Page to Screen: The Man With The Golden Gun (1974)

The Man With The Golden Gun
based on the novel by Ian Fleming


The miracle of scheduled posts (to which I owe any illusions of timeliness) means that you, dear reader, get to follow along with my adventures with James Bond every other week or so, even as I suffer through a cinematic dry spell. Before my spring break (God bless scheduled posts), I didn’t have time to watch movies outside of my weekly Film Depreciation gatherings—and I missed it. Plus, I’d convinced myself that it was hard to find the Roger Moore Bond films, even though I had Videodrome down the street and only four out of the remaining sixteen films (including this one) require me to cough up three bucks to rent it on iTunes. Sometimes, I am just dumb. In any case, I kicked off my spring break with The Man with the Golden Gun. Moore’s Bond already tackled blaxspolitation films—what about martial arts movies?

The Man with the Golden Gun refers to Scaramanga, an assassin who charges a million dollars a hit and, yes, uses a golden gun, with golden bullets. When just such a golden bullet arrives at MI6 headquarters with 007 engraved into its side, M takes Bond off his current case and encourages him to investigate Scaramanga unofficially. But Scaramanga isn’t your run of the mill Bond villain, out for the world—Scaramanga is a man who treats killing as an art… and believes Bond does to. From Macau to Hong Kong to Bangkok, Bond must stay one step ahead of what might be his deadliest adversary yet.

I used to think I was just tired when I watched certain James Bond movies. I mean, I fell asleep during From Russia With Love the same way you fall asleep in class—fighting it every step of the way and feeling guilty about it. But even my preemptive strike of starting the film at seven o’clock on the dot (a difficult task with my parents!) could not stave off fatigue. I think it has something to do with the pacing of some of the early Bond films; my mother mentioned that she was looking forward to the Brosnan films, since they’re much more traditional action films in our modern sense. But it’s also because The Man with the Golden Gun has difficulty threading a story through its various locales. Skyfall works because we’re desperately on Silva’s trail. Here, we don’t get on the scent until a ways into the film, and the set pieces just don’t link up.

And it’s hard to get into the story via a character. Bond is particularly vile this time around, which is sad to see on Roger Moore. The fun of Roger Moore’s Bond is that he is an urbane, cultured, and slightly effete British gentleman, whose quips are as dry and light as a good meringue. (The fact that Moore persists in referring to the character as “Jimmy” to this day should tell you a lot about how he approaches the role.) But the script requires him to be a jerk outside of what I’d planned on accounting for due to the early 1970s. Case in point: the film’s Bond girls, Maud Adams’ Andrea Anders and Britt Ekland’s Mary Goodnight. Bond’s first encounter with Anders involves him sneaking into her room while she’s in the shower, then beating her up in her hotel room. (There’s some hope when Anders, who is Scaramanga’s mistress, seems to take Bond’s deal and just take it to her lover, but we can’t have that, can we.) And Mary Goodnight? She makes me want to dye my hair a different color. She is that bad. Look, a female MI6 agent… and she’s a moron. Like, on the level of Natalie from the Charlie’s Angels films (without the charm or the fighting prowess). It’s just frustrating, and it makes the movie feel longer as a result.

So thank God for Christopher Lee as Scaramanga, who manages to make the villain monologue feel natural and right. After all, Scaramanga sees himself as an artist, and spending time with Bond is the rare chance to discuss the art of killing with someone like him. (“There’s a four-letter word,” Moore’s Bond tells him, “and you’re full of it.”) He’s cultured, calm, and collected; a sort of mirror Bond, if Bond had been written properly in the film. There are a few other bright spots—the painful inclusion of Live and Let Die’s Louisiana sheriff at least brings us an adorable tyke in Bangkok trying to sell an elephant carving and besting James Bond. Bond’s ally in Bangkok, Lietenant Hip, rescues him from an evil martial arts school (don’t ask) with the judicious application of his two nieces, who kick the entire school’s butt on their own. And it is nice to see what some of the references in later Bond films are referring to, such as the use of Macau. But I would not advise that anyone but a Bond completionist take this one out for a spin.

Bottom line: The Man With The Golden Gun is kind of awful—a slow pace, poor characterization for Moore’s Bond, and one of the worst Bond girls in existence (and I haven’t even seen Die Another Day!) place it securely on the bottom tier of the Bond canon. Still, Christopher Lee’s Scaramanga is a perfect foil to Bond, and there’s a bright spot here and there. Just not enough of them to warrant watching it if you’re not a Bond completionist.

I rented this DVD from the public library.

5 thoughts on “Page to Screen: The Man With The Golden Gun (1974)

  1. Over the years, I’ve heard many sources pan this movie while praising Lee’s Scaramanga. In a few of those cases, the reviewers flat out say that we want Bond to lose in this movie.

  2. I rarely see it at the top of people’s must-see Bond movies, but Christopher Lee is great (as usual) and I actually like the theme song. I agree with you though Claire…it’s a poor outing for 007.

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