The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)

Welcome to your briefing 007. Your mission: The Man with the Golden Gun. It appears as though top assassin Francisco Scaramanga (“The Man with the Golden”) has his eye set on your number. Your current assignment on the energy crisis is now not as important as you staying alive.

The Beginning

The opening sequence of this Bond film is actually one of the better ones to this point in the series in my opinion. It chronicles the wacky, yet extremely suspenseful and effective, “most dangerous game” type scene. The set up is a neat, exclusive island compound where the “man with the golden gun” recruits people for him to practice his assassin skills. The sequence is aided by the ominous and creepily lilliputian sidekick Nick Nack, who orchestrates this evil game of tricks and fun through Scaramanga’s fun house. The threat to Bond is fully realized when Scaramanga gets his man and proceeds to showcase his stellar sharpshooting.

This takes us into the famous title sequence. For a while now the style of the sequence itself has not changed and as such has become somewhat boring and uninteresting on a visual level. However, the theme songs are usually strong and this one from Lulu is catchy as well, although it hardly ranks as one of the best, though it is distinctive enough to be more memorable than others.

Location

Beirut, Hong Kong, Scaramanga’s Island compound

Allies

Hip

Bond is not treated to too many allies this go around. He has co-agent Mary Goodnight (who is showcased in the “Girls” section) and his Hong Kong contact Hip. Hip is a cool character, even if he is not given much to do and we don’t get to see him a whole lot. He knows the ins and outs of Hong Kong and aides our man Bond get to where he’s going and get the information he needs, but really this is Bond’s show since he is the one being hunted, and conversely hunting Scaramanga right back.

Also, there is the unfortunate inclusion of J.W. Pepper, who feigns the concept of ally.

Enemies

Francisco Scaramanga

Scaramanga is one of the better Bond villains because of both his talent and his knowledge of his talents. He is billed as one of the world’s best assassins and he lives up to the hype, threatening Bond’s existence as the world’s top spy. In many ways he is Bond’s equal because of his reputation, his skill at catching beautiful women (well really just the one), and his superior marksmanship. Intellectually he also pushes Bond to his egotistical extreme.

Nick Nack

At Scaramanga’s right hand is the peculiar sidekick Nick Nack, who is also a great character in the Bond franchise for a few reasons. One is that he is all of 3 foot 9 inches, which easily makes him the smallest of all Bond villains and is clearly the inspiration for the famous Mini-Me from the Austin Powers films. The second reason is that, even though he is small, Nick Nack is a dangerous dude who is just as evil and conniving as Scaramanga, which makes them quite the team to watch.

Hai Phat

Hai Phat is not much of a character here and is only a villain in terms of his evil plotting. He is included in the energy crisis plot, which makes his little more than a financial backer as Scaramanga is clearly the one with the final say, especially when it comes to Bond. He is also only on screen for a short time, posing little threat to Bond, especially as just an elderly rich man, which is not unlike Mr. Osato from You Only Live Twice.

Q Branch

Finally Q has a bit of a bigger role than he has had in the last few films in the series, but not really in any way in terms of innovations or gadgetry. Q appears almost as more of a closer consultant to M and the rest of MI6 as they look to solve the mystery behind the Solex, a device. This is strange to think of when Q really is just in charge of the gadgets that the agents use, but I suppose fans were wanting more of Q, so the producers obliged. The one thing we do see Q provide, is the third nipple, which allows Bond to impersonate Scaramanga. Merely a strange quirk for the sake of quirks. We are also treated to the great background work by Q branch while Q and Bond are discussing more pressing matters. In this instance, the camera gun. Powerful pictures.

The Girls

Mary Goodnight

Mary Goodnight, drawing another comparison to You Only Live Twice, is much like Aki, who was an agent who helped Bond on his way. This time, however, Goodnight is not nearly as cool or as qualified as Aki, who always seemed to be in the right place at the right time, was. Instead she plays the dumb blonde who is pretty and lusts after Bond, even enduring of the most awkward and excruciating scenes of Bond’s obsession with women. It’s not the first time Bond has lain with the enemy for the sake of the country(Thunderball), but this time Bond is much less convincing in his explanation to the ally Mary Goodnight.

Andrea

Andrea is the lovely woman of Scaramanga who does some of his dirty work for him, keeping her man anonymous and mysterious. But once Bond gets his hands on her, like many before her, she is turned over to the “good” side, helping Bond figure out Scaramanga’s evil plot. But her evils ways aren’t the only thing she loses along the way.

The Car & the Chase

Again there are two chase scenes in this film, one notable, one not, but sadly there are no exciting cars or other vehicles. The first chase is a boat chase which takes place in Thailand and features perhaps the most boring chase scene in the series. It seems like nothing happens. There is no cool stunts and many lames tacts which result in nothing but a lame escape by Bond.

However, the second chase is much better and that is because of the stunts, which are both exciting and cool in a “there is no way that could ever happen” kind of way. But the downside is that Bond is driving an AMC. I will give them the benefit of the doubt, they didn’t know the future. On the other side, Scaramanga is driving a car plane. You heard that right. A car plane.

Mission Debriefing

One of the major draws, for me at least, of the Bond franchise has always been great villains and characters, and The Man with the Golden Gun is full of them. I really must give credit to Tom Mankiewicz, and Richard Maibaum, for making this a memorable entry into the series if anything else. But that does not make this one of the best entries in the series. No, that would mean that there were none, or at least very few, missteps taken by director Guy Hamilton and the others involved in the film, and that just isn’t the case. Almost for every interesting aspect of the film, there is a separate counter than offsets what was good. But taking the good with the bad, I would tend to say that it is at least a fair, and worthy, entry into the series. But here is hoping to there being better down the road (…there is, so stay tuned).

In this one Bond, once again played by Roger Moore, is put to the test by an assassin, Francisco Scaramanga (Christopher Lee), who is out to oust Commander Bond. He has even created a twisted house of fun in his very own isolated island compound, which also serves for quite the final duel between Bond and Scaramanga. But the plot couldn’t really be that simple, could it? Of course not, there is also the plot to control the world and build a powerful laser capable of mass destruction. But I am often left wondering why such a thing must happen.

The last entry in the series, Live and Let Die, dealt with what may be considered a smaller plot, but I argued that small plots can be great for Bond movies, if done correctly. And what I saw in this film was a great small plot that seemed to be ruined by a bigger picture that develops even when it is not needed. The basic plot of an accomplished assassins desire to make Bond his next target is ominous and cool enough to build an entire film upon, especially considering you have Christopher Lee as that villain and he gives a great performance for a very well written character. And one of the unfortunate reasons I think the film played out the way it did was runtime. The film comes in at right around 2 hours, which has become the norm for the franchise. But with the smaller plot, a much more compact and taut tale could be told and make for a much better and enjoyable film.

That being said, there is much to like here, and as I said it starts with the characters. Bond perhaps not as much, as the role has transformed from the Connery days when Bond was an intriguing character study to the Moore days when he is just a carbon cut out of the formula which to this point has been seemingly set in stone by the producers. This is not a comment on Connery or Moore, but rather of the writing of the series which has seen moments of bland, unimaginable plotting and characterization, which is not helped in anyway by the lackluster direction of Guy Hamilton, whose Goldfinger might be the exception. However, the villains are cool and have interesting stories to them and even the girls to some extent add much to the proceedings. Mary Goodnight is not given much and is played as the dumb blonde by the beautiful Britt Ekland, but Andrea, played by Maud Adams in her first of two roles in the series is a far more fascinating character. The thing about here is that she is a weak woman dressed up as a tough gal, and Adams plays this part quite well.

The two complaints, apart from the handling of the plot, would be that J.W. Pepper has no business being in a second Bond film. Heck, he doesn’t deserve being in one. The second would be that the scene where Bond sleeps with Andrea with Goodnight hiding in th closet, waiting her turn essentially, is probably the most painful scene I will endure in the series. The sets again were great from a new name, production designer Peter Murton who takes over for the great Ken Adam. Scaramanga’s hideout is great, but what really stands out is the Queen Elizabeth sunken liner headquarters. The set is on slant which is very difficult to imagine. Some may see this as gimmicky, but I love it and these are the reason I love the series as I do.

It should be abundantly clear at this point that I was fairly mixed on The Man with the Golden Gun, but let me leave you with some of the better things about the film. I mentioned it before, but Christopher Lee and the character of Scaramanga are great additions to the franchise and what makes it work is that he is a formidable opponent to Bond. His role is handled quite well and give credit to Lee, but the whole sequence of the fun house mixed with the old fashioned, mano y mano duel at dawn type of showdown between he and Bond is a great moment for the franchise because it hints at the fact that it isn’t all sleek cars, cool gadgets, vodka martini’s and beautiful women. There is some good old fashioned battles to be had among the superfluous fun.

James Bond will return in…

The Spy Who Loved Me

One comment

  • Nice post. After reading the book, I have to say that they ruined a great opportunity with the Scaramanga character. Christopher Lee is great, but all of the distractions (Nick Nack, J.W. Pepper, etc.) spread the plot too thin. I agree that there are some things to like, but it fails overall.

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