Monday, July 29, 2019

The Man with the Golden Gun (1974, Guy Hamilton)

One of my favorite topics of conversation is the James Bond 007 film series.  I have been a fan since I was 9 years old and my tastes in the series have changed many times over the years.  There are classics like From Russia with Love and Goldfinger that top many people's lists and those which are frequently at the bottom, like A View to a Kill and Die Another Day.  The Man with the Golden Gun, Roger Moore's second film as Bond, always seemed to be right in the middle for me.  Moore, though great in his first attempt at 007 in Live and Let Die, really didn't settle into the role until his third appearance in The Spy Who Loved Me.  I always thought The Man with the Golden Gun was weird and visually very dull.  Scenes were mashed together haphazardly and then there is the infamous "slide whistle", many fan's least favorite moment in the Bond series.  I was looking forward to rewatching it as many years had passed since my last viewing.  What I discovered was a near masterpiece.

The Man with the Golden Gun, like its predecessor, begins with a pre-title sequence that doesn't feature James Bond.  We are introduced to a gangster named Rodney (Marc Lawrence, who also appeared three years prior in Diamonds are Forever), as he lands on a private island owned by high-priced assassin, Francisco Scaramanga (Christopher Lee).  It is apparent Rodney is not there for pleasure and a cat and mouse game ensues in Scaramanga's home made Fun House.  Scaramanga kills Rodney with his golden gun and is then seen shooting a wax figure of James Bond.  After the title song by Lulu, we meet up with Bond at his MI6 headquarters.  Bond anonymously receives a 007 inscribed golden bullet, similar to the one that killed 002, and is put on holiday for his safety.  Bond seeks out the maker of the golden bullet, hoping to get closer to Scaramanga who is believed to have sent the bullet.  What follows is a globe trotting adventure featuring henchman Nick Nack (Herve Villechaize), the mysterious Andrea Anders (Maud Adams) and allies Mary Goodnight (Britt Ekland), Hip (Soon-Tek Oh) and Sheriff J.W. Pepper (Clifton James).

This film has been maligned by critics and fans of the series for its prevailing cruelty, particularly by Bond.  Beginning with the next film, The Spy Who Loved Me, Roger Moore had changed Bond into a more sarcastic, lovable super hero.  Though Connery's previous Bond made quips and escaped unbelievable situations, he had not yet become as cartoon-y as Moore would become.  To me, The Man with the Golden Gun shows Moore the closest he would come to Ian Fleming's literary Bond.  From twisting Andrea Anders' arm to pushing an annoying child peddler out of a speedboat, Moore shows that he can be the cruel, no nonsense Bond from the novels.

The structure of the film I find quite enjoyable, including many of the usual elements of the best 007 films.  First, The Man with the Golden Gun begins with an exciting "mini movie" pre-title sequence.  I know there are naysayers against Scaramanga's Fun House, but I think the sets look amazing and the scenes (both in the pre-title and the end) are very suspenseful.  Next, the film's exotic locations are some of the best in the series.  From Scaramanga's private island in Thailand, to the Beirut nightclub, the Hong Kong casino and wealthy businessman Hai Fat's Bangkok estate, the audience are treated to breathtaking locales and Peter Murton's fantastic set designs.  John Barry's score is another highlight, perfectly accompanying Bond's journey across the Far East.  "Hip's Trip" and the beautiful "Chew Me in Grislyland" are two standout tracks, using bits of the theme song as well as the James Bond theme.  Lastly, the film's cast is amazing and features two of the most iconic Bond villains (Scaramanga and Nick Nack), as well as two of the best Bond women (Goodnight and Anders).  Maud Adams is perfect as Andrea Anders, Scaramanga's lover with ulterior motives.  I was never particularly a fan of Ekland's portrayal of Mary Goodnight, but upon revisiting I have changed my mind.  I previously thought her to be helpless and incompetent, but I really enjoy the hard to get games she plays with Bond and her chemistry with Moore is undeniably.

The film is not without its problems though, especially at the mid point.  After we see Bond sleuthing his way to uncover Scaramanga's plot, we suddenly find him in a pointless scene at a Karate school.  Though mildly entertaining, it is an obvious bandwagon jump onto the popular Martial Arts films of the time.  This is then followed by a "chance" meeting with redneck Sheriff J.W. Pepper, who apparently someone thought should come back after bumbling his way through Live and Let Die.  These scenes kill the pace of the film and ultimately feel like filler.  One thing I didn't mention was the side plot about the Solex Agitator, a MacGuffin used to harness the power of the sun.  Not a terrible concept, but one that wasn't completely necessary.

Overall, I would rank The Man with the Golden Gun in my top ten Bond films and my favorite of the Roger Moore era.  For Your Eyes Only, Moore's other "serious" Bond film, comes in a close second due to a weak villain and some slow parts.  This film has zero slow parts, has one of the best casts  and what I consider Moore's best portrayal of Bond.

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