The Man with the Golden Gun

The Man with the Golden Gun (1974): Guy Hamilton

Rolling along with the new Bond, The Man with the Golden Gun represented the last time original producer Saltzman stepped stirred the pot. He departed after selling his share to cover debts, and the resulting legal tie-ups held back production for three years. That probably turned into a blessing, because signs of Bond fatigue were racking up. The public needed a break.

ONE SENTENCE PLOT SUMMARY: James Bond travels to Thailand to help save the solar industry, but mostly to play The Most Dangerous Game with Francisco Scaramanga, the world’s most dangerous assassin and man with the golden gun. 

Hero (3/10)

Roger Moore begins his second outing as James Bond with a threat against his life. The world’s most reclusive and famous assassin Francisco Scaramanga (Christopher Lee) sent a gold bullet with “007” inscribed on it. Bond is at first confused as to why anyone would want to kill him. M (Bernard Lee) says who wouldn’t: cuckolded husbands and even “humiliated tailors.”

Bond is ordered to lie low until the Scaramanga thing blows over, which of course he doesn’t. Bond flies to Beirut, where 002, Scaramanga’s most recent alleged MI-6 victim, died, and meet the last person to see him alive, a belly dancer.

Bond just swallowed a bullet. Literally swallowed it, not got shot by it.

A fight scene occurs in the club that encapsulates the Roger Moore era. While charming the belly dancer, Bond is struck on the head by goons while kissing her abdomen. Her belly button was housing the mangled gold bullet that killed 002 five years ago. I say “was” because when the man struck Bond in the head, Bond accidentally swallowed the bullet. Bond fights off three goons before leaving the dancer’s dressing room and running to the nearest pharmacy to help dislodge the bullet in a conventional way.

Bond heads to Macau and meets the bullet’s maker, whom he threatens with a shot to the groin, to give up his delivery method of Scaramanga’s gold bullets. Bond heads to one of Macau’s many casinos and spies Andrea Anders (Maud Adams) taking the bullets.

Gold bullet made in Macau.

After Bond learns Scaramanga’s location, he also learns that the assassin is not after him. Turns out Anders dragged Bond into her world to rescue her from it. Scaramanga respects Bond as a killer on his level, but he doesn’t plan to kill him for money. It will be for sport.

Much of Bond’s time is spent chasing a thing called a solex agitator, some pocket-sized device that will revolutionize energy and make a nifty laser to whoever possesses it. The British want it. Scaramanga wants it. His employer wants it.

Thus Bond spends plenty of time cavorting around Thailand trying to find the thing. Standard mortal peril ensues, added to silly sidekicks and enemies. Bond swoops near camp without being too close to it.

Villain (6/10)

Francisco Scaramanga, the man with the golden gun, is the most sought after and reclusive assassin on the planet. In an early scene M asks Bond what he knows about him. Where to start? Scaramanga grew up among circus performers. His best friend was an elephant. His parents didn’t love him. His only skill was in shooting, and he discovered killing people pleased him.

It’s nearly the life story Dr. Evil lampoons in Austin Powers. He also has a superfluous nipple, the only known fact about his appearance. No one knows what he looks like or where he lives. He’s the most feared recluse on this planet.

We learn that he enjoys Tabasco with his meals and lives on a paradisiacal rock outcrop in the South China Sea. He may enjoy killing people, but his taste is impeccable. His gun is golden, and he shoots gold bullets custom made for him in Macau. His pistol is a unique caliber.

The Man. The Golden Gun.

In short, Scaramanga is one of a kind. He’s got himself mixed up in energy politics, and that brings Bond into the fold. Scaramanga, who charges $1 million per hit, has invested some of that hit money into a solar company run by a Thai business tycoon named Hai Fat (Richard Loo). There’s a Macguffin called a solex agitator, a device smaller than a pack of cards and the key item in converting the sun’s rays into clean, efficient energy. It’s also gone missing.

Scaramanga’s skill is evident in his shooting, of course, but also his money. After evading Bond in a Bangkok car chase, we discover he owns a countryside building for a single purpose: to house a pair of wings and an engine that attaches to his car to make a car jet.

Scaramanga meets Hai Fat in the second half of the movie, where he kills him in his own office to seize control of the solar company. I imagine the producers hamfisted this solar plot into the movie, because why would Scaramanga care about energy? He’s an assassin living on a gorgeous beach rent free. For fun he flies other assassins to his lair to try to kill him.

Scaramanga’s true motivation is that of a late-career artist, as he sees himself. “I want to create an indisputable masterpiece,” he says: the killing of Bond. “We are the best,” he says. It’s Scaramanga’s companion, Andrea Anders, his go-between in dealing with his gold bullet supplier, who sent Bond the gold bullet with 007 on it, drawing him into the field. But once he’s there Scaramanga is pleased to try his magnum opus.

Scaramanga prepares for all contingencies.

The killer displays a solar laser late in the movie. Might that be his next move? Nothing indicates it. Scaramanga is a solid villain, underserving but elevated by his portrayal by an all-time great villainous actor.

Action/Effects (5/10)

Bond chases Scaramanga through Bangkok’s streets on four wheels. Not just Scaramanga, but also Nick Nack (Hervé Villechaize) and poor Mary Goodnight (Britt Ekland), who Scaramanga shoved into the trunk. Bond speaks with Goodnight over walkie-talkie, who tells him the car’s make and plate number, so at least she’s not completely useless. Bond heads to his car, but realizes Goodnight has the keys. I’m undermining my argument, here.

Bond needs wheels, and luckily an American Motors Company showroom sits across the street. Bond hops into the nearest vehicle to drive with, who else, Sheriff Pepper (Clifton James) from Live and Let Die. This ought to be memorable, at least.

Sheriff Pepper here to annoy and yell.

Bond crashes through the glass and enters the street. Now, I’ve seen Bangkok traffic, and driving through it is impossible. You crawl through it. In many cases it’s faster to take river transport. But this is a movie.

Bond slides the car over the road. The asphalt and/or tires must be slick, but the car’s handling is tight. Pepper leans out the window to yell for the “brown pointy heads” to get out of the way. Surprise, surprise, the Louisiana sheriff who addresses most men as “boy” seizes on a racial slur for the Thai.

Nick Nack eyes the chasing car quickly. Scaramanga’s at the wheel, and he ditches the road for a cut-through across a dusty market square. Bond follows, but both pick up a police tail. Scaramanga and Bond play hide-and-seek on the street grid, a la Bond’s evasion of the kung fu guys in the canal a few minutes ago.

Somehow Scaramanga gets behind Bond at one point. Bond does a 180-degree slide to reverse direction. An innocent driver is forced to leap over a fruit stand and smash into a parked car. The crash stops the cop car chase.

Scaramanga leads Bond into the countryside. Both cars drive beside a canal until Bond loses Scaramanga, only to find him inexplicably across the canal. Bond stops the car and thinks for a moment. Pepper points out that the nearest bridge is two miles back. He also calls Bond “Boy” a lot, so his judgement is not to be trusted.

Bond eyes a rickety, twisted wooden plank jutting above the canal. You and I know what’s about to happen. Pepper is a little later to figure it out, but remember he only met James Bond once.

Bond points the car in the proper direction and blasts the engine. Does the car perform a perfect barrel roll over the canal, landing on a twisty plank placed exactly opposite the launch platform? IT DOES.

Scaramanga is far ahead now, but Bond guesses correctly that he headed to the nearest village and drove into a large building and locked the front door. He could only have guessed that.

Scaramanga fiddles with controls in his car; we aren’t sure what’s happening. Next we know, the doors and walls of the building are falling off and Scaramanga’s car has sprouted wings and a jet engine. The car plane takes off. The cops, who finally arrived, arrest Pepper and stare gobsmacked at the jet. Poor Goodnight, she opens the trunk, thinking the car has stopped, and nearly falls out.

Sidekicks (0/8)

Mary Goodnight is Bond’s contact in Hong Kong. She wants two things in life: Bond, and for him to sleep with her. She is THIRSTY. Problem is, Bond keeps finding time to not sleep with her. Often it’s Anders getting in the way. In one scene Bond shoves Goodnight in a hotel closet all night so he can bed Anders and get information he needs. The things MI-6 agents do for their country.

When Goodnight is in the field she’s useless. In trying to bug Scaramanga’s car, Scaramanga locks her in the trunk, with the car keys, and the solex agitator everyone’s going on about. At least she got the plate number and reported it toBond. Later, when that car stops, grows a pair of wings, and takes off, Goodnight tries to jimmy the lock, thinking the car has stopped. It hasn’t stopped; it’s moving at 300 knots.

Later, at Scaramanga’s house, Goodnight stands by and watches Bond try to stop a disaster she accidentally caused when she knocked a goon into a vat of liquid helium. Her ass bumps into buttons and nearly gets Bond’s hand burned off.

It’s hard to tell who treats Goodnight worse, the writers or Bond. I can’t believe MI-6 would hire someone so incompetent. The only explanation is that the writers wanted a woman the audience could laugh at.

Bond’s other contact in Hong Kong is Hip (Soon-Tek Oh), a man who tries to kidnap Bond using subterfuge, only to reveal he was an ally all along. Hip is skilled in martial arts but bad at carpooling. He says he’ll drop his nieces off at school but forgets to, dragging them to a fight instead. Bad uncle-ing, Hip.

Henchmen (5/8)

Scaramanga’s faithful servant is a French little person named Nick Nack. Patronizing nickname aside, Nick Nack excels at his job. He’s always immaculately dressed with coat and tails. He carries Tabasco bottles on plates. He’s in the right places at the right times.

Example: Scaramanga kills the solar engineer in Macau as he is contracted to do. Nick Nack is the one who steals the solex agitator off the body in the moments after the killing and before the police arrive. He had seconds to do this, and he did it perfectly.

Right up there with Jaws as Bond’s most memorable henchman.

Another example: Bond infiltrates the grounds of Hai Fat one night and passes a statue garden of Buddhist hell scenes. Nick Nack poses as one of these bare-chested figures (he is the right size), complete with a crazy mask and trident. He has no need to do this; he could hide in the bushes and monitor Bond’s progress as easily. He’s got a villain’s flair for the dramatic, I guess.

Nick Nack runs Scaramanga’s Most Dangerous Game simulation in his home, monitoring Scaramanga and his quarry through a complex CCTV system. He enjoys playing games with the assassins Scaramanga hires to try to kill him.

At the kickboxing match Nick Nack holds a gun on Bond while eating peanuts. This guy is as calm as his boss; they make a great team.

Turns out Andrea Anders was the one to mail Bond that gold bullet. She calls him into the field to help get her away from Scaramanga, who she calls “a monster.” And if you see the way he sleeps and kisses Anders, you’d agree.

The distressed damsel.

In one scene Scaramanga caresses her arms with the barrel of his golden gun, and no, that’s not a euphemism. His literal golden gun, the one from the title. “I want him dead,” she says. “Name your price.” Poor Anders ends up dead at the kickboxing match, shot through the heart, and Scaramanga’s to blame.

Stunts (3/6)

Poor Bond. He was about to be murdered while unconscious in a Thai businessman’s pleasure garden, but the old man wanted him to go to school first. So Bond wakes up in a Thai martial arts training center, where he’s pampered by sexy ladies and given a cup of tea. Little does he realize that he’s about to be the main attraction.

After two men sword fight to the death, Bond is next in line. He dispatches the first opponent by kicking him in the face during the bowing sequence meant to precede the match. Gentlemanly behavior flies out the window when one’s life is at stake.

The next guy he doesn’t let get the better of him; Bond flies out the window. Hip is outside the kung fu school, ready to pick up Bond. He has his two nieces with him. Bond tells the girls to stand back, but they don’t listen to that farang fool.

The girls take up a strong position. They came to fight. Hip and his two nieces attack an entire class’s worth of Bangkok’s best fighters. Bond just stands back and watches. He’d check his watch if he was wearing one. The girls fight off five guys each, finishing the last guy with a melon to the head.

Well, that was only part of the school. Another wave of fighters chases Bond and company toward Hip’s car. Here’s where somebody fell asleep on the script. Hip and his two nieces drive away without Bond. They left him out to dry! Huh? Why do this? Bond had a step ahead of the enemies.

After removing my smacked hand from my face, I watched Bond find a slim speedboat in a nearby canal. Some other guys step into a larger boat, only after Bond menaced them with the boat engine’s turbofan.

Bond has the faster boat with only one passenger. Problem is, he runs out of gas. We got ourselves a boat chase. And, when you have a boat chase with Roger Moore, you must have Sheriff Pepper.

Poor Pepper is taking a much-needed vacation in Thailand with his wife. A local boy tries to sell a wood elephant carving to the tourists, including the Peppers. Poor kid falls out the boat and swims into Bond’s boat as the spy fiddles with the engine.

The kid tries to sell the elephant for 20 baht. Bond offers 20,000 baht if he can get the engine working. The boy finds a valve on a pipe, turns it, and the engine zooms to life. Bond, the jerk, offers the boy not 20,000 baht but a shove into the water. The chase resumes. Poor Pepper gets splashed by Bond’s boat.

The boats enter a more congested area of the canals, a water market perhaps. Bond chooses to hide. The bad guys sneak in, searching the multiple branches of the canals for Bond. Bond waits for the right moment, then he zooms out and slices the other boat in half. No boat flips or land sliding, but a decent boat chase.

The car barrel roll is clearly the standout moment in the movie, and probably one of the best single car stunts ever pulled. Sadly, one move isn’t enough to pull up the score.

Climax (1/6)

Pistols at dawn…was the old way to do a duel. Bond and Scaramanga choose pistols at afternoon on the beach outside Scaramanga’s home. Nick Nack, the referee, declares he will only allow a clean kill. No wounds. Bond has six rounds, and could wound. Scaramanga, he only needs one.

After 20 paces Bond turns and fires, but Scaramanga is obviously not there. Nick Nack, amused, leads Bond into Scaramanga’s lair. He claims that he wants Bond to win, because if Scaramanga dies he inherits everything. Hmm. I’m skeptical.

Bond tentatively enters Scaramanga’s training room. The lights turn red. We’ve seen this already, in the cold open, so we expect what’s coming. Bond shoots at the screen with Scaramanga’s face. He enters the hall of mirrors, and the game is afoot. Bond fires at the saloon robot with fake pistol. Only three shots left.

Bond is into the replica circus area now, where Scaramanga waits. Bond eyes the wax figure of himself, with the four fingers missing, shot off by Scaramanga in the opening sequence. Bond also walks into a glass wall.

Internally saying, “Enough of this shit,” Bond tucks his pistol in his belt and starts climbing…down, under the floor among the scaffolding. It’s a smart move, because it evades Nick Nack’s camera system, until the gun falls from his belt and clangs on the metal, disappearing into a black abyss. Bond’s move evidences why you should put your gun in your pocket, not your belt.

Scaramanga hears the gun fall and is confused. He moves from his prime position. Huge mistake. He steps into the killing area. The camera frames him from behind the Bond wax figure, which slowly turns and fires! Bond has replaced the wax figure with himself and kills Scaramanga in one shot. Two to spare.

Death to Scaramanga

Scaramanga is dead, but Bond and Goodnight still have to flee, preferably with the solex agitator. Goodnight bashes her chaperone, one of Scaramanga’s employees, on the skull, and he falls into a liquid helium vat. Then we see the sign stating that absolute zero must be maintained. Dude’s body is about to foul up the works.

Alarms are blaring as the place begins to heat up. Bond enters the small room housing the agitator, which is behind unbreakable glass. Bond has to work the casing to get the thing out.

What’s Goodnight doing? Nothing, except her butt backs into the master control button on the panel controlling the solar panels. She activates the machine without knowing it, and the laser nearly zaps Bond’s hand.

Bond yells at her to push all the buttons until the laser stops. It stops. Bond offers kudos to a baffled Goodnight. Neither of them saw the cloud block the sun. Once again, clouds are the real heroes. No one ever thinks of the clouds.

The laser comes back on when the cloud moves, but Bond extracts the agitator, and they can escape moments before the island explodes.

Everything seems hunky-dory on Scaramanga’s junk. Bond and Goodnight retire to the bedroom. They don’t see the stowaway Nick Nack in his hidey hole above the bed. He’s got secret spaces everywhere. A comical fight ensues. Nick Nack swears to kill Bond. Is it for killing his boss or blowing up his home? Definitely the latter, maybe the former. “I may be small,” he says, “but I never forget.”

Come out come out wherever you are.

Nick Nick runs around the room causing havoc until he reaches the wine rack. He throws a dozen bottles at Bond. There’s glass everywhere. The room looks like a war zone. Bond finds a big suitcase in the closet and uses it as a glass shield. When he reaches Nick Nack he stuffs him in the suitcase and drags him up the mast as the ship sails through the archipelago.

Bond and Goodnight resume making out on the bed, but isn’t it covered in glass? Also, since when do ships have autopilot?

Jokes (0/4)

They brought Sheriff Pepper back, knowing he was a solid addition to Live and Let Die in a minor role. He’s the same racist good ol’ boy, this time on vacation. It’s inconceivable that a man like Pepper would consider anywhere outside the state of Louisiana for a vacation, so it makes sense that his wife dragged him to Thailand. Pepper behaves exactly as USA! USA! pot-bellied white male types behave in foreign lands, as if his ways are correct and the locals are stupid.

Setting (4/4)

The Man with the Golden Gun may be the best-set Bond movie.

Scaramanga’s home is a masterpiece. Bond villains have a long history of living in interesting places, but I think Scaramanga chose best. The rock outcrop islands of southern Thailand (where the movie was shot but not set), epitomizes the Western ideal of an exotic beach. A small beach connects two towering plinths.

Who on Earth would turn down the chance to live here?

Scaramanga’s home’s interior matches the exterior in good design. Tastefully adorned, with large glass walls to welcome the sun, the home has just enough space for two people, with furniture and colors as soft and welcoming as the sand outside.

There’s also the workout areas. Scaramanga has a small room of classic workout equipment, but I’m talking about the hall of mirrors. The movie offers two tours of Scaramanga’s shooting gallery, first from a patsy and then from Bond.

Robotic gunners from the wild west and gangster Chicago frighten marks, while the rotating mirror walls confuse them. Scaramanga’s placed a wax figure of his other half in assassinations–Bond–in the center of the area.

***

Let’s not ignore the exteriors either. Bond movies always find Earth’s most beautiful and/or interesting locations to shoot. Thailand probably was the “most exotic” setting yet in the franchise (to Anglophonic Brits and Americans, of course). We watch a classical Thai dance performance. We see Bond race through the canals of the greater Bangkok area. We watch a Thai kickboxing match. Hai Fat has a garden of Buddhist tortures and a kung fu academy. We even hear Bond mention that Bangkok’s traffic is worse than Piccadilly, which is a FACT.

The franchise acclimatizes WASPish viewers to the “strangeness” of Thai culture, one of the few nations on Earth never colonized by Europeans. They throw in Sheriff Pepper as a stand-in for the “common” man, on vacation in Thailand with his wife, confused and annoyed by its differences.

***

I can’t leave without noting the fantastic set aboard the wrecked, slanted Queen Elizabeth: inspired, as if Dali imagined a movie set. I got a headache watching some scenes trying to make sense of the angles. The rooms were simultaneously correct and incorrect.

Queen Elizabeth as a base was inspired.

I’d love to give filmmakers credit and say they chose the slanted set to represent Britain’s awkward, off-kilter role relating to China, but I’m not going to do that. I’m sure I’d be wrong.

Commentary (0/2)

The Man with the Golden Gun is about vendettas and Bond’s legacy as a killer. Politics skates around the edges of the plot without infiltrating it.

Offensiveness (-2/-2)

Mary Goodnight, an MI-6 agent whose frock is “tight in all the right places,” is breathtakingly unskilled. As competent as Bond is at his job Goodnight is as incompetent. I can’t fathom a world where the real MI-6 would fuck up so badly. I’m casting blame on the producers. Shocker, I know; a Bond movie mistreats a woman, but Mary Goodnight is the worst they’ve done.

Others

  • I don’t know much about solar energy in the 1970s, but did the tech really require liquid helium to cool? Nuclear power just uses water.
  • The Man with the Golden Gun probably set back solar energy until, well, it’s still set back.
  • How did M get the phone number to Scaramanga’s boat? And boats have automatic pilot? That seems reckless.
  • Scaramanga sleeps like a vampire, which makes sense because Lee played Dracula several times.

Summary (25/68): 37%

The Man with the Golden Gun is not Bond’s finest effort. Audiences agreed, making it the second-worst box office performer in the franchise’s history, ahead only of the first Bond movie. In a way it’s the worst. That makes sense, because this movie forced logical leaps as crazy as Bond barrel-rolling a car over a Thai canal. It’s the worst Bond movie to this point.