The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)

When it’s on: Saturday, 21 July (2.35 pm)
Channel: ITV1
IMDb Link

You’re that Secret Agent! That English secret agent! From England!

When Bond films were poor, they could be bloody awful and just about a case in point isĀ The Man with the Golden Gun. Dull. Uninspired. Going through the motions. All words and phrases that sum up this by-the-numbers entry perfectly, with everyone involved appearing content to serve up a generic 007 flick designed to plug the gaps. There’s just about enough fun and excitement to stop the whole shebang sinking entirely into Victoria Harbour, but there it remains, half-submerged, the rusting husk reminding everyone of the fine line between getting it right and simply ensuring something – anything! – makes it to the screen.

The saddest part of the film is that it could have been so much finer. Christopher Lee was such a natural choice to play lead villain that he deserved a lot better than the forgettable Scaramanga, indeed as David Thomson once remarked, he could have donned the Walther PPK and been a more than adequate Bond. As it turned out, Lee wasn’t even the first choice for the role, but once Jack Palance rejected it the production turned to the actor who also happened to be Ian Fleming’s cousin.

Lee as Bond’s nemesis might sound a perfect fit, indeed elements of the script hint at the cat and mouse game between the pair – both masters in the art of killing – that it might have been. Yet the script (Richard Maibaum softening the ‘battle of wills’ draft turned out by Tom Mankiewicz) doesn’t seem to know what to do with him. Director Guy Hamilton shoehorned levity into every possible nook and cranny, diluting the ‘million dollars per hit’ assassin further, so that in the end Scaramanga is somehow less interesting than his dwarf sidekick (Herve Villechaize) and it’s never clear what’s going on with him. Is the point that he’s attempting to harness solar energy in order to sell on as cheap electricity, or is it the opportunity to duel with 007? Who knows. Lee has natural charisma to spare, which redresses the mixed messages a little. Scaramanga also shows a healthy respect for his opponent, going so far as to suggest that he and Bond aren’t so dissimilar, a notion the spy rebuffs harshly, but these are teases, glimpses at the movie The Man with the Golden Gun might have been. They aren’t enough.

As for Roger Moore, in only his second outing he’s showing all the signs of the caricature his Bond would become. The casual lechery Connery’s character suggested is rather explicit here, not to mention Moore’s supposed irresistibility to the opposite sex, meaning one woman he tortures (Maud Adams) goes on to happily jump his bones, whilst the vapid Mary Goodnight (Britt Ekland) gets kidnapped, runs around in tiny bikinis and waits for his ‘one golden shot.’ Within a film that plays for laughs, Moore has an appropriate approach, but because of this there’s a sense of him almost floating through it, never in any real danger and so the natural tension inherent in an action flick drops rapidly. He deals with a sumo wrestler who’s bear-hugging the life out of him by twisting the back knot on his mawashi. When Scaramanga’s dwarf accomplice is on the attack, Bond simply shuts him in a suitcase. Funny, right?

Worst of all is the return of Sheriff J W Pepper (Clifton James), the comedy cop from Live and Let Die and present here thanks to the Peppers just happening to be holidaying in the exact place Bond is getting into scrapes. Somehow, the Sheriff winds up sat alongside the agent as he pursues Scaramanga’s car across Bangkok, offering his usual stream of Louisiana drivel. He’s also on hand for the film’s best stunt, a 360 degree car jump across a broken bridge. It looks great, but even this is watered down with comic sound effects.

The real trouble with The Man with the Golden Gun is that, at heart, it’s all so very simple. Bond has an appointment with Scaramanga. One of them will kill the other. Getting there takes two hours of film, taking in a plot device about the assassin being involved in the theft of a Solex Agitator (which converts the sun’s rays into electricity, or something) that’s simply there to eat up the time. Despite everything, I enjoyed it enough to not lose myself in tedium, but only just. It’s strictly filler.

The Man with the Golden Gun: **

By the way, my apologies for being so poor this week, due to a combination of getting the job I applied for earlier in the month, and spending the rest of the week getting ready for it. I hope normal service will resume forthwith.