The Man with the Golden Gun: A disappointing misfire
James R | On 15, Sep 2021
It’s 1974. Moonraker doesn’t exist yet. But Guy Hamilton doesn’t let that stop his own attempt at making a terrible Bond movie – and he’s surprisingly successful, despite a stellar casting coup in the form of Christopher Lee. Despite the presence of the screen icon in the role of the villain, The Man with the Golden Gun is a dubious misfire – it’s the Moonraker of 1974.
The worst part of watching the film is knowing that they had a great book to base the whole thing on. Published posthumously in 1965, Ian Fleming’s thriller was an old-school spy yarn that dated to something a little different: it saw an old, out-of-shape Bond return from his MIA status after You Only Live Twice’s failed mission. Dazed, confused, and convinced he was a Japanese fisherman, Bond was swiftly taken in by the KGB, brainwashed and sent back to London to assassinate M.
Whether Fleming finished it before dying or not, it’s a corker of an opening that begs to be made into a film – why Richard Maibaum and Tom Mankiewicz chose to leave that out of the script is a source of constant bafflement. His brain unscrambled, Bond in the book is assigned to track down Francisco Paco “Pistols” Scaramanga, last seen somewhere in the Caribbean. What follows is 150 pages of 007 sitting around a half-finished hotel, working his way into Scaramanga’s inner circle and waiting for the chance to shoot him.
Of course, adaptations don’t have to stick to the words on the page, but when a novel is ready-made for a film treatment, why create something inferior from scratch? That’s what Maibaum and Mankiewicz do here, introducing Scaramanga (Lee) by his apparent decision to send a golden bullet to MI6, which makes little to no sense. And so Bond goes on a mission to work out who send the bullet and why – taking him to a Hong Kong casino and aboard the wreck of the RMS Queen Elizabeth and, for no reason, a karate tournament in Bangkok that plays like someone on the production watched Enter the Dragon and really liked it.
All this wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t blatant padding for a story that’s taken out the opening two acts and now needs to come up with a plot to justify Scaramanga and Bond having a showdown. That padding includes a strange carnival-like attraction built within Scaramanga’s home – maze of moving dummies and clockwork mirrors that’s like Pat Sharp’s Fun House, but with a waxwork of Roger Moore instead of children in go-karts. It wants to be The Avengers, but lacks the wit or cool to balance out the oddball zaniness.
Which brings us Christopher Lee, who is effortlessly cool, instantly menacing and chillingly cold-hearted – the perfect foil for the patriotic 007. But he’s wasted on a scheme that vaguely involves solar power, while his henchman – played by Herve Villechaise – is written as the comic relief in a way that feels insensitive. The result is a face-off that never lives up to its billing, as Roger Moore struggles to balance the gritty and the quirky – while those who have read the book wonder what happened to the bit where there’s a shootout on a train in the middle of a swamp, followed by a giant bridge blowing up.