The Man With The Golden Gun

I wouldn’t say that Bond is an “old” man, exactly — but he’s got this wrinkly neck skin that scrunches up every time he goes to kiss a woman and it makes my flesh crawl. There is a marked change in his sexuality — once upon a time, sex with Bond was presented as a generous gift. Now, it’s presented as a threat. If you’re a beautiful woman, it is expected that you will put out for this leering, randy man-boy. He says “My name is Bond, James Bond” and then he possessively puts his hand on your neck as you recoil in horror. The smirk is back, as is the racism and brutalization of women. He is tetchy, snide and impatient, brittle, pinched and smutty — an altogether unattractive package.

WHAT DOES THE BAD GUY WANT? The bad guy is Scaramanga, a high-priced hit man. He has a scheme to corner the world’s energy market, in spite of the fact that, by his own admission, he knows nothing about energy technology. Well, if Dick Cheney figured out a way to do it, why not. Scaramanga, in fact, has gotten control of an energy-technology firm pretty much the same way that Dick Cheney got control of Halliburton — he killed everyone who got in his way of doing so. This energy-technology firm has developed (or stolen, anyway) a high-tech whatsit that will change the future of energy distribution. Scaramanga’s brilliant scheme is to convince the gigantic Chinese technology firm to build an enormous power-plant on his private island, become full partners with the CEO, kill the CEO, inherit his stock, take control of the company, and rule the world’s energy distribution forever. The energy technology he’s gotten his hands on also comes with a heat-ray gun, so he also plans to be a lethal threat to anyone who ever happens to be standing in front of his heat-ray gun. Oh, and he wants to kill James Bond.

Come on, make up your mind, dude.  One of the cardinal rules of bad-guy plot-writing is: two motives are weaker than one — three motives are out of the question.

WHAT DOES JAMES BOND ACTUALLY DO TO SAVE THE WORLD? Bond gets into this adventure out of sheer self-preservation. Scaramanga, it seems, has directly threatened Bond’s life. He travels to Hong Kong to track down Scaramanga, which leads him to discover that Scaramanga is not actually planning to kill him, but instead is plotting to take over this Chinese energy-technology firm, as explained above. Once Bond tails Scaramanga to his private island, Scaramanga, in the manner of Bond Villains, takes Bond on a gracioustour of the premises. The tour concludes with, oh yeah, and there’s this heat-ray guy. That’s bad news for anyone who happens to be standing on my private beach — watch out, trespassers!

Then, oh yeah, it turns out Scaramanga does actually want to kill Bond after all, and has wanted to do so for a long, long time. So they fight. And Bond wins (oops, sorry — spoiler alert!). Then he grabs the whatsit and blows shit up.

WOMEN? Best not to bring them up in the context of this movie. Every encounter with them is horrifying. First Bond slobbers over the abdomen of a belly dancer, then he sneers and smirks at his partner, then he slaps around the femme fatale. God it’s depressing.

HELPFUL ANIMALS: M and Q have greatly expanded roles this time around — market research must have indicated that audiences felt they weren’t getting enough M and Q action. Or perhaps, since Bond is aging so rapidly, the producers thought it important to surround Bond with as many doddering old men as possible, just so the audience would say “Well, okay, he’s not that old…”

Sheriff J.W. Pepper, from Live and Let Die, is also back, but this time in a different role. Before, he was a comic foil who was in the movie to show just how not-racist Bond was. Here, he fulfills essentially the same function as Don Imus’s producer used to — he’s the one who says all the racist things the star cannot, but would like to.

Bond also explores the mismatched-buddy theme with Mary Goodnight, who is a fellow intelligence operative, in spite of being a blithering idiot. Goodnight exists to show skin, resist Bond’s advances, then give in to him, then not get him once she wants him, then get abused by him, then show more skin, then be a blithering idiot some more, then finally get screwed by Bond. Comedy gold!

Then there is Lieutenant Hip, a Hong Kong, um, police detective, I think, and his two giggling teenage daughters. It’s one thing to feel uncomfortable when Bond puts his oily paws on grown women, but when he leers at the two teenagers in the back seat of Hip’s car, one feels the need to get a restraining order.

HOW COOL IS THE BAD GUY? Oh, barely cool at all. He has a gun! It’s made out a cigarette lighter and a pen! Oooo! And he’s got a henchman — watch out, he’s a midget! (As it says in my notes, “Nick Nack is no Tee Hee.”) He’s got a terrifying deformity — a third nipple! (wait — does that qualify Mark Wahlberg to be a Bond Villain?)  He’s got a flying car!  For some reason.  He’s got a half-hearted imitation-Ken-Adam HQ inside a house that looks like it was built yesterday in a movie studio. And a fun-house basement that, honestly, looks less like Bond Villain and more like Batman Villain. He wanders around the movie, blithely implementing his nefarious scheme, not thinking about the consequences of anything he does because he knows “hey, I’m a Bond Villain, there must be people taking care of this stuff for me.”

And then there are his motives, which seem haphazard at best and woefully disorganized at worst. I want to rule the energy markets of the world! Or, maybe I’ll just sell the technology to the Arabs, who will bury it. Either way, I’m happy. Oh, and I’ve got that heat-ray gun! Cause, I guess, the energy-monopoly thing isn’t exciting enough, I don’t know. Oh! Wait! I just remembered, I want to kill James Bond, it’s a life-long obsession! How are we supposed to fear and respect a villain who can’t even decide what his endgame is?

FAVORITE MOMENT: To give you an idea of how threadbare this movie is, there is a fight scene at the end where Nick Nack attacks Bond aboard Scaramanga’s luxury junk (Luxury Junk would be a better title for this movie). They tussle around the room, and Nick Nick climbs up on a counter and starts hurling bottles of expensive vintage wine at Bond. The bottles, of course, are props, and shatter on impact, revealing themselves to be, um, empty bottles of expensive vintage wine. So it seems Scaramanga stores empty wine bottles in his collection, just as Goldfinger and Blofeld routinely store large stacks of empty cardboard boxes in their warehouses.

NOTES: Here is where Bond enters the “Elvis movie” phase of his career. A steep dive in sophistication, The Man With The Golden Gun is a cheap, dispiriting movie — slapped-together, uninvolving, without thrill or suspense. Motivations are contrived, contridictory and nonsensical. Action beats are uninspired, and dialogue scenes are presented with less dynamism and panache than a Rex Morgan, MD strip.

Late in the movie, after the bad guy has run out of interesting things to say, he challenges Bond to a duel.  He mentions that he is a multi-millionaire hit man while poor-slob James Bond is a poorly-paid government worker.  Oh, that’s right — that’s why we’ve always liked Bond — he’s a populist, one of us, a friend of the working stiff.  Riiiggghhht.

Screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz reportedly gave up before finishing the script, complaining that it felt like he was “writing the same scene over and over again.” That would explain how Scaramanga uses almost the exact same excuse for not not knowing anything about his master plan as Blofeld does in Diamonds Are Forever — “science was never my strong point.”

There is one cool set — the British Secret Service Hong Kong HQ are located inside a sunken ocean liner. But that is hardly enough to save this movie. The special effects are on the level of a late Godzilla picture and the photography and lighting are on the level of a typical Quinn-Martin production.

I am told that Christopher Lee, who plays Scaramanga, was a cousin of Ian Fleming’s. Too bad his familial connections couldn’t get him a better part than this.
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23 Responses to “The Man With The Golden Gun”
  1. craigjclark says:

    The more I think about it, Lee’s convoluted scheme in this film is highly reminiscent of his real estate scam in The Return of Captain Invincible — and just as illogical.

  2. randymonki says:

    As a kid i remember coming away from this movie thinking the guy who played Dracula was probably the best part of the movie, and that Bond treats Goodnight like they’re an old married couple on the edge of Divorce.

    Nothing makes Bond uncool like having him harp on someone like he has no control over the situation.

  3. black13 says:

    Lee was supposed to be Dr. No in the first movie, but it obviously didn’t happen. I think he played Fu Manchu instead. Scaramanga was the consolation prize.

    But then, I am one of those who think that Lee should retire from acting and take over his rightful position as emperor of Europe.

    • Todd says:

      “Sauron for Emperor.” Has a nice ring to it.

      • black13 says:

        “His Royal Highness, Emperor Fu Manchu.”

        (Something he said in one of those old Fu Manchu movies is still one of my all-time favorite lines: “I really need a brilliant idea now, or I am dead.” He said that after he saw that Nayland-Smith had escaped his fortress, and just before it blew up. He had that brilliant idea, of course, because he was back in the next movie.)

        • curt_holman says:

          That reminds me of a Fu Manchu quote (I think by Boris Karloff) that I believe David Edelstein referenced in a review: “Have you ever had your bones scraped, Inspector Nayland? It is painful in the extreme, I can assure you!”

          For a long time The Man With The Golden Gun was my least favorite Bond film, and Diamonds Are Forever my second-least favorist Bond film. Then A View To a Kill came out and it seemed too much effort to make the distinctions.

          • Todd says:

            This is what I mean by the “Elvis Movie” phase of Bond’s career. The movies give up standing alone or competing with other movies — they just become “another James Bond” movie, beholden only to its own history.

            • black13 says:

              All this talk of Christopher Lee makes me wonder what if… Christopher Lee had been cast as Bond instead of Connery, way back when.

          • black13 says:

            I stopped paying to see Moore Bonds kind of before “Octopussy.” I had missed it on the big screen (I went to see “Never Say Never Again” instead), and saw Octopussy when my cousin rented the video.
            The next time I paid to see a Bond movie was the first Dalton one — and I went to see the next one as well. Of Brosnan, I saw “Goldeneye” and “Die Another Day” (but that one only because parts were shot here in Hamburg, and I got to see some of the shooting), and then no more.

            I kind of kept up with them when they ran on TV, but I steadfastly refused to pay to see them. Until the new Casino Royale.

            • black13 says:

              Anyway, why I stopped… Bond had jumped the shark.

              A big part of me has this nagging suspicion that the Bond movie scripts are explicitly tailored to the acting ability of whoever plays Bond at the time.

  4. teamwak says:

    Yeah he’s a bit of a dinosaur in this one.

    I always loved the sunken liner as a set, but even as a kid I thought Scaramangas liar was a bit naff. Very 70’s. Quite liked the death-by-liquid-nitrogen bit, but even then I knew a human body couldnt overheat liquid nitrogen by falling in it! lol

    Got to visit Scaramangas island in Thailand. What a tacky tourist nightmare its turned into. Still, got a couple of nice snaps.
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    • teamwak says:

      Golden Gun does have one fantastic stunt in it. The looping cap jump over the river is a Hollywood classic. Shame the redneck sheriff is it Boy!

      • Todd says:

        The spiral jump is impressive, but then they ruin it with the reference to Evel Knievel and the embarrassing slide-whistle scoring.

        I have clear memories of when Golden Gun came out because they showed that jump over and over again on the commercials. And after my older brother went to see it, he told me not to feel bad about missing it — the only good part was in the commercial.

    • Todd says:

      You know what I have to say regarding visiting Scaramanga’s island? Phuket.

  5. sheherazahde says:

    LOL moment

    “So it seems Scaramanga stores empty wine bottles in his collection, just as Goldfinger and Blofeld routinely store large stacks of empty cardboard boxes in their warehouses.”

    For some reason this line just cracked me up this morning.
    Thanks 🙂

  6. Whoa! Are you writing the new Bond Movie!?
    Also, what happened to Casino Royale? Truly a movie which costars Orson Welles and Woody Allen as James Bonds can’t be *that* bad…

    • Todd says:

      Whoa! Are you writing the new Bond Movie!?

      I am not. I am, however, playing around with a couple of different ideas revolving around a Bondish type of character.

      Also, what happened to Casino Royale?

      I ask myself that same question every day.

  7. greyaenigma says:

    The Horror of Scaramanga

    I caught this one in a hotel room in 2000. I was just aghast at the sound effects added to the car jump. But, of course, I loved the sunken ocean liner.

    Now I’m kind of wishing Count Dooku’s lightsaber had been golden colored. Although I suppose its having a sanguine aspect is appropriate too.

  8. greyaenigma says:

    So it seems Scaramanga stores empty wine bottles in his collection, just as Goldfinger and Blofeld routinely store large stacks of empty cardboard boxes in their warehouses.

    This cliche is also sent up nicely in Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, wherein a long chase concludes by running into a large pile of cardboard boxes in the middle of a forest.

    • Todd says:

      In Another 48 Hrs, the climactic fight takes place in, I’m not kidding, a plate-glass window warehouse, with many, many examples sitting around on display.

  9. thebitterguy says:

    My brother and I had the last half hour or so inflicted on us at our uncle’s place today when we stopped by for a visit. I figured I’d come by and re-read this one, and all I can say is you were so very, very right about everything.