BOND RETROSPECTIVE 09: THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN

I continue my marathon re-watch of the films with Roger Moore’s second adventure. Expect spoilers…

THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN was Fleming’s final book, and one the EON producers had wanted to film before.  Now was the right time, and the filmmakers decided to visit an area of the world few viewers had seen.

THE OPENING

The film opens on an exotic island where a tall distinguished man and his lady friend sunbathe, served by a little butler.  A visitor arrives (who you may recognise as one of the goons who threw Plenty O’Toole out of the hotel window in DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER).  Before you know it, this goon is playing a cat and mouse game in a strange “funhouse” inside a cave on the island.  The goon and the gent, whose name is Scaramanga deal with darkness, corridors, mirrors, a western saloon and the creepy voice of the butler over the speakers.  Finally, Scaramanga shoots the goon through the head as we see a life-sized mannequin of James Bond as part of the funhouse. 

Before this rewatch, I had only seen this film once before, and wasn’t impressed.  But apart from the odd pre-titles, the opening sections of the film had me reconsider.  The film has many good points and I suddenly found myself reappraising it.

Yet, as the film goes on, the scenes become stranger and more disconnected.

THE MUSIC

Lulu’s title song is often derided for its clunky innuendo:

“He has a powerful weapon, he charges a million a shot”

Yet this is a cracking tune – listen to the guitars!  And ignoring the innuendo, it’s one of the few title songs that refers to the story.

BOND AND M

M has received a golden bullet inscribed “007” and Bond displays an encyclopaedic knowledge of the million-a-shot assassin Scaramanga who uses golden bullets, has three nipples, and whose identity is completely secret.

THE NAVAL ADVENTURE

Bond asks Moneypenny about 002 Bill Fairbanks who was killed by Scaramanga. She tells him about a dancer in Beirut who knew Fairbanks, and Bond is instantly in her dressing room learning that she keeps the bullet that killed 002 in her belly button as a lucky charm. As Bond kisses her abdomen goons burst in and he accidentally swallows the bullet.  There is a pretty decent room-wrecking fight with the goons before Bond leaves. 

The dancer yells: “I’ve lost my charm!

Bond says: “Not from where I’m standing”.

BULLET TIME

Back in England Q and boffins analyse the 002 bullet and figure out that the metal is used by a bullet maker who lives in Macau.

Wait.  Some have pointed out that M already had a golden bullet with 007 inscribed on it – so why go to Beirut? Hm. Good point.

In Macau, Bond meets the bullet maker, who is showing off his fancy guns. Bond turns one on the maker, convincing him to spill the beans on the golden bullets. 

I’m now aiming precisely at your groin.  So, speak or forever hold your piece”. 

The bullet maker’s contact is in a Macau casino and Bond follows her onto the hydrofoil across Hong Kong Harbour, passing the wreck of the Queen Elizabeth.  We recognise her as the woman Scaramanga was sunbathing with at the start (Maud Adams).

So far so good.  I’m not sure what I was worried about.  There’s no Bond Bloat, some Spy Time with his investigation, exotic locations.  Then in Hong Kong British Agent Mary Goodnight arrives.

MARY GOODNIGHT

Played by Britt Ekland, Goodnight’s there to assist Bond and leads him to a hotel. I like Britt Eckland in the film, but her character is written as such an amateur klutz that it’s hard to watch at times.

ANDREA ANDERS

Bond gets into the courier’s hotel room. And its really uncomfortable, as the film betrays its insecurity of how Moore should play Bond.  He watches her briefly in the shower, then he’s beating her up, pinning her on the bed and threatening to break her arm.  And that violence, real and implied, lasts for nearly two minutes.  Moore is quite threatening in the scene, but it feels out of place.

BOTTOMS UP

Anders points Bond to the Bottoms Up club where he waits to see if Scaramanga appears.  Unknown to Bond, Scaramanga is watching the street, sees Bond, but instead assassinates another man.  Nick Nack (the quite charismatic Hergé Villechaize) appears to pick the victims pocket before the cops arrive.

THE NAVAL ADVENTURE 2

Bond is taken by an undercover cop (not really, and Bond knows it) to a boat on the harbour.  As they pass the wreck of the Queen Elizabeth, Bond leaps onto the wreck to escape.  Not sure where he was planning to go after that.  No matter, for then the twist – this wreck is the local headquarters of MI6 in Hong Kong.  The set here is brilliant – for Bond is escorted through the decks, which are all at steep angles.  Bond finds M and Q are there, looking for an update.

THE PLOT ARRIVES

The man assassinated in Hong Kong was planning to pass a device called a Solex Agitator to the British (Nick Nack nicked it from his pocket, remember?)  Contemporary references here to the energy crisis and the need for new energy sources.  We also learn the “cop” is a local agent Lieutenant Hip who is working for MI6. 

HAI FAT’S PLACE

The dead man’s employer is now a suspect as the assassin’s paymaster and Bond impersonates Scaramanga (Q provided him with an extra nipple) to infiltrate this Hai Fat’s exotic compound.  What Bond doesn’t know is that Scaramanga is there too, and Hai Fat knows Bond was an imposter. 

CHEW MEE

A naked female swims in Hai Fat’s pool.  She introduces herself as Chew Mee. Not much more I can say. That’s the scene.  She is never seen again.

“GRISLYLAND”

Bond goes to Hai Fat’s for dinner (dropped off by Lieutenant Hip and his two nieces). Allowed into the compound Bond walks through a strange garden.  Nick Nack is disguised as some warrior.  Two sumo wrestlers come to life and attack Bond.  Nick Nack hits Bond with a trident.  Yup.  Not making this up.

BOND WAKES UP IN ANOTHER MOVIE

Bond wakes up confused in a martial arts school (tapping into the 1970s Kung Fu genre).  Bond jumps through a wooden wall and by complete coincidence Lieutenant Hip and his nieces are driving past.  Luckily, the nieces are karate experts, so they defeat all the martial arts students who have followed them.  Then they jump in the car and escape – leaving Bond behind!

BOATS

Bond finds a boat and we get a reprise of the motorboat chase from Live and Let Die, but this time through the canals.  And it is here that we see the guest appearance of Clifton James as Sheriff JW Pepper, also from the previous film.

SCARAMANGA TAKES CONTROL

Scaramanga kills Hai Fat with his golden gun – a neat invention where he connects his cigarette case, lighter, pen and cufflinks.  I’ve not really mentioned Scaramanga yet, but that’s because he hasn’t really been in it.  Christopher Lee is a great choice for the villain, especially with the audience being aware of his years of portraying Dracula. You may be aware that Lee worked in Intelligence during WW2 and was also a cousin of Ian Fleming.

GOOD NIGHT

Over dinner, Bond tries it on with Goodnight.  She responds:

Killing a few hours as one of your passing fancies isn’t quite my scene”.

Go Mary!  Excellent – she has depth after all. A minute later, she is in Bond’s room in a short nightie. What?  Wait.  What happened there?

And then Andrea Anders enters the room and explains that she sent Bond the 007 bullet as she wanted help from him to escape Scaramanga’s clutches.  Then they get to the sex part, Bond secretly shoving Goodnight into the closet beforehand.  Again, we’ve shifted into a 1970’s sex comedy.

THE BOXING MATCH

Bond agrees to meet Anders at a boxing match to get the Solex Agitator from her.  When he arrives, she is already dead in her seat. Scaramanga sits next to Bond and Nick Nack is behind, holding a gun.

Lee is great in this scene, for he comes across as a professional businessman, far from the crazed megalomaniac of the other movies. The authority Lee exudes in his films really plays well here – in the original book Scaramanga was a thug, but in this incarnation, Lee portrays him as a chivalrous man, a man of honour who is aware of Bond’s reputation, but never thought their paths would cross.  Bond must be the ultimate challenge to him, yet he coolly explains to Bond that they will part now and don’t need to see each other again.  

Bond conveniently finds the Solex on the dirty floor and passes it to Hip who then gives it to Goodnight.  But remember, Goodnight is a klutz, so she tries to plant a tracker on Scaramanga’s car but ends up bundled in the back.

Bond steals a red AMC from a showroom – and of course Sheriff Pepper just happens to be waiting for a test drive.

THE CAR CHASE AND THE BRIDGE JUMP

The chase through the busy Bangkok streets looks great.  The cars zig zag through the traffic until it is apparent that Scaramanga is across the other side of the river.  Bond pulls the car up at a twisted broken bridge and decides it’s the only way to continue the pursuit.  What follows is one of the most impressive stunts of the entire James Bond series.

The car zooms towards the bridge and twists through the air, over the gap, and lands neatly on the other side.  A great achievement, and the safety precautions were extensive – divers in the river, cranes and emergency vehicles just out of shot.  The jump was planned meticulously by computer and was executed in the first take. 

And yet.  This stunt is mortally wounded by the insane decision to add a slide whistle sound effect during it. 

Scaramanga escapes but luckily Goodnight’s tracker still works, and this leads Bond to Scaramanga’s fantasy island.

JAMES BOND ISLAND

The final 30 minutes of the film is at Scaramanga’s island (now known as “James Bond Island” by the tourists who now flock to the area as the industry boomed).

To service the plot, Scaramanga gives Bond a tour, explains that the island is self-sufficient, is populated only by himself, Nick Nack and an unnamed lascivious goon.  The island contains a full energy plant which operates through solar power.  This device will be auctioned to whoever wants it – governments who want to avoid the energy crisis, or even the oil barons who would want to hide the technology to keep the world dependent upon fossil fuels.  It’s a neat idea but is chucked into the film at the last minute.

After a nice lunch (Goodnight is in attendance, but she is just a girl in a bikini at this point) the men decide to solve their current situation through an honourable duel.  If this film had starred another actor as the villain, this might not have played well, but with Lee, it just works.

THE DUEL

The two men stand back to back on the beach, and Nick Nack starts the count.  When Bond turns to shoot, Scaramanga has vanished.  The pre-titles scene now makes more sense: this time, Scaramanga is testing himself against the great James Bond, and we now know that the story will end in his twisted “funhouse”.

The finale isn’t that thrilling, and it isn’t a real surprise when Bond kills Scaramanga by disguising himself as the mannequin of himself we saw at the start.

SCARAMANGA’S JUNK

Goodnight knocks the lascivious goon into a power cell which explodes, and Bond retrieves the Solex Agitator before the pair jump onto Scaramanga’s Junk. 

The closing scene is as bizarre as the rest of the film.  Bond and Goodnight are on Scaramanga’s Junk when Nick Nack enters the bedroom from above. A weird fight ensues with Nick Nack under the couch, then throwing wine bottles until Bond puts him in a suitcase.  Yup. 

Bond and Goodnight then get back to business when they are interrupted by a phone rising from the bedside.  The call is from M congratulating him enquiring after Goodnight (how did he know the number of Scaramanga’s Junk?) Bond hits us with:

She’s just coming, sir”.

One final saving grace is the alternative version of the theme song which plays as Scaramanga’s Junk heads for the horizon. I’m delighted to have written “Scaramanga’s Junk” six times in this review.

FINALLY

The film is full of incident and some nice moments.  The dialogue is ok, the villain is interesting, the fights are decent, the bridge jump is remarkable, and the story is different enough to at least be an interesting Bond tale.

Yet the film is less than the sum of its parts.  Goodnight is a painfully poor character. The plot lurches uncomfortably from one incident to another and as good as Christopher Lee is, he is never really a danger.  Sure, he kills three people, but he just isn’t threatening enough. Yet it would be fair to say that few Bond villains are.

The film made money and the franchise was powering along.  But it would continue without Harry Saltzman.  The producer, suffering from financial difficulties, sadly had to sell his shares in the films.

The end of an era, the start of a new one.  And the next film would give Roger Moore the Bond story he needed.

ProductionCast
Produced by: EON Productions
Presented By: Harry Saltzman and Albert R Broccoli
Director: Guy Hamilton
Screenplay: Tom Mankiewicz and Richard Maibaum
Composer: John Barry
The Man with the Golden Gun” written by Don Black
Performed by Lulu
Production Design: Peter Lamont/Peter Murton
London Premiere December 1974
Roger Moore
Christopher Lee
Britt Ekland
Maud Adams
Hergé Villechaize
Clifton James
Bernard Lee
Lois Maxwell
Desmond Llewelyn

3 thoughts on “BOND RETROSPECTIVE 09: THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN

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