Throughout this series I have cited Roger Ebert’s mantra that a James Bond film is “only as good as its villain” a few times. While I still believe that is true, The Man with the Golden Gun actually proves that you can make a villain too good. So good, in fact, that he becomes ineffective.
Christopher Lee plays the suave assassin Francisco Scaramanga, AKA The Man with the Golden Gun. His grand plan is to spend the $1,000,000 he earns per kill on turning solar energy into a super weapon. Talk about your green new deal!
Not only does this villain invest in renewable energy, he treats his servant of small stature, Nick Nack (Hervé Villechaize) almost like a friend. In fact, only the good guys talk down to Nick Nack and refer to him as a midget. He treats the ladies better than Bond too. Well, at least when he isn’t murdering them in or creeping them out this his gun fetish. Bond, on the other hand slaps them around and locks them in closets.
The film even gives Scaramanga the cool gadgets. There are only two of them, The Golden Gun and a car that converts into a plane, but Bond owns none. “Q” (Desmond Llewelyn) is in the film, but only to discuss bullet calibers. He actually doesn’t bring any gadgets to the table!
If it were not for the fact that Scaramanga is a cold blooded killer, well, there isn’t much evil in him otherwise. And as Scaramanga points out, Bond is a killer himself. Bond argues that he follows a strict code and does so in service of his government, but it comes off as weak.
A villain that can effectively debate Bond’s ethics and motivations could make for one interesting Bond film, but The Man With The Golden Gun doesn’t head down that path. Instead it falls into the same trope of the villain looking for a device, this time a Solex Agitator that makes solar energy truly excellent, so he can build a super weapon. This is what I mean by “too good.” You need the cut and dry crazy of a Auric Goldfinger or Ernest Blofeld to be on Bond’s side without question.
Anyway, these two crazy kids get together after MI6 receives a golden bullet with “007” etched into it’s side. A warning that a hit has been placed on our favourite secret agent and Scaramanga has been hired to carry out the order.
“M” (Bernard Lee) quickly takes James Bond (Roger Moore) off of his current case and orders him to remain in hiding until the Scaramanga can be tracked down. Bond, ignores this and instead carries out on his own to locate the assassin.
The unique features of the bullet makes it easy for Bond to trace its origins to a gunsmith which eventually brings him to Hong Kong where he finds Andrea Anders (Maud Adams), Scaramanga’s mistress. Anders want to make a deal. She as can get access to the Solex Agitator, and she will deliver it if Bond agrees kill Scaramanga . Looks like the hunter has become the hunted!
I enjoyed watching Bond chase down Scaramanga until the film veered off into the solar panel subplot. But you know, these movies needs a McGuffin of unlimited power and a base to blow up at the end.
Speaking of things not need in a movie, Bond runs into J.W. Pepper (Clifton James) the racist, loud mouthed Louisiana sheriff from Live and Let Die. He is completely wedged into this film for no reason other than director Guy Hamilton really liked the character. He was fine in the previous movie but not enough to see him again.
What we did need in the film was Mary Goodnight (Britt Ekland) who makes several appearances in the Ian Fleming novels, but this is sadly her only on screen appearance. She seems to have a knack for being in the wrong place at the wrong time and was a lot of fun. Geez, we get J.W. Pepper twice but only one Goodnight.
This movie also has one of the greatest car stunts on film. A spiral car jump that is absolutely insane! The only problem is they completely ruin it by running it in slow motion and adding a slide whistle sound effect from a cartoon. Grrrrrr.
Now, for the continuing competition with my wife Sarah to correctly guess how long it would take Bond to first get laid during each of these films. Man, I gotta say, Bond was WAY disappointing in this one and we were both WAY off. It took him a record 1hr and 13 minutes to seal the deal. Neither of us were even close. No Score for the 9th round!
Sarah – 5
Mars – 1
You’ll normally find The Man With the Golden Gun close to the bottom of plenty of “ranked” lists, and even though I do like parts of this one, I can see why. It really needed to focus on Scaramanga vs. Bond and show the villain doing some nasty stuff so we can root against him. And the way he went out was lame. If only they made the battle between the two characters memorable… Well, we would have had a much better film. Still, most this one is OK and at least better than You Only Live Twice.