Roger Moore returns as James Bond in The Man With the Golden Gun with the world's deadliest assassin on his tail. Francisco Scaramanga (Christopher Lee) is obsessed from the opening scene with killing Bond, and his sidekick Nick Nack (Hervé Villechaize) is a diminutive but powerful and fun character in a film where the franchise starts taking a hard turn into campy action instead of serious spycraft. Unfortunately, the franchise won't shift from that trajectory for the rest of Moore's run, but this film remains the last mostly serious attempt at film-making for a while. Unfortunately, it also brings back the franchise's worst side character for another round to ruin what might otherwise be a fun car chase.
The film begins with a strange funhouse type sequence as we see Scaramanga hunt and eventually put a bullet right through a facsimile of Bond. After a horrible opening title sequence featuring one of the series' worst theme songs, a golden bullet is delivered to MI-5 with Bond's name on it: he's been targeted and is forced off his current case of investigating the international oil crisis (major news in the early 1970s). But that simple reassignment isn't going to deter Bond from doing his own side investigation, which leads him to businessman Hai Fat (Richard Loo).
Hai Fat had hired Scaramanga to kill one of his scientists after he had developed a component for a solar plant so powerful it would solve the world's energy needs. He captures Bond, but rather than have him be killed in his home estate, Fat have Bond moved to a martial arts dojo to have him be killed there. However, in another stunning orientalist trope for the series, we find that it is the slow middle aged white guy who is actually the martial arts master and defeats everyone in the dojo and escapes. Sigh.
There is one tiny high point, however, when Bond's accomplice rescues him along with the help of his teenage nieces, who both happen to be badass martial artists. I'm here all day for this, but the scene is unfortunately too brief as we stick with Bond who slips away.
The core of this film, though, remains the eponymous Scaramanga. Christopher Lee sells this film and everything good about it is directly attributable to him and the gravitas he brings. Nearing the film's climax as he has lured Bond to his island lair and has sat him down at a fancily adorned dinner table to explain his plan, he explains how they are the same– trained assassins at the top of their games. Bond just takes orders and does it for Queen and Country while Scaramanga is smart enough to charge $1,000,000 a kill (or about $5.8 million adjusted for inflation today) for his services. It's often that the Bond films will play this trope that he and the villain are the same, but this is one of the first (and certainly the most explicit) times it's stated.
And then there's that duel. That's the movie right there. It eventually leads into Scaramanga's funhouse, which is fun, and there do seem to be real stakes as we know how good he is with his golden gun. And then there's a scene wrapping up the solar energy subplot which is also a lot of fun, but the whole thing sort of rings hollow. Maybe it's that here we are almost a half century later and while we have made huge advances in solar energy, this remains pure science fiction.
The other downside is the reintroduction of racist sheriff JW Pepper, reprising his role from Live and Let Die. In this he's in not just one but two scenes as a stereotypical Ugly American tourist in Bangkok. and in the second he is Bond's unwitting passenger in a car chase featuring the unlikeliest Bond care ever, an AMC Hornet. They then engage is what is technically a spectacular stunt, jumping the car over a canal, but it's ruined by the inclusion of a slide whistle sound cue to remind us– see, it's fun! Boooooooooo.
JW Pepper, the slide whistle, and other touches throughout the movie punctuate with camp what could otherwise be a good film. And then we also have the film's horrible treatment of its female characters. Not only are they unremarkable and underdeveloped, they still continue the trope that the "first girl" gets fridged and the "last girl" is the girlfriend reward at the end of the movie. What makes this even more gross is a scene between Scaramanga and his mistress Andrea Anders (Maud Adams) in which he caresses her with his golden gun in an extremely phallic and simultaneously threatening manner. He then, of course, later murders her for sleeping with Bond. Taken as a whole, it's an extremely bad look but very on par with this franchise so far. Maud Adams will appear again as Octopussy in the film of the same name, but it won't be much of a redemption for this.
The Man With the Golden Gun has some good, some bad, and mostly a lot of wasted potential. In many senses that encapsulates the entire Roger Moore Bond era. If not for Christopher Lee bringing the goods as a captivating villain, this film would be a completely failure. Instead, it remains mostly watchable, and certainly not the low point of the franchise later Moore movies would become.
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For previous articles in this series, check out the articles in the box below.