More noise than signal

The Man With The Golden Gun

We should start at the start of The Man With The Golden Gun, or at the very least close to the start of it, with a few words about the theme tune that the poor, unsuspecting Lulu was lured into singing. If there’s a worse theme tune, or one with more asinine lyrics, I have yet to experience it. It sounds something like an alien might imagine a Bond theme would sound like, were you only able to communicate the concept of music through a series of rudimentary clicks and whistles, but the lyrics are more akin to a plot recap for the hard of thinking. It’s only very marginally better written than “There’s a man with a gun, and it’s golden, and he kills people, lala la lala”. Now, Bond themes might not traditionally be the deepest, soul-rending explorations of the human condition, but they often have a little more mystery and soul than just describing, in broad terms, that this is a film about a man who shoots people.

Or indeed two people who shoot people. Roger Moore’s Bond may be officially licensed by Her Majesties’ Government to go about busting caps in evil’s collective ass, but this film is concerned with the world’s most prestigious and expensive assassin, “San” Francisco Scaramanga (Christopher Lee). In retrospect the only surprise about perennial villain Lee appearing in the Bond series is that it took so long. It is brought to the attention of HMSS that a contract is out on Bond, a not-so-subtle warning being sent in the form of a golden bullet with 007 engraved on it. Pulling Bond off his current mission, tracking down a missing solar power expert and his revolutionary efficiency enhancing McGuffin, M gives Bond tacit permission to go off and get shot of Scaramanga before Scaramanga shoots him.

It’s funny how intelligence gathering works. Although, as M says, nobody knows where Scaramanga is, or what he looks like, but somehow we do know he has a third, superfluous nipple. Although one could argue that all the nipples on a man are superfluous. The point being that there’s no solid leads on how to get hold of Scaramanga, which must make hiring him difficult, let alone killing him. However, Bond has a solid lead on the maker of the hand crafted custom ammo that Scaramanga uses, and from there on it’s just a matter of shaking the right trees until Scaramanga’s island base drops out. Not literally, obviously. In accordance with Chekhov’s gun, Scaramanga is tied up with a firm of Thai engineers who are, I suppose, evil, although in no particularly well described fashion, other than trying to get their mitts on that there solar power gizmo.

I had remembered The Man With The Golden Gun quite fondly, which rather goes to show how tricky this whole memory thing can be. This really isn’t a good film, although as I believe some people do with On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, if you cherry pick the more successful and interesting elements from the movie and fill in the remainder with something a shade less ridiculous you can imagine a very good film. Sadly, in the boring old conventional reality my doctors tell me I’m supposed to be dealing with, this film kinda sucks.

Generally, a Bond film is only as good as the bad guy Bond’s facing. You could argue that The Man With The Golden Gun has as good a chance as any to be one of the best Bonds. The idea of Scaramanga, mysterious hitman, and Bond’s nominal equal sounds like a far surer recipe for success than, say, a jive-talkin’ voodoo-backed island President. Taken in isolation, Scaramanga has all the hallmarks of a great Bond character and Lee delivers his role convincingly, with the self-assurance of someone who knows he’s at the top of his game.

The problem is, we’ve only really got his word for it. Scaramanga says he’s the best. Everyone agrees that he’s the best. We are continually told that Scaramanga is a very credible threat. However, we’re never at any point shown why he’s the best hitman around. We’ve only got one straight shot from across a deserted road, some ridiculous tomfoolery in Scaramanga’s private house of mirrors and an expensive taste in munitions to back it up, none of which really passes muster. Show, don’t tell, is as old a canard as you could care to bust out, but it’s no less appropriate in this instance.

Moore looks comfortable in his second outing as Bond. It seems I don’t loathe Moore’s interpretation of Bond as much as my addled memory would have had me believe at the start of this endeavour, I just find him remarkably bland. Still, at least this storyline plays more to the smooth, sophisticated side of this new Bond, which works reasonably well. While I don’t find Moore as convincing as Connery in action sequences, We should all be thankful he’s not flailing around like Lazenby’s drunken marionette impersonation.

So, it’s not that there aren’t some good elements in The Man With The Golden Gun. Sadly, they are weighed down by some dreadful decisions to arbitrarily play for laughs, which undermines any dramatic tension it could be building. This should be a tense cat and mouse game with a legendary assassin, not a borderline sexist double act with Britt Ekland’s bumbling, incompetent secret agent whose only plot function appears to be enabling a damsel in distress act for the last half hour, and indeed giving an excuse for the last half hour to exist at all. Had she displayed even a borderline level of competency, Bond would back in the hotel with tea and crumpets just after first meeting Scaramanga.

There’s just too much stupid on display to take the film seriously. Scaramanga ought to be an imposing figure by sheer dint of his reputation, but it’s difficult to take him all that seriously when he’s carting around a comedy dwarf manservant called Nick Nack (HervĂ© Villechaize). There’s a few chases that ought to be exciting, but thanks to the entirely unwelcome, inexplicably coincidental return of Clifton James as walking Deep South U.S.A. stereotype Sheriff J.W. Pepper, they instead become teeth-grindingly irritating.

Still, if The Man With The Golden Gun has taught me anything, it’s that the most time effective way to become CEO of a large multi-national company is to shoot the previous chairman. I assumed there would be more paperwork to fill in, perhaps some Board approval or regulatory oversight. No, here at least, promotion is by dead man’s boots.

I’ve seen it mentioned somewhere that Scaramanga is the best Bond villain stuck in the worst Bond movie. That’s wrong on both counts, but I can see where they’re coming from. I still can’t bring myself to outright dislike The Man With The Golden Gun, but there’s certainly a number of things to hate in there. Idiotic sidekicks, idiotic returning characters and the single most idiotic sound effect in Bond car stunt history as they execute the otherwise impressive corkscrew river jump.

There’s certainly far worse movies that The Man With The Golden Gun, and there’s certainly far worse Bond movies than The Man With The Golden Gun. In the cold light of day, it’s just such a frustrating film to watch. There’s very nearly something great hiding underneath the layers of obfusticated idiocy. Ultimately, it’s not a entry in the franchise I can recommend as anything other than homework for those who like constructing a better film in their heads than is actually played on screen.

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