Matthew Kresal charges a million a shot...
If Live And Let Die was the film that saved James Bond, then The Man With The Golden Gun is the film that just about killed it again. With the success of Roger Moore’s debut 007 outing, producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman sought to capitalize on it as a fast as they possibly could. This rush to follow up one success produced one of the least successful films of the Bond series.
After a good debut performance, Roger Moore delivers a performance that is anything but good. Like Sean Connery in You Only Live Twice and Diamonds Are Forever, Moore’s performance is basically sleepwalking his way through the film. His line delivery is flat virtually the whole way through, no matter what the situation is, be it facing down villains, seducing women or making any one of the horrible one liners. The result is one of the worst performances of any actor in the role.
Much the same can be said of Britt Ekland as Mary Goodnight. Goodnight embodies the very cliché of what a Bond girl is: a pretty face and not an ounce of acting talent. She does little more in the film than whine about how Bond is treating her yet keeps trying to get into bed with him. Outside of this whininess and helping to get the last act of the film going, neither the actress nor the character add much to the movie otherwise. The result is pretty close to the worst Bond girl ever.
Much more interesting than either Bond or Goodnight is the villain: Francisco Scaramanga played by Christopher Lee. Scaramanga is almost the anti-Bond: he’s suave, charming, seductive and a man who kills for money. Lee plays the role brilliantly, encompassing all of those aspects into his performance. This villain in the hands of a lesser actor could easily have been one dimensional, but instead we have a fleshed out character that is far more interesting than anyone else in the film. In fact, it’s almost a shame that Christopher Lee never got the chance to be James Bond himself based on his performance here.
The rest of the cast is almost a disaster. Virtually everyone of them are played for laughs, whether it is Herve Villechaize as Nick Nack, Richard Loo’s over the top performance as Hai Fat and of course the unnecessary, cringe-worthy return of Clifton James as J.W. Pepper. Soon-Taik Oh’s performance as Lieutenant Hip is okay, but heavily undermined by some bad dubbing. Even the usual supporting cast members disappoint, such as Bernard Lee’s grouchy M. If there is a shining star of the supporting cast its Maud Adams as Scaramanga’s mistress Andrea Anders who, like Scaramanga, outshines the rest. The result overall is one of the worst Bond ensemble casts yet assembled.
The problem with the entire film is that it all feels rushed and lacks polish. The production design and cinematography are both good, but they lack something that worked so well in the previous Bond films. Maurice Binder turns in his first set of lackluster title sequences as well, further undermining the success of the film. Even the score from John Barry shows this lack of polish. Compare the score for this film with that of You Only Live Twice, another Bond film set largely in Asia, to illustrate the point. The score lacks Barry’s usual lushness as it feels shockingly cramped and unoriginal. Much the same can be said of the title song as well. Barry is even guilty of taking the film’s one truly good stunt piece and undermining it with a silly piece of music. Indeed, the entire film feels like it is being played more for laughs then for suspense, something that proves to be the undoing of it. Where does the fault of that come from though?
Nothing else in the entire film is as big a culprit in that department then its script. It’s a script filled with a lack of logic, overly convenient plot twists and bad one liner’s. After a suspenseful pre-credit sequence, the film becomes little more than a list of Bond film clichés that undercuts suspense for the almost two hours that follows, right up to the point that it manages to undermine its own climax. Writers Richard Maibaum and Tom Mankiewicz, along with director Guy Hamilton, simply reuse the formula they used in the two previous Bond films with the result being stale and unoriginal.
At the end of the day, it is easy to see how The Man With The Golden Gun ends up being named one of the worst Bond films ever. Despite an excellent villain and at least one good supporting cast member, this is a movie that embodies everything that can be bad about a Bond film. Bond himself is uninteresting, the girl is window dressing, it’s played for laughs and it’s utterly formulaic. The Man With The Golden Gun? More like a film made with fool’s gold…
Matthew lives in North Alabama where he's a nerd, doesn't
have a southern accent and isn't a Republican. He's a host of both the
Big Finish centric Stories From The Vortex podcast and the 20mb Doctor Who Podcast. You can read more of his writing at his blog and at The Terrible Zodin fanzine, amongst other places.
James Bond will return next Thursday.