Serial, Super Serial: The Man with the Golden Gun

Showdown

Super Serial aims to dissect series of pop art — be it a filmography, discography or run of comics — by looking at its individual components.

Guy Hamilton’s 1974 The Man with the Golden Gun is an unremarkable yet enjoyable film where it feels like every Bond cliche finally clicks into place. From the film’s sequence of scenes to its villain and Bond Girls, this is the first film that has really felt explicitly formula to me. That, of course, is mildly frustrating, but you can tell that the screenwriters, director and actors all know the game they’re in and play it full tilt. Basically, if this post seems incredibly generic, don’t blame me, blame the film.

This is partly because The Man with the Golden Gun doesn’t live outside its genre like the previous two films, a slapstick comedy and a blaxploitation film. That’s not to say it doesn’t try, though, as there are a few scenes in the film that try to ape the martial arts film craze of the ‘70s — very unsuccessfully, I might add. The martial arts sequences don’t have much pull in the overall plot of the film, so it doesn’t feel like it’s trying to wholly live in that genre.

Just because everything here’s recognizable doesn’t mean that there aren’t some surprises, as The Man with the Golden Gun works hard to create mysteries that play out by its end. Looking through my notes of the film, there are many instances where I’ve written something down that totally changes by the end of the film as we learn more about certain situations and perspectives. Most of these mysteries end up conforming with the generic functions of the series, reversing some of the uniqueness of particular characters — but we’ll get into that later.

[Bond, James Bond]

I don’t mean to suggest that Roger Moore’s Bond is anything close to gritty, but his take seems messier than Connery’s. Perhaps due to his apparent lack of physical prowess, Moore’s Bond fights dirty when in hand-to-hand combat. We see this on multiple occasions, especially in the scenes that mimic martial arts films.

Bond also plays dirty with the ladies, not afraid to rough a girl up for information. We’ve seen previous films show this side of Bond, as well, so it’s not new, but it’s still a little shocking when he physically threatens a woman. Similarly, we see Bond bribe a boy to help him start his boat, but once he has what he needs, instead of paying up, he tosses the boy overboard. I’m not sure if moments like this are supposed to be playing at comedy, but they totally miss, leaving behind an undesirable meanness.

[The Mission]

Our mission starts off a little differently than most, as it’s kick-started by our villain, who’s out to get Bond. In From Russia with Love, we had a similar situation, when SPECTRE tried to lure Bond out by setting a trap. Here, we don’t learn of any major world domination plot until more than halfway through the film — instead, the villain directly threatens Bond, so MI6 takes him off his current case to sniff out the mysterious assassin.

Like other missions, we don’t know exactly where to start, as the villain Scaramanga is set up to be someone that no one knows anything about — apart from the fact that he has a third nipple. Improbable leads put Bond on Scaramanga’s trail quickly, going from exotic Beirut to even more exotic Hong Kong to even more exotic Thailand. Here, the locales play into some of the things the film does unsuccessfully with its genre, but are otherwise little else than another exotic backdrop that Bond hasn’t been to yet.

Once Bond’s in Thailand and firmly on the villain’s tail, we learn that there’s more to Scaramanga’s villainy than meets the eye. He isn’t just an assassin trying to kill Bond (facts around this point are in fact major parts of the series of twists the film presents), but also a megalomaniac villain trying to harness the power of the sun to create a super gun. From what I’ve read, an energy crisis was a major news story at the time, so this film has the distinction of being ripped from the headlines. Having major plot points center around solar energy should still feel relevant today, but these points are glossed over fairly easily.

[The Villains]

Where The Man with the Golden Gun is most watchable is with its notable villains. First, we have the great villainous actor Christopher Lee playing the eponymous assassin out to kill Bond. With an absurd backstory of a carnival kid who grew to loves guns more than anything, he trained himself to become one of the most expensive and dangerous assassins in the world, with a one million dollar fee and the need for only one bullet. Like “Red” Grant, one of my favorite Bond villains, Francisco Scaramanga is a man of action and Bond’s equal in most every way. But, as I mentioned previously, with one of the major twists being that Scaramanga is actually concerned with world domination, he fits somewhere between Grant and every other villain we’ve seen. It’s a bit of a cop out for the character, but we still understand his danger to Bond and this provides for a pretty good showdown by the end. Even if the character isn’t as campy as others, he’s notable given the performance of Lee, who has more chops than most any other actor in the series.

Scaramanga is assisted by one of the more interesting henchmen of the series, Nick Nack, played Hervé Villechaize, who is perhaps best known as Tattoo on the short-running Fantasy Island series in the 1970s. I have read some criticism online calling Nick Nack one of the worst Bond villains, which is surprising to me, because I genuinely liked the performance. Yes, the role is extraordinarily campy; it’s tough to buy a little person in a suit as an actual physical threat to Bond. I saw more layers in the character than just that, though, and thought he was one of the more cunning villains Bond has encountered.

[The Bond Girls]

Unlike the villains, the Bond Girls are perhaps the weakest part relative to their series counterparts. Anyone who has ever watched the British TV comedy Coupling knows that Britt Eklund is a natural fit for a Bond Girl — and she certainly looks the part. Mary Goodnight, though, just isn’t a character worthy of the actress. The film does try to do something a little differently with her, making her the unlucky girl who desires Bond but can never consummate that love. She also has an unseen history with Bond, which adds something to their lack of physical contact until the very end.

Although these differences provide an interesting context, the film tries to have it both ways. Britt Eklund is undeniably attractive, and the film goes to cheap antics to show her off in a bikini, which she wears in most of the film. So why, then, does Bond have such a distaste for her — especially when he doesn’t have any aversions to any other woman put in his way? On multiple occasions, Bond shuns her advances for work or another woman, including a very strange scene where Bond puts her in his closet so he can seduce another woman. Perhaps to make her less attractive, the film mostly just portrays her as a ditzy blond, another under-qualified agent who’s really bad at her job. I think a lot of her character’s missteps are attempts at comic relief, but they fall flat.

Filling the shoes of the more villainous Bond Girl who is inevitably killed half-way through is Maud Adams as Andrea Anders, the mistress of Scaramanga and the character who really propels the plot forward. She really doesn’t have any notable traits — she’s a very standard Bond Girl who’s close to the villain and trapped by his evil. Like many before her, she wants out of evildom but fears for her safety because she knows too much. Same as Goodnight, she isn’t exotic, making this one of the only films so far without a girl from another culture. That might tie into some of the blandness of these girls.

[The Gadgets]

Here is a strange category for this Bond film, considering Bond doesn’t have much use of gadgets, but his villains displays quite an array. The most important, of course, is the golden gun used by Scaramanga. The gun has a unique an iconic design — it looks enough like a gun to register as a gun, but also different enough to stand out. Like a sniper rifle, it’s assembled from three parts and holds one gold bullet that proves to be devastating to anyone shot by it. The mystique of the gun mirrors Scaramanga’s incredible marksmanship. There is a second minor gadget employed by Scaramanga when he attaches wings to his car, making it into an airplane. There’s a funny joke here when Q remarks that MI6 has been working on something similar, clearly behind the curve of the deadly assassin.

[The Song]

“The Man with the Golden Gun” starts off with a bang, loud and brash in what sounds like two different soundtracks played over one another. Sung by Lulu, this one doesn’t do anything for me — outside of weirdly on-the-nose lyrics, it’s incredibly forgettable.

“He has a powerful weapon
He charges a million a shot,
An assassin that’s second to none,
The man with the golden gun.

His eye may be on you or me.
Who will he bang?
We shall see. Oh yeah!”

In the closing credits version of the song, the lyrics shift from Scaramanga to Bond, but keeps the double entendres about “golden guns.”

[Random Thoughts]

- The film begins with one of the series’ more memorable opening scenes, where we see Scaramanga’s mansion inexplicably turn into a funhouse. Without any context during the opening scene, not knowing anything about the villain or where we are, it plays as ridiculously campy. It comes back at the end, though, with probably the most memorable showdown yet.

- I’m still confused whether the “golden gun” is supposed to be a metaphor for a golden penis.

- Bond has an encyclopedic knowledge of circus performers.

- If Bond knows so much about Scaramanga, especially that he has a third nipple, why doesn’t anyone know what he looks like?

- There’s a minor Bond Girl in Hong Kong named Chew Mee. Seriously. Rivals Pussy Galore.

- Scaramanga loves gold so much, he even has gold teeth. Wait, never mind, they’re just extremely yellow.

- I thought sumo was supposed to be Japanese — why are there random sumo wrestlers in Hong Kong?

- It really makes sense to ape the martial arts craze, but only if the action is convincing. Here, to put it nicely, it is not.

- Golden Gun gives us a rare occurrence of a minor character appearing in a second film. Sadly, this is J.W. Pepper, the Louisiana cop that was so very “enjoyable” in Live and Let Die. There’s absolutely no good reason why Pepper should be in this film — it’s obvious that he’s written in for comic relief. It’s shocking that the producers decided THIS was a character that needed more screen time.

- If J.W. is as much a racist as his dialogue would suggest, why did he choose to travel to Thailand for a vacation? I think the state of Louisiana should be legally obligated to keep him within state lines.

- A telling bit of dialogue from Scaramanga: “Forget the girl, she’s replaceable.” He seems to realize the formula here.

- Why does Reggie Jackson play one of Scaramanga’s henchmen?

- I am genuinely surprised that Bond doesn’t make any Bangkok jokes. Seems like a lost opportunity.

SERIAL, SUPER SERIAL will return in THE SPY WHO LOVED ME.

 

tags: guy hamilton, james bond, super serial, the man with the golden gun

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