We continue our mission to review every James Bond film ever released as we make our way towards the release of Skyfall in October…
There are many questions that spring to mind as you watch The Man With The Golden Gun. If Goodnight can become an agent, just how easy is it to walk into that job? Are they willing to let a complete ineptitude in the job slide if you have a pretty face and bikini body? Can you really just post a bullet to MI6 with a 00’s number on it? Just how much of a preceding reputation should a British secret agent actually have?
As a fan of James Bond the character I’ve always been slightly baffled by just how popular Roger Moore was in the role. That’s not to say I don’t like Roger Moore. Nobody who has read his autobiography (if you haven’t, give it a look) or seen him interviewed could dislike Roger Moore. It’s not that I don’t like his acting because I think he’s a fine actor (his best work arguably being The Man Who Haunted Himself). It’s just that his Bond isn’t very Bond.
The trick to playing Bond is making the part your own whilst staying true to the source. Roger Moore very much played to his strengths in the role, taking what worked for him from Ian Fleming and dispensing with the rest, which mostly consisted of the darker, edgier side of Bond. Moore’s take on the character is a very light one, a Bond that enjoys his work and the fringe benefits that come with it. His Bond seems to be well aware of the fact that he could be killed at any moment, so is just out enjoying the ride and to hell with who gets killed along the way.
The aspect of Bond that Moore is really uncomfortable with is when it is called for him to be violent towards women. Sean Connery could do this with ease; it was very much in character for his Bond to be violent towards a woman for information. There was an attempt to carry this trait over for Moore’s first two outings – probably an attempt to balance Bond out against Moore’s lighter take on the role – before they decided it was more fitting for Moore to seduce the information out of women (usually resulting in somebody else performing a violent act on them afterwards).
Although he was always enjoyable to watch and consistently good at playing his version of Bond, Moore had a sketchy tenure at best. He appeared in two great Bond films, two pretty good Bond films, two awful Bond films and The Man With The Golden Gun, a film so unevenly balanced between being bad and yet strangely enjoyable that you can never really bring yourself to write it off completely.
Where it succeeds as a film is mainly in Christopher Lee’s portrayal of Scaramanga. He plays him with an almost cyborg like cold detachment that makes him very chilling, which becomes even more so in the way Lee plays the enjoyment he takes in a kill. Lee is arguably one of the best Bond villains in the series and the main saving grace of this film.
This really is a bad guy’s film, with Herve Villechaize being another highlight of the film. His Nick Nack is a bizarre sort of villain, essentially appearing as a sort of a psychotic and deadly version of Kato from The Pink Panther Films. The skill of the character is the sense of unease he makes you feel toward him making him an oddly terrifying henchman, despite not being a physically imposing threat to Bond.
Likewise Maud Adams (making her first of three appearances in the Bond series) is really good in her part and you can see why they brought her back as the lead Bond girl in Octopussy, probably to make up for not having cast her as Goodnight in this film. It really is a shame that she appeared in three of the worst films in the series (a cameo in A View To A Kill rounds out her trilogy).
This brings us to the character of Mary Goodnight: one of the films two biggest problems. The character just makes no sense. How are we supposed to believe that she is a seasoned field agent when she is so incompetent at everything she does? Gone is the capable ally of the novel and in comes a character from a 70’s sex farce who has her attempts at being bedded by Bond constantly interrupted. Britt Ekland gives it her best, but you can’t help but wonder how much better the film would’ve been had Goodnight been truer to the book and been played by Adams, with Ekland as Anders.
The other, and possibly more unforgiveable, problem with the film is the inclusion again of Sheriff J.W. Pepper. He was only just passable in Live And Let Die and certainly showed no signs of being a character worthy of appearing in another Bond film. Ignoring the implausibility of how he actually appears in the film, he largely seems to have been brought back mug to the camera, spit, drool, fall into water and generally be offensively racist (I know it was a different time, but that really isn’t an excuse for it).
The regular supporting trio are all present and Moore plays well off of all three. Lee is mostly playing his ill-tempered M and Maxwell shines despite having only a brief scene with Bond this time. The real joy is in having Llewelyn back as Q after being left out of Live And Let Die. Scenes involving Q and Bond’s visits to Q branch are always a joy in these films and the later films really have suffered from the loss of Llewelyn.
The set design is great, with Scaramanga’s duelling room and The Queen Elizabeth sets looking like they came right out of The Avengers book of quirky brilliance. The music though is largely unremarkable and Lulu’s title song seems fine while you hear it but is largely forgettable and annoying on repeat listening.
The Man With The Golden Gun is a Bond film that is as bad as you always remembered it being, but considerably more enjoyable that you thought it was.