Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Man With the Golden Gun

There aren't many movies that are confident enough to open with a sequence that flaunts a character's superfluous third nipple.  Aside from possibly Total Recall (for obvious paper mache reasons), The Man With the Golden Gun is in a non-pornographic class of its own.  This is the ninth overall film in the James Bond franchise, but only the second with Roger Moore as the titular hero.  That's not to say that Moore was young --- he was 47 when this was released --- but he was still finding his voice for the character.  Hey,'s a hint: be awesome!

British secret agent James Bond (Roger Moore) is called into his superior's office one day and is taken off his current case.  What was he working on?  A solution to the energy crisis.  Well.  Thank goodness we took care of that way back in 1974, so we don't have to deal with it today, eh?  Bond has been taken off the case because a golden bullet was mailed to MI6 with his agent number: 007.  This is a big deal because only one man in the whole world is known to use gold bullets, and that is the international assassin known as Francisco Scaramanga (Christopher Lee).  Nobody knows what he looks like, where he lives, or what job he will do next.  All that is known is that he has a third nipple and is one of the most dangerous men alive with a gun in his hand.  Naturally, Bond decides to track down this Scaramanga.  While this does end up being a fairly globe-trotting event, at its core, The Man With the Golden Gun is about James Bond facing off against one particularly challenging foe.  Who will win in a duel to the death, Bond or the titular character?  Okay, there's not a whole lot of suspense, given that there have been another dozen Bond movies after this one, but it's still an interesting idea.
"Now...look at the camera, and say 'Charlie's Angels!'"
I don't know your personal feelings about the many actors who have played James Bond, but I have always felt that Roger Moore did a good job, despite playing the role in the ridiculous 70s.  Moore's performance in this film is quite a bit rougher than I am used to seeing in a Bond movie.  He lies to a child, slaps a woman around for information, and mentally tortures one of the two Bond girls in the movie.  I'm okay with a secret agent with a license to kill being kind of a dick, but there were a few moments where Moore was less suave and more mean, which didn't really fit the tone of the movie.  Christopher Lee, though, was pretty entertaining.  Lee makes a great villain in any film, but he managed to take a pretty stupid character --- he wants to challenge James "Always Wins" Bond with a gun made of gold, one of the less practical metals for weapons --- and make him very cool.  His character has his own island, a midget butler, and a gun that disassembles into a zippo, but Lee never less the silliness of the character affect his performance.  He is serious, competitive, and cold.

Since this is a James Bond movie, it has a pretty substantial supporting cast.  The regular MI6 people show up --- Desmond Llewelyn (Q), Bernard Lee (M), and Lois Maxwell (Miss Moneypenny) --- and they do their typical tour of duty.  The Bond girls in this film are Maud Adams as Scaramanga's girlfriend and Britt Ekland as Mary Goodnight, Bond's assistant in Asia.  Adams is okay, showing a surprising amount of depth (sometimes she looks upset, or even uncomfortable!) for a Bond girl.
Rubbing a gun all over your lover's face: not as sexy as it sounds.
The true Bond girl in this film, though, is Ekland.  She's surprisingly naive for a character that is interested in Bond, but Ekland plays that naivety quite naturally, if only because she has mastered the vacant stare.  And, while pretty ladies are always nice to watch, this wouldn't be a Bond movie without a memorable henchman for Scaramanga.  That role is filled admirably by his midget/dwarf/vertically-smooshed manservant, Nick Nack (Herve Villechaize).  While not physically imposing in the least, Nick Nack's role in things is bizarre enough to keep you interested.  The only other supporting cast member worth mentioning is the unfortunate inclusion of Clifton James as Sheriff J.W. Pepper, who was in Live and Let Die.  Pepper is one of those characters that is supposed to be comic relief, and yet makes no jokes at all in the film.  He just Foghorn Leghorns his way through some atrocious dialogue and manages to not get struck by any stray bullets in the movie.
Roger Moore with his leading ladies.
This was Guy Hamilton's fourth and final time directing a Bond movie, and his second with Moore in the lead.  As much as I like the overall idea of a villain being so bad-ass as to court a duel with a secret agent, I didn't particularly care for Hamilton's direction here.  I thought he gave Moore too rough of an edge at times, the plot was pretty slow for a Bond movie, and his attempts at capturing humor on film were just pitiful.
The sound effect for this shot was a slide whistle.  Seriously.
The inclusion of J.W. Pepper was completely unnecessary and had no payoff.  The scene where Bond almost chokes on a belly ornament (and then alludes to crapping it out later) makes Bond look like an amateur.  And the post-climax action scene was Bond vs. the midget.  What the hell, man?  This is bush league stuff, not bad-assery in any form!
Oh, and Bond gets protected by schoolgirls, too.
That's not to say that the film is without merit, of course.  Even when he's being a little extra rough, Roger Moore is a charmer.  That doesn't explain how he gets away with the infamous Goodnight closet scene, though.  That's the scene where Bond is preparing to romance Goodnight, but shoves her into a closet when Scaramanga's girl comes a-calling; he sexes up the bad girl, leaving Goodnight to listen in the closet.  And he still managed to romance her later in the film!  Christopher Lee was the best Bond villain in years, even if his character wasn't terribly logical.  I remembered this as one of the better Bonds, but it's really not.  Sure, Moore's solid, Lee is good, and Villechaize is short, but there's an awful lot about this movie that just doesn't work:
  • When Bond asks who would want to pay Scaramanga's $1 million fee to kill him, M suggests "humiliated tailors."  Huh?
  • Scaramanga's home has two walls covered with mounted insects behind glass.  It's never mentioned, but it's a weird detail.
  • Where did the guitar go in the James Bond theme?  They replaced it with horns!
  • An international custom weapons dealer allows Bond to turn his own display merchandise against him.  Is this his first day, or something?
  • How did this movie get a PG rating?  There is the requisite naked silhouette girl in the opening credits, a topless (with long hair) waitress, the naked Chew Mee in a swimming pool, and Maud Adams naked behind shower glass.
  • Bond only sleeps with two women in the film.  One of them has sex with him as a form of payment.
This is a very unique Bond movie, though.  No other film has such a clear-cut course of action for Bond, and that change of pace adds variety to the series as a whole.  Of course, with the obvious climax set up in the opening scenes, there isn't a whole lot to excite you as you wait for the finale.  Yes, Bond does some kung-fu and goes on a **sigh** crappy boat chase, but that's nowhere near enough.  This movie has no twists or turns, and no suspense.  Christopher Lee's performance is all that keeps this movie from being subpar.

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