2 of 5 stars
It speaks volumes to Christopher Lee’s ability that his mere presence can almost salvage this mystifyingly bad film. Simultaneously sinister and charming, he’s easily the best villain of the Roger Moore era. He’s the reason I give this movie two stars rather than one. It’s a shame his talents were squandered on The Man with the Golden Gun.
Everything falls to pieces in the pre-title sequence. Some sort of goon has been lured to the island lair of the titular Man with the Golden Gun, Francisco Scaramanga (who has a third nipple, pun intended). Scaramanga, played by Lee, a real life cousin of Bond creator Ian Fleming, hunts the gangster in a kind of funhouse that has a life-size dummy of Roger Moore for target practice in a kind of cheesy version of the assassin training in From Russia with Love.
Back in London Bond is taken off a case to protect a scientist whose invention, the Solex Agitator, can solve the energy crisis, after receiving a golden bullet with “007” etched onto the side. The bullet is believed to be a threat from Scaramanga, and Bond sets off on an unofficial mission to get to Scaramanga first. This could have been a set up for a great Bond film, but instead, it gets bogged down in a plot to locate the Solex Agitator. The Solex Agitator was just a plot device to get the story rolling, something screen writers call a “McMuffin.” However, the Solex Agitator gets so much attention, it distracts from what should have been the focus of the film: the rivalry between Bond and Scaramanga.
Bond sets off to Asia to locate Scaramanga. There, he meets a colorful cast of locals with names like Nick Nack, Hai Fat and Chew Mee. The only way this movie could have been more racist is if they made a frame-by-frame remake of The Birth of a Nation. He teams up with a ditzy agent named Mary Goodnight (Britt Eckland), who singlehandedly sets back the feminist movement by a decade.
Bond also inexplicably runs into Louisiana Sheriff J.W. Pepper from Live and Let Die who is vacationing in Thailand. In the previous film, the character made sense as he was a true-to-life portrayal of Louisiana law enforcement. Here, he is unwelcome and quickly grates on the nerves. This leads up to the car chase that’s the centerpiece of the film. Scaramanga and Nick Nack have Goodnight trapped in the truck of their car. Bond and Pepper are giving chase. Somehow they end up on the wrong side of the river from Scaramanga. They lose hope of catching up with their prey. Then Bond spots a broken, warped bridge. He attempts to launch his car off the bridge to land on the other side of the river. The music stops dramatically and we hold our breath for the amazing stunt. Then, just as Bond goes over the bridge and his car flips 360 degrees, we get a slide-whistle sound effect. Someone decided in editing to ruin the best stunt of the movie for a cheesy gag. They might as well have superimposed a picture of a middle finger into the center of the frame. Most people give up on the film at this point, but I, your humble and faithful reviewer, continued watching in order to bring you this commentary.
This brings me to the worst twist in the film. Turns out Scaramanga wasn’t the one who sent the bullet after all. It was sent by his girlfriend, Maud Adams, who wants 007 to kill Scaramanga. The only investment I had in this film was the showdown between Bond and Scaramanga—two great gunmen. But then this twist ruined it. Luckily, the film had the McMuffin to fall back on…
Hai Fat hired Scaramanga to kill the scientist who invented the Solex Agitator so his company could gain the technology. Scaramanga then killed Hai Fat and took over his company. So now Bond has a convenient and unlikely professional reason to continue his pursuit of Scaramanga.
The showdown we’ve been waiting for comes in the finale when Scaramanga has Bond and Goodnight on his island and blows up Bond’s plane. The stakes are high as Bond faces off against Scaramanga and Goodnight avoids being sexually assaulted by a black man in a scene eerily reminiscent of The Birth of a Nation.
Bond and Scaramanga hunt each other in the funhouse from the opening sequence. This scene sums up much of what’s wrong with the Moore-era Bond films. The shift in tone from violent to campy was jarring and took viewers out of the movies. The producers accused American audiences of not understanding Moore’s British sense of humor. It’s not that we didn’t understand his humor. We just didn’t think James Bond should be a goofball constantly cracking old-man jokes. That’s the reason these movies are widely derided as the low-point in the series.