Cast: Roger Moore, Christopher Lee, Britt Ekland, Maud Adams, Soon Taik Oh, Herve Villechaize,
Clifton James, Bernard Lee, Desmond Llewelyn, Lois Maxwell
Director: Guy Hamilton
Producers: Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman
Screenplay: Richard Maibaum and Tom Mankiewicz based on the novel by Ian Fleming
Cinematography: Ted Moore and Oswald Morris
Music: John Barry
U.S. Distributor: United Artists
Few will argue that The Man with the Golden Gun is the silliest of all the James Bond motion pictures (Casino Royale excepted). From the return appearance of Sheriff J.W. Pepper (Clifton Davis) to the ridiculous martial arts fight where two schoolgirls best dozens (while Bond stands by and looks amused), this 007 adventure consistently skirts self-parody. Yet, after the dreariness of Live and Let Die, the upbeat change-of-pace is refreshing. And, while million-dollar-a-shot hitman Scaramanga (Christopher Lee) isn't a typical Bond villain, he's closer than anyone from the previous film.
This is Roger Moore's second outing as Bond (and the ninth film in the series), and, while he still hasn't fully grown into the role (that doesn't happen until The Spy Who Loved Me), he's more comfortable here than in Live and Let Die, showing signs of a unique characterization. All the regular supporting players are back: the humorless M (Bernard Lee), the crusty Q (Desmond Llewelyn), and the ever-faithful Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell, starting to look a little too old to engage in playful sex jokes with Bond).
The Man with the Golden Gun has two parallel plots that eventually dovetail into one. The main story deals with Bond's attempts to find ace hitman Scaramanga before the elusive assassin fires a bullet with "007" on it. Meanwhile, Scaramanga and the British government are both in pursuit of a vital component for a solar energy converter. Hundreds of millions of dollars are at stake, since whoever builds this converter will have carte blanche where solar power is concerned. (Remember that this movie was released in the midst of the '70s energy crisis, when a worldwide push for alternative energy methods was underway.)
Christopher Lee, the consummate bad guy from Hammer's horror films (he was always the monster opposite Peter Cushing's protagonist), infuses Scaramanga with a sinister demeanor. In fact, although The Man with the Golden Gun is overflowing with campiness, Lee never participates. Scaramanga is played straight: an egotistical hermit who kills for sport and harbors a secret admiration for 007.
There are two Bond girls: Britt Ekland as Mary Goodnight, 007's inept assistant, and Maud Adams as Andrea, Scaramanga's mistress. Herve Villechaize ("The plane! The plane!") is on hand as Nick Nack, right-hand man to Scaramanga. Soon Taik Oh is Hip, Bond's local contact (this film's Felix Leiter role). Clifton James makes an encore appearance as the buffoon J.W. Pepper, this time vacationing in the Far East. He joins Bond in one of the film's best sequences, a spectacular car chase that ends with Scaramanga literally flying away.
Rarely does The Man with the Golden Gun take anything seriously. Mary Goodnight is as clumsy as they come. Pepper and Nick Nack are cartoonish. There are more jokes-per-minute than in any other Bond film. Even John Barry's score is less earnest than usual, and the opening song is ridiculous. Regardless, and despite an unnecessarily protracted denouement that had me wondering if the film was ever going to end, The Man with the Golden Gun is still fun. It's about as far from Ian Fleming's vision of the superspy as the filmed interpretations have ever gotten, but for those who expect light, totally-unbelievable escapism, this movie does its part. Yes, it's a weak entry in the series, but there's enough good, totally silly stuff here to keep it from the absolute bottom. The Man with the Golden Gun certainly isn't worth $1 million, but it's fine for the price of a video rental.
© 1996 James Berardinelli