Hi there! The name’s Bowman. Lisa Marie Bowman. Yes, I’ve made that joke a few times over the past two weeks but so what? Let me have my fun! And speaking of fun, we’ve been reviewing the entire James Bond franchise here at the Shattered Lens. Today, we’re going to take a look at 1974’s The Man With The Golden Gun, the 9th “official” James Bond film and the second Bond film to feature Roger Moore in the lead role.
The Man With The Golden Gun is Francisco Scaramanga (Christopher Lee), the world’s most feared assassin. Living on his own private island, Scaramanga is waited on hand-and-foot by a murderous dwarf named Nick Nack (Herve Villechaize) and his mistress Andrea Anders (played by Maud Adams, who, like me, is a member of the red-headed 2%). Every few days or so, Nick Nack arranges for a different gangster or spy to come to the island and fight a duel with Scaramanga. Much to Nick Nack’s disappointment, Scaramanga always manages to win each duel. However, Scaramanga remains a frustrated assassin because he’s never had the chance to take on (and kill) his hero, James Bond.
Just how obsessed is Scaramanga with Bond? Scaramanga has his own private funhouse set up on the island and the star exhibit at that funhouse is a wax figure of Bond that Scaramanga enjoys firing golden bullets at.
Meanwhile, in London, MI6 receives one of those golden bullets with “007” etched into the surface. M (Bernard Lee), not wishing to see his best agent killed, immediately relieves Bond from his current mission. Bond, along with a painfully dizzy British agent named Mary Goodnight (played by Britt Ekland), responds by setting off to track down Scaramanga on his own.
Bond eventually tracks Scaramanga down to Bangkok where Scaramanga is busy scheming to steal something called a Solex agitator which, depending on who is using it, can either be the key to solving the energy crisis or it can be a deadly, solar-powered weapon. Bond also discovers that the bullet wasn’t sent by Scaramanga but was instead sent by Andrea who wants Scaramanga dead.
Not surprisingly, this all leads to what you would expect — an elaborate car chase, a Bond girl in a bikini, and a final duel between Bond and Scaramanga.
When The Man With The Golden Gun was first released way back in 1974, the film received some of the worst reviews in the Bond franchise’s history. A typical review came from Time Magazine’s Jay Cocks who complained that Moore “lacks all Connery’s strengths and has several deep deficiencies”, whilst Lee was “an unusually unimpressive villain.” In a complaint that would be made about the majority of the post-Connery, pre-Craig Bond films, Cocks also criticized the film’s plot for being too dependent on both Bond and Scaramanga using implausible gadgets.
While most of the Bond films were treated dismissively by critics when they were first released, the majority of them have also come to be seen in a more positive light as the years have passed. The Man With The Golden Gun, however, is an exception to that rule. Nearly four decades after first being released, The Man With The Golden Gun still has a reputation for being a disappointment. While Christopher Lee has rightly come to be recognized as one of the best Bond villains, the film itself is still regularly dismissed as one of the worst of the Bond films.
The Man With The Golden Gun‘s flaws are pretty obvious.
As played by Britt Ekland, Mary Goodnight is perhaps one of the most useless Bond girls ever and pretty much confirms every accusation of sexism that’s ever been made against the Bond films. It’s hard not to wish that the role of Goodnight had been played by Maud Adams who, as Andrea Anders, proves to be one of the best of the Bond femme fatales.
Redneck Sheriff J. W. Pepper (Clifton James) was an acquired taste when he first showed up in Live and Let Die and those who were annoyed by his character the first time will probably not be happy when he implausibly pops up in this film, vacationing in Bangkok and somehow getting involved in yet another car chase.
Finally, while Roger Moore’s performance as James Bond has always been rather underrated, it’s hard to deny that he looks a bit ill-at-ease in this film. As opposed to Live and Let Die (which was clearly written to match Moore’s interpretation of the role), The Man With The Golden Gun feels like it was written for Sean Connery’s more ruthless interpretation of the role. There’s a rather ugly scene where Bond roughly slaps Andrea to get her to tell him about Scaramanga. It’s the type of thing that you could imagine Connery doing without a second thought but Moore seems uncomfortable with it. His Bond simply doesn’t have the sadistic streak that hid underneath the surface of Connery’s interpretation.
That said, The Man With The Golden Gun is something of a guilty pleasure of mine. The Man With The Golden Gun is one of the Bond films that I always make a point to catch whenever it shows up on television and I certainly had a better time rewatching it than I did when I rewatched You Only Live Twice. The film moves along quickly enough, the car chases are a lot of fun, and Scaramanga’s funhouse is one of the best of the Bond sets.
For all of its flaws, The Man With The Golden Gun is saved by its trio of villains. Maud Adams, Herve Villechaize, and especially Christopher Lee give three of the most memorably eccentric performances in the history of the Bond franchise. They’re so much fun to watch that, if spending time with them also means spending time with Mary Goodnight and Sheriff Pepper, it’s a sacrifice that I’m willing to make.
The strength of Christopher Lee’s performance as Scaramanga cannot be understated. There’s something oddly touching in the contrast between Scaramanga the steely assassin with the golden gun and Scaramanga, the insecure killer who is apparently always comparing his accomplishments to the accomplishments of James Bond. Lee’s Scaramanga is such a compelling character that you almost regret that he can’t, in some way, be allowed to achieve some sort of victory at the end of the film.
But, of course, if that happened then it would no longer be a James Bond film.
As always, regardless of what the critics may have wished, James Bond would return. Ironically, Moore would follow-up a what many considered to be the worst James Bond adventure with a film that many consider to be one of the best. We’ll be taking a look at The Spy Who Loved Me tomorrow.
Until then, let’s enjoy one of the most underrated theme songs in the history of the Bond franchise.