Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)

In addition to the 007 epics I am covering for the My Favorite Era series, I will also be taking similar looks at the other entries.  Because god damn it all, I need content!

The ninth James Bond film is...Well, crap is one of the words that comes to mind.  Others like disappointment, wasted opportunity and 'For the love of all that is good and holy, why?' come to mind.  Roger Moore is back for his second outing as 007 and unlike his debut film, the light tone set up by the previous two short circuits the entire film.

The film proper pits Bond against the title character, played quite well by Christopher Lee who has a grand old time finally playing a role that doesn't require him to kill people while wearing a cape and fake fangs.  In this film,. he gets to kill people while wearing nice suits and casual beachwear.

The end result is a hilariously bad mish-mash.  Let's take a closer look at what happens when a good franchise craps the bed.
  •  First off, this is one of the few entries in the series I consider to be truly bad.  There are films in the series that I was underwhelmed by (We'll get to The World is Not Enough and Quantum of Solace soon enough), but this is one of the few that even when I saw it as a little kid I was left less than pleased.  Granted, it didn't stop me from buying the VHS and DVDs but still!
  • Actually, this was the first Bond film I ever purchased.  I'd like to think it was because it was the only one the video store had, but truth be told it more than likely wasn't.  Can you tell I'm stalling?
  • A very nice opening gun barrel logo arrangement (Oh John Barry, a pity one of your best scores comes in this piece of dung) takes us to the precredit sequence where we meet Scaramanga (Lee), his girlfriend Andrea Anders (Maud Adams) and his butler/henchman Nick Nack (Herve Villechaize).  Don't ask me why the world's greatest assassin needs a henchman, but he's got one.  I have a theory on why that I will get into later.
  • The sequence has our villain for the day hunting down a mob hitman who has been paid by Nick Nack to do his boss in,.  This is a regular thing for the duo as if Scaramanga wins, he's just had a good workout.  If not, Nick Nack gets the huge island and base Scaramanga has and all of his money.  No idea if Andrea is part of the deal, and I'm okay not ever knowing to be honest.
  • The cat and mouse game between Scaramanga and the hitman mostly takes place in a funhouse Scaramanga has in the base full of tricks and traps. Like most things in the film, it's case of of an idea that is better in concept than in execution.  It's fine to have your expert assassin keep his talents sharp and the idea of him leaving everything to his butler if he gets offed is pretty cool (if underused) but the funhouse itself is just goofy.  Not the good kind of goofy either.  The wax dummy of Bond is an interesting touch, though how the hell Scaramanga would know what he looks like is beyond me.  It just leaves the door wide open for a much better film than what we get.
  • Another issue is that the pretitle sequence is pretty much spot for spot the finale of the movie only with James Bond standing in for the hitman.  This is why sometimes it's just good to have the pretitle sequence be Bond randomly beating the hell out of a bunch of guys and blowing something up while doing outlandish stunts.
  • I do sort of enjoy the main title theme sung by Lulu.  It's not good by any stretch but given how bad things get at times, it's hardly the film's worst sin.
  • The exposition about Scaramanga is pretty good, though for some odd reason M (Bernard Lee) and the entire office staff seem to be in a really crappy mood throughout the entire film.  Come to think of it, nobody seems to be enjoying themselves here except for the villains.
  • The energy crisis subplot is really just an excuse to give the film a larger scope which to be frank, wasn't really needed.  The film could have worked just fine as a straight-up good guy vs. hired killer plot with both men chasing each other from location to location.  It actually manages to be that for a little while with Bond tracking a bullet sent to him, ostensibly by the bad guy.
  • The fight Bond gets into while looking for the bullet that Scaramanga used to allegedly kill another 00-agent is not bad, though it's also maybe the most blatantly out of nowhere excuse for some action you are likely to find.  I do like Bond basically no-selling having a bottle broken over his head though.
  • As bad as the movie can get,m Roger Moore is actually pretty damn good for the most part.  It was his second outing as 007 and while he hadn't quite made the part his own (that wouldn't happen until the next movie), he does have a few nice bits here and there.  His first scene with Andrea is good, though it is a little odd to see Moore slapping her around and threatening to break her arm.  The sequence that precedes it with Bond threatening the gunsmith who makes Scaramanga's bullets is nice too.  Moore could do the tough guy stuff when needed, it's just that in order for it to work, it has to be filtered through his own acting style.
  • For instance, the scene with Andrea works when Moore is just coldly telling her to make sure Scaramanga shows up at a club they're supposed to meet at, whereas the physical stuff proceeding it doesn't.  Moore is generally better when acting ruthless rather than actually being ruthless.
  • Before that, we meet our Bond Girl for the evening,  Mary Goodnight (Britt Ekland).  Ekland isn't bad in the role but for some ungodly reason, it was decided to make her the typical dumb blond who gets into trouble and has to be rescued on a constant basis.  It's a really, really annoying role and the only redeeming factor I can think of is that she looks amazing in a bikini.
  • The biggest problem the film has is one of tone.  The idea of Bond vs. the greatest assassin (who is also sort of like Bond in many ways) is a nicely dark one that could have made for a fun, interesting thriller but Guy Hamilton treats the whole outing like a mindless lark, throwing in mindless bits of comedy needlessly.  The solar energy plot is also awkwardly woven in, there is no good reason for Scaramanga to give a damn about the stuff that comes out of it, especially since he already gets a million dollars per hit to begin with.
  •  It's bizarre since Hamilton directed Goldfinger (generally thought to be the best of the series) and his other two outings (Diamonds are Forever and Live and Let Die) are solid if flawed. 
  • In spite of all the issues, this is still one of Christopher Lee's best acting roles.  Scaramanga is a real sick puppy, his relationship with Andrea is one of sadistic convenience and he has a cold, cool professionalism in the way he does his job that is subtly chilling.  Hamilton told the cast to play it lightly and while that doesn't work for most of the other characters in the film, it gives the villain a rather disturbingly cheerful quality that makes him more than a little psychotic.  Lee has a way of smiling that's just creepy as hell.  For the sake of his friends and family, I hope it looks better when he does it in real life.
  • Soon-Teck Oh isn't too bad as Lt. Hip who ends up helping Bond along with Goodnight.
  • Richard Loo is also pretty good as Hai Fat, Scaramanga's employer.  His meeting with Bond, posing as the killer is rather good, as is the reveal that Scaramanga has been watching all of this the entire time.
  • Bond fighting with sumo wrestlers at Hai Fat's place and then being knocked from behind by Nick Nack is an okayish bit of business, though for me its rather amusing to watch Moore fight.  In general, he tended towards a lot of kickboxing technique as opposed to Sean Connery's "punch them until they stop moving" style, which sort of makes it look like you wandered into a Jean-Claude van Damme film at times.
  • Bond's capture and subsequent imprisonment at a karate school is not too bad, though having Hip's nieces show up out of nowhere to help rescue him is just blindingly stupid.  It's really annoying because it starts out well enough with Bond beating the hell out of the school but then it just gets stupid as his rescuers just drive off without him anyway.
  • The boat chase that follows is equally problematic as it has some nice stunts that are marred by the unwelcome appearance of Clifton James as Sheriff Pepper from the previous film.  In Live and Let Die, he sort of fit as you would expect a fat redneck peace officer in the South.  Why he's on vacation in the far east is anybody's guest and to make things worse, he reappears later on.  James was sort of funny in the other film but here he's just annoying.
  • Making up for things is the great scene where Scaramanga kills Hai Fat.  It's set up well, shot well and acted to perfection.  How the hell is it that the same director was working on these scenes?  Jesus, this film is a mess!
  • The stuff with Bond and Goodnight isn't too bad as the actors have some decent chemistry.  It's superfluous as hell but still!
  • Andrea coming into the mix to reveal she sent the bullet to Bond and wants Scaramanga dead is an interesting twist that could have been handled better.  The scene is her last in the film and in a better movie, she'd be the man Bond Girl and Goodnight would be killed.  It would work a little better, give Bond a much better reason to go after Scaramanga and would add some emotional weight to the finale.
  • The meeting with Bond and Scaramanga at the kickboxing match is good as both actors are real pros and have a good dynamic with each other.  Sure things are marred by Goodnight being an idiot but it's still a decent enough scene.
  • The car chase that follows is good from a stunt work standpoint but the best stunt, an incredible barrel roll over a bridge, is destroyed by a horrible slide whistle sound effect.  I don't how the hell Sheriff Pepper being in the car Bond is driving the whole chase managed to not be the worst thing about this sequence but damn it all it isn't!  This is one of the few movies that manages to genuinely piss me off.  It's not badly made, badly acted or badly shot but holy mother of god is it badly written and thought out!
  • I will say that the flying car Scaramanga gets away in (with Goodnight as his hostage) is a neat, though still kind of dumb idea.  Honestly, by this point in the movie I just don't give enough of a damn to complain.
  • The film does get better in the last half hour once Bond gets to Scaramanga's island and meets with the man.  It's a great extended dialogue sequence that really shows what a great villain Scaramanga is, and what a half-assed effort the film he's in is.  The lunch scene is a great bit as Bond and his nemesis go back and forth with Goodnight watching silently.  I could have done without the giant laser gun but what the hell.
  • As I noted, the duel is spot for spot a recreation of the first scene which makes for a rather dull showdown.  Lee has a nice moment when he's finally shot but the ensuing pyrotechnics after Goodnight inadvertently causes the base to blow up comes off as superfluous.
  • As with the two films that before, the main bad guy is not the last one Bond had to deal with.  In this case, the film finally throws up its hands and says "We give up" as Nick Nack ambushes Bond on the boat he and Goodnight have escaped on.  Ostensibly pissed because his inheritance has just gone up in flames, the fight is a ridiculous bit of stupidity that ends with Bond scooping the little prick up in a suitcase and stringing him up in a net on the mast.
  • It's a bizarre way to end the film as the character was actually working fairly well up until that point.  Villechaize does fairly well with the part, giving the guy a sense of mystery and a little bit of menace (not really convincing to be honest but still).  Once he shows up on the boat, he's just silly and annoying.  A character who has been set up with a rather clever arrangement with his boss, to say nothing of his cooking skills, ends up looking silly in the worst way imaginable.  Actually, neither combatant looks good in the scene.  Pathetic, really.  Given that Bond has been a bit of an ass for most of the film, it would have been better for him to just shoot the little guy once the final duel has begun.
  • That being said, I do sort of get a chuckle out of the scene as it's just so stupid it comes back around to being good.   Hell, even when I first saw this as a kid I was thinking "This isn't really a good way to end this movie".  You know your film is in trouble when a nine year old is legitimately questioning your artistic choices.  On the flip side, for years it was the only thing I remembered about the film so there is that.
The ninth James Bond film is 125 minutes of pure wasted opportunity.   Moore and :Lee are good but they are lost in a sea of bad comedy, bad action beats and some truly atrocious decisions that end up making this one of the worst Bond films.  That being said, the worst Bond film is still better than most of the crummy action films put out so it gets a very generous 6/10.

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About Me

I've been a huge fan of action, horror and comedy for as long as I can remember.