The Man with the Golden Gun is to me the telltale example of what a rushed, unfinished film looks like. Sloppy and lacking any zest or energy for long stretches, the film struggles to ever get out of first gear and winds up a confused disjointed film.
What makes this all the more disappointing is that Christopher Lee is a delight as Scaramanaga, the film’s villain and the titular man with the golden gun. It is a curse of fate that while he delivers a genuinely good performance he is in the midst of so much going wrong.
Man with the Golden Gun is sandwiched between my two favorite Roger Moore films and performances in Live and Let Die and The Spy Who Loved Me. While those two movies nail the balance for Roger in delivering a cool mix of drama and winking at the camera mischievousness, Golden Gun gets the balance all wrong. In his first two movies Roger Moore is probably playing it the most serious and still figuring out the comedic beats that would really come into their own with Spy Who Loved Me. While I enjoy the more serious if still light hearted approach in its predecessor, here it’s a mess.
Roger isn’t ever particularly fun or even that charming. His pitch to Goodnight is less a suave, cool Bond charming her and more “I’m bored, we’ve got a couple of hours, what do you think?” No subtlety or nuance to it. Instead what we get is easily the most like an asshole and jerk Moore’s Bond will ever be. Gruff, rough, and trying to play a tougher Bond, it all just comes across as an almost insufferable experience on Moore’s part.
It’s particularly bad with regards to the women of the movie with Holly Goodnight being easily one of the weakest Bond girls of the entire series. It’s as if they picked up all the worst qualities from the prior women in the series and created her character. Her only character traits are to pine endlessly and without failing for James and to be rather bad at her job. I’m not sure if her poor job skills were supposed to be played for laughs but they are poorly mis-timed. It all builds to the infamous scene of James stuffing Goodnight in the closet so he can sleep with another woman.
The fact that Goodnight is still infatuated with James afterwards is just one of the many things the movie gets wrong.
Elsewhere, the movie even gets in the way of what should be its exciting and intriguing central premise. The world’s greatest assassin vs the world’s greatest secret agent. Bond v Scaramanaga. Yet, we scarcely get the two of them together. The film is absent a face to face meeting of the two until nearly the last act and even once they are both together on Scaramanga’s island, we get a brief great scene with the two before they are yanked apart again until the duels finish.
Lee and Moore have such great chemistry and their moments together are honestly some of the only ones that Moore really comes alive, so it is such a shame that the film didn’t invest more time there and less in the strange solar energy plotline that is convoluted and unclear in its stakes.
Instead Scaramanaga is tasked with playing off of Nick Nack and while the central dynamic between them is fun and I really enjoy the idea of Nick Nack bringing out people to try to kill off Scaramanaga because he’ll inherit everything if he dies, while still aiding Scaramanaga because he also likes him, this partnership is also plagued by the same issue as with Moore and Lee, namely just not having enough time together.
Man with the Golden Gun invests so much of its time and energy in plotlines and storybeats that either don’t matter or actively take away from the narrative that I was constantly puzzled by what was happening. The entire second act could have removed the Hi Fat character and the story would have been unchanged.
Which leads us to the final problem of The Man with the Golden Gun: its outrageous racism embedded throughout the movie and most infamously espoused by Sheriff J.W. Pepper. Pepper’s character throws out slurs like they are greetings and his bombastic and over the top nature provides a poisoned pill the film never recovers from.
Ultimately, The Man with the Golden Gun is a tired, sluggish mess, one that is devoid of much energy or momentum. While Christopher Lee delivers a nice performance as Scaramanaga it is more than outweighed by the film’s many flaws and Roger Moore’s poor and angry performance. A lackluster and lowlight entry of the entire Bond series.
The only possible winners can be the two duels that bookend the film. The first between Scaramanga and Rodney to open the film is an exciting and wonderful look at the weird funhouse world that Scaramanga uses to his advantage in a duel. The second between Scaramanga and Bond is also great if a little let down by its conclusion. Really the only high points of the film aside from the car flip.
Christopher Lee is up there among the best of the Roger Moore era of Bond villains. While I think Trevor ultimately likes him more than I do, I still think he is a fun and engaging baddie, who while not in the film nearly enough, is striking whenever he is on screen. I give him a solid 8/10.
Bond doesn’t really have any gadgets in this movie because this is in the early Moore era when they were trying to veer away from that. Lame. Bond did get a 3rd nipple though, so that’s something. 2/10
I think this is a totally fine, if not particularly remarkable Bond theme. 6/10
The Man with the Golden Gun is bad. It is not a good movie, nor a particularly engaging Bond movie. Indeed it is probably not just one of Roger Moore’s weakest performances, but one of the least interesting and good performances by a Bond actor in any film in the series. It is among the most offensive and racially insensitive films in the series, featuring one of the very worst love interests for Bond in Goodnight, and capped off by a plodding, drawn out, disengaged plot.
While Christopher Lee is a nice villain in Scaramanaga and Nick Nack is a fun henchman at times, they are far outmatched by the rest of the movie. This has for years been one of my least favorite films in the series and I wasn’t disappointed in that view. I fully expect this to be in the running for being at the bottom of my rankings come the end of the pod. 4/10