The Man With the Golden Gun:
The Man With the Golden Gun is also stylistically schizophrenic, paralysed with indecision over whether it’s a tense psychological thriller, a traditional spy flick, or a Kung-Fu movie.
Having done blaxploitation, Kung-Fu is the next mixer in Bond’s cocktail. Back in the early-seventies, everyone was showing off with martial arts: even the Third Doctor was doing Venusian Akido. Again, I’m no expert on Kung-Fu films or martial arts movies in general, but sadly, the same faults as Live and Let Die apply here.
A Kung-Fu caper would have been another great opportunity to have Bond floundering out of his element, lost in another culture and slowly growing and developing as a character to overcome the baddies. But the Kung-Fu stuff is only a third of the film, while the other two are (another) overly-long chase and a daft funhouse runaround. It really does feel like three different films stapled haphazardly together.
The plot, such as it is, is set against the backdrop of the World Energy Crisis, with Bond being dispatched to find a McGuffin called the ‘Solex Agitator’ (Aka: the Plot Contrivor) which can harness solar energy.
Just to make that clear: our intrepid hero is being sent by the Western establishment to foil a plot by an entrepreneur to upend the fossil fuel monopoly, by creating clean, efficient solar power. Great Scott! A natural resource that’s cheaper to produce and maintain than coal, oil or gas? We can’t have that can we? Sic him Jim!
M tells Bond that a golden bullet was extracted from the body of an agent who knew about the McGuffin. This bit of bling is apparently the calling-card of the World’s Most Dangerous Assassin, Franscisco Scaramanga. We’ll get to him in a minute, but for now all you need to know is that Scaramanga is another ‘Anti-Bond’ villain who is coming for 007’s brand, and also a ‘Shifty Foreign Type’ obsessed with gold. It’s not plagiarism! It’s an internal reference, honest!
Bond goes to Beirut to track the golden bullets, and interrogates a gunsmith by threatening to Robocop his member off. It’s really jarring how Moore can go from ‘Cheesy Swiss Tony’ mode to ‘Homicidal Solipsist’ in the blink of an eye. Halfway through this film, Michael and I began to theorise that Moore’s Bond really is an emotionless psychopath who believes himself to be the only real being in existence.
Bond then jets off to Hong Kong and tries to get off with Scaramanga’s girlfriend; ostensibly for intel, but really because he’s a thirsty fuck. I’ll quote Moore in full here, because I honestly don’t think my bit about him being a psycho is entirely non-canon:
(BOND straddles ANDERS from behind on her bed and twists her arm up behind her back.) ANDERS: Ow! You're hurting my arm! BOND: Then tell me where those bullets go. ANDERS: No, l can't! (BOND twists more) BOND: Try. ANDERS: He'll kill me! BOND: Who? ANDERS: l can't tell you! (He's really hurting her now) ANDERS: (Gasping) Scaramanga! (BOND releases her) BOND: You see what you can do when you try?
Bond tortures Andrea for a while, and she tells him that Scaramanga can be identified by his third nipple. Bond (and for once I’m in agreement with him) tells her that this is the most useless piece of information he’s ever heard, and leaves.
Then Scaramanga’s French dwarf henchman Nick-Nack (so that’s a check for ‘Physical ‘Abnormality,’ ‘Foreign’, and ‘Daft Name’ if you’re playing Henchman Bingo) murders the solar scientist Gibson and frames Bond for it, which leads to Bond being kidnapped by MI6 and taken to their secure location.
This is a bit of a weird trend in the Moore era, where halfway through the film Bond will get a second exposition dump in an Exotic Location, with MI6 requisitioning a local landmark as its base of operations. Here it’s the wreckage of RMS Queen Elizabeth, and we’re treated to a German Expressionist set where everything in M’s temporary office is a bit skew-whiff.
Bond is sent then to Bangkok (notice how, the less coherent the movie is, the more Exotic Locations it shuffles through in a bid to hold our attention) and disguises himself as Scaramanga by wearing an artificial third nipple, and only by wearing an artificial third nipple. Does the world’s deadliest hitman always do a Janet Jackson Super-Bowl impression when meeting his employers? I somehow doubt it.
Due to the slight setback of his having all five of his senses and a functioning brain, the mobster Bond’s meeting isn’t fooled. Bond gets captured and taken to a martial arts academy. He batters a few guys in gis, escapes, and meets with Final Girl Mary Goodnight. Mary is a rookie field operative with Stage 4 Bimbo Syndrome, who might as well have been named ‘Chocolate Fireguard.’
Bond goes back to his hotel and experiences a role-reversal when Anders breaks in on him, spoiling his evening wank. He promises to kill Scaramanga for her, but that was his mission anyway, so whatever. Bond meets with Scaramanga at a circus, and he tells us a bit of his tragic backstory. Mary tries to put an electronic tracker on Scaramanga’s coupe, but then falls into the boot. A chase ensues, which culminates in Scaramanga’s car sprouting wings and flying away.
No, really. I wish I was making this shit up.
Oh, and who should show up during this chase scene but nobody’s favourite comedy yokel, J.W. Pepper! Pepper is now a rude Yank tourist in Thailand, making racist comments and generally behaving like a pig in a Hawaiian shirt. I’m honestly baffled as to why this character, out of all the people Bond has met, turned into a recurring one. Maybe the actor just wandered onto the set and nobody had the heart to tell him to go away? Anyhoo, Pepper gets arrested by the Thai police at the end of the chase scene, and is presumably waterboarded to death. If he shows up in ‘No Time To Die’, I will eat my own dick.
Bond goes to Scaramanga’s island crib and confronts him. Here it becomes apparent that the eponymous Man with the Golden Gun is the most interesting part of the movie, and also the most squandered.
For one thing, he’s played by the late Sir Christopher Lee, which is the most obvious casting decision of all time. Not only is Lee one of my favourite actors, boasting a sophisticated aura of menace, a commanding stage presence, and more experience playing villains than anyone ever, but he was also a close friend of Roger Moore and Ian Fleming, and (lest we forget) an actual frigging spy in real life. You’d think that all that would add up to lightning in a bottle.
The character of Scaramanga is surprisingly nuanced as well. He spends a long time showing off his lair to Bond, treating him with respect and deference. He, Bond and Mary sit down to a meal, where he asks for Bond’s opinion on his wine stock before toasting them both as the crème de la crème of the espionage world.
The dinner scene is genuinely brilliant, with Lee hitting every note perfectly and Moore rising to his level with aplomb. Scaramanga comes across as simultaneously prideful and deeply insecure, eager to establish himself as Bond’s equal, but also craving his approval and validation. Just look at the dialogue between them:
BOND: You live well, Scaramanga. SCARAMANGA: At a million dollars a contract I can afford to Mr Bond. You work for peanuts, a hearty 'well done' from her majesty the Queen, and a pittance of a pension. Apart from that, we are the same. (He offers a toast) SCARAMANGA: To us Mr Bond. We are the best. BOND: There's a useful four-letter-word, and you're full of it. (SCARAMANGA frowns) BOND: When I kill it's under the specific orders of my government, and those I kill are, themselves, killers. SCARAMANGA: Come come Mr Bond, you disappoint me. You derive just as much satisfaction from killing as I do, so why don't you admit it? BOND: I admit, killing you would be a pleasure. SCARAMANGA: You should have done that when you first saw me. But of course, the English don't consider it sporting to kill in cold blood, do they? BOND: Don't count on that.
Look at that! Drama! Tension! And where does it come from? Stunts and gadgets and carnivorous animals? Nope: just two characters sitting down and talking. Why wasn’t there more of this? This is great! A battle of wills between Lee and Moore. And the best part is this: Scaramanga wins. Moore has no satisfactory answer for him. All he does is deflect the question. He and the villain truly are the same. Scaramanga knows it, we know it, and Bond knows it too.
But after this cracker it all returns to business as usual. Scaramanga challenges Bond to a gentleman’s duel, and what follows is a rubbish hide-and-seek sequence in Scaramanga’s carnival, before he’s unceremoniously shot. How frustrating.
Bond grabs the McGuffin, rescues Mary, and blows up the lair. They escape on Scaramanga’s yacht and prepare to pound beef, but …
Oh come on, you know what happens. Yes, Nick-Nack the dwarf butler shows up and tries to kill Bond one last time. Seriously mate, you’re out of a job, why even bother? Unfortunately for him, his would-be homicide is even more pathetic than Rosa Klebb’s, and James Bond defeats him by locking him in a suitcase.
I can only attribute my weary acceptance of this climax to Stockholm Syndrome.