Roger Moore returns for his second outing as agent 007 in the 1974 Bond movie, ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’, Directed by Guy Hamilton who’s past credits include ‘Goldfinger’, ‘Diamonds are Forever’ and ‘Live and Let Die’. The film’s main plot begins when a mysterious golden bullet turns up with ‘007’ initials inscribed on it, sent along with a note which requested special delivery to James Bond. The note sent is identified as having Francesco Scaramanga’s finger prints on them, a well known paid assassin who is the main villain in the film played by the wonderful Christopher Lee. MI6 assume that Bond is a target of Scaramanga therefore M decides to protect his agent by offering to endorse his request to take leave but Bond suggests that if he can find Scaramanga first, he may be able to change the situation so Bond sets out following a trail of leads to find Scaramanga, track him down to gain an edge over him and ultimately prevent his own death.
The film’s subplot for the initial part of the film relies on what is referred to within the movie as a Solex Agitator, a small electronic device which MI6 are seeking in an attempt to solve the UK’s energy crisis which was in fact a real life news event in the United Kingdom at the time according to what I’ve read online. As the film develops and the Solex passes hands between characters, we discover that the Solex is merely a distraction for the film’s main theme and plot which is a duel between Titans, which in this case is between Scaramanga and Bond. It’s a story about a man who is sophisticated, suave and powerful much like Bond yet has an evil menacing personality almost like an alter ego of Bond. What would happen if the two were pitted against each other? The filmmakers decided that the plot should focus on this theme of a two man battle of the wits which I feel works really well in this movie and is one of the film’s strongest points. Although all of the Moore era of Bond films were light humoured and camp, this plot line reveals a tone more similar to the later Daniel Craig and Timothy Dalton movies which have a darker edge. The film is not gritty or serious like those movies but there are elements of that style seen throughout the film. I’ve heard rumours that the Bond Producers are thinking about remaking ‘Live and Let Die’ and ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’ which would be interesting to see with a darker, more modern style although I do absolutely love both the originals for what they are, well crafted masterpieces in my opinion.
I liked the opening of the film which continued in the style of ‘Live and Let Die’ and the earliest Bond adventures where Bond isn’t seen in the pre-title sequence. Instead, we’re given an opportunity to learn about the film’s main villain, Scaramanga who is the man with the golden gun. It’s a very unusual opening sequence indeed. Firstly we see that Scaramanga has three nipples which I must admit is a little kinky though fun! Next we see an old face which is a character called Rodney played by Marc Lawrence who you will recognise from ‘Diamonds are Forever’. He plays what I believe is a sharp shouter although I admit to being confused over the years whether he was related to 002 which now I believe he wasn’t though that was who he was to me at the time. Instead, he seems to be a hired assassin challenged with the task of killing Scaramanga which we only see in the opener. The majority of the opening sequence takes place in Scaramanga’s Fun House, a wonderfully designed set piece in the film which Scaramanga uses for carrying out his duels. There’s a whole toolbox of entertainment here which I don’t want to spoil too much about it’s set up but there’s shooting cowboys, scary skeletons, fake mirrors and false steps! I’ll describe the Fun House as a Gangster style Jazz era setting where we see an unusual set which features cardboard cut out images from that period. There’s very unusual visual effects observed here such as rotating mirrors and a fake statue of our lead hero. I found that the scene worked really well for creating suspense but also provided a whole hand full of fun too not taking it’s self too seriously. I imagine Bond fans seeing this film for the first time in 1974 would be very surprised after watching this opening, it’s very unique and unlike anything seen before or even after this film was released which most viewers will either love or loath. Personally I love it. Bond films are all about not knowing what to expect so in my book the more twists and surprises the better.
Also featured in the main opening sequence is Scaramanga’s main henchman, Nick Nack played by Herve Villechaize who is a midget who within the plot of the film performs butler duties for Scaramanga; making dinner, cleaning and carrying out general housekeeping but at the same time is directly involved with stealing from dead bodies, assisting with Scaramanga’s evil plans and even controls the Fun House traps. What is most interesting about Nick Nack is that he hires assassins to compete with Scaramanga on his request. Scaramanga enjoys the thrill of a duel and likes to win so has given Nick Nack the opportunity to try and find his match where if he succeeds everything will belong to him. I found this plot detail particularly interesting and clever. I loved the scenes where Nick Nack controls the lighting and surprises of the Fun House and his short height makes him one of the more memorable henchman in the series for me alongside Tee Hee, Baron Samedi and Jaws. The Roger Moore era of films are my favourite because they were so much fun and colourful not to mention being the first adventures I saw so I feel a touch of nostalgia watching them. Moreover, the gun barrel is pretty nice too featuring a punchy John Barry Bond theme which in the original release version on DVD and perhaps before when it was originally released the gun barrel graphic featured blue dots across the screen instead of white. The version I’ve watched for this review was the Ultimate Edition DVD which features white now which I imagine is to maintain continuity in the series though I always think of this gun barrel as having blue dots, it was a nice touch at the time which I feel should have been left as it was. Another element of the opening sequence I liked was the location where we’re given our first glimpse at Scaramanga’s island which was filmed in Thailand on the Island of Khao Phing Kan featuring a small mushroom rock called Ko Tapu which after the success of the movie was renamed James Bond Island. The location features sandy beaches and it looked visually stunning in the film.
John Barry scored the soundtrack for ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’ which was a decent effort. The score is often criticised as being one of John Barry’s least impressive soundtracks and in his own words not a particular favourite of his which I feel is very harsh as there are many great cues heard throughout the movie music, notable during Bond’s fight sequence in a Beirut dressing room, a new Bond theme for the film and a catchy theme to accompany the character of Scaramanga. It’s worth mentioning on a side note that the soundtrack released to accompany the film on CD has much of the music missing from it’s release sadly because money ran out when the Bond remastered soundtracks were being re-recorded. All Roger Moore Bond adventures except ‘Live and Let Die’ and ‘For Your Eyes Only’ were not expanded as they should have been which still today haven’t been re-released because of lack of finance or interest from the copyright owners. I would like to see newly remastered CD’s released for ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’, ‘The Spy who loved me’, ‘Moonraker’, ‘Octopussy’ and ‘A View to a Kill’. Note also that the master tapes for Moonraker were lost!
The main title theme song is sung by Lulu which didn’t perform particularly well in the charts worldwide. I’m surprised at this as the theme is one of my favourite ones which I would rank as within my top ten of Bond themes. It features Scaramanga’s catchy theme with clear audible lyrics which I like unlike the dreadful ‘Die Another Day’ by Madonna. Alot of critics online say that the lyrics are suggestive which I think is silly. Yes, you could definitely decide to yourself that they’re suggestive if you wanted to but at the same time, she’s singing about the Man with the Golden Gun’s weapon and power, I don’t see where the song exactly spells it out that they’re meaning the gun in a sexual way, I feel the song has obviously gone to some people’s brains. The bridge between the opening sequence and the title theme was clever where Scaramanga shoots the fingers of a statue of Bond before the music kicks in. Maurice Binder does another excellent job of the title graphics which here make use of girl silhouettes, the golden gun and sparking effects which work well alongside the music.
Back for this outing with James Bond is M played by Bernard Lee who did a sterling job of acting his scenes out. I really liked how M poked fun at Bond at every opportunity in this adventure, revealing that he almost has a grudge against Bond, something that we observed in Live and Let Die. The first scene between M and Bond takes place in M’s office which was an excellent set-up for telling us, the viewer who is in control and Bond’s position. Despite Bond’s wit and charm, he’s put in his place by M which I felt was interesting. The set design for M’s office was rather excellent too where lots of time and effort has been put into the props such as the telephones, pictures on the wall and the iconic door which leads me to our next character return. Money Penny played by Louis Maxwell is back and delivers a slightly more stern Money Penny than usual. Penny would love James Bond to ask her out for a date yet it never really happens and her frustration is revealed as Bond asks her a question as she makes her way into M’s office. She turns around, expecting Bond to perhaps complement her or ask her out but instead he asks about the case he’s working on which clearly irritated her. It was nice to see Maxwell act her character out differently than what we have already seen in earlier entries in the series. Q returns played by Desmond Llewelyn which was good to see play the role again. The scene he featured in wasn’t the most exciting of the series as he only gave Bond some advice and didn’t demonstrate any gadgets which is where the real fun usually kicks in but just one scene with Q in every Bond film is worth watching, he’s that good. I did however like how Q poked fun at Bond for being a bit slow when they were trying to figure out who manufactured the golden gun bullet which Bond had managed to salvage.
The Bond woman were fairly disappointing in this film though Maud Adams did a pretty good job of portraying Scaramanga’s trophy woman called Andrea Anders though the script lacked enough substance for her character to amount to much though she had a few decent scenes with Bond notable the romantic scene in Bond’s Hotel room where we see a shot of Adam’s shower towel drop to the floor. She also featured in an excellent scene where Scaramanga is asleep at night and she’s quietly putting her jewelry in the safe alongside the Solex Agitator she’s stolen. The scene is menacing as you can tell that Scaramanga is watching and listening to her every move. There was an additional scene also when Scaramanga points his golden gun at Adams stroking her with it where we see a shot of Scaramanga’s eyes looking evil which sent chills down my back. I did feel that she was a better Bond woman than Goodnight, Bond’s liaison officer. Like many female characters in the Bond series, they have had very unusual names such as Honey Ryder, Pussy Galore and Solitaire and in this film we meet Miss Goodnight. Despite having an unusual sounding name which is a good thing, I found her character very annoying in parts. I don’t think the problem is so much that of the actress, Britt Ekland but the script which merely places her character into the role of a woman being un-interesting to Bond and being helpless without him. There’s a scene where she is brushed off by Bond early on in the film where he is trying to make contact with Andrea Anders then a second while Bond is travelling to meet Hai Fat, Scaramanga’s financier. She comes across as someone who gets in the way. There’s even a scene later on where Bond is available but then she gives him the brushoff! Up until this point, she’s done little to help Bond in his mission. In the latter half of the film, she does try to make up for it though, assisting Bond while Scaramanga is talking with Bond at a Boxing match though messes up again after getting locked in the boot of Scaramanga’s car. Of course it’s not her fault but she is portrayed as being weak and helpless rather than a strong independent woman. Solitaire from Live and Let Die though was also timid yet I didn’t find her annoying at all but captivating. Somehow I feel the script writers got it wrong here. The only scenes I felt totally comfortable with Brett Ekland were at the end where Bond and Goodnight celebrate their mission’s success in bed where she isn’t complaining. The Boxing match scene is slightly bland visually but the dialogue is very good from Christopher Lee who speaks about his background to Bond and that he discovered that he liked killing people even more than sport which was a sinister moment.
Bond’s other ally is Soon Tek Oh who plays a character very similar to Felix Leiter except rather than a CIA agent from America, Lt. Hip is a Far East agent working for MI6. He plays the role fairly well but ultimately comes across as being slightly boring although features in an exciting Karate sequence. I liked the return of Clifton James playing Sheriff J.W. Pepper from the last Bond picture, ‘Live and Let Die’ who provided many funny moments during the movie such as when he sticks his head out of Bond’s car shouting abuse at drivers and we see him accompanying his wife on a tourist boat trip. Pepper seems to be even more ridiculous in this movie than in ‘Live and Let Die’ and although many critics haven’t reviewed his character well in this film, I think the humour was needed to add some fun and build up excitement during the middle section of the film which would have dragged on without him. Some of the dialogue he spoke though was racist which would be accurate of the time period sadly which is something that cannot be changed which doesn’t paint his character in such good light. When Pepper first sees Bond in the film, he vaguely remembers him and there’s a nice short ‘Live and Let Die’ music cue heard in the soundtrack on screen. I liked how the characters of Pepper and Bond were placed together which created a feel of a Laurel and Hardy movie which I think worked well for the length it lasted. One common theme throughout these movies is the complete fun we’re having alongside Bond.
Earlier in the film, there is a scene where Bond makes contact with Scaramanga’s supplier of golden bullets, Lazar played by James Marne Maitland. His performance was excellent in this film adding a sense of fun yet slight menace in his role. He begins to show Bond around his workshop, showing Bond up as he demonstrates a rifle designed for someone who has lost a finger but Bond gets his revenge when he turns around the rifle pointing it at Lazar as he asks for information. As Bond is well aware that he’s a potential target of Scaramanga, he doesn’t mess around and needs answers quickly which puts his character in a darker tone than we saw in ‘Live and Let Die’ which works well in this scene. One of the best lines of dialogue Moore speaks is featured here while he points the rifle at Lazar; ‘I am now aiming precisely at your groin. So speak or forever hold your piece.’ A scene which doesn’t work so well in portraying Bond in a far serious manner is when he’s interrogating Miss Andreas Anders in her Hotel apartment. Despite a little bit of humour he has with a Hotel staff member pretending he’s delivering a bottle of champagne to gain access to her room, he begins his approach by entering Anders’ bathroom finding her naked in the shower. He calmly watches then says ‘Good afternoon’ before Maud Adams pulls out a gun on Bond. Moore gives a tongue and cheek answer back; ‘A water pistol?’ as Maud makes him walk into her bedroom. Bond however manages to turn the tables and forces Adams onto the bed, pushing her down to get answers. Although we know Bond is in the difficult situation, being targeted by Scaramanga, I feel that he became too aggressive in this scene and it doesn’t make Moore look tougher, it just makes him seem nasty. Alot of people have commented on this after watching the film and it’s another example of the Filmmakers trying to experiment with the direction Moore’s Bond would take.
The film’s strengths lie in the relationship between Scaramanga and Bond, I really liked Christopher Lee’s portrayal of the role and the script feels very much like one of Ian Fleming’s creations where the villain enjoys his time spent with Bond. His goal isn’t simply to kill Bond but show off to him, reveal that he’s as cool as he is, poking fun at him and slowly taking away everything from him; Miss Anders and then Goodnight before then wanting to kill him. At the concluding scenes of the film, Bond and Scaramanga have a head to head pistol duel which is one of the highlights of the film. Rather than wanting to destroy Bond once and for all through an easy method, Scaramanga wants a head on 50/50 duel as a test of discovering the true winner. The scene works really well, creating suspense and we also see the return of Scaramanga’s Fun House, with a twist. I won’t reveal too much about this scene but it’s really exciting and because we’ve already seen one scene within the house, the filmmakers have some fun surprising us with what happens here, making us think what we feel is about to happen but then completely taking us by surprise. My favourite part of this sequence is when Bond and Scaramanga are back to back holding their guns and have to walk twenty paces from each before firing. It’s a very memorable scene.
There were some great ideas in the film such as Goodnight being trapped in Bond’s hotel room while Miss Anders arrives where Bond hides her in a cupboard and the whole Karate school sequence which is something different to see. I believe at the time of making the film, Karate was popular so the filmmakers wanted to include it within the movie. It worked fairly well here where Bond acts smart by kicking a fighter’s head first then bowing to a Karate teacher and retired champion only to infuriate him who decides to unleash one of his black belt students on Bond. I didn’t particularly like Lt. Hip’s daughters taking part in the Karate fights as it seemed slightly silly to see that in a Bond film yet was kinda fun. The name for Lt. Hip is pretty ridiculous as well where in one scene Bond speaks of him to Goodnight which comes across as being overly camp by Moore only seconds after being presented with a wine called Phyyuck!
I did like how the film incorporated cultural dances into the film to enhance the settings such as in Beirut where we see a return of a Belly Dancer, the last being in ‘From Russia with Love’. There were also dancers accompanying a dinner sequence between Bond and Miss Goodnight which worked well with the setting as well as promoting the exotic locations we’re visiting. The betting scenes near the opening were interesting where small baskets are lowered between the upper and lower sections of a casino type setting in Hong Kong which added to the exotic flavour of the film. Adding to this, I liked the scene where Bond is aboard a tour boat while following Miss Andreas as it gives us a glimpse of Hong Kong harbour where seeing some of the locations in greater detail is always interesting to me.
There were a few bizarre moments which seem out of place such as Bond discovering Chew Mee, a rather suggestive name for a character. She is seen swimming around Hai Fat’s swimming pool without any clothes on which was pretty hardcore back in the seventies. Other elements within the film were more welcome such as Roger Moore’s preference for cigars over cigarettes which I feel made Moore’s Bond unique in that sense though it’s a horrible habit yet looked cool on screen. I liked during the belly dancing scene in Beirut that to obtain the golden bullet he had to softly kiss the dancer’s belly as the bullet was inside her belly button, who thinks of these things! The fight sequence in that scene was very well put together with choreography arranged by Bob Simmons, a well known stunt man who had worked on many Bond films all the way back from ‘Dr No’ to ‘A View to a Kill’. The scene was good at setting up Moore’s Bond as tougher than we’ve seen before and a mix of tight action shots made this sequence a memorable one especially when accompanied by John Barry’s music. I liked how Bond used a spray can to blind one of the fighting thugs during the fight which was a clever idea. When Bond is introduced to Miss Goodnight, he gets into her green car which looks a bit silly with Bond sitting in it. This is a running theme throughout the movie and it pocks some fun at Bond. We’re used to seeing him drive expensive flashy cars but every once and a while he has to make do with less ‘cool’ vehicles. Examples of this were the bus from ‘Live and Let Die’ though that was cool but not flashy, Jaws’ truck from ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’ and the yellow Citroen car from ‘For Your Eyes Only’. It’s a running gag which works really well in the Moore era of Bond pictures.
The stunts in this film were good, the most famous being the red car that does a 360 degree loop across a broken bridge. Although slightly over the top with a pause in the soundtrack where a long slide whistle sound effect is played out while the car stunt takes place in slow motion, it was nothing short of spectacular and to have some humour within the film with J.W. Pepper at this point was welcome. It was great to have Pepper in the car during this whole sequence as well adding light comedy to what could have been a long boring car chase. Guy Hamilton seems to enjoy using Police cars in his action sequences which work well here too and I liked during the whole car chase how we got to see both Bond and the villain’s reactions as the chase unfolded. Another great moment during the chase was when Bond reversed his car and performed a 360 degree turn to catch up with Scaramanga. There’s a boat sequence in Golden Gun as well which felt a little long probably because of the lack of music within the scene but it was still entertaining. Moore has a great piece of dialogue as he climbs into the boat which will raise a few laughs; ‘What you might call a Mexican screw-off, gentlemen’. There’s a moment in the boat chase where a young kid is trying to sell wooden elephants to tourists and he climbs aboard Bond’s boat which has came to a halt. The kid insists that the elephants are a bargain price so Bond suggests that if he can make his boat go any faster, he’ll pay 10,000 bucks. The kid helps him out but then Bond chucks him out of the boat as the child shouts; ‘Bloody tourist!’ It’s funny to see though Roger Moore does comment in the film’s audio commentary that he wished that scene could be changed reflecting on it as he wished he had spent more time being aware of the poverty that the young children face everyday as he felt that the scene was a little embarrassing and selfish. Roger Moore much later in his career carried out a great deal of work for UNICEF to help raise awareness about young people living in poverty which had changed his mind about the world where back in the seventies he was much more focused on his acting career. I think it’s wise that Moore reflected like that and it shows that he thinks about alot of things much more than simply being an actor.
Throughout the film, great effort was made into promoting the exotic locations that were visited and the boat sequence did a nice job of providing us with a thrilling chase yet show some of the tourist spots as well. The scene also brought in the first encounter J.W. Pepper has with Bond before his second when he conveniently is sitting in a red sports car which Bond steals in an attempt to rescue Miss Goodnight. There were some excellent cinematography aerial shots around Khao Phing Kan Island where Bond is tracking Miss Goodnight’s homing beacon to rescue her while piloting a sea plane which was nice to see visually. There were quite a few miniature shots in the film also which although look slightly dated today, add to the story and bring this exciting tale to life. I did think Scaramanga’s flying car was a bit over the top and looked fake but while your engrossed in the adventure, you accept it as a piece of fun entertainment and it doesn’t distract too much. The whole set design for Scaramanga’s Island was really good, I liked the Solex machine which was powered by a satellite collecting energy from the sun and the Laser Cannon which Scaramanga uses to destroy Bond’s plane, a highly unusual way for the first Green Villain to use his energy! During the scenes around Hong Kong, the Bond filmmakers created a good idea out of RMS Queen Elizabeth’s sunken ship from 1973 by writing into the script that MI6 used the ship as a base. The set designed to reveal the interior of Queen Elizabeth was very unusual featuring twisted corridors and walls angled in different directions making a very Bond like appearance created by Designer, Peter Lamont.
Like ‘Live and Let Die’, ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’ seems full of colourful set pieces. There’s a sequence involving two Sumo wrestlers who Bond must battle with. The scene was good to have as it fitted in well with the setting at that point and I thought Bond’s idea to twist the giant sized pants of the Wrestlers to cause him pain a funny one. The sequence was referred to within the script’s dialogue as ‘Grizzly land’, a garden of unusual and freaky looking statues. Nick Nack makes an appearance in the scene who wears a mask before revealing himself to the audience yet Bond is unaware. The entire Hai Fat garden and home was an excellent choice of location. I would love to start planning a Bond holiday where I can travel to all of the locations used in the Bond pictures. This location has presence in the film and it helps establish Hai Fat’s strong financial position. I liked Bond’s use of a fake false nipple to make contact with Hai Fat but also the twist in the script where we see that Scaramanga has already met Hai Fat and unknown to Bond, he has walked into a trap.
One of the best scenes is where Hai Fat is discussing with Scaramanga his plans to head into hiding as Bond has discovered their connection. While Hai Fat is clearing his safe, Scaramanga is slowly putting together his golden gun which is made up from various objects he wears such as a cigarette case, pen, cuff link forming the trigger and lighter formed bullet chamber. While the dialogue continues, Scaramanga completes putting together his gun and then aims it at Hai Fat saying ‘That’s no problem’ before firing the gun and murdering Hai Fat. The scene reveals the brutishness of Scaramanga and a darker edge to the movie which sadly isn’t featured enough. This theme is carried through to the end of the film though where there are a few more scenes which have the same atmosphere. Christopher Lee is fantastic in this film and all of the other actors don’t come close to his performance, he steals the show. His eyes are particularly menacing which worked well playing the role of Scaramanga.
On the other hand, a scene that I didn’t like all too much was one where Bond is captured by what he believes is the Hong Kong Police. What follows is a long overdrawn out sequence as Bond is taken by car then boat to the Queen Elizabeth ship headquarters. Although I like the inclusion of the QE ship, I felt that the music was repetitive, the pace slow and the scene was ultimately boring. Some of the editing cuts in the movie were unexpected such as between Bond and Anders where the two characters chime glasses for the next shot to be a long medium shot of a girl’s bottom. It’s a pretty full on shot but works well setting up that we’re now at the Bottom Up Club where we’ve learnt that Scaramanga will be visiting.
Alot of reviews I’ve read about this film speak of the attempt to make Roger Moore’s Bond darker and more Connery like. The script here is written jointly by Richard Maibaum and Tom Mankiewicz, Tom having written the script jointly for ‘Diamonds are Forever’ then exclusively ‘Live and Let Die’ and jointly for this movie and ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’ as well as a little assistance for Moonraker. It’s clear that the Scriptwriters were trying to make Bond’s character more serious in tone and I think at this time during the Moore era of films, it wasn’t clear what direction his role might take. Nobody could have imagined how popular the comedic side of Moore would be further down the line and I think they were having a go at seeing if he could play a darker Bond. The answer like many others have said is of course no. Moore works well with humour and placing him in a situation where he has to be violent or serious to get him out of a situation makes him look bad. Moore’s best scenes always involved him using his charm and light humour to get him out of a situation and as the series continued, he became much more his own Bond. Some elements of the seriousness were good such as in the closing stages where Bond, Goodnight and Scaramanga are having dinner but I feel the scene with Andrea Anders near the beginning made Bond look too violent.
So wrapping up my review, I have to say that despite harsh criticism of this movie from fellow reviewers, ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’ is definitely underrated. There are so many clever ideas and twists in this film that it easily entertains. It’s not without it’s flaws with some poorly acted characters like Miss Goodnight and a few bland allies but Christopher Lee’s performance more than makes up for it and Moore is showing more familiarity within his role, strengthening his presence on screen. There’s so much crammed into this movie, it’s exciting to watch visually. The pace could have been a bit faster in some parts such as the Karate school and boat chase though the actual events in the plot seem to take place very quickly. The theme of Bond vs Scaramanga is an excellent one and the use of Scaramanga’s island adds to the overall quality of the film, particularly the Fun House. I would highly recommend buying a copy of this film. It’s one of the first Bond pictures I watched growing up and it has a feeling of nostalgia for me. Let me know your comments below and look out for my review of the DVD features and soundtrack in another blog article I’ll be posting.