UK / USA, 1974
Review by Thomas Scalzo
Posted on 19 March 2005
Source MGM VHS
Features: The Genealogy of James Bond
Severely hampered by a muddled plot and inconsistent antagonistic motivations, The Man With the Golden Gun endures as one of the worst entries in the James Bond cannon. And it’s a shame, because the film had the potential for greatness: an intriguing “Most Dangerous Game” storyline, an increasingly confident Roger Moore in his second go at 007, a beautifully exotic setting, and the services of the incomparable Christopher Lee as an evil genius. But alas, it was not to be.
The story begins on a deserted island somewhere off the coast of China, where the reclusive millionaire Francisco Scaramanga spends his days lounging by the water, sipping champagne, and searching the world for a man that can best him in a duel. As Scaramanga offs his latest unworthy adversary, we learn that this crack-shot eccentric knows of Mr. James Bond, and holds him up as the holy grail of competitors. Meanwhile, a powerful device known as a Solex Agitator, capable of transforming the sun’s energy into an near-inexhaustible fuel source, has been stolen, and it’s up to 007 to track it down and keep it out of the wrong hands.
At first glance, the plot is fascinating. We not only have Bond haunting the clubs and side streets of Hong Kong in search of the Solex, but also the terrifying presence of Scaramanga looming just off screen, biding his time until he can match wits, and bullets, with his idle. But somehow, it just doesn’t work. Part of the problem is the Solex story has little weight attached to it; even if the device does fall into the wrong hands, the worst that will happen is that the evil doers will have a monopoly on world power sources. And while this is certainly an important and practical issue, especially during the energy crisis of the 70s, it is not the best source of tension in an action movie. Basically, without the threat of immediate world destruction, Bond has little reason to fret.
Add to this the fact that Scaramanga never offers up much for Bond to fear, neither adopting any world-dominating initiative, nor taking any shots at bringing down the famous spy, and you have a movie severely lacking in tension. At one point, Scaramanga even takes control of the Solex, and displays its terrible destructive power to 007. But after the fiery show is over, he is quick to explain that he harbors no imperialistic fantasies, intending only to sell off the device to the highest bidder and substantially increase his riches.
The film’s only significant threat, then, is to James and James alone, through the impending duel Scaramanga has been wishing for. Admittedly, this is an intriguing scenario for a Bond film, and a bold one, as it pins nearly every ounce of available climactic energy on the outcome of the fight. But even though we do watch the showdown with interest (mainly because we don’t want Bond to die, and because a one-on-one fight to the death is cool), it’s impossible to ignore the knowledge that regardless of what happens, whether Bond lives or dies, the world will not explode, civilization will not end, and life will go on much as it did before.
Sadly, then, even the eventual showdown between the two world-class gunmen cannot make up for an hour and a half of material that is, quite simply, filler. True, the action scenes are, for the most part, fast-paced and enjoyable (though the slide whistle sound effect added to a car-jumping sequence should have been left out, and the return of J.W. Pepper, the racial-slur king, is unforgivable), but without a nuclear bomb to diffuse, or a maniacal plan to avert, James’s car chase through the streets of Honk Kong, or his harrowing flight to Scaramanga’s island paradise, serve as little more than window dressing, with hardly any underlying tension to buoy their importance.
Despite it’s notable failings, however, The Man With the Golden Gun must be given credit for even attempting to take the Bond series in a new direction, consciously omitting the power-hungry villain scenario, and pitting Bond against an evil genius who wants nothing more than to be the best. Unfortunately, the attempted originality doesn’t work, and we leave the film feeling genuinely unsatisfied, a reaction that may well have led the powers that be behind the Bond franchise to make sure the next film, The Spy Who Loved Me, returned to the series’ megalomaniac-fueled, imminent-earth-destruction roots with a vengeance.