The Man with the Golden Gun stars Roger Moore, Christopher Lee, and Britt Ekland and was directed by Guy Hamilton ñ his 4th and final Bond film. Based on Ian Fleming’s final Bond novel of the same name, it tells the story of MI6 agent James Bond, played by Roger Moore, who’s sent to find the key component of a solar device, despite having been targeted by the man with the golden gun; assassin Francisco Scaramanga, played by Christopher Lee. Three nipples?
Well, if that doesn’t set the tone for a movie, I don’t know what will. Superfluous superfluous nipple comments aside, The Man with the Golden Gun is a pretty by-the-books Bond film. Roger Moore returns for his second outing as theÖ titular character and it was nice to have a little consistency brought back to the franchise after the series of actor-swaps we’ve had over the last few films. Of course consistency is a term I use pretty loosely when talking about the Bond movies.
The over-the-top genre-mixing tone of the previous installment gets dialed back a bit and no true supernatural or mystical elements grace the plot this time around, which is a bit more in-line with what we typically see from the franchise. Additionally, there are only a handful of goofy machines or pieces of tech, meaning this film presents a fairly straight-forward and mostly grounded tale. Provided, of course, that you think carplanes and funhouse shootouts are grounded. In the context of Bond though, I think it’s safe to say that they are. Even though the story mostly falls into the ìtypical Bondî category, I really appreciated the attempt to switch up the standard plot by making Bond a direct target of the main villain.
There are still some other beats to the story (including a very environmentally-conscious MacGuffin that was pretty ahead of it’s time), but putting Bond in the crosshairs from the start adds a unique urgency to the story and is definitely helpful with the characterization of the villain. Unfortunately, this premise isn’t handled particularly interestingly and the whole thing feels a tad bit hollow. It’s never boring exactly, kept fresh by a decent villain and the entertainingly odd Nick-Nack, but it also fails to be particularly engaging, though I’ll admit that I do like this movie more now on rewatch than I did the first time I saw it.
Beyond the story, The Man with the Golden Gun is a bit of a mixed bag, though I guess that probably goes without saying at this point in the franchise. The chase sequences are undeniably entertaining and there’s some pretty fun stunt work, especially with cars. The locations are also pretty nice. It’s a Bond movie, so of course we’re back on the beach, but at least it’s not in the Bahamas and there are some cool sets like the shipwreck and the funhouse lair. Unfortunately, for as many positives as there are here, there are just as many questionable choices.
The most glaring for me though, have gotta be the character-based ones. Specifically, the frustrating uselessness of Mary Goodnight and the mind-bogglingly inexplicabe decision to bring back Louisiana Sheriff J.W. Pepper. Luckily, the sheriff isn’t the only character returning from Live and Let Die and we’ve got Roger Moore back as 007. He seems more at ease in his role as Bond here, but I actually find him less compelling than in his first outing. The moments of beleaguered uneasiness in Live and Let Die can be easily chalked up to the extreme fish-out-of-water scenarios the character’s placed in. Here, he’s in the typical Bond element, but comes across a bit flat.
That may largely be due to his frequent pairings with Sheriff Pepper and Goodnight though cause something changes when he’s dealing with Scaramanga and these moments are some of the best in the film. At first glance, Christopher Lee seems like an odd casting choice, even if you don’t take into account the nubbin. But it becomes clear pretty quickly that it was a brilliant casting move. He’s physically imposing when put side-by-side with Bond, but isn’t just some generic thug or over-the-top scheming mad scientist.
He’s mildly eccentric, but is probably the most evenly-matched villain Bond’s encountered since Red Grant in From Russia with Love. In fact, Scaramanga’s gun-based assassin qualities provide more of a connection and allow the two characters to really go toe-to-toe as mirrored personas of each other. Alright let’s talk about the pros and cons. Pro number one is definitely Scaramanga. Not only is Christopher Lee’s performance one of the best and most even villain portrayals we’ve had in the franchise for a while, but the interplay between him and Bond is really interesting.
They’re fairly equally-matched when it comes to skill, but perhaps more intriguing is the mental match. Bond and Scaramanga are essentially two sides of the same coin and they have this oddly comfortable rapport with each other for antagonists. We can view them as the light and dark, good and bad versions of each other, but this film raises some interesting questions about Bond and his methods. There’s this moment where Scaramanga asks Bond if he enjoys the killing aspect of his job and Bond’s really evasive and avoids directly answers the question.
The film doesn’t really delve into that too much more, but I thought it was a really interesting interaction that could’ve only come about cause of this pairing of Bond and Scaramanga. The second pro is kind of a minor one, but I thought the solar energy aspects of the plot were really interesting. The Icarus machine’s pretty silly and the solex agitator is certainly more of a MacGuffin than anything else, but the whole concept was kind of ahead of its time.
This movie came out right in the middle of the environmental movement and it’s pretty cool to see things like that get drawn into BondÖ and a little sad when you think of where we are now, despite the things we’ve known well-enough to be incorporated into pop culture since 1974. As far as the cons go, the biggest issue is easily Sheriff J.W. Pepper. Why is he in this movie? He’s absolutely one of the worst parts of Live and Let Die, yet they brought him back. And not for just one little tiny cameo. He’s in a decent chunk of the movie and has a really extended sequence with Bond.
He’s not as bad as he was in the last movie, but it’s really more of the same from him and I just don’t get it cause I can’t imagine audiences liking that character at all, let alone enough to warrant bringing him back for a second time. The second con is with another character: Mary Goodnight. She’s thankfully not as bad as J.W., but she’s definitely one of the most irritating and useless Bond girls to date; a reality made all the worse by the fact that she’s an MI6 field operative.
Pretty and ditzy can pass ñ I guess ñ when we’re talking about a Bond girl like Honey Ryder, but don’t we want Bond’s coworkers to be competent? She starts off okay, but basically from the carplane scene on, she’s borderline imbecilic and just really irritates me. I’m gonna give The Man with the Golden Gun 3 out of 5 paws. It’s pretty standard fare for a Bond movie, but has a decently enjoyable plot and a surprisingly solid villain. I would recommend The Man with the Golden Gun to people looking for a good mid-era Bond movie.
It’s not among the franchise’s best, but it’s far from the worst, so if you’re in the mood for a decent Moore-era film that isn’t too over-the-top with its silliness, this might be for you. And if you want to see a movie where Bond is pretty evenly-matched with the villain, this might be your best bet until the Daniel Craig era. If you liked The Man with the Golden Gun, I would recommend the 8th Bond movie, Live and Let Die. That was Moore’s first outing as Bond and definitely cranks up the humor and silliness a bit from this movie. And if youÖ like J.W. Pepper, you’ll get plenty more of him in that movie. If you liked the match-up between Bond and Scaramanga, I’d recommend you check out the 2nd Bond movie, From Russia With Love.
In that one, Bond goes toe-to-toe with Red Grant, his SPECTRE counterpart. And if you enjoyed the solar-based villain device Icarus, you might might want to watch the 20th Bond movie, Die Another Day, for an updated version of that device. Alright, a couple questions for you guys. Number one: Have you seen The Man with the Golden Gun? If so, what’d you think of it? And number two: Who do you think is Bond’s most evenly-matched villain? Be sure to leave your answers in the comments below so we can get a discussion going.