The Man with the Golden Gun February 11, 2017
One can’t much consider 1974 Bond entry The Man with the Golden Gun to be a bad 007 feature as much as a Bond entry riddled with tonal errors additionally affected by missed opportunity. It seems prepared to deliver the sort of winking humor to be found in a particularly teasing episode of The Avengers but undermines its potential for campy guffaws either with a complete lack of comic timing or with more obvious stabs at rib-tickling that suffer from severe tone deafness. It seems ripe for a Bond girl who doesn’t perpetually wear passivity like a gold bikini – our girl Friday is an MI6 employee – but sabotages any sort of equality with a clodding characterization and with the tendency to ogle rather than to revere. It’s fattened with visual pleasures but undercuts aesthetic delight through feverish exoticism that sooner or later starts to resemble xenophobia.
And yet The Man with the Golden Gun, like even the worst of the Bond franchise, is able to capture our imagination against the odds, even if that capturing requires us to silence our reservations and transform ourselves into passive audience members with a spy movie fetish. Because Roger Moore’s at his most assured in the film and because the movie is gorgeously produced – eye candy is delectable, widespread, and persuasively alluring – the incomparable intrigue the series has become renowned for in its fifty-plus years of existence is still very much there. With a near lethal dose of recurring dose of idiocy, sure. But still there.
Acting as Moore’s second outing as the legendary secret agent, being preceded by 1973’s similarly tonally shaky Live and Let Lie, The Man with the Golden Gun finds his Bond searching for the Solex agitator, a powerful solar weapon with the capability of incurring widespread devastation. In the possession of Francisco Scaramanga (Christopher Lee), an enigmatic assassin who likes to kill with the eponymous golden gun, 007 must race against time to prevent Scaramanga from going through with his plans to utilize the agitator as a weapon of mass destruction.
Trotting all around the globe offhandedly and handsomely (finding stunning scenery in Thailand, Hong Kong, Macau, and Beirut), The Man with the Golden Gun moves fast but only slightly moves us – it diverts on the most shallow of levels, but because we have nearly ten years of Sean Connery to compare it to, it’s passable if still competently made.
Detrimental, too, are Ekland, as Bond’s apparent wingwoman Mary Goodnight, and future Fantasy Island co-headliner Hervé Villechaize. Ekland has all the personality of a saucer-eyed amateur who learned her lines phonetically (her dullness as an actress certainly not helped by the film’s insistence that she be an ornament rather than a mover and a shaker), and Villechaize, though fine, is hard to watch plainly because the movie views his dwarfism as a comedic element, an attribute that only exaggerates The Man with the Golden Gun’s issues with his assemblage of alleged humor.
But the movie isn’t without its successes. Lee, a three-nippled scoundrel with the face of a cobra, makes for one of the franchise’s most underappreciated villains – he arouses fear not because he’s operatically evil but because he’s an observer, a man who can smell one’s susceptibilities and exploit them with ease. The film becomes exciting, immediate, whenever he steps into the frame. Maud Adams, the film’s resident secondary Bond girl later to find herself primary just nine years later in Octopussy, is a sinuous knockout who matches Lee’s frosty inclinations.
All is packaged neatly if uneasily, and so The Man with the Golden Gun is a mixed bag, a slight satisfier all dressed up with some places to go and with some places briefly visited and some outrightly ignored. Take it alone and it’s a mostly effective popcorn flick. Take it with consideration of the rest of the Bond zeitgeist on the side and maybe it's an abomination. I’ll take it either way, but that doesn’t necessarily stop me from seeing the virtues that sometimes flavor the scenery. B-