The 007 Collective is a bi-monthly column in which I revisit every official feature in the James Bond franchise and review how they hold up today. Along with a review of each film, each article in this 10-month-long series will dive into the historical place and production on each film in question. It will also feature a dossier i.e. a fact sheet with superlatives, ratings, rankings, best, worsts and other fun stuff in line with the format you’ve seen in my annual Year in Superlatives articles. This project isn’t meant to be the final word on the Bond franchise. It’s merely my take on the series. For previous entries, click here.
Fresh of his first stint as Bond in Live and Let Die, Roger Moore returned a year later in his second outing to face THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN.
Mission Title: The Man with the Golden Gun
James Bond: Roger Moore
Release Date: December 20, 1974
Source Material: Loosely based on the final novel by Ian Fleming, “The Man with the Golden Gun”
Tagline: He never misses his target, and now his target is 007
When MI6 receives a golden bullet with “007” engraved on it, they deduce that Bond has been targeted for assassination by Scaramanga, a brilliant (and mysterious) assassin whose only distinguishing feature is a third nipple. Taken off a case in which he was to track down an inventor named Gibson whose invention could solve the global energy crisis, Bond goes off on an unofficial mission to find Scaramanga and kill him before the man with the golden gun does the same to him.
The Man with the Golden Gun is a bore; a numbingly-dull missed opportunity in which a fantastic premise and a great villain—played by Christopher fucking Lee no less—are hampered by lazy and languid screenwriting. Although the film, which I will henceforth refer to as Golden Gun, starts off in promising fashion—Bond does some solid espionage work to track Scaramanga—it soon falls flat on its face once the screenwriters start emphasizing juvenile (not to mention misogynistic and sexist) comedy over storytelling.
After Roger Moore’s first stint as Bond—Live and Let Die—proved successful, Bond producers Albert “Cubby” Broccoli and Harry Saltzman were quick to begin production on Moore’s second feature. The speedy production was to capitalize on the success of the previous film as well as bring some stability back to the franchise after releasing three entries in which three different actors played the character. For the source material, the producers decided to go with Ian Fleming’s final Bond novel, The Man with the Golden Gun. But aside from the titular character, the film’s screenplay was mostly an original one. Screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz, who had previously worked on Diamonds are Forever and Live and Let Die, originally conceived the plot to be a clash of the titans between Bond and the assassin Scaramanga, a character he had written as the anti-Bond—charming, sophisticated but fueled by greed instead of duty.
But director Guy Hamilton, who had worked alongside Mankiewicz on the two previous films (and had also directed Goldfinger), had other ideas. After a falling out, Hamilton fired Mankiewicz and replaced him with Richard Maibaum, the veteran screenwriter behind five of the first six Bond movies. The final plot sadly downplayed much of this battle of the wills between the two characters and instead brought the 1973 Energy Crisis to the forefront. Thus began a long trend of the Bond movies ripping plots directly from the headlines.
The new plot of Golden Gun centered on stealing the “Solex Agitator,” a device capable of converting the sun’s rays into an infinite source of energy. Scaramanga’s grand plan was to assassinate the inventor, steal the device and then sell it off the highest bidder. Lame! Now, imagine if they had kept Mankiewicz’s original take and centered the film on Scaramanga and Bond stalking each other in an ultimate game of death – with the stakes being continually raised. With these filmmakers at the helm, it wouldn’t have been anywhere close to a masterpiece but it would have been a lot better than this lazy and uninspired movie.
Another trend that the producers had begun cribbing, most notably with Live and Let Die a year earlier, was the in-vogue Hollywood genre at that moment. With martial arts movies, in particular Enter the Dragon, killing it at the box office, the producers moved the setting of Golden Gun from Jamaica to South East Asia (Macau, Hong Kong and Thailand were locations) and shoehorned an embarrassing and utterly pointless martial arts sequence into the film. This wouldn’t have been an issue had Hamilton not played the entire sequence for cheap slapstick laughs. A scene in which Bond and a pair of school girls eviscerate an entire dojo of trained martial artists is a joke.
Now, I’ve never outright disliked the campy tone of the Roger Moore movies but there should be a limit. For one, the return of the irritating hick Sheriff J.W. (Jay Dubya) Pepper (Clifton Jones) from Live and Let Die is a catastrophic addition to the film. Like the martial arts sequence, the character serves no purpose in the story other than to suck valuable time, and devalue the quality of the film. Constantly getting into silly pratfalls, Pepper isn’t just annoying he’s a racist too (he calls all Asians “pointy heads” which makes me wonder what he’s doing all the way in Thailand in the first place). This comedic tone, coupled with the thin plot, no gadgets whatsoever, the most bird-brained Bond girl of the franchise (I promise to get to her in the “Bond Girls” section), and most shocking of all, only one significant action scene, conspire to make Golden Gun a rather sluggish affair.
The strange part of it is that during its first 45 minutes, The Man with the Golden Gun is a surprisingly serious and gritty picture, with Bond indulging in some of his best espionage work outside the early Connery era. Bond’s search for Scaramanga’s whereabouts start with the golden bullet that killed 002 and takes him to a skilled gun-maker in Macau, who he cold-bloodedly threatens by aiming a gun at the man’s groin (“Speak now or forever hold your piece.”). Once he learns that the gun-maker’s contact is Andrea Anders (Maud Adams), Scaramanga’s mistress, he brutally questions her, twisting her arm and even slapping her in order to pull information. The scene took me by surprise not only because of the physical abuse but because it was Roger Moore dishing it! Watching him demand answers from Andrea, scaring her and ignoring her pleas while he crushes her arm, was shocking! Who knew ol’ Rog was capable of being a cold-blooded killer like Connery and Craig? But, this would be the last time we’d see this killer instinct from Moore. With Golden Gun only being his second time at bat, Moore was still figuring out his characterization of the character. Like the film itself, his performance see-saws tonally between the tough, serious Bond of Connery and Lazenby and the jokey school boy persona he would stick with for the rest of his tenure.
Among the elements of Golden Gun that I liked is its breathtaking cinematography by Ted Moore and Oswald Morris. The Hong Kong and Bangkok scenes drip with grit and seediness while the beaches yearn for a holiday in Southeast Asia. I also loved production designer Peter Murton’s meticulously-crafted sets. The slanted headquarters of MI6 within the half-sunken Queen Elizabeth in Hong Kong Harbor is an unforgettable location. So is Hai Fat’s opulent home in Hong Kong. Equally opulent is Scaramanga’s secret lair on an island in the South China Sea (in reality, Thailand’s Phang Nga Bay). The lair comes complete with its own energy plant, private beach, and a fun house where Scaramanga stalks and kills his victims. Not a bad place to lay low for awhile.
Speaking of Scaramanga, Christopher Lee is easily the best thing about Golden Gun; suave, charismatic, slimy, menacing, egomaniacal and never less than a magnetic presence. In other words, he’s a perfect Bond villain. Cast in part because he was the step-cousin of Ian Fleming (who had originally wanted him cast as Dr. No), the actor plays Scaramanga as a stylish and sophisticated rogue with an air of callousness; an assassin who enjoys the thrill of a fair fight but who isn’t above ruthlessly killing someone for kicks either. Lee is at the center of two of the film’s best scenes—his initial meeting with Bond at a kickboxing match, and his dinner table conversation at the film’s climax. He even gets ALL the movie’s gadgets! It’s rather unfortunate then that his very memorable performance was wasted on one of the series most forgettable entries.
The response to The Man with the Golden Gun was tepid – it received mixed reviews with many deeming it a new low for the franchise. It was also the lowest grossing entry thus far. Most significantly, this would prove to be the last film produced by Saltzman. Tensions with Broccoli over the direction and tone of the series had been repeatedly escalating over the years and this was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Eventually, with his personal financial troubles overcoming his business, he was forced to sell his 50% share in the franchise to United Artists and leave the Bond franchise behind. With poor box office, a tepid critical response, a Bond that still hadn’t made his mark, and no financial partner to look to for support, it was either the end or a chance at rebirth for Broccoli. But that’s a story for next week.
One of only three Bond movies in which Bond doesn’t appear in the pre-title sequence (alongside From Russia with Love and Live and Let Die), The Man with the Golden Gun’s unsettling cold open does three things: it introduce us to Scaramanga, establishes his twisted relationship with diminutive man-servant/butler Nick Nack, and creeps us out with their fun house of horrors. It opens on a tropical island beach where Scaramanga is enjoying an afternoon swim with his despondent mistress Andrea Anders. The swim essentially serves to establish that he has three nipples. Nick Nack, who has just served them champagne, walks out of their sight and secretly invites a mobster into Scaramanga’s home so he can assassinate him. After paying the gangster a hefty reward, Nick Nack directs him into a room to wait and surprise his master. As Scaramanga enters the room and the gangster is ready to pull the trigger, the lights turn red, turning the entire room into a fun house of mirrors, complete with wax figures of Al Capone, cowboys and other assorted characters. As the gangster keeps shooting at the distractions, he leaves himself exposed to Scaramanga who does a quick job of killing him with his golden gun. The sequence ends with the reveal that Nick Nack and Scaramanga have orchestrated the situation together as a practice session for the latter. It’s a bizarre yet tense scene that sets the bar for a final showdown with Bond.
Title Designer: Maurice Binder
Title Song: “The Man with the Golden Gun” performed by Lulu
Famous Quote: “His eye may be on you or me/Who will he bang?/We shall see. Oh yeah!”
Uh, what? That’s my reaction to the lyric above as well as the song. Performed by Scottish singer Lulu and composed by John Barry, the title track for The Man with the Golden Gun is an unbearable sonic mess – with no harmonic or lyrical cohesiveness. Even the film’s score is a let-down. Barry admitted as much in an interview stating, “”It’s the one I hate most … it just never happened for me.”
Maurice Binder’s title sequence is equally lazy and unmemorable. Only one element in the sequences serves a thematic purpose – the titular golden gun. The others, which include images of naked women reflecting on pools of water and fireworks, are your barrel-scraping grab-bag of Bond staples. Nevertheless, kudos to the filthy pervert who thought of including the innuendo-laden shot of a female stroking the shaft of a golden gun! I’m sure he got a raise for that.
The Big Bad:
Francisco Scaramanga (Christopher Lee), the titular man with the golden gun. A sophisticated and charming assassin who owns the reputation of being the world’s best, Scaramanga charges a cool $1 million per hit, using a gun and bullets made out of gold to kill his targets. Scaramanga also receives one of the most extensive back-stories of any Bond villain. Born and raised in a travelling circus to Cuban and British parents, the assassin learnt to be an expert marksman by the age of 10. Hired and trained by the KGB in the art of marksmanship soon after, Scaramanga then quit to become an independent contractor. Although there are no existing photographs of him, the assassin is distinguished by his third nipple.
Scaramanga’s slavishly-loyal butler and business manager Nick Nack (Hervé Villechaize). Conceived as a tiny version of Odd Job, the 3’11” Nick Nack may not be physically imposing to Bond like other henchmen but what he lacks in physicality, he makes up in his intelligence, deviousness and general aura of creepiness. Moreover, Villechaize’s voice only increased the character’s perverseness. Coupled with the 6’4” Christopher Lee, the duo made for the strangest pair of antagonists in Bond history.
Organization: Independent, formerly KGB
World Domination Plan: Working alongside the Thai billionaire Hai Fat (Richard Loo), Scaramanga concocts to steal the Solex Agitator, a device capable of harnessing the indefinite power of the sun and thus solving the world’s energy dependence on Arab oil. Once in his hands, Scaramanga would sell the device to the world’s most desperate countries for exuberant amounts of money. That’s about it.
If not the worst (that’s still Christmas Jones), Mary Goodnight (Britt Eckland) certainly ranks among the worst three Bond girls ever (Tanya Roberts’ Stacey Stutton is the third). She also might be most idiotic and irritating. Written as a stereotypical dumb blonde, Goodnight is an exceedingly inept nitwit whose sole purpose is to fuck things up for Bond and to constantly get into trouble. Although she’s meant to be a MI6 liaison, she displays no form of wit, intelligence or training – much to the chagrin of Bond who constantly berates her and treats her like a rotten piece of meat. She also happens to be crazy for Bond, further cementing her character as nothing but a dumb and horny blonde. She’s the type of anti-feminist character that built the Bond series reputation of being one fueled by misogyny. The only good thing she brings to the movie is her ability to rock a bikini, and that’s saying something.
Scaramanga’s helpless mistress Andrea Anders (Maud Adams) made for a far more worthy Bond girl. Intelligent, crafty and delightfully played by Adams, Anders is the one who originally gets the attention of Bond by sending Bond the golden bullet. Stuck in a prison with Scaramanga, she realizes that her only way out is by getting Bond to kill him, thus setting the plot in motion. The film would have been a whole lot better had her character, and not Goodnight, been the main one. Her tragic death is easily the film’s most shocking scene because Adams performance allows us to feel for this trapped woman.
Leiutenant Hip (Soon Taik Oh): MI6 agent and Hong Kong police department detective who works with Bond on locating the Solex Agitator. Hip and his two nieces come in handy when they show up in time to save Bond from a dojo of martial artists.
M (Bernard Lee): After realizing that Bond is being targeted by Scaramanga, M takes Bond off the case of locating Gibson, the inventor of the Solex Agitator. But when he realizes that Scaramanga if after the Solex Agitator, he puts Bond back on the case. He also bickers a lot with Q.
Q (Desmond Llewelyn): Despite not giving Bond a single gadget on this mission, Q shows up in two sequences – first to determine the chemical makeup of Scaramanga’s golden bullets and then in Hong Kong at the MI6 slanted base in the Queen Elizabeth where he spends a bulk of his time babbling about the energy crisis and being berated by M.
Miss Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell). Moneypenny briefs Bond on the circumstances surrounding agent 002’s assassination by Scaramanga in Beirut.
Sheriff J.W. Pepper (Clifton James). Correction, Pepper isn’t an ally. He’s a waste of time.
None! Unless I count Scaramanaga’s golden gun and flying car, which I’m not because this is a strictly Bond-only affair.
ODDS & ENDS
Most Memorable Quote:
[Bond surveying Scaramanga’s opulent lair over dinner]
James Bond: You live well, Scaramanga.
Scaramanga: 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.
James Bond: There’s a useful four letter word, and you’re full of it.
Most Embarrassing Quote:
[After Andrea Anders unexpectedly arrives at Bond’s hotel room asking him to help her]
James Bond: Miss Anders… I didn’t recognize you with your clothes on.
Most Memorable Moment:
I wanted to go with the opening sequence – perhaps the most unsettling scene in the movie – but in the end, I decided to go with the final showdown with Scaramanga in his fun house of horrors. Like the opening sequence that foreshadows it, the scene is intense, suspenseful, well-paced and fun. The only lull in it is the actual climax – the way that Bond kills Scaramanga.
Most Cringe-Worthy Moment:
The ridiculous sequence at Bond’s hotel’s room in which his potential love-making session with a desperately horny Mary Goodnight is interrupted by the arrival of Andrea Anders. Covering Goodnight with a blanket, he decides to chat with Anders who then offers her body up to him as a reward for killing Scaramanga. Ugh. Deciding to take her up on her offer in hopes that his sexual prowess will bring her to steal the Solex Agitator for him, Bond sneakily dumps Goodnight in his closet while Anders is changing in the bathroom. Once he’s done with his two hour session with Anders and bids her farewell, he opens the closet door telling Goodnight to not worry and get angry because, “Your time will come soon.” Yea, a new low has been breached.
[After finding out that Scaramanga, who charges a million dollars per hit, is out to kill him]
James Bond: I mean sir, who would pay a million dollars to have me killed?
M: Jealous husbands! Outraged chefs! Humiliated tailors! The list is endless!
Most Shocking Moment:
The sequence at the kick-boxing match where Anders is set to meet Bond and deliver the Solex Agitator to him. Arriving a little late to the match, Bond hurries to his assigned seat and sits next to Anders. After realizing that she isn’t replying to him, he comes to a horrifying realization. She’s dead! Shot in the chest from afar by Scaramanga. Her stone cold face, which is of abject shock and terror, is the saddest thing in the movie.
Best Pun/Double Entendre:
[Bond, who is holding a gun at Lazar, the man who creates Scaramanga’s golden bullets, is trying to get the man to give out the location of Scaramanga but to no avail]
Lazar: My relationship with a client, Mr. Bond, is strictly confidential, like a doctor or a priest.
James Bond: Of course, yet you make guns for finger-less hoodlums, bullets for assassins.
Lazar: Mr. Bond, bullets do not kill, it is the finger that pulls the trigger.
James Bond: Exactly….I’m now aiming precisely at your groin. So speak or forever hold your piece.
Worst Pun/Double Entendre:
[As Bond and Mary Goodnight start to make love in Scaramanga’s boat, they receive a phone call from M. Nevermind how M managed to get Scaramanga’s phone number]
Best Stunt/Action Scene:
For a Bond movie, The Man with the Golden Gun is shockingly devoid of action sequences. If you minus the mano-e-mano opening and closing sequences, there’s only one real action scene – the car chase between Bond and Scaramanga on the streets of Bangkok. Thankfully, it’s a terrific one. It’s thrilling, fun and ends with one of the best movie stunts of all time – a 270° corkscrew jump over a broken bridge. The only reason I didn’t list this stunt under the Most Memorable Scene category is because its impact is destroyed by a pathetic sliding whistle sound effect. The use of that sound effect over something brilliant epitomizes everything that’s wrong with this movie.
Most Dated Reference:
Centering the plot on the 1973 Energy Crisis was a bone-headed decision that severely dates the movie.
Number of Times Bond Has Sex: 2 (once with Andrea Anders, once with Mary Goodnight, after several failed attempts)
Number of people Bond kills: 1
Considering that Bond only kills one person in the entire film, his best kill is by default, Scaramanga.
Locations visited (In order of appearance): Scaramanga’s Island home in the South China Sea, London, Beirut, Macau, Hong Kong and Bangkok
Misogyny Meter: 10/10
Where to start? From Bond slapping and physically abusing Andrea Anders during their first meeting to the character of Mary Goodnight – one of the most irritating and dim-witted characters in the franchise, The Man with the Golden Gun is a top-notch case study in cinematic misogyny. The entire scene in Bond’s hotel room where he first tries to have his way with the more-than-willing Goodnight before dumping her in a closet in order to make love to Anders is another glaring example. Other scenes include all the times Bond chides Goodnight for her dumb decisions, and citing “Women” as the reason for her ineptness. The fact that both female characters are utterly dependent on is merely the cherry on top.
Homophobia Meter: 0/10
Racism Rating: 8/10
For starters, all the Asian characters have blatantly racist names – Lieutenant Hip, Hai Fat, Chew Mee. J.W. Pepper screams racial slurs at the local Thai folks, dubbing them lazy and calling them “pointy-heads in pajamas.” Apparently, a character named Lo Fat was removed from the script at the last minute. Then there’s the part about all Asians being martial arts experts. This isn’t technically racism but Nick Nack is the butt of a ton of “short” jokes.
Box Office: $20 million ($91 million adjusted for inflation, making it the second-lowest grossing movie of the franchise (22/23).
007 Chronological Listing: 9/24
Running time: 125 minutes
Companies: EON Productions, MGM/UA
The 007 Collective will return in:
THE SPY WHO LOVED ME (1977)
Previous entries in The 007 Collective:
- Goldfinger (1964)
- A View to a Kill (1985)
- Diamonds Are Forever (1971)
- The World is Not Enough (1999)
- Die Another Day (2002)
- Quantum of Solace (2008)
- On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
- Octopussy (1983)
- Thunderball (1965)
- GoldenEye (1995)