Directed By: Guy Hamilton
Starring: Roger Moore, Christopher Lee, Britt Ekland
Tag line: "He never misses his target, and now his target is 007"
Trivia: Christopher Lee wore full body makeup to give the appearance of having a tan
For years, I felt 1974’s The Man with the Golden Gun, the 9th Bond film and Roger Moore’s second stab at the iconic role, was the worst movie in the entire 007 franchise. My opinion of it has softened over the years, though only slightly; I still think The Man with the Golden Gun is a bad movie, but it does feature a few elements that keep it from being a total loss.
James Bond (Moore) is pulled off his current assignment (searching for a missing scientist who’s developed a device that could solve the energy crisis) by his superior, “M” (Bernard Lee), after MI6 receives a golden bullet with “007” etched into the side of it. The calling card of the notorious assassin, Scaramanga (Christopher Lee), “M” sees the bullet as a direct threat against Bond’s life, and orders the agent to lay low for a while. But instead of waiting for Scaramanga to find him, Bond initiates a search for the elusive killer, hoping to gain the upper hand. After brief stops in Beirut and Macau, Bond heads to Bangkok, where, with the help of fellow agent Mary Goodnight (Britt Eklund), he tracks down Andrea Anders (Maud Adams), Scaramanga’s main squeeze. As it turns out, Ms. Anders was the one who sent the bullet to MI6, not to threaten Bond, but to lure him to Bangkok so that he can kill Scaramanga, a man she’s grown to despise. However, with the assassin working for millionaire Hai Fat (Richard Loo) and being protected by a pint-sized, yet very dangerous manservant named Nick Nack (Hervé Villechaize), Bond finds that getting to Scaramanga is easier said than done.
The Man with the Golden Gun starts off well, with a pre-title sequence in which a gangster (Marc Lawrence) is “hired” by Nick Nack to kill Scaramanga (in reality, it’s a test to keep the assassin on his toes). Set in a bizarre, carnival-like funhouse with mirrors and flashing lights, Scaramanga does his best to avoid the hoodlum while Nick Nack, watching from a back room, throws out clues as to where his boss’s beloved golden gun is hidden. Also somewhat encouraging was Roger Moore’s performance as James Bond. In the scene where he first meets Andrea Anders, Bond is all business, grabbing her arm and twisting it behind her back until she tells him what Scaramanga looks like (his appearance is a mystery to everyone except those closest to him), and where he’s going to be. I enjoyed seeing Moore’s tougher side, a throwback of sorts to the early Connery films (Dr. No, From Russia with Love). As the Bond girls, Eklund is pretty but ineffective as Mary Goodnight, who at times is more a nuisance than a help, while the gorgeous Maud Adams brings a touch of class to Andrea Anders, a damsel in distress who turns to Bond for help. And while “Q” (Desmond LLewelyn) comes up short in the gadget department, Scaramanga more than makes up for it, with a car that transforms into a plane and an island hide-out equipped with a nifty death ray (what an assassin is doing with a death ray, I have no idea).
Where The Man with the Golden Gun suffers is in the action department. Aside from a kung-fu showdown featuring a pair of ass-kicking schoolgirls and a car chase late in the film, the movie isn’t very exciting. In fact, it’s downright boring. Also, like many of the Roger Moore-era Bond flicks, The Man with the Golden Gun relies heavily on humor, which actually ruins what might otherwise have been the movie’s best sequence: a car chase between Bond and Scaramanga. For some unknown reason, the producers decided to bring back Sheriff J.W. Pepper, the obnoxious lawman from Live and Let Die played by Clifton James, for a couple of key scenes, one of which was this chase. Personally, I didn’t find him all that funny the first time around, and in The Man with the Golden Gun, he’s particularly annoying, riding shotgun with Bond during the entire sequence and never once shutting his mouth. Seriously, why was he written into this film? His presence makes no sense whatsoever. Even if I did believe a racist Sheriff from the Louisiana Bayou would spend his vacation in Bangkok, I’d never for a single minute buy that he wanted to purchase a car while he was there (at the start of the scene, J.W. is in a car dealership, sitting in the very vehicle Bond commandeers to give chase to Scaramanga). Sheriff Pepper’s presence even spoils a cool stunt: a jump over a broken bridge in which the car flips upside down before landing safely on the other side. The moment is further ruined by the inclusion of a goofy sound effect (a slide whistle), taking what was a brilliant stunt and turning it into a stupid joke.
In the final round-up, The Man with the Golden Gun is one of the series’ most disappointing films, made doubly so by the fact that, at times, it showed genuine promise.