Movie review: ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’

I’ve reviewed a variety of “James Bond” films (take “Diamonds are Forever” with Sean Connery as just one example – click here for my review) and today here is another: “The Man with the Golden Gun,” which was Roger Moore’s second time out as 007. “The Man with the Golden Gun” is from the golden age of Bond (no pun intended): The Connery-Moore years that established the world’s most recognizable spy. and then took him to the next level. Bond films have always had the international touch and “The Man with the Golden Gun” isn’t his first venture into Asia. “The Man with the Golden Gun” has a good supporting cast and stands up well in the test of time – after all, it is more than 40 years past its premiere.

‘The Man with the Golden Gun’
(1974; 125 minutes; rated PG; directed by Guy Hamilton and starring Roger Moore, Christopher Lee and Britt Elkand)

SCARAMANGA AND THE ART OF THE VILLAIN

(NOTE: I expanded this review with additional opinion and trivia and the updating of links on Oct. 24, 2018.)

You know pretty much what you’re going to get with a “James Bond” film, with the exception when a new actor takes over and his body of work begins. When Roger Moore became 007 after Sean Connery’s “Diamonds are Forever” in 1971 (click here for my review), he began a new “Bond, James Bond” with even more high tech gadgets, more obvious sexual double entendre and an escalation of 007’s snarky, casual sense of humor.

(CLICK HERE FOR ALL MY MOVIE REVIEWS)

In his second effort as 007, Moore stepped up the pace with the very entertaining effort “The Man with the Golden Gun.”

Actually, in “The Man with the Golden Gun” Moore tees off perfectly in the art of taking Bond’s snarkiness to a level beyond Connery. In one exchange, he says to his boss “M,” “I mean, sir, who would pay a million dollars to have me killed?” “M” interjects quickly, “Jealous husbands, outraged chefs, humiliated tailors. The list is endless.” It sums up the character in less than 30 second of dialogue.

In “The Man with the Golden Gun,” audiences are introduced to the world’s most highly-priced killer: “Francisco Scaramanga” played by Christopher Lee. He has contests with other killers to sharpen his skills, but he has a fascination for that most deadly spy: “James Bond.” Lee’s signature is a golden bullet (fired from a golden gun) and one of the cartridges with “OO7” etched into the slug is sent to Bond’s HQ. It looks as if Lee is out to get Moore. In a parallel plotline, a “solar agitator” that is the key to the world’s energy problems is stolen. So, while Moore is supposed to cool his heels, the world’s in danger.

You have no doubt that the two will merge and that 007 is still in the hunt to save the world. “Scaramanga” is working on acquiring the “solar agitator” (he gets it and takes it back to his isolated island off the coast of China) and Moore finds out that he is not the target, but it is Lee’s mistress who arranged for the bullet to be sent to Moore and she wants Lee dead. Once Moore finds that Lee has the “solar agitator,” he follows him and has the climactic showdown. It’s been the good guy and the gun for hire. Oh, did I mention that there are more Bond films to come? Then I guess you know who wins the showdown.

The Man with the Golden Gun” gives the audience a Bond film’s usual international flavor: from London to Egypt to Macau to Hong Kong and off to Thailand, with beautiful vistas and a really neat boat chase along a network of waterways. Along the way we meet up with some interesting characters, including the bumbling bumpkin sheriff who is back after a really funny turn in “Live and Let Die” from the year before (click here for my review). There’s a big touch of kung-fu in the film (reflection of its popularity in cinema at the time), but in the end it all comes down to guns.

  • Moore is in his prime here as “007” and has the smooth English sophistication merged with the randy sexuality of an overgrown teenager. He communicates the part so well that you can really never see him in another film without thinking of “James Bond.” Moore has also been in the simply putrid “ffolkes” (click here for my review), the equally putrid “The Wild Geese” (click here for my review) and spoofed his Bond character in “The Cannonball Run” with Burt Reynolds (click here for my review). Moore passed in 2017 at 89 of cancer.
  • Lee does a competent turn here, but he doesn’t work it as well as other Bond villains. He doesn’t have the panache of, say, “Blofeld” played by Charles Gray, but does an acceptable job. Lee, known earlier in his career for work in the horror genre as a vampire or another dark character, has been in both hugely successful franchises of the “Lord of the Rings” as “Saruman” and “Star Wars” as “Count Dooku.” He died in 2015 at 93 of heart failure.
  • The single best dramatic scene isn’t between Moore and Lee. It is between Moore and gunsmith “Lazar” played by Marne Maitland. After calmly talking guns and bullets with Moore, Maitland gets the tables turned by an increasingly volatile Moore. Maitland puts a great performance on the table and has also been in “The Black Stallion.” He was a prolific character actor with 159 credits over a career spanning six decades. Maitland died at 77 in 1992.
  • Of course, the most blustering, boisterous bucolic character is “Sheriff J.W. Pepper,” who is played with gleeful delight by Clifton James, who reprises the role from the previous Bond film. James delights with his cornpone, good-ol’-boy humor and equals his really nice performance in “Live and Let Die.” If he didn’t lack all of Moore’s sophistication, it would have been nice to see James as an ongoing sidekick for “007.” James was also in the acclaimed “Cool Hand Luke” with Paul Newman. He died at 96 in 2017 from complications from diabetes.

The two primary female actors in this film are Maud Adams as Lee’s mistress “Andrea Anders” and Britt Ekland as Moore’s fellow agent “Mary Goodnight.” Some consider Ekland as the so-called “Bond girl,” as sexy female actors are invariably called who work in Bond films. Here’s a look at the two women and how they did here:

  • Adams does a smooth, competent job here as a femme fatale to both men and doesn’t survive to the end. However, while there is enough screen time for the character, she doesn’t manage to make her character stand out. Too bad. The character had more to it than many supporting actors see in a 007 film. Adams would play another “Bond” character in “Octopussy” (click here for my review) and was also in the original “Rollerball,” which is a powerful sci-fi film starring James Caan (click here for my look at the original and vapid, horrid remake).
  • Ekland does good work here being the ditzy, gushing and enamored “Goodnight,” who has her sights set on Moore. Now, Ekland’s character doesn’t have much too it, but she does her best to work with what she’s given. Ekland, who was once married to Peter Sellers and would begin a romance with rocker Rod Stewart a year after “The Man With the Golden Gun,” was also in “The Wicker Man” (which co-starred Lee).

Winding up my look at the supporting cast are …

  • The most interesting supporting actor in Herve Villechaize, who plays creatively named “Nick Nack” and is universally recognized for telling Ricardo Montalban, “De plane! De plane!” on TV’s “Fantasy Island” as “Tattoo.” Villechaize can be wonderfully offhand or properly obsequious in his role here and it looked to be much more challenging than his TV persona. Villechaize has also been in the crime movie “Crazy Joe.” He took his own life at 50 in 1993.
  • Soon-Tek Oh plays “Lt. Hip” and is Moore’s partner for much of the film. He does a solid job here and knows how to play second-fiddle to an overwhelming character. He has also been in “The Final Countdown” (click here for my review) and voiced in Disney’s “Mulan.” He died at 85 in 2018 from complications from Alzheimer’s disease.

I’m not going to take time to review the work of veteran supporting actors doing the work as “Q” and “Moneypenny.” You’ve seen them in enough Bond films to know about their work. If you like, here are links to all my reviews of “James Bond” films.

The Man with the Golden Gun” didn’t manage to crack the top 10 films of 1974, which was a year seeing the instant classic and iconic Mel Brooks comedy “Blazing Saddles” at No. 1 with $119.5 million (click here for my review). Coming in second was the big-screen spectacular “The Towering Inferno” with $116 million, according to Wiki. The same source notes that worldwide “The Man with the Golden Gun” made $98 million but IMDb.com notes that it was one of the lowest-grossing of the Bond films and it’s poor box office performance delayed the start of film of the next (“The Spy Who Loved Me” in 1977 – click here for my review). Here are the other films from 1974 that I’ve reviewed:

Assorted cast and film notes (via IMDb.com):

© Chuck Curry and A Gator in Naples, 2014, 2018.
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