Here we go again on Fishing in the Discount Bin, where I ramble about the movies I own. I tend to buy James Bond movies in pairs, because I always get them out of HMV's "2 for $20" bin. So, since I did a Bond last week, we're doing a Bond this week. Here's The Man with the Golden Gun. This is in my notes at November 11, 2015.
Well, time to continue my "James Bond Goes to Asia" double-feature with The Man With the Golden Gun. Oh, why did I buy this one? It's long considered to be one of the worst James Bond films. It was Roger Moore's second, so Moore and the makers of the franchise were still adjusting to each other. It wavers between the seriousness of the early Bond films, and the more lightheartedness that the came to define the Moore era.
When I did Moonraker, I mentioned that the Bond films of the 1970s tended to follow the formula of "Let's have Bond wander into whatever genre is popular right now." For example, Moonraker was a sci-fi film in the mold of Star Wars. And with The Man With the Golden Gun, the kung fu movies of Bruce Lee were starting to become popular, so most of the film is set in Thailand, and Bond wanders into quite a bit of kung fu fighting.
We probably get one of the worst Bond girls in Mary Goodnight, a rookie agent working out of the Hong Kong office who becomes Bond's sidekick. I'm sure it's an established trope that, when they can't come up with a good character trait for a blonde bombshell, the make her clumsy, and that's what we get with Goodnight. She's bumbling, she stumbles, she throws herself at Bond. And Bond constantly shrugs and goes, "Women, am I right?" It's...not very good.
We get a return of the Bond film's worst forays into comedy with Sheriff J.W. Pepper, a redneck Louisiana sheriff. When he made his first appearance in Live and Let Die, it made sense, because a good chunk of that film is set in and around New Orleans. This time, though, he just happens to be on vacation in Thailand when stuff goes down, and gets dragged along with Bond on a car chase. All he really does is act all redneck and hurl racial slurs at the Thais, because that still passed for comedy in the early 70s.
But the high point...it's one redeeming quality that people still point to, is the legendary Christopher Lee as our villain, Scaramanga. Scaramanga is the best assassin in the world, and his skill with firearms earned him the name "the Man With the Golden Gun." Taking his name to heart, he started using a literal golden gun that fires golden bullets and he charges $1 million a hit. What we see in Scaramanga is the first attempt to create the anti-Bond...James Bond's exact equal, only on the side of evil. He's got the same charm, the same wit, the same taste for the finer things, but where as Bond sees killing people as a grim part of the job, Scaramanga sees it as the best part of the job. Lee, as always, is great.
The plot: Bond is told by his superiors that Scaramanga has been hired to take out Bond. This gets Bond re-assigned to desk duty, as he's now become a liability in the field. As M explains, Bond is no good to anyone if Scaramanga pops up and puts a bullet between Bond's eyes. However, with a wink and nudge from M, Bond is unofficially given the mission to get Scaramanga before Scaramanga gets Bond. Usual Bond globe-trotting exploits ensue, as Bond soon discovers that Scaramanga has set his sights on bigger things and cornering the solar energy market.
A prime example of how the film couldn't figure out its tone is a certain car stunt. Bond jumps a car over a canal, and the car does a barrel roll in mid-air. An amazing car stunt back in the day...ruined in that they chose to put a cartoony slide-whistle sound in to accompany it.
Moore and the Bond creators were still figuring out the new direction. There's some good, but not a lot.