The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)
Dir: Guy Hamilton
By Jay Maronde
Let me start this review by admitting this: film critics love to be critical of movies. I personally try to write about the good parts, and I also happen to really like James Bond (which I why I signed up for this task). But every once in a while you need to get a little crazy and go on and on about how wrong things really are. This being said, I do mean to keep it relatively short, because to be honest, you know a movie is pretty effin bad when the midget is the best part about it.
Let’s start right there. The midget is the best part about this film. Herve Villechaize is usually pretty awesome in whatever he appears in, but here, Guy Hamilton cast him perfectly as “the midget Oddjob”, referring to Harold Sakata’s role in Hamilton’s earliest Bond Film, the 1964 Blockbuster Goldfinger. “Nick Nack,” as he’s credited, has some of the most memorable roles in the film* and is the first Bond henchman to be captured. Another great casting in this film is Sir Christopher Lee as Francisco Scaramanga, the super villain million-dollar-a-hit assassin who is Bond’s arch-nemesis in the film. Scaramanga is almost always referred to as one of the best-acted Bond Villains and indeed Lee was asked to reprise the role and do the voicing for Scaramanga in the James Bond video game Rouge Agent. The rest of this film seems to spoil itself.
Britt Ekland stars as James Bond’s personal assistant Mary Goodnight, and is possibly the dopiest secret agent ever. Ekland had wanted to be a Bond girl since she saw Dr. No, and personally I think that the producers should have cast her about a decade earlier, and then maybe she wouldn’t look so past her prime. Roger Moore is obviously also past his prime, but there’s a lot of stuntman fights to attempt to convince the public otherwise. Worse yet, the production team added parts where Bond throws a child off a boat and threatens to break Maud Adams’s arm in a very weird attempt to make Roger Moore seem like a more “rough-and-tumble” Bond. Moore claims to have hated filming these parts of the movie because he didn’t like what those actions implied upon the character of Bond and would have preferred to charm the woman instead. Maud Adams is more than delightful in this film but drastically under-cast; so under-cast, in fact, that she stars in the later James Bond film Octopussy as Octopussy herself. The only other women in the film are two hideous kung-fu-fighting sisters who save the elderly Bond during a Kung Fu Fighting scene (added in a poor attempt to capitalize on the Kung Fu movie craze at the time) and another actress playing a belly dancer who I also believe was “cast elderly” in an attempt to make Moore look younger.
The stunt sequences were another good thing that was ruined by supposedly “genius” ideas. This film features the famous car barrel roll jump, preformed in one take only by the famous stunt man “Bumps” Willard. The stunt was also the first film stunt ever to be calculated by computer, as it had been designed at Cornell University years before as a calculation problem for a vehicle physics simulator. The stunt had been being performed for years as part of the American Motors Corporation traveling Thrill Show, but the producers went on to copyright and patent the trick so that it could never appear in another film. Now, this seems like it would be awesome right? A James Bond car chase with a Barrel Roll, right? Well, you’d be wrong—because the music department decided to add a ridiculous whistle sound during the barrel roll, and the production team put Sheriff J.W. Pepper (who was actually an extremely popular part of Live and Let Die) in the passenger seat with James Bond for comic relief. Even the title song is goofy as shit, a real toe-tapper, but has been described as “one long stream of smut.” The producers had originally spoken with Alice Cooper about a rock song to have the same title, and in fact his version appears on his “Muscle of Love” album, but the producers chose to use the slightly more “upbeat” version featured here and performed by LuLu.
The real problem with this movie is the plot. James Bond is removed from duty and asked to resign because a super villain wants to kill him. Why should James Bond worry about a super villain, even if he is the world’s most expensive hitman? Bond deals with villains all the time, that’s his job—he’s James Bond. And this super villain—why, if you are the world’s best paid super villain, with your own private island, and the answer to the worlds energy crisis (this is actually the last Bond Film until Quantum Of Solace to deal with an environmental plot), and a midget to attend to your every need, why would you pay other hit men to attempt to assassinate you?
The Production of The Man with the Golden Gun was rushed to the market to capitalize on numerous factors present in the era when it was produced: the energy crisis, the rising popularity of Kung Fu, and the popularity of the other films in the franchise. As a result, the film seems like a mish-mash of garbage strung together without much forethought. This resulted in poor ticket sales and almost a three year production delay until the next James Bond film, along with director Guy Hamilton’s dismissal from the franchise. Furthermore, the resulting financial crisis caused longtime producer Harry Saltzman to be forced to sell his half of the James Bond Franchise to United Artists pictures.
*It is unclear to me whether “Nick Nack” plays many roles or one, and so I have left the original language unedited. - JK