A fair few months ago a few friends and I were having a grand old conversation about 007 which culminated in selecting from a new briefcase loaded with all twenty pre-Daniel Craig Bond films one to watch. If I recall correctly the possible choices were ‘Goldeneye‘, ‘From Russia with Love’ and then – finally – ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’. Fond memories of Scaramanga and – of course – Nick Nack forced us to choose the latter but, to be brutally honest, when watching it, it was simply not as good as we all remembered. I think we even considered cutting it short. We didn’t … but the thought crossed all our minds…
Right, real quick, James Bond (Roger Moore) is on a mission to find the “Solex Agitator” – “a device that will harness the sun’s radiation and give awesome power to whomever possesses it” – but he is not the only one trying to find this. He is up against Francisco Scaramanga (Christopher Lee) – The Man with the Golden Gun. He is an assassin who is hired to kill people, which he does regularly, successfully, with his Golden Gun. But it turns out Scaramanga has been hired to kill no one other than James Bond himself. So, Scaramanga is after Bond, Bond is trying to get away. Scaramanga has Andrea Anders (Maud Adams) – his lover – and Nick Nack (Herve Villechaize) – a small but lethal character – on his side, while Bond has the clumsy, but sexy, Mary Goodnight (Britt Ekland) on his side. Eventually, they get to Scaramanga’s remote island and fight it out and – stupid Mary knocks a switch nearly setting the Solex off – so Bond now, not only has to kill Scaramanga, but also has to get off the island before it blows. Luckily he does. And he wins.
What I reckon
Funnily enough, having just mentioned that ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ references Westerns (Indy’s outfit) and Gangsters (Toht’s outfit), while also dissing Roger Moore’s later period as 007, ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’ uses both genres itself in the opening sequence as we see Scaramanga trying to shoot ‘bad-guys’ in his mirror maze, whereby Gangsters (amongst them Al Capone) and Western gunslingers turn up for him to shoot – eventually shooting a model of James Bond (shock!) to finish the sequence: cue Lulu.
I absolutely love the song and its always ignored when discussing top Bond themes. Good ol‘ Bassey and Tom Jones always steal hear squeaky thunder. Well it is a way better song than Garbage’s ‘The World is no Enough’.
One thing that I think was a choice by Guy Hamilton was to build a surrealist theme in the film. Not only do we have the strange, distorting mirrors and the blurs between reality and creating fantasy (Scaramanga’s murderous fantasies of killing off the ‘bad guys’ in his maze), but also the MI6 base tilted, forced the perspective to be completely skewed.
We also have the Asian theme, whereby Bond visits Kowloon in Hong Kong and Bangkok in Thailand but this – to be honest – just makes me think of Connery and the days of ‘You Only Live Twice’ and the Japanese themes within that film. Then again, the beauty of the Gulf of Thailand is stunning – so stunning in fact that it was used in ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’ too.
Even now I reminisce about this film I look back thinking how brilliant it really is – but I now vividly remember the experience. Akin to Trevelyan in ‘Goldeneye‘, Scaramanga is this fantastic contrast to Bond. They are both slick, suave and have impeccable taste but, I think Scaramanga says it himself, the difference is that Bond ‘works for Queen and country’, while Scaramanga does it for pleasure – and a lot of money. An interesting aspect is why Nick Nack assists Scaramanga – apparently Nick Nack will get Scaramanga’s property if he is killed, so the challenges Nick Nack sets up are actually trying to kill him but, clearly, they fail. I’m sure Nick Nack could just sneak into his bedroom and saw his head off or something. And claim it was somebody else obviously.
But I think this is where we have the problem – all the plus points aside – there is one particularly brilliant part whereby Bond and Sheriff JW Pepper are chasing another car across a stretch of land and reaching a broken bridge Bond speeds over it turning a full 360 degrees around. The red car going the entire 360 looks absolutely brilliant but, mid flip, the strangest sound slips onto the soundtrack. The sound is the same you would use for a cartoon character slipping on a banana skin. I reckon this comedic tone to this film is what makes it so problematic – there is simply no need. Bond’s one-liners are the comedy, the cheeky attitude he has to women is funny. We don’t need dickhead Sheriff Pepper talking like a moron mid-chase.
Luckily, ‘The Spy who Loved Me’, I recall, as being a lot better but maybe that is the rose-tinted glasses again – Barbara Bach, The underwater base, the Lotus Esprit S1 turbo sports car that turns into a submarine … good times … I think …
I agree with most of your review, but as a piece of escapism it's always been one of my favourite Bonds. I still believe Scaramanga is the all time No 1 Bond villain, bloody Nik Nak less so.
If were going to talk best James Bond baddies I got to think: Alec Trevelyan for one is brilliant and, underrated bad guy, is Renard in 'The World is not Enough'. “He can feel no pain” due to a “bullet lodged in his brain”. All I can tell you is the feeling I had watching it recently and something was unfulfilled at the end.
I agree with some of what you said: some of the cheesiness (especially the unwelcome return of Pepper) really undermine a lot of the good stuff in the movie. I think it's also severely under served by Ekland, who is too bubbly and inconsequential to leave much of an impression either way.
The surrealistic stuff is pretty neat, though, and I think a tighter story and better actress could have propelled this one closer to being one of the best.
Thanks Danny! Yeah, the surrealist stuff is the best bit but Britt Ekland is a very weak Bond girl.