Wednesday, May 11, 2016

THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN (1974) - **1/2


Rated PG
Running time: 125 min.


The Man With the Golden Gun is the ninth film in the James Bond series and the second such film for Roger Moore as the British spy. After Sean Connery did so well embodying the character and establishing who we all came to expect when watching a Bond film, Moore is often credited with turning the character into a parody, or more precisely, taking some of the edge off. The James Bond character is the reason why audiences come to see the film, and after this one, it's understandable that stock fell.

This is a loose adaptation of Ian Fleming's novel of the same name. MI-6 has received a message of sorts, in the form of a golden bullet with "007" etched into its surface. MI-6 believes it came from a man named Scaramanga (Christopher Lee) who has been known to carry a gun made of gold and has been carrying out contract hits across the world. M (Bernard Lee) relieves Bond of his current assignment and tells him to take time off as this is in order to protect him. However, Bond goes off the grid in search of this mysterious hitman. 

Bond traces the origin of the bullet to Macau, where he finds the beautiful Andrea (Maud Adams) as the person who picks up the supply of golden bullets from the manufacturer. He follows her to Hong Kong, where he coerces her to tell him where to find Scaramanga. She directs him to a nightclub ("The Bottoms Up Club"), where Bond is witness to the execution of a scientist that was in possession of a device called the Solex Agitator, a device whose purpose is not clearly made known, which is promptly stolen by a dwarf named Nick Nack (Herve Villachaize), Scaramanga's accomplice. It turns out that Scaramanga is working with a Thai businessman named Hai Fat, who is less than scrupulous when it comes to actual business. Bond poses as Scaramanga to gain entry to Hai Fat's compound, under a guise that takes advantage of one distinguishing feature that Scaramanga possesses....a third nipple. However, Hai Fat is onto Bond. The agent is captured and, rather than have him killed outright, he opts to throw Bond into the lion's den, represented by his martial arts school and very-skilled students "Kung fu" movies were all the rage in the early 70s, thanks to Bruce Lee, and this movie capitalizes on that trend in this scene.

Eventually, Bond and Scaramanga have to have their showdown, and we get some beautiful scenery courtesy of the islands of Thailand. Scaramanga enjoys sending his targets through a maze with trap doors and mirrors. This is all an interesting set-up and is a cross between Westworld and the room of mirrors in Enter the Dragon. Scaramanga himself is a very capable villain, with Christopher Lee up to the task, thanks to his years playing Dracula for Hammer Studios. Herve Villachaize is also surprisingly ruthless and his scenes of gleefully watching Scaramanga dismantle his targets was quite a character development. 

The main issue with the film is Roger Moore as Bond. This Bond is suave, yes, but he lacks the edge that Sean Connery brought to the role and the screenplay has almost reduced Moore to a one-liner spewing mannequin. The screenplay (co-written by Richard Maibaum and Tom Mankiewicz) also opts to place comedy set pieces as filler instead of developing any semblance of plot. The return of Sheriff J.W. Pepper, from Live and Let Die, was a most unwelcome addition to the cast. The requisite chase scene has the thrill dampened by the presence of the sheriff from Louisiana. Also, Britt Eklund as Agent Goodnight was obnoxiously dumb as the Bond sidekick. Director Guy Hamilton has trouble maintaining an even tone throughout as he attempted to lighten things up.

However, there are things to like about the film. As mentioned, the performances of Lee and Villachaize as the villains made for a unique combination. I would have enjoyed some sort of spin-off film with these two characters featured. The exotic locales throughout the film, including a partially sunken ship, made for some interesting and amazing shots.

These alone cannot help the film, which is bogged down by Moore's performanceand the ill-advised and numerous attempts at comedy. Moore would certainly fill out the role better in other films in the series, but The Man With the Golden Gun is certainly not the strongest effort.


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