Barely had Live and Let Die been allowed to breathe and The Man with the Golden Gun was already in production; released, for the first time since the early Sean Connery years, only one year after its predecessor.
Whilst a whiff of familiarity may be present, Roger Moore once again proves wholly capable of the interplay between ridiculous set pieces and ridiculous puns. Plus, you know, Christopher Lee has a third nipple.
Barely coming in under the definition of ‘plot’, Bond is possibly being targeted by a world famous assassin, the titular ‘Man with the Golden Gun’, and so travels the world to find him. There’s also a whole thing about solar technology being used to create a weapon that’s markedly similar to the one in Die Another Day but that’s far less fun.
The good guys
Roger Moore’s Bond is given somewhat less to do this time around. He’s proved himself both capable and popular in the role and to a certain extent it’s simply more of the same. Some have complained that The Man with the Golden Gun veers too much into the realms of comedy than is ideal in a Bond film but if ever there was a time to do that, it was with Moore at the helm.
Of course, they also make Bond a bit harsher, presumably in an attempt to toughen him up, leading to some uncomfortable interplay with the various Bond girls and the rather unfair decision to shove a small child off a boat.
As happens when it’s hard to shoehorn in Felix Leiter, Bond is given a local sidekick to ease his way through various shenanigans. Soon-Tek Oh does a good job as with not much Lieutenant Hip until somewhere in the last third when he and his nieces get to prove their mettle and rescue Bond with their admirable martial arts skills. Even better, they then inexplicably drive off without Bond in the car.
The best bit about MI6 this time round is that they have a secret headquarters aboard the wreckage of the RMS Queen Elizabeth in Hong Kong Harbour, complete with Moneypenny and M in naval uniform and a working lab for Q.
Everyone’s least favourite racist Sheriff, Clifton James’ JW Pepper, makes a return appearance following Live and Let Die, this time turning up in Thailand where he’s mostly still awful and gets his comeuppance at the hands (trunk) of a baby elephant. Presumably his ‘comic relief’ was a lot more comic in the ’70s.
The bad guys
The eponymous man with the golden gun, as played by Christopher Lee who clearly relished the opportunity, Scaramanga is one of the Bond universe’s best villains.
He and Bond are pretty much identical except Bond kills for Queen and Country; Scaramanga for a million dollars a shot. He’s also got a third nipple and a penchant for luring (hopefully) worthy opponents into the funhouse of death on his island lair where somewhat inevitably, they meet a ‘glittering’ end.
Clearly the producers got momentarily bored with villainous sidekicks played by hulking man-mountains and decided to go for the exact opposite this time round, casting the 3’ 10’’ Hervé Villechaize as Nick Nack. He acts as a butler and chef with a casual sideline in operating the funhouse of death, during which times he often genuinely tries to get Scaramanga killed in order to inherit the island.
As played by Richard Loo, Hai Fat is the man who sets the plot in motion. He steals the maguffin and hires Scaramanga, at the hands of whom he eventually meets his demise. Mostly he’s of the classic ‘don’t kill Bond now, give him time to escape’ school of thought – but he does have the subtly named Chew Mee as his girlfriend.
Britt Ekland has the unenviable task of playing the most incompetent Secret Service agent ever to appear in the films, with the possible exception of Gloria Hendry’s Rosie Carver in Live and Let Die. Whilst Mary Goodnight does have some insider knowledge into hotel cars which is useful for all of five minutes, she also doesn’t notice that the car she’s in has turned into a plane and manages to destroy an entire island by pressing a switch with her bum.
Of all the harshly treated Bond girls, Maud Adams’ Andrea Anders is definitely up there with the best of them. She’s Scaramanga’s mistress who sleeps with Bond in an unsuccessful attempt to escape his clutches.
Bond’s treatment of her is hardly exemplarily, as he spies on her in the shower, slaps her around and weirdly caresses her with his gun as foreplay. Her death is arguably the escape she craved, but it leaves a sour taste in the mouth.
Saida is a sassy bellydancer with a used golden bullet as her lucky charm. Why the cause of her lover’s death could be considered lucky is unknown, but it does lead to Bond accidentally swallowing it and then presumably having to wait three days to get it to the lab.
The Man with the Golden Gun was the final novel completed by Ian Fleming before he died.
The Thai island used for Scaramanga’s lair is still known as James Bond Island.
Mary Goodnight is a recurring character in the Bond novels, but only appears in one film.
There were plans for an elephant stampede but this was soon scrapped. Nobody remembered to cancel the order for 2,600 pairs of elephant shoes, however.
Christopher Lee had previously been offered the role of Dr. No.
The corkscrew car jump is the first stunt credited with being calculated with computer models.
Much as Live and Let Die was an attempt to jump on the Blaxploitation bandwagon, The Man with the Golden Gun featured martial arts scenes due to the newfound popularity of the genre.
It was the last of four James Bond films directed by Guy Hamilton – the other three being Goldfinger, Diamonds are Forever and Live and Let Die.
Nick Nack was originally called Demi Tasse and Hai Fat had a business partner called Lo Fat.
The best bits
- Corkscrew car stunt
Bond might not visit a casino in The Man With the Golden Gun (perhaps he was playing this slot game when nobody was looking), but that doesn’t mean he’s lost his love for a gamble. If you’re going to jump across a river with a broken bridge you better hope that the Bond stunt coordinators have had something to do with it.
Mathematically calculated to within an inch this stunt was famously performed once and once only – when the driver landed successfully he was requested to do it again because it looked ‘too perfect’. Sensibly he refused and so the only thing wrong is the slide-whistle sound effect, an addition that both director Guy Hamilton and composer John Barry have regretted ever since.
- The Golden Gun
Perhaps rivalled only by Oddjob’s razor-tipped hat in Goldfinger, Scaramanga’s Golden Gun is arguably the most legendary of all Bond Villain weapons. Whilst it isn’t imbued with any mystical powers it can only take one shot at a time, hence it’s mythical status since Scaramanga always seems to fatally hit his target. It’s also the ultimate Q gadget, as it disassembles into a pen, cufflink, lighter and cigarette case to get it past any inconvenient authorities.
- Beirut club fight
Moore-era Bond movies have a reputation for not being as hard-hitting as the rest, and that is mostly undeserved. The fight in Beirut in which Bond swallows the golden bullet charm is pretty much as brutal as they come. The extravagance of the location possibly distracts the eye, but that’s not to say that Moore (and the stunt team) can’t fight with the big boys.
By the time of researching locations for The Man with the Golden Gun there was a certain feeling amongst the producers that they had exhausted all known global hotspots – luckily for us all somebody remembered about Thailand and blessed us with some of the most gorgeous location work yet, in particular the islands used for Scaramanga’s base.
- Funhouse of Doom
One of the more bizarre villain fetishes is Scaramanga’s insistence on duelling with prey in his funhouse, complete with waxworks, mirrors and the occasional honkytonk soundtrack. It is the waxwork of James Bond himself that is his ultimate undoing, as we stretch our disbelief just long enough during what is actually quite a thrilling showdown.
After Roger Moore’s triumphant start to his Bond career with Live and Let Die it’s a shame that his second entry is one of the least admired – even film audiences agreed: it is one of the lowest grossing in the franchise.
Fortunately with Bond everything is on a sliding scale and even a lesser Bond has much to recommend itself. If nothing else happened except for the corkscrew bridge jump we’d still be watching this film, but there’s also Christopher Lee, Nick Nack and Thai island vistas to salivate over. Perfect Sunday afternoon viewing.
James Bond will return in The Spy Who Loved Me.
What’s your favourite moment in The Man with the Golden Gun? Let us know below…