There is a strong case for some of the best Bond films being named after their main protagonist. Dr No and Goldfinger are great examples of successful Bond films, with their villain being compelling, charismatic, memorable and a match for the super-spy. Although not named Scaramanga, The Man with the Golden Gun is clearly referring to the assassin and manages to fall into the same category as the others, or at least close.
Scaramanga is a classic Bond villain. He is a crazed, destructive and remorseless killer who sets his targets on Bond. Add to this the fact that he is played by one of cinema’s greatest villains, Christopher Lee, and you have an interesting adversary for Roger Moore’s spy and probably the best since Goldfinger. It also helps that Scaramanga is a match for Bond both physically and skilfully, having the great accolade that a contract killing from the assassin will cost “a million a shot.”
It makes for a great set-up from the start. The opening act is a great cat and mouse with Bond being the clear, overall target. Add to this the fact that Bond is triggered by a golden bullet with “his name on it” and you get a story which plays much more like the best Bond investigations that made Connery’s early movies so compelling.
It is an investigation that leads Bond to actually be a spy, posing as the assassin, following clues and being caught in double crossed schemes and false leads. Roger Moore handles this very well and begins to seem comfortable in the shoes of “his” version of Bond.
In fact, there is very little of “chauvinistic” Bond on show in this film. He does manage to violently interrogate Maud Adams Bond Girl Andrea, but no more than Connery used to back in his earlier Bond ventures. In fact, Andrea is on the more useful and integral side of being a Bond Girl. She has a useful part to play and works well in the overall story.
It is a shame then that she gets replaced by Britt Ekland’s Goodnight halfway through the film and we get the usual, useless Bond Girl who is nothing more than a person to get in the way, look pretty and be saved by Bond. It is a shame that the film feels it needs to do this when there is so much better use for the Bond Girls than just damsel’s in distress.
It isn’t the only major complaint from the Bond film. It is the 70s and Moore’s version of the character which means the silly creeps back in. The worst part of Live and Let Die was Sheriff Pepper so imagine my shock and disappointment when the “comic relief” appears for a second outing. This time he is just as obnoxious, features again in a bizarre boat chase and then in one of the silliest use of a cool stunt you have ever seen. The flipping of the AMC Hornet is a great stunt and very impressive for the 70s but add to it a slide-whistle sound effect and you undercut all the tension.
Sheriff Pepper’s ridiculous return is not the only delve into the silly that the film makes. There is an awkward moment when Bond does martial arts and the less said about Nik-Nak the better. He is a strange henchman compared to Oddjob or Tee-Hee because he offers no physical threat to Bond and isn’t particularly very menacing. It makes the finale of the film, the now customary final fight, quite ridiculous and strange to watch.
The actual, true finale, involving Scaramanga versus Bond is a much better use of the characters. It is a shame not to get to see the duel that is teased but then again, the chase through Scaramanga’s trap filled “lair” offers it’s own satisfactory and fitting ending.
Overall, The Man with the Golden Gun is a return to the better aspects of the Bond series. It begins very strongly, with a well-teased villain, a decent investigation for Bond and a useful Girl for Bond to interact with. Unfortunately, the second half of the film leads us down the “silly” path again, with martial arts, strange boat chases and the unbelievable return of Sheriff Pepper!
Rating – 3
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)