The Man with the Golden Gun Retro Review
In the last James Bond movie I saw, as I mentioned in that Live and Let Die Retro Review, the spy series was able to introduce more serious themes. That made the series feel more modern, while still keeping the rollicking fun of the past. Unfortunately, all that skillful work is upended by the follow-up. But we’ll get into that in my Retro Review of The Man with the Golden Gun.
(If you’re new to all this, then all you need to know is that Retro Reviews are, well, reviews of retro works of art. I’m working my way through James Bond, obviously. Before I started, I knew all the popular stuff–“shaken, not stirred” and the like. Now, I know…so much more.
And if you’re also new to the James Bond series, then you should start with Dr. No.)
He Only Loves Gold…en Guns: The Plot, If You Want to Call It That
In most Bond movies, at least so far, M interrupts Bond’s personal business to send him on a mission. This time, they switch things up by having M interrupt Bond on a mission (to find a missing scientist) to send him off, not-so-subtly, on something more personal. A gold bullet, engraved with “007,” has arrived at MI6 HQ. The natural assumption, they tell us, is that it’s a warning from Francisco Scaramanga (Christopher Lee), a fearsome assassin. The gold bullets are his trademark. And he’s not just being flashy for the sake of it–he’s so good at his job that he can command a cool million dollars for one hit.
The third nipple is a plot detail, because of course, it is. Christopher Lee and Maud Adams, image via Eon Productions and United Artists
So, Bond embarks on a trip around the world, trying to track down Scaramanga. He first lands in Beirut, where a belly dancer was once witness to a Scaramanga hit. She now wears the spent bullet as a navel ring. And so that leads Bond to Macau, where he finds the talented man who makes those bullets.
After threatening the man, he follows the bullets, which Scaramanga’s girlfriend Andrea Anders (Maud Adams) transports, to Hong Kong. And after threatening her, he tries to get the drop on Scaramanga at notorious HK peeler bar Bottoms Up. However, Scaramanga doesn’t even bother with Bond. Instead, he kills Gibson, the missing scientist. While everyone’s distracted, Scaramanga’s assistant, Nick Nack (Hervé Villechaize) steals a device, the Solex Agitator, from Gibson’s corpse.
This device is what Scaramanga’s been after all along. There’s a little back and forth with the device, but ultimately, Scaramanga ends up with it again. Bond must then track him to his lair (in Thailand) for their final face-off. Whew. Lotta travelin’.
Bondology: Just Bond Things
It would be hard to top the last Bond theme, “Live and Let Die.” So, uh, they don’t! Instead, they go with a theme sung by Lulu. It’s fine. As far as Lulu’s film theme songs go, it’s certainly no “To Sir with Love,” but it’s perfectly serviceable here. It’s also kinda dirty: “Who will he bang? We shall see.” Ma’am, my ears aren’t trashcans.
As for the rest of the usual Bond stuff, it ain’t here. Well, the Q stuff isn’t here, at least, and he’s definitely in the movie. He even has his own laboratory on the RMS Queen Elizabeth, the real-life sunken ship the movie commandeers as a secret MI6 installation. But the movie is free of his fun toys.
Q and the gang, image via Eon Productions and United Artists
However, that doesn’t mean the movie is completely free of gimmicks. For one thing, as Live and Let Die took advantage of the popularity of blaxploitation, this film takes advantage of the contemporary martial arts trend. (Boy, does it! More on that in the actual review part of this Golden Gun Retro Review.)
And for another, there are the requisite chase scenes. There’s a boat chase, for instance, and probably the jewel of the film, the car chase scene. This is a famous scene, in part because it made the Guinness Book of World Records. It did so because it featured the first “astro spiral”–basically a car doing a jump into a barrel roll–on film. And of course, stuntman Lauren “Bumps” Willert pulled it off in an AMC Hornet, because AMC had a tie-in deal with the film. (That’s why Scaramanga escapes at one point in a flying AMC Matador.)
Britt Eckland as Mary Goodnight with Bond, image via Eon Productions and United Artists
Finally, I was disappointed that there wasn’t a really good Bond gal name. Like, Mary Goodnight (Britt Ekland)–what even is that? I thought we weren’t going to have any fun names and then, of course, Bond met a gal named Chew Mee (Francoise Therry) and I was like, “There it is.”
The Jerk Store Called
This might be something I should save for the Golden Gun Retro Review part, but I wanted to call it out separately first. And that is, is James Bond a bigger asshole than normal in this movie or is it just me? I mean, as I’ve chronicled in my previous reviews, he’s sometimes problematic, especially viewed through a modern lens. But I can’t remember his being so outright awful like this.
Take, for example, his interactions with Lazar (Marne Maitland), the guy who makes Scaramanga’s bullets (and other things). That guy’s just trying to make a living, and here Bond is, shooting at him. It’s a little much.
image via Eon Productions and United Artists
But, of course, nothing compares with the way Bond treats Andrea upon their first meeting. First of all, he surprises her by waiting in the bathroom while she’s in the shower. Then when he gets the jump on her, he not only slaps her, but threatens to break her arm. Bruh, do you need a vacation from your vacation? At the very least, you need to take it down several notches.
Me, wistful: I miss the Bond who just subtly coerced women into sleeping with him.
The Man with the Golden Gun Retro Review
And now we come to this. While I wasn’t a huge fan of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, congratulations, film. I now have a new least favorite Bond film.
Before I get into the many, many things I disliked about it, I’ll compliment it a bit first. Um, the canted sets are cool. In addition, Roger Moore is still a competent Bond, even if this Bond is the jerk store’s all-time bestseller. Similarly, Christopher Lee and Maud Adams are both compelling in their roles. They do the best with the little they have. Okay, I guess the complimenting is over now.
Because despite the good performances, this is a film that manages to be both dull and silly. Let’s start with the dull part. As I said, it obviously wanted to ride the martial arts wave. To that end, they have a scene at a dojo. Wait, that sounds much more exciting than it is. Because as it plays in the movie, it’s a seemingly endless five minutes? Ten? I’m not sure, but it’s a lot of minutes of dudes just demonstrating martial arts for no real plot-germane reason. It reminds me of the stock footage of rodeos they throw in the movie Blood Shack. That’s the worst movie I’ve ever seen! You don’t want to be in any category with it.
Anyway, I can’t decide if the clear cashing-in on the martial arts trend is better or worse than the impulse to throw in some slapstick. The car trick is cool, but it’s undermined by the composer’s impulse to throw a slide whistle on top of it. Whooooooop. (That’s me, making a slide whistle noise.)
Oh, and Bond is joined in this car chase by Sheriff J.W. Pepper (Clifton James), a character who first appeared in Live and Let Die. It made some sense for him to be in that movie–what’s a movie set in the South without an ill-tempered Southerner? Like, I’m literally right here. However, it makes no sense at all for him to be in this movie, especially since I can imagine no universe in which he would vacation in Thailand.
image via Eon Productions and United Artists
No universe save this one, where he and his old-timey slurs were apparently vital to the plot. Meanwhile, Christopher Lee, whose reading of Dracula on an audio book once legitimately scared me–a tough thing to do–is stranded in a nothingburger storyline about the energy crisis. He’s Dark Bond! They should have done something with that. But they didn’t.
And of course, that’s just like, my opinion. So tell me yours, on our social media or in these comments.
featured image via Eon Productions and United Artists
Salomé Gonstad is a freelance writer who grew up in the swampy wilds of south Alabama. When she's not yelling about pop culture on the internet, she's working on a supernatural thriller about her hometown. Also, we're pretty sure she's a werewolf. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.