Today’s entry is the 9th Bond film, a misguided flop called…
SETUP: Master assassin Francisco Scaramanga (Christopher Lee) sends MI6 a golden bullet inscribed with James Bond’s number 007, a clear sign that Bond is on the killer’s hit list. M relieves Bond from active duty so that he may find a nice, quiet place to die. That is, unless he finds and kills Scaramanga first.
BUT IN REALITY: Scaramanga didn’t send the bullet. Scaramanga, in fact, isn’t even thinking about Bond, despite the Bond wax statue he uses for target practice. Instead, the killer’s kept lover, Andrea Anders (Maud Adams), hoped the bullet would bring Bond to rescue her while Scaramanga hunts the Solex, a device that converts solar power to electricity. Scaramanga plans to sell the device to the world’s highest bidder, a sensitive issue in 1974. Bond meets the assassin in a duel, tracking Scaramanga across his private island, into his funhouse, and finally killing him with a well-placed shot.
VILLAINOUS DISFIGUREMENT: Scaramanga is a former circus trick-shooter who got his first kill by avenging his murdered pet elephant. That has nothing to do with anything, but it’s very cool. His actual disfigurement is a “superfluous mammary gland,” or third nipple, a symbol of advanced virility, which he channels into his craft by only making love just before he kills. He must be doing something right. His titular Golden Gun only fires a single gold bullet, and he never misses.
THE MUSCLE: The producers decided against backing the physically imposing Christopher Lee with a beefy bodyguard, and instead gave Scaramanga a dwarf manservant named Nick Nack (Hervé Villechaize). This guy is not employee of the month. He routinely hires Mafia thugs to kill his boss, which Scaramanga enjoys as a means of keeping his skills sharp. In the film’s final moments, Bond fights Nick Nack on Scaramanga’s private junk, eventually closing the butler up in a suitcase.
BOND GIRL AND FEMME FATALE: The femme fatale is Andrea Anders, a woman who gets in way out of her depth by hooking up with Scaramanga, and then uses her wits and her body to convince Bond to save her. Scaramanga rewards her betrayal with a golden bullet of her own.
The Bond Girl is Mary Goodnight, a recurring character from the novels brought to life by 70s sex symbol Britt Ekland. Ekland is fine in the role, but Goodnight is one of the most poorly written heroines in the Bond series. She’s eager and annoying, plus clumsy enough to get kidnapped by Scaramanga, trigger a meltdown in his energy reactor, and nearly kill Bond by fumbling with the Solex’s control panel. Even Bond barely tolerates her. She exists mainly because Bond has to have sex with someone in the film’s last scene, and the only other person left alive is Nick Nack.
“PAY ATTENTION, 007”: Q is in the movie, but his only gadget contribution is a fake nipple Bond uses to disguise himself as Scaramanga. I guarantee this wasn’t what Q envisioned when he signed up for the service.
MOST EMBARRASSING CULTURAL MOMENT: The guy’s name is Nick Nack.
Actually, wait, that’s not even the worst of it. Let’s talk about JW Pepper. Clifton James appears in this movie, reprising the role he debuted in Live and Let Die. JW Pepper is a racist, half-witted, ornery stereotype of a southern sheriff that I would suspect was ripped off from Jackie Gleason in Smokey and the Bandit if that film hadn’t arrived four years later. In LALD, his character actually scores a couple of laughs in spite of himself. In this film, he miraculously appears in Thailand so that he can join up with Bond, spit a few racial slurs, and leave. Thankfully, this was his last appearance in a Bond movie.
BOND’S BEST ONE-LINER: Bond’s sharp response to Scaramanga’s offer of partnership: “There’s a useful four letter word, and you’re full of it.”
WORTH MENTIONING: Christopher Lee is Ian Fleming’s cousin. . . Maud Adams would return a few films later as the title character in Octopussy, making her, I think, the only actress to nail Bond twice as different characters. . . This film was made at the peak of the kung fu movie craze. The scenes of Bond fighting at the dojo were included to take advantage.
OVERALL: The Man with the Golden Gun is not a very good movie, and it usually ranks near the bottom on any Bond list, obviously including mine. Still, I have a weakness for the movie. The film has been bullied and discarded since its release, but I choose to focus on its scrappy charms. The settings are spectacular and the action is tightly paced, including a truly excellent chase scene (best viewed on mute to avoid the ‘comedy’ of JW Pepper) and a tense, well-designed finale in Scaramanga’s funhouse.
I’m a realist, though, and my affection for the film can’t disguise its deep structural problems. The movie is a bait and switch, where we’re led to believe Bond is on the run from a hired killer, but is instead wrapped up in a murky plot about solar energy. Why is a wealthy assassin bothering with global energy policy? Because it was relevant to 1974 audiences, period. Plot reversals like this can work, but here the real story is much less interesting than the setup, and the film suffers for it.
It gets worse. The kung fu sequence is cutesy and drags the film to a halt, the lead heroine is a bikini that speaks, and the abundant comic relief… isn’t. In short, the film is a mess. The Man with the Golden Gun has a lot of ideas, but nothing to hold them together besides a charismatic villain and some great locations. This time, it wasn’t enough.
The James Bond Project
20. The Man with the Golden Gun
22. A View to a Kill