007 Cinema Dossier: The Man With The Golden Gun (1974)

007 Cinema Dossier: The Man With The Golden Gun (1974)


Roger Moore’s sophomore outing as Ian Fleming’s James Bond is a bit of an odd concoction. And while it’s not the most successful of the Bond films, it’s important for a couple of reasons. It was the last film that Harry Saltzman, alongside Albert Broccoli served as producer. Following the film’s completion he sold his shares to the studio, and left Broccoli as lone producer.

It also added to the behind the scenes family as Michael Wilson. He’s an engineer brought aboard to help screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz (working off a Richard Maibaum script). He helped with the solar energy aspects of the plot. Wilson would go on to marry Broccoli’s daughter, Barbara (who would become a series producer). He also became involved as a producer and writer for the Bond films.

Back in the director’s chair is Guy Hamilton. It’s obvious that Hamilton’s time with the Bond films needs to come to a close. Decidedly unbalanced, the film wavers from camp humor to rough violence, while heightening Bond’s Lothario image.

That lack of balance also applies to Moore’s approach to the role. His character slides from the charming, suave spy he’s known for, to the more brutal, edgy and violent akin to Connery’s performance. That’s especially true in his dealings with Maud Adams’ character. This lack of character balance would pop up a number of times throughout Moore’s run. But his charm usually glossed it over. It notably appears in The Spy Who Loved Me, and For Your Eyes Only.

Moore wasn’t a fan of these moments, as he didn’t think his Bond would behave in such a way. But it is in keeping with the original intent and design of the character as created by Fleming.

Using the barest bones of Ian Fleming’s thirteenth Bond book and twelfth novel as a framework, the story sees 007 getting involved in the energy crisis when MI6 receives a golden bullet with his number inscribed on it. Sent by Scaramanga (played by Ian Fleming’s cousin by marriage, Christopher Lee) as a threat/invitation, the world’s greatest hitman wants to take on the world’s greatest spy. And in the balance, there’s a MacGuffin known as the Solex. That’s a solar converter which could solve the energy crisis or be transformed into a deadly weapon. Lee brings a sophistication and an elegance to the role. His makes him a dark mirror of Bond, and completely unlike the character as originally written in the novel.

This different Bond, as portrayed by Moore, also rarely uses a gun. He fired the signature Walther PPK in this film. But he only fires it on Scaramanga. The rest of the time he uses his wits and his environment to rid himself of trouble. This was due to Moore’s dislike of firearms.

Helping Bond out is Mary Goodnight (Britt Ekland) . And the sacrificial girl, and Scaramanga’s kept woman, is Andrea Anders. Maud Adams, plays the role, and she would return to the series as the titular Octopussy in the early 80s). Rounding out the cast is Herve Villechaize as Scaramanga’s henchman. There’s Nick Nack, Soon-Tek Oh as Hip, Bond’s friend and fellow agent in China. Then there are also Bernard Lee as M, Lois Maxwell as Moneypenny, and Desmond Llewelyn as Q.

Ted Moore serves as director of photography, but was unable to complete the film. Oswald Morris joined the growing and returning cast and crew. Maurice Binder creates a fun titles sequence featuring a theme song performed by Lulu. The song itself is fairly forgettable. But its chords would be used throughout the film. John Barry returns to the fold to deliver his eighth (and his least favorite) Bond score, having not scored the previous film, Live and Let Die.

Barry had three weeks to compose the score. And most of it works. But the addition of one musical piece completely detracted from what should have been the film’s standout moment. There is spectacular stunt that sees Bond jump a car and it performs a corkscrew spin before landing safely on the other side of a broken bridge. Then we hear a penny slide whistle. Both Hamilton and Barry later regretted the choice. But they were unsure if the moment should be played seriously or for laughs.

And that’s too bad, because it is truly an exceptional stunt. And if they used later in the series would have truly been highlighted. But there are a lot of problems with humor in this film. Nothing defines that more than the reappearance of J.W. Pepper (Clifton James) who is apparently on vacation in the Far East with his wife. He’s still espousing racist remarks, and claiming to be a Democrat.

The humor fails on a lot of counts, and that isn’t the only failure of the film. The story’s treatment of Ekland’s Goodnight is horrendous. She’s wise to Bond’s womanising ways, and yet still wants her moment with him. It doesn’t speak well of her character, and she ends up being  stereotype as a opposed to an equal. Which is too bad, as they do work in the same business. Though he is licence to kill, and she’s not.

The film did have one thing going for it, exotic locations. The production shot in Thailand, China, and of course, Pinewood Studios in England. This allowed Peter Murton a chance to show off his skills with sets that meld the reality of the world of the 70’s with the super spy genre. And while it lacks the feel of a Ken Adam Bond film, Peter Lamont was on hand for the Art Direction.

Live and Let Die embraced the blaxploitation film movement. So The Man With the Golden Gun attempted to do the same with ‘kung-fu’ cinema. It then made sure to include a moment or two of combat. One where Bond handily beats a karate expert. And there’s another when a couple of schoolgirls, save him from a karate school. Both are played for comedy, and don’t really honor the martial arts tradition.

There are some fun moments, the boat chase is delightful. As is the car chase which ends in Scaramanga’s car flying away (a design by John Stears). There’s also the final showdown on Scaramanga’s remote island (Phang Nga Bay now known as James Bond Island). But overall, the film feels like a bit of a stumble coming off of Live and Let Die. The film can’t seem to find the tone it wants, not only for this story but the series.

When it came to promoting the film, Robert McGinnis designed the UK Quad and the US one sheet which highlighted Scaramanga’s unique gun (also designed by Stears). They put together separate items and moments from the film, all framed around an iconic pose from Roger Moore. There’s an interesting US teaser by Tom Jung, but the majority of the film’s promotion centred around McGinnis’ artwork.

The film was released on 19 December, 1974. Sure it was successful. But, the tickets sold were nowhere near what the producers were used to when it came to a Bond film. This lull, and the departure of Saltzman gave the series it’s longest break between films (at the time). It did however promise that James Bond Will Return In… The Spy Who Loved Me, but it would take three years.

Thanks again to DK Canada for access to their 007 library. This includes the exemplary James Bond Encyclopedia, Bond By Design: The Art of the James Bond Films, and James Bond: 50 Years of Movie Posters.

This post was written by
TD Rideout has been a movie fan since the moment he first encountered Bruce the Shark in 1975. As passionate about cinema as he is popcorn movies, his film education is a continuing journey of classics new and old. He is at his most comfortable with a book, a drink, his partner and his dog.
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