Monday, April 2, 2012

"The Man with the Golden Gun" (1974)

Starring Roger Moore, Christopher Lee and Britt Ekland
Written by Richard Maibaum and Tom Mankiewicz
Directed by Guy Hamilton
Rated PG - Violence, sex
Running Time: 125 Minutes

James Bond (Roger Moore) is relieved of duty when the British government learns he may be the target of a mysterious assassin named Scaramanga (Christopher Lee), whom no one has ever seen, and who kills his targets with a custom-made golden gun.  M (Bernard Lee) has received a golden bullet with "007" inscribed on it, and tells Bond he must abandon his mission to find a scientist named Gibson who has perfected a solar energy device which could solve the world's energy crisis.

But instead of laying low, Bond decides to track down Scaramanga himself, heading to Beirut where he finds one of Scaramanga's bullets which he then tracks to a gunmaker in Macau.  Bond meets Andrea Anders (Maud Adams), Scaramanga's mistress, who he forces to help him set up a chance to get at Scaramanga.  But Bond learns that Scaramanga is not after him at all, but after Gibson.

Teaming up with a Hong Kong agent named Hip (Soon-Tek Oh) and the beautiful MI6 agent Mary Goodnight (Britt Ekland), Bond must uncover Scaramanga's true plot to steal the solar energy device, and engage in a duel with the world's greatest assassin.

Roger Moore's second outing as James Bond is better than his first.  It still has its problems, however, the same ones I feel plague the majority of Moore's efforts in the role.

Again, things skew too far into the realm of absurd comedy, especially at the wrong time.  For example, there's a fine car chase sequence about two thirds of the way through the film that totally deflates by inappropriate use of a slide whistle over a really magnificent stunt in which Bond spiral jumps a car over a broken bridge.  It's a cool chase and a really great stunt when suddenly there's this ridiculous cartoonish sound effect that ruins the whole thing.

Of course, the scene was already being dragged down by the unfortunate reappearance of Clifton James as JW Pepper (this time on vacation, for some reason, with his wife in Bangkok).  Why this terrible character reappeared here after his truly obnoxious role in "Live and Let Die" is a mystery to me.  Thankfully, he only appears in a couple of scenes instead of having a major role.  A little bit goes a long way, as they say.  But a little bit of JW Pepper still goes too far.

But there are also parts of it that are silly that work much better.  The secret MI6 base inside a half-sunken ship is absurd, but an incredibly fun design and concept for a set.  The whole thing is set at an angle, with little walkspaces here and there for the characters to move around.  It's well designed and clever, rather than Pepper, who is supposed to be funny but is just annoying.  That kind of absurd setting is where these Bond films excel when they attempt to be less than serious, rather than the kind of  idiocy like weird sound effects and hick characters.

Christopher Lee makes a fine villain, though his ambitions to rise above master assassin ring a little hollow in the film's third act.  The film works better when we think of this duel of wits between Bond and Scaramanga than when Scaramanga begins to turn into a more typical megalomaniacal Bond villain.  Still, once the final confrontation between the two comes at the climax, we can easily forget that the film went in a strange new direction and just enjoy the battle.  Lee imbues the character with the right sense of menace and skill and the script allows Bond to be suitably threatened by him that it all feels right.

Despite these problems, "The Man with the Golden Gun" rises to the challenge by having a great villain and solid action sequences, even if the plot falters.  It's easily better than "Live and Let Die" and probably the third best of Moore's Bond films.

See Also
James Bond