Hello again and thank you for taking some time out of your hectic, workaday manic lifestyle to spend some fleeting moments reading yet some more claptrap about the world’s most well known film franchise! But enough about Police Academy, let’s get back to Bond!
The Bond films I’ve looked at so far have been the bottom of the barrel of the franchise. That being said, I realize that every Bond fan has their favorite Bond or favorite Bond movie that defies all logic, but they love it anyway and to blazes to anybody that tells them different. I can understand that love and that passion. But take a deep breath, take a step back, and understand that of all the lists of hollow opinions about movies that you’ll ever read, mine is the most exasperatingly concrete and brilliantly meaningless of them all. No, you’re welcome!
As we emerge into the next tier of 007 films, which are the “okay but still problematic in many areas” batch, let us take stock of opinions. Are all opinions valid? I would say the most accurate answer to that is: all opinions are valid to the person giving them in the first place. The listener can then take them or leave them as much or as little as they want. For instance, my wife thinks the theme song for the next Bond movie I’m going to look at is great. I think it is right in the bottom fifth of the series. And no matter how many times she enjoys singing it, trying to lovingly annoy me, I know she thinks that her opinion is valid on the subject the entire time. Her stance isn’t helped that this particular theme song is connected with a maddening entry in the franchise: The Man with the Golden Gun.
Ian Fleming’s novel is just as frustrating. It was released posthumously in 1965 and when Fleming realized this, he passed away immediately in 1964. Although definitely needing reediting and another draft or two, the publishers needed a Bond product, so the book was released to a Bond hungry public. It certainly lacks the spirit of the previous novels and given Fleming’s deteriorating health, it is no great mystery as to why.
Flashing forward to 1973, the 007 films just got a shot in the arm with the success of the latest movie, Live and Let Die, starring their new Bond, Roger Moore. The producers decided to strike while the iron was hot, getting another flick started in the pipeline immediately. So despite the weaker storyline, they chose to go with The Man with the Golden Gun.
The producers didn’t have many options. The only unfilmed Fleming works at that point were the Bond short stories, The Spy Who Loved Me (which Fleming never wanted filmed), and Moonraker. Ultimately it would take the emergence of Han Solo to make sticking Bond into a space shuttle sound not as ridiculous as it would have been in 1974. (So this must mean that we can directly blame George Lucas for Moonraker, right? I’ll have to remember that thread when I get to that entry!)
Out of Roger’s Bonds, he is rarely as tough as he is here in The Man with the Golden Gun, He even uncomfortably smacks Maud Adams around. Part of the reason is that they were still writing scripts with Sean Connery in mind, as Sean’s Bond could get away with moves like these, but Roger’s Bond couldn’t and shouldn’t. By the way, Sean was definitely and absolutely never coming back to play James Bond. (Well, if “never coming back” meant “until 1983” and the producers couldn’t wait that long.)
The whole film has an air of being rushed and the seemingly lower production values certainly don’t help. True, a surrounding air of cheapness envelopes the then contemporary kung fu movies that also influenced The Man with the Golden Gun. But this is a James Bond film and apparently we were spoiled by years of extravagance on the screen and incredible Ken Adams sets. Yet here the final product stylistically looks more like a McMillan & Wife Go to Hong Kong very special TV episode rather than a jet-setting, larger than life 007 escapade.
Maud Adams plays the villain’s lover and she actually manages to rise above the script on several occasions and never embarrasses herself. On the other hand, we also get Britt Ekland playing the role of Mary Goodnight, a field agent for the British Secret Service. Why MI-5 would hire someone that flighty, childish, and dumb at times is beyond me unless she always wore that bikini from the end of the movie around Universal Exports far too often. Roger treats her like a child, which is never good in his series of 007s and yes, A View To A Kill’s Tanya Roberts, I’m looking right at you!
Christopher Lee was a film legend, but in 1974 he was better known for playing Dracula in Hammer Studios’ series of films. Having finally escaped death from bloodthirsty villagers and garlic-carrying priests, he seemed to be ideal in playing the legendary $1 million-a-shot assassin Scaramanga.
By the way, Christopher Lee was a cousin of Bond creator Ian Fleming! According to Lee, they knew each other mostly from the golf course. This is where according to wholly fictional legend that I made up, Fleming hit a wicked slice down the 14th fairway at Royal St. George’s. Upon seeing this, Lee was heard to remark that Fleming’s swing was so dreadful that it would “scare a mango“. Fleming never forgot this and the idea for a poorly constructed Bond villain solely to mock his cousin was born.
Anyway, back to the real gaping hole in The Man with the Golden Gun: Scaramanga doesn’t really have a beef with James Bond in this movie until the almost the very end and even then it is forced. Scaramanga at one point says that he personally doesn’t have anything against Bond!
Now as an audience we are led to believe that Scaramanga wants Bond dead as the plot unfurls. But it is later revealed that Maud Adams made up the whole “Scaramanga is out to kill you” thing so that Bond would be motivated to go out and kill him. This would then free her from being a virtual prisoner in Scaramanga’s world. At the 40 minute mark, the film then switches gears so we are led to believe that the real focus of the movie is some solar energy convertor that…ah forget it, I’m already bored.
The plot just appears to be a hodgepodge that shows the haste in which it was put together. Christopher Lee is ultimately wasted as a baddie which is a shame since he usually plays them with such believable menace in other films. When it comes right down to it, Scaramanga has less to fear from Bond than he does from his manservant Nick Nack because it is revealed that if Scaramanga dies, Nick Nack inherits everything. Hey, speaking of Nick Nack…
In the pantheon of super-evil henchmen, Nick Nack must rank right at the bottom, pun intended. He never achieves the heights (pun not intended) of say Oddjob or Jaws or even whoever helped out the naughty people that fought Pierce Brosnan’s Bond but fell short (pun intended, unless you don’t want it). That I should believe even for a second that Herve Villechaize could take on anyone effectively is such an incredible leap of faith. It would be the same as one having to believe that a redneck sheriff from Live and Let Die would be coincidentally touring Southeast Asia, bringing unwanted comic relief wherever he goes yet again! Like that would ever happen! Oh, wait…
Come to think of it, if there was just a standalone movie of Nick Nack and the sheriff sharing kung-fu adventures together in Southeast Asia by themselves with no Bond and no Scaramanga, I would watch that movie in a heartbeat. What a missed opportunity!
So many things just fail to come together in this film. Even the score from the returning John Barry seems weaker when compared to his earlier efforts. The aforementioned title song sung by Lulu is forced and not very memorable. After Paul McCartney and before the hit “Nobody Does It Better”, this song just fails as a Bond theme. Of course my wife loves it, but I think she might be the only person besides Lulu that was pleased it exists.
The goofy funhouse that Scaramanga has in order to keep up his assassin skills is a nifty idea, but it looks so bloody cheap. At a million dollars a shot, can’t he afford some better tech? Something along the lines of the X-Men’s danger room or a Star Trek holodeck that would do the same thing for him? And why he would have a wax figure of James Bond there to shoot the fingers off of in quick succession? It is odd since we discover that he has no real issue with James Bond.
But that all being said, there is one major unbelievable sin that the movie commits that even 40+ years later is wholeheartedly unforgivable. During the course of an otherwise unremarkable car chase, Bond takes his AMC Hornet and drives it across a bridge that is in disrepair. (Yes, his AMC Hornet, I said. Apparently Aston Martins and even Chevys were far too pricey for the budget.) He guns the engine, managing to perform a complete 360 degree barrel roll in the air as he goes from one side of the broken bridge and lands perfectly on the other. The stunt was extremely dangerous and was pulled off in one beautiful take. It is a signature stunt of the entire series and still is amazing to this very minute as I just watched it again.
So someone please tell me why in the h-e-double toothpicks of hell did they put that slide whistle on the soundtrack as the stunt is performed? It takes the wind completely out of the moment. Why not just simply have the soundtrack fade out as soon as Bond launches the car and then have it resume once he’s landed? After all, it is a stunt that legitimately takes your breath away. Instead, just like that Beach Boys song nonsense in A View to a Kill, some dolt in an opulent office thought these ideas are just whimsical fun, so why not add a childish slide whistle! To this I respond just as cheerfully: “Bollocks.”
The best thing I can take from The Man with the Golden Gun is back in the day when Christopher Lee had a website that he was actually alive to participate in, he sold autographed pictures. The pictures of him as Dracula were close to two hundred dollars, which were far out of my price range. Other pictures from the then recent Lord of the Rings and Star Wars films were also quite expensive. But there, hiding right in and amongst the shots of Sarumans and Lord Dookus, was an autographed picture of Lee as Scaramanga! Needless to say, that picture now proudly occupies a part on my Bond memorabilia wall. Needless to say again, reflecting the film it came from, the Scaramanga picture was significantly cheaper too…
Wasn’t that a killer idea having Nick Nack and Sheriff J.W. Pepper pairing up to tour the world on adventures? Maybe they could have solved crimes together or went on a madcap cross-cultural farce. Or both! Good thing I’m all set for my pitch meeting to sell Short Peppers for a series, because I think that it is a winner!
Opinions on that may vary of course. But if you express yours with a slide whistle, I’ll make sure you whistle when you walk at a far cheaper rate than a million a shot.