for the weaknesses in Bond’s character which are not all Moore’s fault. Add in Herve Villechaize in a role that proves he could do much more than “De plane! De plane!” and you have a wealth of secondary characters that make up for a multitude of sins.
The biggest sin is the resurrection of Sheriff J.W. Pepper as played by Clifton James in Live and Let Die. It is so contrived to have him be in Hong Kong on vacation and have him team up with Bond just so he can act the same way he did in the previous film there. It worked in that situation. He was acting like an ignorant southern cracker in Louisiana. Here, he’s acting like an ignorant southern cracker in Hong Kong. It just doesn’t work. I can’t even imagine this man choosing to take a vacation to Hong Kong, or even out of the country. His presence is a good indication of where the franchise was going, however. Rather than continuing with good spy-versus-spy-type stories, it descended into campiness and parodies that had more in common with the Austin Powers series of lampoons than with earlier Bond flicks.
The stunts are good, in particular the car chases and jumps. The car that turns into an airplane was a terrific idea and I was surprised to learn in the special features that one actually did exist at one point. The cinematography is beautiful, whether it’s Scaramanga’s tropical island or the neon lights in Hong Kong. Everything has its own distinctive beauty and is filmed to be shown in the best light. This is a stark contrast to how New York City was shown in the previous film; as if there were only islands of solitude and safety above the streets with their dangerous urban decay.
While I liked The Man With the Golden Gun, it isn’t up to what many of the earlier films were. It’s a decent movie, mostly due to a good supporting cast who work their roles around Bond quite well. Roger Moore never seems to quite get his footing in this story. I wish the character of J.W. Pepper was deleted entirely, but the producers and writers are getting the idea of beating a good character or idea into the ground before being done with it. He isn’t the last character that comes back and doesn’t work as well the second time around.
There are many things that could have been better, but I’d still watch The Man With the Golden Gun again if given the opportunity. It’s a good movie, but there is room for improvement.
• Commentary with Director Guy Hamilton, and
• Inside The Man With the Golden Gun
• Double-O Stuntmen
• Television Spots
• Radio Spots
• The Man With the Golden Gun Gallery
Previous film in the series (link): Live and Let Die
Next film in the series (link): The Spy Who Loved Me