March 18, 2013

The Man With The Golden Gun (Bond #09) [Bond 50 BluRay Set]

1974's The Man With The Golden Gun is the ninth "official" James Bond movie produced by EON productions, and the 2nd one starring Roger Moore as Bond.

Following 71's Diamonds Are Forever and 73's Live And Let Die, it's the last of three movies in a row that were directed by Guy Hamilton (who had also made Goldfinger earlier) and which had at least been co-written by Tom Mankiewicz. Neither would be credited on a Bond movie again (although Mankiewicz would do uncredited work), nor would long-time Bond producer Harry Saltzman, whose financial trouble ultimately forced him to sell his stake in the franchise to United Artists. This cemented Saltzman's status as the "Art Garfunkel" of James Bond producers, and left his old partner Albert "Cubby" Broccoli to continue producing the franchise solo.

My judgement is unclear when it comes this movie, honestly... It's the Bond picture I've probably seen the most, and my sister Lis and I have spent many an hour laughing about how cheesy it is.

Before I started watching all the Bond movies in a row like this (many of which I'm seeing for the first time, actually), I might have cited Golden Gun as one of the ones I got the most pleasure out of watching. In sequence, however, it's clear to me that it marks something of a step-down for the series in that the plotting feels a little slapped together, some of the story devices begin to feel routine and recycled, and the increased presence of all the campy humor that would define the Moore era already starts to feel like it is undercutting the "spy / thriller" stuff a bit.

That said, it will probably stay high up on my "guilty pleasure" list. One of foremost reasons is the always-awesome Christopher Lee as the film's title character, the devilishly hammy Francisco Scaramanga aka The Man With The Golden Gun. The hokey main title song performed by Lulu succinctly tells us all we need to know:

He's got a powerful weapon...
He charges a million a SHOT!
An assassin who's second to none:
The Man With The Golden Gu-huuuuuuun!

The other cast member that needs to be mentioned is future "Fantasy Island" superstar HervĂ© Villechaize as the diminutively named Nick-Nack. Even when I was a kid in the 80s, I remember being told that "midget" is a pretty derogatory term, and a much more polite thing to say is "little person." I guess that memo hadn't really circulated in 1974 as the "m-word" is fired off 8 or 9 times throughout the film, most memorably when Bond issues the steely threat, "You know I've never shot a midget before… but there's a first time for everything!" Classy.

Moore's performance as Bond is more cold-hearted and icy this time in addition to feeling a little cheesier as well... And of course, Bond's sex addiction continues to rage on. An early scene demonstrating all of these traits is the one where he slaps around the fetching Maud Adams, playing Scaramanga's errand girl / lover Andrea, in an attempt to get information from her… and then he turns on a dime and lures her into a quick roll in the hay before she has to get back to her boss.

Similarly, Britt Ekland plays an MI6 agent named Mary Goodnight, stationed in Hong Kong, who partners with Bond for much of the film. She's desperate to make sweet love to the famous 007, but he sadistically alternates between making suggestive comments about the tawdry things he's about to do to her and then treating her with cruel contempt, as if she's the dumbest character in the movie (which, to be fair, she kind of is). In other scenes, Bond punches a Thai kid knocking him into the water during a boat chase, and toward the end of the picture, he locks Villechaize up in a suitcase and threatens to throw him into the ocean.

Anyway, there's a lot of bullshit in the middle about this amazing solar energy device that can also be used to create a powerful laser. Scaramanga seems to think he can get really rich off it somehow, and then retire from killing people, I guess, even though he has a big speech earlier about how much he loves killing. They don't really do much with the "laser" part of this, except that Scaramanga uses it to blow up Bond's sea plane before the big showdown at the end. Maybe his plan is to somehow get important people from the rest of the world to come to his secret Chinese island and stand in the extremely limited pathway of his solar powered laser (that needs to be connected to a massive processing facility in order to function) and then somehow get them to give him a lot of money? Bond kills him before any of those details can be worked out, so I guess it doesn't matter.

The story is quite slim beyond that. I remember thinking that Live And Let Die felt a bit streamlined relative to its predecessors, but at least that film had levels and stakes that were raised throughout. I can't say the same for Golden Gun. So little is invested in the solar energy plot that it's tough to care about it. At the beginning of the movie, Bond is looking for a missing solar energy scientist before M reassigns him to track down Scaramanga, but when those two story points intersect much later, it's not much of an "ah-ha!" moment, nor is it especially intriguing… Certainly, it's not as much of a shock as finding out in the 2nd half of Diamonds Are Forever that Blofeld is still alive and behind everything. The trivia section of the IMDB tells me that indeed there was an energy crisis in the UK at the time, so I guess the solar energy plot was semi-topical, at least.

Also on this island, Scaramanga has built some kind of funhouse complete with a mirrored hallway and western saloon street for no clear reason. The picture opens with a scene where Nick-Nack lures a stereotypical American gangster who is still dressed like it's the 1940s into the funhouse so Scaramanga can kill him for sport. Naturally, the big finale at the end takes place in the same spot. But why is any of that there in the first place? It's a remote island in the north China sea, for Christsake. I can accept that all these bad guys have secret underground layers in many of these movies, but at least there was an aspect of practicality before... If you're building a doomsday device to threaten the world, say in a volcano or something, it goes to follow that you'll be spending many months there, so you might as well have all the contractors make a nice bedroom or maybe a lounge for you while they're at it. The inclusion of something so purposeless as a saloon facade in this movie kinda helps exaggerate everything into farce.

Yet another benefit of watching all these movies in order, though, is that I recognized the gangster from the beginning of the movie as also having been one of the mafia thugs from Diamonds Are Forever two movies earlier. Not sure if he's supposed to be the same character or not, but he's wearing the same costume. This isn't an earth shattering revelation or anything, but it's a kind of cool bit of connective tissue, much like how the character who drives the boat for Bond in the previous movie, Live And Let Die, is Quarrel Jr. - son of the character who drove the boat for Bond in Dr. No 11 years before.

Oh, and redneck sheriff J.W. Pepper from the last movie is implausibly back, now on vacation with his wife in Thailand. He seems to despise both the country and its people, referring to the locals as "pointy-heads" frequently. Not sure what that means, but let's just assume that it's incredibly racist. He's given a couple scenes, really… one where he sees Bond driving a river boat, and another where he's test-driving a car (wait - is Pepper really going to buy a car in Thailand?), only to have Bond commandeer it and take him on a wild chase. Again, I thought his scenes in the previous movie brought the film's momentum to a screeching halt… he doesn't cripple this film like he did the last one, but it really feels like shameless pandering, and it's yet another example of this movie doing things that make no sense at all, which accordingly hurt the overall credibility.

Other random observations:

-The movie's signature stunt, where Bond and sheriff Pepper corkscrew their AMC over a river using a broken bridge, is so damn cool. In this age of digital effects, you really forget how thrilling it might have been to see something like that in a movie, knowing that there was no possible way it could be faked.

-Lots of martial arts in this one, in part to capitalize on the Bruce Lee craze of the time. Moore really looks stiff, awkward and unconvincing when using "judo" to take out baddies.

-Scaramanga has a third nipple, complete with a big John Barry musical sting when you first see it. Ridiculous.

-Scaramanga also has a scene where he and Nick-Nack drive into a barn and convert their 70s car into something that has wings and can fly, presumably back to their island in the north China sea. It seems to take them 10-15 minutes to convert everything and they clearly had additional hardware hidden in the barn that needed to be bolted onto the car before it could take off, all of which makes me seriously question the usefulness of having a car that can do that at all. Why not take a small plane into Thailand, then rent a car when you get there?

-Moneypenny is really starting to look old, and her flirting with Bond is already a bit creepy. Both she and Moore would stick around for 11 more years and five more movies… I'm starting to regret watching the movies in high definition. Moore's face is leathery enough in this, his second outing.

-At the beginning of the movie, when Bond is asked what he knows about Scaramanga, he has a preposterously long speech where he rattles off his entire biography from memory. Previous films have used these equivalent scenes for comic effect as well, but The Man With The Golden Gun really took it into cartoon territory. A sign of things to come...

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