The good, the bad, and the Bond: Re-evaluating 007 – The Man with the Golden Gun

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WITH the growing pains of Live and Let Die set to one side, the troops of SCM analyse Roger Moore’s sophomore turn in the superspy’s Savile Row shoes: The Man with the Golden Gun.

Andrew Noel: With his passing still fresh in the mind, it only makes sense to evaluate the only Bond film to feature the wonderful Christopher Lee: The Man with the Golden Gun. Starring as Francisco Scaramanga – a circus raised, trick shot expert, portrayed as Bond’s equal – Lee absolutely nails the role of the villain. Without any gimmicks or frills, Scaramanga is one of the simplest, and most effective, Bond villains of the era. Okay, so maybe the Golden Gun itself is a slight gimmick, but that’s overshadowed by Lee’s powerful, sublime acting. If anything, the weapon is justified by its demonstration of how badass Scaramanga truly is.

Now we’re past the obvious appraisal, it’s time to move on to the less obvious areas of excellence. Both at the time of its release and retrospectively, The Man with the Golden Gun has been met with mixed and often negative reception. I would argue this criticism is hardly justified. Looking at Bond films like Diamonds Are Forever, where the story drags at a snail’s pace, and You Only Live Twice, where the villain is little more than a joke, this film is actually pretty riveting.

Roger Moore is a sophisticated, older Bond who, now rid of the smug smile of Connery, effortlessly breezes from scene to scene, without so much as flinching at the slightest hint of danger. His final showdown with Scaramanga is an intense fighting scene that requires all of Bond’s cunning and wit. Even the supporting characters are well fleshed out; Lieutenant Hip and his surprisingly kick-ass nieces provide some slightly comical relief as well as decent support for Bond during his mission. While Britt Ekland’s Mary Goodnight may not be the brightest bulb in MI6, she’s not as useless as some of the other women we’ve seen grace the screen with Bond.

The Man with the Golden Gun is complex yet easy to follow, serious yet humorous, and with some enjoyable action sequences that actually complement the storyline. From Bond taking part in a deadly karate duel to car chases through the undergrowth of Asia, these scenes both look and feel exciting. Even the special effects are up to scratch, with legitimate explosions and lasers that are a far cry from the pathetic puffs of smoke we’ve seen in previous films. Thankfully these effects aren’t overused, and the audience isn’t smothered by fire and solar-powered destruction.

But it certainly isn’t perfect. The Bond films had yet to escape the shadow of ditzy blondes as sidekicks and the score is subpar, but it still stands a head above much of the swill that preceded it. Roger Moore and Christopher Lee stride confidently through an interesting plot with some great cinematic effects. Truly, this film is one of the best in Bond’s canon.

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Truan Evans: The last Bond to be produced by Eon’s dynamic duo of Broccoli and Saltzman – with Saltzman selling his majority shares in the distribution company thereafter – it’s a real shame that The Man With The Golden Gun is as underwhelming as it ultimately is. Doubly so considering the inspired choice of the impeccable Christopher Lee as Francisco Scaramanga, a dark doppelganger to Bond, the titular man with the golden gun.

He’s a man every bit as ostentatious and bon vivant as Bond but who, unlike Bond, indulges his every urge to kill and makes it his literal business, as an extortionately paid assassin, to be the very best in said killing. Lee, interestingly enough, was also a cousin, by marriage, to Fleming, and Fleming had been recommending Lee for a number of the previous films, but in this instance I’d certainly forgive any implied nepotism.

With Lee on board as an inspired villain, a fairly interesting plot involving the character’s obsessive rivalry with Bond, and with Moore once again taking the helm after firmly establishing himself in Live and Let Die, Golden Gun would seem to have all the right ingredients for a striking Bond picture. Alas, the Scaramanga vs. Bond plot is often superseded by the subplot: an ill-fitting, stapled-on arc concerning the topical energy crisis and competition to develop alternative sources of power.

Though the sets and machines devised for this plot are anachronistically impressive and quaintly entertaining in and of themselves (“Imagine – a machine that can harness the power of the sun!”), they still seem completely incongruous to the motivations of the villain who wishes to monopolise them. Yes, Scaramanga likes to live well and apparently stands to make a great deal of money out of controlling the device, but he’s already established that he manages to live handsomely very cheaply and would never want to give up the professional assassin trade. Would he really be that interested in monopolising an energy source and thereby becoming a well-known, constantly monitored tycoon? It’s a clear instance of the writers putting a topical cart before the horse.

And that’s just one facet of the film which seems bizarrely off kilter. Several other plot elements make hardly any sense: Why is M who was interested in retrieving the solar technology, perfectly chuffed when the dunderheaded actions of distressed damsel Mary Goodnight (the beautiful but almost comically phoned-in Britt Ekland) accidentally result in a solar-powered station somehow blowing up. Beyond the ludicrous implications of that sentence, in and of itself, isn’t that the worst possible solution to the energy crisis we’re supposed to care about?

Add in a few awkward plot detours, including an attempted death by martial arts tournament sequence – because ye’ know, that’s what folks do in Asia – which don’t advance the plot at all and are obviously intended as a shameless way of latching onto the then-recent kung-fu craze. Then stuff back in unwanted, clichéd and annoying characters like J.W. Pepper and we can fully mirror Bond’s own sentiment of: “Oh no, not you again…” Maybe that was the joke?

Finally, add a smattering of seduction scenes that are, somehow, just as pedestrian as they are uncomfortable; Mary Goodnight is turned on by the idea of Bond apparently consigning a knife-wielding midget to a horrible death by drowning, in a suitcase (what the actual fuck?) and you’ve got yourself a disappointing and thoroughly uninspired, run-of-the-mill Bond flick.

It’s perhaps even more a shame here since, as I say, there definitely was some good, if underdeveloped, material at work here; the setting of South-east Asia in the early 70’s would, you might hope, yield much more interesting, enduring elements than a lame energy-crisis sub-plot- wasn’t there a war going on around there or something??

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1 Response

  1. September 22, 2015

    […] it now; there isn’t a bad word to be said about John Barry. Except maybe that slide whistle in Golden Gun, but that’s the past. We can move […]

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