My knowledge of The Man With The Golden Gun is pretty strange, as I usually flick onto broadcasts during the third act, when it seems like it’s a pretty decent Bond film. Having not made myself watch the whole thing, there were some surprises in store – and not all of them were nice.
Again focusing on the villain, the open has Scaramanga and his floozy Andrea Anders hanging out on their sekrit island, with Nick Nack as butler. Some gangster dude arrives from somewhere, and Nick Nack invites him in and then heads off a control room, directing a GAME OF DEATH between Scaramanga and gangster guy in a funhouse hall of mirrors. Naturally, Scaramanga wins.
While in the classic style, it’s just basically nood women shimmying again. Even the title song is quite pedestrian although Lulu does her best.
Even the soundtrack is lacklustre, with some low points, like the slide whistle over the barrel-roll jump, making it sound like the foley guy from Funniest Home Videos was let loose on the mixer.
We might as well muse on some of the rejected suggestions for title song acts; Elton John in his prime (with Bernie Taupin doing the lyrics, not Don Black) might’ve been amazing as a follow up to Wings’ contribution. And of course Alice Cooper actually submitted his own title song, but it was also rejected for some reason. (Maybe Mr Cooper was a bit too out-there for the producers.)
We’re back to the East for the first time since You Only Live Twice, with brief sequences in Beirut (in a London studio), Macau, Hong Kong, the second act in Bangkok and surrounds, before finally we reach Bad-ass Villain Island.
There is only one thing holding this film together, and that is the pure personal charisma of Christopher Lee as Francesco Scaramanga, the Man With The Third Nipple.
As I write this, it’s nearly a year since Lee’s death, so I think it’s worth reflecting on how awesome he was. Up to the point his acting career was mainly in horror, but before all that, he actually worked as a commando and an intelligence officer as part of his war service. I think badass is perhaps an overused term, but it surely must apply to Christopher Lee.
I’m not sure if he brought any practical insights to Guy Hamilton the way he did to Peter Jackson when describing what noise you’d make if you were stabbed. But anyway, the dining table scene is fantastic (yes, better than Dr. No) and elevates the whole movie since it also gives Moore a chance to stretch
He is assisted in a number of ways by Nick Nack (Hervé Villechaize) who’s one of the more memorable henchmen throughout the whole series. In the end Nack survives the destruction of the base, escapes on the junk with Bond and Goodnight, and while those two are getting comfortable, he attacks them with a knife and several bottles of Dom Perignon. Nick Nack is sent packing and is given a berth with a more scenic view.
There’s the plot that has something to do with using solar power to corner the energy market – timely, because of the energy crisis in the early 70s, but having a particular resonance today, even though the technology is now common as muck, thank god – but that’s more of a McGuffin. Ostensibly, Hai Fat (Richard Loo) is employing Scaramanga to kill the inventor of the “solex” and steal the device, to complete his battle station or whatever, but essentially Scaramanga’s motive is that he enjoys killing people. The big paydays that come with it only add to the fun. Psychopath, yes, megalomaniac, not so much.
There’s basically one scalp he really really wants, though, and it’s James Bond. When Bond finally turns up they have that nice dinner conversation and then do the funhouse thing again. Naturally, Bond wins.
Generally the Bond’s female sidekicks have a degree of moxie and agency beyond being something for Bond to root. In contrast Mary Goodnight (Britt Ekland) seems mostly useless. There is the bit where she precipitates the destruction of the base by throwing its sole employee into one of the helium vats, but I think this is one case where MI6 would’ve preferred the base intact.
There’s also Scaramanga’s mistress, Andrea Adams (Maud Adams) who is a bit more useful, although as the sacrificial lamb her exit is both chilling and yet underwhelming. Adams appears again in the series as the titular character in Octopussy, so to go along with the thirty different people that have played Felix Leiter or Blofeld, we have the same actor playing different key roles.
They’re mostly in Scaramanga’s employ – there’s the cool looking solar power base (still cool even today), the car that attaches to a plane (why not just get a normal plane?) and of course the Golden Gun.
And for the service of his mission, what does Bond have Q make him? A decoy nipple. Yup.
There’s a bit to unpack here.
The martial arts gimmick replaces the blaxploitation/voodoo gimmick here, and but it’s just doesn’t have any snap. After a clumsy attempt to infiltrate Hai Fat’s compound in Bangkok, Bond is knocked out cold and taken to a martial arts school, where he is matched against a couple of the acolytes. Bond has had ninja training, remember, so he gives it a red hot go, but decides that discretion probably is the better part of valour, and anyway it turns out two teenage girls do a far better job of fending off the dojo than Bond.
And then there’s the return of the redneck sheriff from Live And Let Die. Why? Comic relief? I know the ’70s Bond movies are the last place to look for gravitas, but c’mon, people, at least preserve some dignity in your global superspy fantasies.
When you have a location as distinctive as Khao Phing Kan it makes setting the scene for a villain base a bit easier, and the accoutrements like the storage vat thing and the control doohickey whatchamacallit. So that’s good. It looks a bit cheap when it starts to fall apart but then you can go “wow this is just like Dr. No! Classic!”
The barrel roll jump should’ve been impressive but, well, as I said above about the overlaid sound effect and that bloody sheriff character. Gravitas, eh.
Like I said, Lee’s performance holds this together. I think it’s better than Diamonds Are Forever by dint of a great villain, more interesting locations, and a proper final act, but on the whole it doesn’t quite gel as well as the best 007 films.
At least I do know that it gets better from here on, the next one arguably being the definitive 007 film of the Moore era. Can’t wait to get my jaws into that one.
As for this go-around, it’s 13 wooden elephants out of 20.