The Man with the Golden Gun
I feel I've been a bit harsh with the first Roger Moore entry into the Bond franchise and I doubt I'm going to make any friends by stating that The Man with the Golden Gun, the 9th film in the franchise and the final entry to be directed by Guy Hamilton, is actually fairly good. Or not that bad. Or ... well, you get the picture.
Just as Live and Let Die took on the Blaxploitation, Bond now travels to the Far East and in doing so takes on the new Kung Fu craze which has blown up with the release of Enter the Dragon the year earlier. Featuring Christopher Lee as the titular - and with three nipples the term is apt - hitman Scaramanga, there's something about Moore's second film which feels like a good episode of a TV show. The circus element is reminiscent of The Avengers or The Prisoner, especially with Scaramanga's shooting gallery of mirrors. The presence of Herve Villechaize, who would later find fame in Fantasy Island, adds to this. It's modest in its ambitions, telling a tale of a hitman with a revolutionary solar device that could solve the then raging energy crisis. Bond is sent to hunt down the hitman, who in some ways is a double of Bond himself. Bond is helped/hindered by Mary Goodnight (Britt Ekland), an unapologetic bimbo that was dated even in 1974. Maud Adams plays Scaramanga's girlfriend who has decided to help Bond.
Some of the nuts and bolts action are done very well. The shootouts, the fight in the Dojo, a short boat chase, calling back to Live and Let Die. There is an impressive car chase, which features the highpoint of the whole film: a corkscrew jump over a river. But this is moronically ruined by the unbelievably stupid use of a slide whistle on the soundtrack. Add to this the unwelcome return of JW Pepper (Clifton James) whose racist outbursts about pointy heads is clearly supposed to be endearing in an Alf Garnett kind of way. His presence during one of the best parts of the film shows up the filmmakers lack of confidence in the action.
Moore's Bond is a bit crueller in his second film. He mistreats Maud, has nothing but contempt for Mary Goodnight and even throws a little begging boy in the river. But to suggest there's some deepening of the character would require a better actor. Moore's limits are on display in scenes with Britt Ekland, herself an awful actor. It seems at times as if they are having a competition as to who can deliver the lines in the worst possible manner and it's consistently a draw. Again, the injection of comedy at moments of alleged high tension, such as the climax of the film with Bond trying to disarm the Solex, is completely counter-productive, neither funny nor exciting.
I feel as if I'm being very 'bah humbug' about the Moore Bonds, and I'm sure a lot of people have fun with how campy they are, but I've never much enjoyed the so-bad-it's-good genre. And it isn't that I'm opposed to humour in the Bonds. Both Goldfinger and Daniel Craig's Casino Royale are genuinely funny in parts. The rot really set in with Diamonds Are Forever, but even in this film the indulgence of camp is underpinned by a certain sharp wit. Once we get to Moore, we have a series of that'll do dad jokes and the unfunny comedy sidekick. The Man with the Golden Gun disappointed critically and commercially, though by no means a flop. There would be need for a reinvention and Moore's next outing would be his best entry into the franchise.
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John Bleasdale is a writer, novelist and screenwriter.