Tuesday, 28 January 2020

The Man with the Golden Gun (1974), Blu-Ray review

The Man with the Golden Gun was released in 1974 and it’s not one of the more admired Bond movies. Following a discussion on a recent post here (my review of A View to a Kill) I’ve decided it’s time to revisit this one. The fact that I now own the Blu-Ray release was another reason to do so.

This is the fourth and last of director Guy Hamilton’s four Bond movies, which include Goldfinger, the somewhat underrated Diamonds Are Forever and Live and Let Die.

Scaramanga (Christopher Lee) is a legendary assassin who charges a cool million dollars a hit. His trademark (apart from the fact that he’s the very best in his business) is that he always uses golden bullets. Now it appears that his next target is to be James Bond. He admires Bond and killing him will be the ultimate challenge.

Trying to avoid Scaramanga would be futile. He’s simply too good. Bond’s only hope is to find Scaramanga before Scaramanga finds him. He has almost nothing to go on. No photograph of Scaramanga exists. His present whereabouts are unknown. There is no way of knowing the identity of the client who has hired him to kill Bond.

The one hope is a belly dancer in Beirut. She was with 002 when he was killed by Scaramanga. At least it is assumed that Scaramanga was the assassin. Since the bullet was not recovered this supposition was never confirmed. Perhaps that belly dancer knows what happened to the bullet.

Bond’s search takes him to Macau and Hong Kong, then to Thailand and eventually to Scaramanga’s island. With of course plenty of action on the way - a boat chase, a car chase and a pretty decent fight scene pitting Bond against some martial arts experts who are very good, but not quite good enough.

This time Bond has two assistants, a Hong Kong police detective named Hip (Soon-Tek Oh) and a Miss Mary Goodnight, a charming young lady from the British Secret Service. Miss Goodnight manages to get herself captured but she also manages to plant a homing device that will lead Bond to her, and she manages to get hold of the device that is the key to the whole adventure so on the whole she’s not wholly incompetent.

My first impression of this movie is that it’s trying to be a bit more risqué and a little bit more harder-edged than previous Bond movies. There’s an early nude scene with Maud Adams, obscured by a shower door but she’s clearly naked. And Bond then proceeds to slap her around. Interestingly enough this is getting much closer to the Bond of Ian Fleming’s novels than you normally expect in a Bond movie. There are definite touches of sadomasochism in Fleming’s novels (which may have reflected the author’s own sexual tastes). What’s even more interesting is that Roger Moore (a much better actor than he was ever given credit for) is quite convincing as this tougher crueler Bond.

Of course there’s more than a hint of sadism in Scaramanga’s character, especially in the scene where he uses his gun in some sex play with Maud Adams.

While there are of course many comic moments (some provided by the return of Sheriff J.W. Popper from Live and Let Die) this is overall a darker Bond film, with Roger Moore mostly playing things pretty straight. And Scaramanga is not just a Bond villain, he is a brutal and ruthless killer who enjoys killing very much indeed.

One weakness is the lame solar energy plot. You want a Bond villain to be aiming at world domination, not cornering the market on better solar hot water heaters. In fact that’s the major flaw to the movie - it’s just not ambitious enough or outrageous enough or on a big enough scale for a Bond movie. The final duel between 007 and Scaramanga also seems rather abbreviated (although it is a nice echo of the pre-credits sequence).

There are some gadgets (there’s a flying car and there’s the solar energy gun) but mostly the focus is on the duel between Bond and Scaramanga and that’s going to be settled by their respective skills as killers. This is is a movie in which 007’s skills in that department are absolutely central.

Scaramanga’s island hideaway is pretty cool but it’s the only really spectacular set and it’s not on the scale of some of the more outlandish sets in previous movies in the cycle. On the other hand the tilted sets in the capsized Queen Elizabeth (where M has his Hong Kong headquarters) and Scaramanga’s funhouse are clever and imaginative.

There’s certainly no shortage of glamourous ladies in this movie. We get both Maud Adams (as Scaramanga’s girlfriend) and Britt Ekland as British agent Mary Goodnight. Miss Ekland is actually very good, she shows a flair for light comedy and it’s amusing to have a Bond girl who just never seems to actually end up in Bond’s bed. Her generally light-hearted personality contrasts well with Maud Adams’ very serious approach.

If you judge it simply as a spy thriller it’s quite decent, but The Man with the Golden Gun is a bit low-key for a Bond film. This probably explains its relatively poor box office and certainly explains why the producers decided that the next Bond film, The Spy Who Loved Me, was going to be a much bigger film. It also undoubtedly explains why Roger Moore’s performances in the next couple of films were more extravagant and light-hearted.

What is noticeable about the Roger Moore Bond films is that they’re not only variable in quality but also quite varied in tone and approach. They seem to veer between delirious comic-book extravagance and camp outrageousness on the one hand and attempts to capture the more realistic and slightly dark spy thriller feel of the novels.

Still, you can’t dislike a movie in which Britt Ekland’s bottom plays a crucial part in the plot (almost getting her killed and Bond along with her). The Man with the Golden Gun is enjoyable enough. Recommended.


tom j jones said...

Can't believe you didn't mention the car stunt! (Have you watched the very good Making Of doc?) Because of the way this was shown on British TV - they didn't have pan and scan, they'd just show the left side of the film and then cut to the right side - I didn't find out for twenty years that it was one take.

Sorry, but this is one of my least fave Bond movies - after Spectre, it's the one I most give up one when I'm watching it. Great villain (it took 10 years to cast Lee as a Bond villain? Really? REALLY???) great babes - you can see why they invited Maud Adams back, although I'm firmly in the Goodnight-is-an-idiot camp lol, great supporting cast, great locations, great car stunt, great flying car ... and yet it feels so much less than the sum of its parts.

I've always felt of it as being like a big budget movie edited from episodes of The Saint or that kind of TV show - like they did with the Man from Uncle movies. There's an air of cheapness at times - the whole Beirut sequence is clearly in the studio, and not even on the main stage - and check out the camera crew in the mirror during the fight :)

Randall Landers said...

My issue with this one is the solar array. Just think that they decided the Bond versus Scaramanga plot was just not enough. Sometimes less is more.