License to Review #9: The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)

James Bond will return to cinemas this November with his twenty-fifth adventure, No Time to Die. In preparation, David Alkhed will take a look at all the previous entries in the franchise and see which ones are deserving of praise (shaken) and which ones aren’t (stirred).

There is a tendency amongst the James Bond films to reflect the times in which they were made, but not just socially or politically but also cinematically. What is hip at the time the movies are made or socially relevant have a strong chance of finding their way into the script, and that is the case with The Man with the Golden Gun, taking inspiration from the 1973 energy crisis, and also the rising popularity of the emerging kung-fu genre, although the latter isn’t as major a component to the film as the blaxploitation-influence was in Live and Let Die.

Christopher Lee appears as the titular man with the golden gun Scaramanga, an expensive assassin known for his usage of gold bullets and a golden gun (and having a third nipple) who is somehow at the center of a sun-harnessing device that will be used for evil shenanigans, because what else? Anyways James Bond must go and stop him.

So the general consensus on The Man with the Golden Gun seems rather muted, or at least not as clear-cut as say Goldfinger or Diamonds Are Forever in terms of universal praise and derision, so I wasn’t sure what to expect from the film. But to my surprise, I rather enjoyed it, although it’s definitely not without flaws.

But let’s start with the good stuff, because overall I rather like this film. First of all, Christopher Lee is to the surprise of no one, great as Scaramanga and easily one of the best actors to portray a Bond villain. Lee brings his usual authority with his iconic voice and posture and he becomes an interesting opponent to Bond. I also rather like the theme song performed by Lulu, and even enjoyed the seventies-infused guitar sounds throughout it. It’s catchy, eye-popping and fast-paced. I also like Guy Hamilton’s direction of the action scenes, not only the physicality of the boat chase but also the relative silence and more suspense-oriented moments like the climactic duel with Scaramanga on his island or the opening pre-credit sequence establishing Scaramanga. Those are very well-done and well-handled. There’s also some decent ounces of humor that actually land and don’t just fall horrifically flat (there are some that do of course, but the majority of them actually land so that’s something).

That said, there is a lot of bad stuff in this one too. Moore is growing on me but he still strikes me as somewhat uneasy and uncomfortable in the role of Bond. I’ll give him one or two more Bonds before I make up my mind of what I think of him overall as Bond, but for now I’m mostly mixed. There are also other elements that bother me, namely the naming of the Bond girls. I personally thought Plenty O’Toole and Pussy Galore would be the true low-points in terms of Bond girls names, but this film contains not one but two of the worst so far. Mary Goodnight may not be too bad (but it’s not good either) but the worst of them all by far is Chew Mee. Like, how is it possible to get a worse name than that? That’s not even some subtle innuendo or funny, it’s just so stupid and the kind of name I would expect from Austin Powers and not James Bond. This film does also continue the clumsy klutz-mentality of some of the latest Bond films in its depictions of the Bond girls which is honestly just tiring at this point.

Also, why for the love of motherfucking Christ, did they bring back Sheriff J.W. Pepper? Did they really think he was so funny they just had to bring him back for the sequel? The minute he appeared and continued with his racist shenanigans I wish he could die a violent death so we could get rid of him once and for all, but luckily this was the last appearance of the character so that’s good.

So The Man with the Golden Gun could be seen as something of a mixed bag, with Moore still uneasy in the part, some horrific character names yet a strong villain, a good song and exciting action scenes. In the end I think this is ultimately a mid-tier Bond film, but it’s decent enough so it is most certainly shaken.

James Bond will return in The Spy Who Loved Me, and if you disagree with me in this review I will bring out my own golden gun, bring you out to my private island in the South China Sea and challenge you to a duel.


Published by davidalkhed

Co-creator, critic and columnist for A Fistful of Film.

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