The Man With The Golden Gun (1974)

Untitled-1The Bond villain this time has an area in his island hideout that resembles a spooky funhouse. You know, mirrored rooms, wonky hallways, animatronic cowboys and gangsters who slide out of saloons, laughs over the PA system. He also has an exact replica of Roger Moore as James Bond propped up in the climax chamber. At the start of The Man With The Golden Gun, he is chasing down an assassin in this funhouse. Eventually, he kills him, then he shoots off the fingers of the Moore replica.

When the climax of the movie comes around, it’s no surprise that it takes place in the exact same funhouse. Moore replaces the assassin, and you can be sure that that replica will come in handy. They hide from each other, shoot at reflections in the mirrors, and do their best to outsmart the other. So technically, you can determine the end of the movie at the beginning. Whatever happens in between is the Bond stuff that we’re all used to: Chases, romance, exposition, double crosses, murders, more exposition, monologues. Rinse and repeat. Oh of course there are differences — there are always differences — but so what? Bond travels to Thailand and speeds through its waterways away from chasing henchmen. He wakes up, after being knocked unconscious, to an active dojo, where the sparring martial artists are there to kill him. He sleeps with a woman while another woman is hiding in his closet. Again, so what?

The villain is Francisco Scaramanga, played by a Christopher Lee who at times seems to be channeling Dracula. He is tall, lean, clean cut, but with a touch of menace about him. He is, of course, the man with the golden gun, and he assembles it from what looks to be a cigarette case and a Zippo lighter. Very handy. He also has all his bullets custom made in gold, with his victim’s name or initials etched in the side. His master plan returns the Bond franchise to the familiarity of world domination; he wants to monopolize a large solar power industry and sell it to the highest bidder. Not exactly the same as encrusting a giant satellite with diamonds, but it’ll do. He also has a sidekick, or a butler, or a mini henchman, named Nick Nack (Herve Villechaize), whose services extend to waitering, assassinations, loitering, enticing, deceiving, and standing very still in a Japanese garden of figurines. He is a loyal little fellow, but other than the occasional incomprehensible mumble, he is nothing more than the movie’s quirk.

But there is another quirk that I thought was quite well done: The secret MI6 base inside the bowels of a sunken Queen Elizabeth. It must have been a production designer’s nightmare, with its slanted walls and doorways, and sloped up corridors, but the space it creates is dynamic. The Queen Elizabeth, as we know, sank in the waters around Hong Kong, and there it remains like a rusty and charred hill of metal. Though I’m pretty sure parts of it have been removed since the movie was filmed. It is an awesome backdrop, and quite an ingenious location for a hidden base. The MI6 team travels there because a chunk of the story takes place in Hong Kong. That’s something I’ve noticed about these Bond movies: They have defining characteristics; that one feature that differentiates them from the next. Thunderball is a water park, You Only Live Twice has a giant volcano lair, OHMSS is up in the snowy Alps, Live And Let Die is blaxpoitized and has elements of Voodoo, and now Golden Gun takes place predominantly in the Orient. I think this is a blessing of sorts, because when the stories begin to mesh, we need some marker to tell them apart.

I’m up to movie number nine of the franchise, and already I am feeling the effects of its repetitiveness. I am wondering how it has managed to last fifty years and twenty-three movies without crumbling and disintegrating into ash. Yes, the more recent installments have turned things round a bit, but I am struggling to understand how the early movies prompted the release of the next one, and the next one, and the next one. Ever since Goldfinger, they have fallen into the trap of trying to capitalise on what was once a successful formula. You can only ride on success for so long. Sooner or later it will come back to bite you in the behind.

Best Moment | It’s a small one. Bond locks his Bond girl, Goodnight, in his hotel room closet while the villainous Bond girl undresses in the bathroom. When she comes out and heads towards the closet to turn the lights off, Bond thinks she’s about to open the closet door, but then feigns picking up a dropped pillow when she turns around.

Worst Moment | The draw at the end, on Scaramanga’s island. Are you kidding? Bond in a duel?

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