The James Bond Rewatch: THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN (1974)

Roger Moore returns as James Bond and faces off against the superfluous-nipple villain Scaramanga in the funhouse weirdness of The Man with the Golden Gun.

Rather than waver from Live and Let Dies successful formula, TMWTGG doubles down on supposed timeliness by tackling the 1973 energy crisis and weaving in the martial arts craze. As usual, the aging Moore appears ill at ease with much of the shoe-horned in fads, but stills maintains a general aura of wit and elegance against some bright and colourful backdrops. Formulaic elements creep in, in a generally goofy entry that begins to show the series’ age.

The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)

Directed by Guy Hamilton, with Roger Moore as James Bond (for the 2nd time)

The Theme Song: “The Man with the Golden Gun” performed by Lulu

“The Man with The Golden Gun” song is a bit of a whiff, much like the movie itself. It’s an upbeat tune with some funky guitars, but the theme isn’t memorable enough to elevate it above other superior efforts. Its lyrics are particularly on-the-nose, and the accompanying credits sequence – featuring the usual exotic women and iconography – again doesn’t leave much of an impression. Perhaps the least successful theme yet.

The Plot

The pre-credits sequence sees an American mobster hunted by famed assassin Scaramanga (Christopher Lee) and his diminuative henchman Nick Nack (Hervé Villechaize) on their fantastical island paradise (some might say it’s almost a Fantasy Island). Circus tricks and funhouse traps abound as Nick Nack engineers obstacles for Scaramanga, who is actually honing his killer chops by slaying the gangster. His real target? James Bond.

A gentleman's duel - Scaramanga's gold gun vs Bond's Walther PPK

A gentleman’s duel – Scaramanga’s golden gun vs Bond’s Walther PPK

As the world’s best assassin, Scaramanga charges $1 million per hit, to be carried out with his titular golden gun which holds a single bullet (he doesn’t miss). As MI6 receives a threat on Bond’s life, M forces 007 to take a vacation but you can’t keep a good agent down. This instalment is particularly globe-trotting, with scenes set in Thailand, Macau, Hong Kong and Beirut. The plot MacGuffin is the Solex agitator – a device that will supposedly solve the world’s energy crisis through efficient solar power – the pursuit of which leads towards an eventual showdown at high noon between Bond and Scaramanga

James The Fighter

The great Christopher Lee is Scaramanga, a circus-trained trick shooter who grows to be the world’s deadliest assassin (“I always liked guns and I discovered I liked killing people more”). His fabulous wealth and influence affords him a spectacular island hideaway (a marvel of 70s production design) staffing only by his most trusted man-servant Nick Nack (Hervé Villechaize, essentially playing his Tattoo character from Fantasy Island). When Scaramanga and Bond finally meet there’s some intriguing philosophizing where Scaramanga suggests he and Bond are no different – they both kill in cold blood. This moral ambiguity is welcome and infuses some much-needed pathos into Moore’s laissez faire Bond, but arrives late in the film after lots of goofiness.

Bond pretends to know martial arts while these school girls kick actual ass

Bond pretends to know martial arts while these school girls kick actual ass

Some of the more ridiculous elements include: a boat chase that pales next to Live and Let Die‘s blowout, Bond attempting Karate, Bond grappling with Sumo wrestlers, a Evil Knieval-style river jump that’s impressive but robbed of impact by a slide whistle, and Scaramanga’s car converting to a plane. That said, the 70s muscle cars still look great in the chase scenes and the final showdown does have some tense moments (though why is Scaramanga’s base curiously empty? Budget concerns?).

James The Lover

Britt Ekland stars as Mary Goodnight, an incredibly incompetent agent who shares a past with Bond and has been paired with him again. The role is a thankless one (she spends the climax of the film in a two-piece because Scaramanga states: “I like a girl in a bikini, no concealed weapons”) and Goodnight even sets off a deadly laser with her ass, nearly killing Bond. Ekland escapes with her dignity, mostly because the movie surrounding her is equally if not more silly.

Maud Adams is more tragic as Andrea, Scaramanga’s mistress. She turns against her lover and feeds Bond info (spending the night with him as well), but Bond’s poison penis strikes again and she’s dead in the very next scene. “A mistress cannot serve two masters” warns Scaramanga, but Adams would eventually pull off the rare feat of returning to the world of Bond as a different character altogether in 1983’s Octopussy.

Oh and Bond also swallows the belly ring of an exotic dancer. That’s a series first.

The aforementioned belly dancer.

The aforementioned belly dancer.

Iconic Moments

  • The MI6 base aboard the wreck of a capsized ocean liner in the Hong Kong harbour is another example of stellar production design
  • Sheriff J.W. Pepper returns, this time on vacation in Thailand with his wife! He teams with Bond for a car chase (“Who ya chasing this time boy? Commies?!”) and menaces baby elephants (don’t worry – he gets his comeuppance)
  • The duel between Bond and Scaramanga and the quotes that precede it are pretty great (sample line: “The death of 007 would be my indisputable masterpiece”)
  • Nick Nack is an impish and memorable henchman with more power than he lets on (when aiding Bond, “If you kill heem, all zis will be mine” [gestures to island]), and his final battle with Bond is supremely ridiculous

The Verdict

TMWTGG is an uneven entry that sports a great main villain but is too slapstick-y overall to be taken seriously. There’s some diminishing returns evident with M looking tired, boat and car chases that don’t live up to their predecessors, and very little real danger to speak of to impede the nigh-invulnerable Bond.

It drags a bit, which is anathema to the Bond series in which the character must always be relentlessly moving forward like a shark tasting blood in the water. Nick Nack and Scaramanga are inspired antagonists, but the movie’s blatant appropriation of the fads of the era (a Bond tradition in many ways) doesn’t quite gel here, resulting in an off entry. And that theme song – woof!

Updated Rankings

  1. From Russia With Love
  2. Goldfinger
  3. Dr. No
  4. You Only Live Twice
  5. Live and Let Die
  6. Thunderball
  7. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
  8. The Man with The Golden Gun
  9. Diamonds Are Forever

James Bond will return in The Spy Who Loved Me

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