Film discussion

James Bond – The Road to Bond 25, Part Ten: The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)

EON’s two producers were very different men.  Were it not for the fact that they’d had a shared interest in bringing James Bond to the screen, it’s unlikely they’d have been friends.  By 1974, cracks were showing.  They were taking turns acting as lead producer on each film – an arrangement that had been in place for a while.  Harry Saltzman led on Live and Let Die, whilst Cubby Broccoli took the reigns for The Man with the Golden Gun.  Another key difference was that of ambition.  Cubby lived for making Bond films, and was happy for that to be his sole pursuit.  Harry was a different story: he had interests outside of the series, producing on the Harry Palmer films – such as The Ipcress File, along with other films, such as 1969’s Guy Hamilton-directed Battle of Britain.

All of this was well and good while things were going well.  Saltzman had borrowed 70 million Swiss Francs from the Union Bank of Switzerland in the late-60s, however, defaulting on the interest payments in the early-70s.  Now he needed money, and fast: and the biggest asset he owned was EON.  For this reason – and we’ll reveal how the ownership issue was resolved next time – The Man with the Golden Gun is the last film to bear credits for both Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman: from next time out, Cubby would be going it alone.

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The Man with the Golden Gun sees MI6 receive a golden bullet marked “007”.  The bullet appears to be a threat from legendary assassin Francisco Scaramanga (Christopher Lee).  The infamous killer has never been captured on camera, and all that is known of him is that he has the physical blemish of a third nipple, he charges $1 million for each kill, and he bears the moniker “The Man with the Golden Gun”.  M responds to the intimidation by relieving Bond from his duties centering on the work of a man who believes he may be able to solve the energy crisis with solar power.  It’s tacitly understood that Bond will then investigate Scaramanga under the radar.

In the course of an investigation that takes Bond to Beirut, Hong Kong, Bangkok and finally, Scaramanga’s private island off the coast of Thailand, James sees the assassin kill the scientist – Gibson – working on the solar solution, steal his work (the solex agitator), which he plans to sell to the highest bidder.  This is not exactly the most inspired of villainous plots.  Bond, aided by Scaramanga’s mistress, Andrea Anders (Maud Adams) and his assistant Mary Goodnight (Britt Ekland) must work to thwart… well the film is muddled as hell, so we’ll just say Scaramanga’s evil plot.  The fact the Scaramanga is dead long before the plot is thwarted really doesn’t help matters.

The Man with the Golden Gun is a mess.  In part, this is because, effectively, it’s two films in one, and only one of those is particularly interesting.  Bond having to face off against someone representing, essentially, the dark side of him – Bond being an accomplished killer himself – where the talent employed is in service of greed, rather than for Queen and Country, is at least potentially interesting (long before the whole bad guy being a mirror to the good guy became a cliché).  Christopher Lee makes for an intimidating, yet cerebral presence; and his life on a private island with butler/assistant Nick Nack (Hervé Villechaize) should all add up to making this one of the most distinctive films in the series.  The problem is that Christopher Lee is really hardly in this film at all.

Added to this, his threat to Bond wasn’t a threat at all: it was orchestrated by his unhappy mistress, Anders, who was hoping simply to provoke Bond and MI6 into killing her man.  This is a plot point that is consistent with the rest of the film, but it’s not remotely as interesting as had Bond found himself hunted by a legendary assassin, but with no idea why: that this is the story we believe, throughout Act One, that we are getting makes this all the more disappointing.  In fact, Scaramanga has no interest in Bond at all, until Bond gets involved with his interests with the solex agitator.  To tease a villain only to reveal he has no interest in our protagonist is utterly bizarre.

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So, this leaves the solar energy plot.  It makes no sense why a successful and wealthy hitman would have any interest in this.  It’s not entirely clear why Bond was assigned to this area in the first place, and the whole thing is a complete muddle from a series that is simply casting around for ideas amongst the stories and trends of the day.  This can also be seen in a martial arts sequence being crammed in out of nowhere.  Watching Roger Moore in his outfit, complete with white belt, is unintentionally hilarious.  As this is the ninth entry in the series, however, such a lack of inspiration would have been worrying, as it feels – only one entry on from such a fresh relaunch with Roger – like a series running on fumes.

Just as worrying was the lack of attention to detail in the filmmaking.  Guy Hamilton had been responsible, by this point, for two excellent entries in Goldfinger and Live and Let Die.  His efforts here are as sloppy, however, as his work on Diamonds Are Forever.  Action sequences are uninspired, and fluffed takes – such as Bond reaching out for Goodnight’s hand only to find it not there and Nick Nack throwing wine bottles where the glass (sugar glass, of course) had already started to break – make it into the film.  It is also an ugly production – an incredible achievement, of sorts, given the beautiful locations involved.  Roger is dressed drably, the colour palette is rather brown, and it all looks… tired.  Even John Barry seemed to have misplaced his mojo this time out (and wherever he put it, it definitely wasn’t with Lulu, whose breathy, frantic title song is one of the least inspired in the series).  His decision to add a slide whistle sound effect to an extraordinary corkscrew car stunt is inexplicable to this day.  That this stunt was accompanied by the garbled rantings of returning comedy racist Sheriff JW Pepper (Clifton James) is mind-blowing, and reflective of the whole tone of, and approach to, these films needing an overhaul.

Bond’s character is completely ill-suited to the actor here.  After a debut that had somewhat highlighted the differences between Roger and his predecessors, this film seems to be trying to make him like Diamonds Are Forever-era Sean Connery.  The character seems to revel in treating his female counterparts (who are, admittedly, written as spectacularly dim: a problem that occasionally rears its head in Roger’s run) as idiots.  There’s also a terribly ill-judged scene where Bond threatens to break Anders’ arm.  Leaving aside the argument that we shouldn’t be seeing this at all by 1974, Roger Moore is one of the last actors to whom such behaviour is suited.  He was uncomfortable filming this, and it shows.  Sean Connery may just have got away with it.

The Man with the Golden Gun took $97.6 million worldwide.  It is the last film in the series to take under $100 million – no other entry even threatened to fall under that figure.  Given the enormous box office last time out, clearly something had gone very wrong.  Perhaps it was rushed; or maybe it was the fact that, once again, the film had been budgeted at $7 million.  Our globe trotting secret agent was now looking, increasingly, like he was on the economy tour.  With such a sharp decrease in box office, however, would the now-solo Cubby Broccoli be able to justify a larger investment?  It would take three years, but in the Queen’s Silver Jubilee year, EON would really roll the dice.  Cubby was about to change the writing team, replace the director, double the budget, and, finally, let Roger be Roger.  The Bond series was about to take a gamble.

The Road to Bond 25 will return with The Spy Who Loved Me (1977).

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