Bond is led to believe that he is targeted by the world’s most expensive assassin and must hunt him down to stop him.
You see, Mr. Bond, I always thought I loved animals. Then I discovered that I enjoyed killing people even more.
‘The Man With the Golden Gun‘ marks a return to form for the James Bond franchise after the missteps of ‘Diamonds are Forever‘ and ‘Live and Let Die‘. Filmed in 1974 on location in Macau, Hong Kong and Thailand, Guy Hamilton is back for his fourth film in the series, his third Bond in succession. This time Hamilton is better served by a much more engaging script, a convincing villain and a return to the international jet-setting spy that audiences came to know and love in the 1960s.
Christopher Lee’s Scaramanga (identifiable by his superfluous papilla) is one of Bond’s most formidable adversaries – a former circus trick shot artist who discovered a pleasure for killing at an early age. Lee’s screen presence is used to good effect, a suave yet cold killer whose main pleasure in life is achieving the perfect kill shot and his ultimate aim is to test himself against Her Majesty’s finest spy. Francisco Scaramanga is introduced in the customary pre-credits sequence as he welcomes a mob hitman to his island lair which boasts its own carnival style shooting range complete with wild west and prohibition era sets and models of gunfighters and gangsters. The scene ends ominously with Bond’s mannequin on the receiving end of Scaramanga’s target practice.
The story continues with an apparent threat made against 007’s life, a golden bullet inscribed with ‘007’ is sent to MI6 with a note bearing Scaramanga’s fingerprint. We learn from Bond himself about Scaramanga’s background following which M makes it clear that whilst the agent is a marked man it makes him a liability to his current mission, which centres around the energy crisis which shaped the geopolitical landscape in the 1970s. M indirectly encourages Bond to take the matter into his own hands, but all the while remains as dispassionate as ever in his dealings with the agent, treading the usual line between disdain and respect for his number one operative.
Bond also faces a diminutive villain in the form of Scaramanga’s assistant ‘Nick Nack’ (played by Herve Villechaize), a scheming character whose loyalty appears to be in question as he notes to both the hitman and Bond that he hopes they succeed so that he can inherit the island. Yet he proves to be a thorn in Bond’s side on several occasions and comes as close to killing the agent as any adversaries to date. Whilst we see Q on a couple of scenes this Bond film is unusual in that the vast majority of the gadgets belong to the villain of the piece. Bond’s only real gadget is the fake nipple that he requests from an aghast Q. By contrast Scaramanga has his shooting gallery, flying car, stolen Solex Agitator (a device which is a key component of a solar power system that could seriously impact on the fossil fuel industries) and of course the infamous golden gun (formed by combing a cufflink, lighter, cigarette case and and fountain pen).
Britt Ekland and Maud Adams make contrasting Bond girls, with Adams’ character Andrea a sophisticated and beautiful woman trapped in a loveless relationship as the mistress of the ruthless Scaramanga. Ekland’s Goodnight on the other hand is a hapless agent who bumbles along from one mishap to another, hoping to finally get time alone with Bond, but as with Moneypenny she finds herself constantly on hold whilst Bond pursues his latest ‘mission’.
The paucity of characters in ‘The Man With The Golden Gun‘ serves the story well making it a tense affair, essentially a duel between the two top assassins in the world. Their similarities are spelt out by Scaramanga when Bond observes that the Golden Gun wielding assassin lives well – the reply to this marks a stark contrast between the two men: “At a million dollars a contract, I can afford to, Mr. Bond. You work for peanuts, a hearty well done from Her Majesty the Queen, and a pittance of a pension. Apart from that, we are the same. To us, Mr. Bond, we are the best.” In truth there isn’t a great deal of difference between the characters, they are both paid assassins and treat women as disposable pleasures. Ultimately though, Scaramanga’s egotism is on another level to Bond’s and his method of ending relationships is by way of the golden bullet.
John Barry returns as composer with Lulu performing the title track. It’s a catchy enough Bond theme but not one of the strongest from the series. Barry himself apparently disliked the title track describing it as “the one I hate the most”. The score though does complement the theme well, particularly during the exciting boat and car chase scenes. Bond films somehow feel that bit more reassuring when Barry is on scoring duties.
Roger Moore follows up his assured debut as 007 with another witty and charismatic performance, mixing humour with violence and the obligatory womanising. Arguments will continue for as long as Bond films hit the silver screen as to which actor is the best Bond, but there’s no doubt that in the 1970s Roger Moore brought a refreshing take on the character. ‘The Man With The Golden Gun‘ deserves to be considered as one of the better Bond films, perhaps not on the same level as Connery’s best efforts but certainly one of the most memorable entries in the series, in no small part due to the iconic villain.
Review by Mark Thatcher
Directed By: Guy Hamilton
Starring: Roger Moore, Christopher Lee, Britt Ekland, Maud Adams, Hervé Villechaize, Richard Loo, Soon-Tek Oh, Clifton James, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell and Desmond Llewelyn