Encouraged by the success of “Live And Let Die” and the public’s embracing of Roger Moore’s take on 007, United Artists were keen to keep up the momentum and pressed Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman to fast track the next Bond movie. Troubled by behind the scenes problems and a lack of preparation time, “The Man With The Golden Gun” came perilously close to killing the golden goose.
When MI6 receive a golden bullet with the number 007 engraved on it, they conclude that famed assassin for hire Francisco Scaramanga has been contracted to kill Bond. Fearing it could disrupt his current assignment – the recovery of a missing scientist and his Solex Agitator, M relieves Bond of the mission, prompting Bond to suggest that the best course of action would be to try to find Scaramanga first.
As with his first outing, Roger Moore’s James Bond doesn’t appear in pre-credits sequence again. Instead, we spend time getting to know the title character and his tropical island hideaway, including an improbably elaborate funhouse/ shooting range. Still, when you’re a $1million-a-shot assassin, you probably have a lot of time and money on your hands. Despite using the distinctive looking Marc Lawrence as an old-fashioned mobster lured to the island for Scaramanga to practice on, it’s a missed continuity opportunity as it’s never made clear whether he’s meant to be the same mobster he played in “Diamonds Are Forever”. Echoing “From Russia With Love”, the pre-credits sequence ends with a fake Bond being attacked, this time a life size mannequin of 007 which Scaramanga keeps in his lair. Just let that sink in: the villain keeps a life size mannequin of a British Secret Agent in his playroom.
No time for subtext though, as we crash into the opening titles featuring a song not so much sung as bellowed by Lulu: a litany of double entendres that even a teenage schoolboy would roll their eyes at. Reflecting the rushed nature of the production, veteran Bond composer John Barry had only three weeks to compose the score and has never been happy with the result. In reality, the score – which leans heavily on the theme song – actually suits the film pretty well, which isn’t necessarily a compliment to either of them.
With the relationship between writer Tom Mankiewicz and director Guy Hamilton deteriorating, Richard Maibaum was recalled to do a significant rewrite. Retaining almost none of Fleming’s original posthumously published novel beyond the villain, Maibaum’s rewrite side-lined Mankeiwicz’ vision of a tense, escalating battle of wills between Bond and his dark reflection Scaramanga in favour of a then-topical energy crisis themed solar Macguffin. The resulting script is an uneasy, disjointed mix of comedy, adventure and harder-edged spy craft. The writers were clearly still grappling with how to write Moore’s Bond properly and some of the scenes feel more suited to Connery’s meaner streak than Moor’s charm, especially in his surprisingly brutal questioning of Scaramanga’s lover.
Where “Live And Let Die” had borrowed from the popular Blaxploitation genre, “The Man With The Golden Gun” looked to the rising popularity of martial arts movies to augment its Far East setting. While the result probably owes more to “Hong Kong Phooey” than “Enter The Dragon”, it does provide for a few good action set pieces and provides a dash of oriental colour and excitement that was sorely lacking in “You Only Live Twice”.
Unfortunately, the preponderance of kung fu action prohibits much gun play which is a real problem when your hero and villain are meant to be the world’s best marksmen so their interactions are confined mostly to tensely polite verbal sparring. Moore is still finding his feet as Bond and isn’t helped by the uneven characterisation through the script which requires cruelty one moment then slapstick comedy the next. Christopher Lee brings an elegance and gravitas to the role of Scaramanga but he has very little to do in the story apart from stay one step ahead of Bond while it suits the story. It’s a testament to his screen charisma that the villain holds your interest when his motivation and scheme feel unconvincing – it’s here that you can most obviously see the join between the two versions of the script.
Lee also benefits from having one of the quirkier and amusing henchmen in the Bond movies: Nick Nack, played with roguish charm by Hervé Villechaize. Maud Adams makes a big impression as Scaramanga’s fearful and desperate lover and is in sharp contrast to the actual Bond girl of the piece, Britt Ekland’s Mary Goodnight. As written, Goodnight is easily a contender for worst Bond girl ever, a hapless buffoon who is of no help whatsoever to Bond and causes more trouble than she could possibly be worth. In the hands of a skilled actress, something more might have been teased from the page to the screen but in Britt Ekland, Mary Goodnight finds an actress whose ineptitude merely magnifies the character’s deficiencies.
It’s not all terrible though. Yes, Director Guy Hamilton has a lot to answer for, being the one who requested the return of Clifton James’ J W Pepper, but it can’t be denied that he makes the most of the film’s spectacular locations in Thailand, Hong Kong and Macau and it’s a particularly neat idea that the wreck of the RMS Queen Elizabeth would become a secret UK base in Hong Kong Harbour and it’s nice to see Desmond Llewelyn back as Q, thanks to popular demand.
With “Live And Let Die” and then this, the Bond films had started to carve out an action movie niche for themselves. With a renewed focus on the physical performance of stunts without the need for special effects and camera trickery (no more speeded up footage!), they also started to deliver the ‘publicity stunt’, an action set piece unlike anything done before. This time round, it was a spectacular corkscrew jump across a river which was performed in a single take by veteran stunt driver ‘Bumps’ Williard (uncredited in the film). Even here, though, the makers could resist putting a slide-whistle sound effect across the stunt, robbing it of its impact. “The Man With The Golden Gun” is undeniably a bit daft but it rattles along at a fair clip and while the plot takes a few massive leaps of logic, it holds together well enough. There’s a reflection of the darker, more psychological script originally planned in that it’s Scaramanga’s strange hero worship of Bond that proves to be his undoing and it’s a shame that instead we ended up with this entertaining but lightweight offering instead, capped off by a disappointingly brief final showdown between the two.
One of the lowest grossing Bond films, combined with producer Harry Saltzman’s ongoing financial problems, this came close to being the last Bond film and was certainly the last Bond film to be produced so quickly after its predecessor. It would be another three years before James Bond returned as promised, but the extra time would be put to good use…