For the love of entertainment
Behind the scenes turmoil on The Man With the Golden Gun led to the dissolution of the relationship between longtime Bond co-producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman once filming was complete. Legal wrangling between the two would delay the next 007 movie (The Spy Who Loved Me). And as if that wasn’t enough, The Man With the Golden Gun was met with mixed reviews from critics and audiences–and although it turned a profit, it failed to light up the box office the way previous Bond movies did. It has the fourth lowest box office of any Bond film. As years have gone by, people frequently reference two of the movies features (the villain and the henchman) while ignoring the rest.
So. Does The Man With the Golden Gun deserve its middling reputation? Let’s go to the tape.
M and Bond are alarmed when a golden bullet engraved with “007” arrives at their London office with a mysterious and vaguely threatening letter signed “S.” It is the calling card of Scaramanga, one of the world’s deadliest assassins, announcing his intention to kill James Bond. No one knows what Scaramanga looks like other than the fact that he has a superfluous nipple. He is anonymous. He is deadly. He surfaces only to strike with his golden gun, then recedes into the shadows. And he wants to toy with James Bond before killing him.
M puts 007 on leave to track Scaramanga down. James starts in Beirut, where an agent was gunned down by a golden bullet a few years earlier, and eventually finds Scaramanga’s mistress, who picks up and delivers his golden bullets when he is getting ready for a kill. It turns out, however, that Scaramanga is not after 007 after all. It was a ruse perpetrated by the mistress, who believes that Bond is the only man capable of killing Scaramanga–a man she desperately wants to get away from but knows she can never leave.
Up to this point, The Man With the Golden Gun is actually pretty solid in my book. It’s a cat and mouse game with a fair amount of thrills, betrayals, and twists you would expect from a spy game. And I must say, it’s refreshing to get away from the typical 007 mold where every villain must be a supervillain and nothing less than the fate of the world must hang in the balance in the climax. No, up until now The Man With the Golden Gun is a battle of wits inevitably leading to a grand old-fashioned duel between two men who are deadly with their chosen weapons.
Except that it had to go and get complicated. And how it gets complicated doesn’t even really make sense. There’s a Chinese criminal overlord named Hai Fat (get it?). Scaramanga is in cahoots with him (even though he was described as a lone wolf assassin who collects a million dollars a hit). Hai Fat has stolen a plot device called a solex agitator that has incredible powers to harness the sun’s rays and blah blah blah powerful weapon in the wrong hands blah blah blah. Hai Fat sends an army of surprisingly ineffective ninjas after 007, who defeats them all. Scaramanga double crosses Hai Fat to take over his criminal empire (again, not expected actions for a lone wolf who likes to stay low profile), kidnaps Bond’s assistant, and makes off for his island lair with the solex whatsit. Once there, we get our climactic duel between 007 and Scaramanga, but now we also have to suffer through a whole lot of solar plexus exposition and cataclysmic explosions.
Does The Man With the Golden Gun deserve its middling reputation? Yes and no. We have a superb Bond villain, but a dreadful Bond girl (more on them below). We have a thrilling game of cat and mouse undermined by grand doomsday theatrics and some ninja moves that have precious little to do with the plot aside from the fact that they look good and were popular at the time. We have 007 using less quips and getting back to the cold, not very nice personality he was meant to embody in the source novels (and whom Sean Connery was very successful at playing)–but Roger Moore intensely disliked the move toward a less warm and less funny Bond. And dear God we have the return of the truly awful Sheriff Pepper from Live and Let Die. Whoever decided to write that character into this movie even though it makes absolutely no sense to do so deserves to be exiled to a cave to think about the crime they committed against humanity.
The Man With the Golden Gun should have had it all. It could have been one of the best Bond films, but the flubs make sure that it just misses the mark.
Notable Event: Maud Adams makes her first appearance as a Bond Girl with the doomed mistress, Andrea Anders. She will return to the series as a main Bond Girl in Octopussy (which will also be significant for being the only Bond film named for a Bond Girl). To date, Adams is the only two-time Bond Girl. 007 must really have a thing for those devastating cheekbones.
Gadget: 007 is light on gadgets in this film, but Scaramanga does have a car that can be converted into an airplane. Not to mention that Scaramanga’s golden gun is put together from a cigarette case, lighter, and pen. James got out-gadgeted!
Ally: The Bond Girl is technically Bond’s contact in Hong Kong, but we’ll get to her in a moment. Hip, a Chinese agent working with Bond’s outfit, is much more fitting for the category. Unfortunately, while he’s helpful and certainly capable, he’s also imminently forgettable.
Bond Girl: Sigh. What. A. Mess. Mary Goodnight is actually a staple in the Bond novels by Ian Fleming, where she functions as 007’s assistant. I haven’t read any of the books yet, but from what I gather she was a fan favorite in the Moneypenny style, and definitely deserved better than this. On film, Goodnight (played by Britt Eklund) has been stationed in Hong Kong and is very sexually frustrated. She can’t quite understand why 007 hasn’t been sleeping with her right and left. Perhaps the fact that she’s a TERRIBLE agent has something to do with it. I mean seriously, right from the moment she arrives on the scene she starts screwing things up, causing James to lose sight of Anders. It only gets worse from there. I suppose a lot of this is supposed to be comic relief, but it isn’t funny so much as mind-blowingly annoying. Even Bond is clearly irritated by her incompetence. And why not? This woman almost kills James by not only causing the island lair to explode, but by almost hitting him with solar-powered lasers. Twice. Because she activated the machine with her butt. Yes, you read that correctly. Let’s face it: she’s a ditz, and a ditz has no place in a Bond film. The best you could say about her is that she looks good in a bikini. Spoiler alert: when I start making my list of the best and worst Bond Girls, it’s going to be a very tight race to the bottom for Mary Goodnight and Christmas Jones (of The World is Not Enough).
Supporting Bond Girl: In this movie, the lesser Bond Girl is infinitely more interesting than the lead. Maud Adams plays Andrea Anders, Scaramanga’s conflicted mistress who tricks 007 into thinking that Scaramanga is trying to kill him to set them on a collision course. There are many subgenres of Bond Girl, and Andrea Anders is emblematic of the Tragic Bond Girl. The one caught up in a dangerous situation who clings to James Bond as her only way out. Severine in Skyfall is another example. It doesn’t usually go well for the Tragic Bond Girl, which is probably why she’s almost always in the supporting role. And so it is for Andrea Anders. It’s a shame really, because she has a great deal more dramatic heft than Mary Goodnight. And such incredible cheekbones! No wonder Maud Adams became the first (and so far only) two-time Bond Girl. She returns to play the titular Bond Girl in Octopussy.
Villain: While the movie has mostly tepid reviews, there was one element that no one ever doubted. Scaramanga is frequently near the top of the list when it comes to the best Bond villains. And why not? Yes, he gets caught up in an incongruous all-powerful weapon subplot, but Scaramanga is a badass. In the source novel Scaramanga is a thug, but for the film they made him an international (and highly paid) assassin–a smart change because it elevates Scaramanga to Bond’s level. It makes him more dangerous because he’s a genuine threat to 007. And Christopher Lee–who had been in talks for the part of Dr. No ten years earlier–proves why he’s famous for playing villains or creepy characters. He imbues Sacaramanga with a fierce intelligence, a deadly set of skills, and a manic glee for what he does. The way Scaramanga genuinely seems to enjoy what he does for a living is part of what makes him so memorable. The other thing that makes him memorable is, of course, the third nipple.
Henchman: A memorable villain should have a memorable henchman, and Scaramanga has his in Nick Nack (Herve Villechaise). Oddly enough, Nick Nack is like a shorter, more talkative version of Oddjob from Goldfinger. They even dress the same. And while there are definitely short jokes, Nick Nack is allowed to be as ruthless and insane as the man he serves–but with just enough of a wildcard energy so as to make it seem as though he is toying with Scaramanga, too. It’s a fascinating dynamic–which is not something you can typically say of the villain/henchman relationships in the Bond movies. They are much more often very one-sided affairs.
Theme Song: I can sum up “The Man With the Golden Gun” (performed by Lulu) in two words: shit show. I mean, what the hell is this? Holy hell, the lyrics. Someone actually wrote this?? I don’t believe it. I can’t. They would have been better served just pointing to words in the dictionary at random, then stringing them together. The rhyming alone is tortured. Don’t believe me? Let’s take a look at a sample of the lyrics, shall we?
“Love is required, whenever he’s hired,
It comes just before the kill.
No one can catch him, no hit man can match him,
For his million dollar skill.”
DREADFUL. But let’s have a moment for Lulu. Bless her poor little heart. She really commits to this crap, doesn’t she? Girl sings her heart out and emotes. Too bad that just adds to the overwhelming cheese factor. There’s only one other Bond song that could possible out-do this for the worst of all time, and that’s Madonna’s terrible “Die Another Day.”
And isn’t that the problem with The Man With the Golden Gun? By and large it’s a good movie, but its flaws are gigantic. In two separate categories it has the worst of the worst. That’s a lot to overcome.
Iconic Moment: Let’s give it up for the climactic duel between 007 and Scaramanga on his island lair, but with the provision that we pretend none of that solex agitator silliness happens after the fight is over.
Grades: Movie: 4/5; Bond Girl: 1/5; Villain: 5/5; Henchman: 5/5; Theme Song: 1/5