Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Man With the Golden Gun [1974]

For most of my life, if you had chanced to run into me on the street one day and stopped me to ask what my least favorite James Bond movie was, I'd have probably answered The Man With the Golden Gun.  That's changed over the past decade or so, as a quartet of other titles -- two that (the 1967 Casino Royale and Diamonds Are Forever) have been covered here already, and two (Never Say Never Again and Die Another Day) that won't come up for a while yet -- crowded it out at the bottom of the barrel.

I've been simultaneously dreading and anticipating this rewatch of Golden Gun, because I was very curious to see what my rating system determined.  I figured it was entirely possible it could reclaim its cellar-dweller status, or at least get close to it.

What I didn't expect was to discover myself enjoying the movie for perhaps the first time ever.  In retrospect, I'm not sure I ever paid all that much attention to the movie.  When I was a child, the movie confused me, partially because I somehow never managed to see it all in a single sitting, but also partially because the plot during the first act is more complicated than is typically the case with Bond movies.  In later viewings over the course of the next few decades I always mentally checked out when this movie came up in my Bond-viewing rotation, and I recall skipping it more than once; another time, I remember fast-forwarding through whole chunks of it.

In other words, I seem to have managed to make it all the way to 2012 without ever giving the movie its proper due.  Here, I think you will find that that mistake has been corrected.

This is not to suggest I have uncovered some sort of hidden masterpiece; that is not the case.  The movie has numerous problems, several of them quite severe; but it also has several extremely strong elements, and while it is still not going to make it onto a list of great 007 films, I can now definitively say that I like the movie.

Funny what reappraisal will do sometimes, isn't it?

(1)  Bond ... James Bond

As I covered at length in my previous post (about Live and Let Die), Roger Moore's James Bond is a nostalgic favorite.  I know a lot of people dislike his approach to the character, and I can intellectually see where they are coming from on that score.  But it isn't my stance.  I love the guy; always have, always will.

I think his performance here is quite good, possibly even better than in Live and Let Die.  This, in some ways, is a very different sort of film to that; it's hard to see the forest for the trees, when the trees in this instance equate to midgets and redneck sheriffs and lasers and kung fu, but this is actually a much more serious movie tonally than Live and Let Die.  Moore modulated his performance accordingly, and while he certainly plays his share of light moments, he also plays much of the movie very seriously.  For comparison, in Live and Let Die he never seems to be taking much of anything seriously, and for that film, it was the right call, since that movie's goals are really to be nothing more than a pure romp.

It's different in this movie, and Moore nails it.  The result might have been very different.

A few individual scenes stand out for me.  For one, I like the fistfight he has in the belly-dancer's dressing-room in the Beirut scene.  Moore doesn't get into all that many dustups in comparison to the other Bonds, and this seems to be because the filmmakers correctly realized that it just didn't fit his style.  But that isn't to say he isn't good at it; he is (not as good as Connery or even Lazenby, perhaps, but good nonetheless).  Here, he plays it with a mildly light touch, and Bond almost seems, once it is all over, to be ashamed to have gotten himself involved in something so crass as a brawl.  That style of secret agent might not be every fan's cup of tea, and I'd for Bond to be that way in every iteration, but here, I love it.

Moore is also very good in the scene in which he tracks down Lazar, the manufacturer of Scaramanga's golden bullets.  

He is ruthless in this scene, and while he's not AS good as Connery would have been playing the same scene, he acquits himself quite nicely.  He's also very good in the dialogue-free scene in which he is tracking Scaramanga outside the Bottoms Up club in Hong Kong.  This is one of the rare times -- possibly the only time -- in Moore's films in which Bond seems like what he undoubtedly must be from time to time: a predator stalking his prey.

You've also got to love the scene at the kung fu school.  Moore seemingly does all of his own fighting here, and while there are a few individual moments in which it is plain that his opponents (the actors, I mean, as opposed to the characters) are restraining themselves, on the whole Moore does quite well.  I love the moment in which the one guy bows to him before the fight begins, and Bond just kicks him and the face and knocks him out.  That's a hilariously unclassy bit of business, and it's still funny years later.

Also still funny, at least as far as I'm concerned: Moore's bit of business in which he mocks J.W. Pepper's accent.  This happens right before the big auto stunt, and Pepper says something along the lines of "You're not about to...?"  Bond's reply: "I shore am, boy!"  Moore is the ONLY Bond who would have been able to sell this moment, and he sells it like a champ.

The only false notes from Moore in the film come in the scene in which he smacks Maud Adams' character around.  The scene makes sense from a storytelling standpoint: Bond thinks an assassin -- a highly capable one -- is trying to kill him, and Anders is the woman who is apparently in charge of bringing the assassin the golden bullets he will use to get the job done.  She is a direct line to Scaramanga.  Bond is a ruthless professional killer.  Why should he balk at hitting a woman, or nearly breaking her arm, or (frankly) doing worse if needs be?  The logical -- if perhaps not the moral -- answer is that he shouldn't.

Here, though, it comes close to failing totally.  Moore does his best, but he simply doesn't seem to have that particular stripe of ruthlessness in him.  And Maud Adams seems genuinely terrified by him; her good performance both helps and hurts the scene in that way.

But the scene is over relatively quickly, and ultimately does not harm the film much.

That mild false note excepted, Roger Moore is very good in this movie.  Points awarded: 005/007.


Main Villain:  This film was my introduction to Christopher Lee lo these many years ago, and for the longest time -- right up until The Fellowship of the Ring came out -- it was (along with 1941) the only thing I knew of the man's work.

Naturally, he is a terrific Scaramanga.  The Bond movies during this era were very focused on the idea of the villain being a sort of dark reflection of Bond himself; consequently, they were suave, classy, elegant men, but with a twisted purpose.  Lee excels in this capacity, and you definitely get the sense throughout the film that he is very much Bond's equal in many ways.

One of the serious failings of this movie is that Scaramanga is ultimately revealed to be a bit of a dupe.  The first two acts are spent with Bond thinking Scaramanga -- an assassin so effective he charges $1,000,000 per hit (quite a lot of money in 1974) -- has been hired to kill him.  Eventually, however, we find out that Andrea Anders has engineered this: she sent the bullet to MI6, in the hopes that Bond would assume he was being tracked and would then take measures to eliminate Scaramanga first.

On the one hand, this is quite satisfying as far as plots go; it's more intricate than the Bond films have seen in several movies, and though that element does not come from the novel, it is the type of plot Ian Fleming would almost certainly have approved of.

It has the unfortunate downside, however, of making Scaramanga a much weaker character.  A better directiojn might have seen Scaramanga be more actively involved in bringing Bond to his hideaway.  As is, he is a lion who doesn't run down a gazelle; the gazelle just happens to wander into the lion's den, and then kills the lion.  This particular lion was never going to win, but couldn't he have at least been a more active participant in the chase?

It doesn't work.

Christopher Lee is undeniably great here, but for the poor utilization of his talents on the writer's part, I am docking two points.  Points awarded (Main Villain):  005/007
Henchmen:  I really, really want to award zero point in this category, because I loathe Herve Villechaize as Nick Nack.  He just seems like a nasty little troll of a man.  Now, to be clear: I have nothing against little people.  Peter Dinklage, for example, is awesome; Warwick Davis is pretty damn cool, too.  Some little people, though, like some big people, suck ass, and Herve Villechaize is in that group.

I'd like to take this moment to make mention of how frequently Villechaize is described as being pussy-crazy in the DVD's supplemental features.  It's all anyone seems to remember about the man.  An especially amusing anecdote is told by Roger Moore on his commentary track.  According to Moore, Villechaize was constantly pestering Maud Adams, and one day he walked up to her and took her by the hand and said "Tonight, I am going to make love to you."  Maud Adams looked down at him and said, "If you do, and I find out about it, you're going to be in big trouble."  I laughed for about five minutes when Moore told this story.

I was already kinda in love with Maud Adams, and that anecdote clinches it.

Elsewhere in the movie, the henchmen are somewhat better, though none impress, particularly.  The most notable one is Hai Fat, an industrialist (or something) whose company is involved in the plot to get the Solex agitator from Gibson, the British citizen who has decided to work against his country's best interests.  Hai Fat is nothing special, but he doesn't suck, which is something.

Then there's an entire kung fu school of henchmen.  I like the guy in the black; he seems like a competent badass.

The only other henchman of note is Kra, who works on Scaramanga's island and seems as if he might be a bit of a creep:

Eyes up here, pal!  (Side note: why is Goodnight hanging out with this guy?  A whole island to run around on, and she's chillin' with a guy who looks as though he's moments away from cooking a rape-burger?!?)

He sucks, and so does Nick Nack, but the very mild acceptability of the other secondary baddies has convinced me to be benevolent and assess at least a single point.  So, points awarded (Henchmen):  001/007.
Total points awarded (S.P.E.C.T.R.E.):  003/007

(3)  The Bond Girls

Main Bond Girl:  I wanted to give a zero in the Henchmen category and didn't, but I'm going to give one here, and it's well-earned.  Mary Goodnight is an absolute disaster of a character.  In the scene aboard the Queen Elizabeth, M seems to feel that she is competent and efficient, and I have to wonder: why would he think that?  All she does the entire movie is fuck shit up.  I'm not even going to bother recapping any of her blunderings, because life is too short for me to spend time writing about that crap.

I'd be slightly more tolerant if I thought Britt Ekland was hot.  I don't.  I mean, don't get me wrong, she isn't ugly, and she looks okay in a bikini, but otherwise, she's nothing special.  The Bond series has literally dozens of women who are way hotter.  Incidentally, if you happen to disagree with me and find Britt Ekland's hotness to be considerable, you will definitely want to see the original version of The Wicker Man.  Just sayin'.

As an actor, Ekland is competent.  She's good at being annoyed, if nothing else.

Points awarded (Main Bond Girl):  000/007.  One of the absolute worst.

Secondary Bond Girls:  Here's where the real goods are lady-wise in this movie.  Maud Adams is very good playing Andrea Anders, Scaramanga's kept woman who decides she's had enough of his undoubtedly cruel love and concocts a plot to have him killed by the one man on the globe who is a more efficient killer: James Bond.

That makes her a stronger character than many Bond girls, and I can't help but wish that the screenplay had found some sort of way to kill off Mary Goodnight and keep Anders around.  It wasn't to be, I suppose.

Maud Adams is also quite lovely, with a strikingly unusual face and genuinely piercing grey eyes.  She returned several films later playing a different character, Octopussy, and I can distinctly recall that her character in that film engendered certain feelings in me that were too manly to be reconciled within a nine-year-old body.  "Hmm," I pondered to myself; "that's an interesting person.  I feel as if I would like to know more about her in some way that does not make sense to me but that I will no doubt look back on decades later and realize (possibly while writing a blog post on an advanced form of worldwide communications system, or "web") that what it meant was that I really, really wanted to make the sex with her."

You know, something like that.

Happily, Maud Adams was also a good actor, in addition to being sweet, sweet eye candy.  She is excellent throughout, but is never better than in the scene in which Bond infiltrates her hotel room and then forces some info out of her.  As I indicated earlier, she plays things perhaps a bit too realistically, and makes the scene darker than it ought to be, but I'm going to fault director Guy Hamilton for that.  You can't blame an actor for being good at playing scared while being beaten up; that isn't her fault in the slightest.  Hamilton should have recognized that the tone was a bit off and coached her to pull things back a bit.

Either way, I like Maud Adams a lot in this movie, and wish her character had lived.

Elsewhere, there are a few other ladies who need out attention.  First up: Saida, the belly-dancer, played by Carmen Sautoy (who mostly during her career seems to have gone by Carmen Du Sautoy).

IMDb claims that she was born in 1950, but if she was 24 at the time this movie came out, then I'm still sixteen and getting boners in the middle of Mrs. Boozer's English class for no good reason.  And I ain't, believe you me.  But don't let this random bit of ageism influence how you feel about Sautoy.  She either IS good-looking or she isn't, and either way, she moves wonderfully and has a very appealingly pleasant attitude during her one scene. And as Bond says, she really does have a terrific abdomen.

I'm not sure our final few ladies count as Bond girls in the strict sense of the term, but let's go with it.  One is Chew Mee, who has about twenty seconds of screen time, but makes an impression anyways, partly, I suspect, because she is naked in a swimming pool.

Look, I don't mean to traffic in crudity, but ... I'm pretty sure I see a cooter in this photo.

Yep, that adds up.  Chew Mee is played by Francoise Therry, who never did another movie.

I also like Nara and Cha (thanks for the names, IMDb!), Lieutenant Hip's kung-fu kicking schoolgirl nieces.

They are played, respectively, by Qiu Yuen and Joie Vejjajiva, and for the record, no, I have no idea which one is which.  Allow me to consult Google and find out if it knows.


Yep, looky there.  Joie Vejjajiva plays Cha, which means Nara is Qiu Yuen.  Here's an autographed photo to prove it:

Sorry for stealing your photo, Andy

Jevajjiva only did two other films, but Qiu Yuen had a lengthy career, and was still acting as of 2010.  Well done!

Anyways, I like the two of them here.  They get to kick a little ass, and they also get to laugh at James Bond from the back of a car, which is something you don't get in every movie.

I probably shouldn't mention the waitress at the Bottoms Up club, but I will anyways.  She was played by Wei Wei Wong, who has an awesome name and also a rather spectacular backside.

She was also featured prominently in the movie's opening credits sequence (she is the woman whose face you can see at the very beginning; I should have screencapped that, and didn't, but am too lazy to correct the error).
Points awarded (Secondary Bond Girls):  005/007, mostly on the strength of Maud Adams.

Total points awarded (The Bond Girls):  002.50/007.
(4)  "Oh, James..."

Action/Stunts:  After the spectacular action of Live and Let Die, it was always going to be tough to measure up in the next film, and this one doesn't manage it.

But that doesn't mean it's bad; it isn't.  There is a decent fistfight (in Saida's dressing-room), a decent boat chase, and -- if you want to count this as a stunt (which I'm not sure you should) -- some impressive low-to-the-ground (low-to-the-ocean, actually) flying, and a few quality explosions.  All of this is very good, very competent stuff, but not exactly thrilling within the context of the Bond series.

I don't think she's acting

I don't think he's acting

However, there is a lengthy stunt-driving sequence that is excellent.  The cars are moving at high velocity through the streets of Hong Kong, and there are several instances when the AMC Matador Bond is driving seemingly comes within only a few inches of hitting the car the camera is in.  It's pretty great.

I also, as mentioned earlier, quite like the scenes at the kung fu school.  Cheesy, yes, and anemic when compared to an actual Asian martial-arts film from the era, but still fun.

Even better: the scene in which Bond leaps the bridge in a corkscrew maneuver.  This stunt was inspired by an American auto show where it was being performed to rave reviews; the Bond producers got wind of it and wrote it into the movie, and the jump was apparently executed flawlessly in a single take.  It is marred somewhat by a truly unfortunate choice made by John Barry in the score (more on which later), but that should not detract from the fact that this is one of the great driving stunts in cinema history.

"I shore am, boy!"

Finally, I'd like to mention the scene in which Bond briefly fights the two sumo wrestlers.  It isn't much of a scene, to be honest, but you've got to admire the way Bond gets out of it:

How cheeky...

Points awarded (Action/Stunts):  005/007.  I'm tempted to go to 006/007 based purely on the strength of the corkscrew jump, but let's not get carried away.

Editing:  As is often the case, I don't have a heck of a lot to say about the editing of the movie.  I often tend to assume that if I'm not noticing -- either for good or bad reasons -- then it means the editing is simply efficient, and nothing stood out in this movie.  But I think that is mostly a good thing; it means the editor is moving the story along capably, and that means he has done a good job.

Two sequences do come to mind: the scene in which Bond is hunting Scaramanga outside Bottoms Up is nicely suspenseful, and deserves kudos.  Also, the sequence at the kung fu school is very nicely paced: slow to begin with, in keeping with the mystery Bond feels at his surroundings, then faster once the action kicks in.

Points awarded (Editing):  004/007.

Costumes/Makeup:  Nothing exceptional here, but nothing I'd describe as bad, either.  Bond's pinstriped suit is cool, and I also like his white-dinner-jacket-with-black-bow-tie getup, but some of his other costumes are a bit on the bland side.  Both of the leading ladies have fairly restrained outfits; even Goodnight's skimpy bikini is a bit on the dull side.

But dull is not bad.  And Scaramanga's white suit is cool, as is -- I admit this reluctantly -- veritually all of Nick Nack's wardrobe.

Final mention goes to the makeup, who create a reasonably plausible third nipple for Scaramanga:

Points awarded (Costumes/Makeup): 004/007.

Locations:  The most notable locations are the islands in Thailand's Phang Nga Bay, which are easily among the most stunning places the Bond series has ever visited.

If I ever become a world traveler, that will be one of the places I visit.

Also exotic as hell: the wreck of the Queen Elizabeth in Hong Kong's Victoria Harbor:

That, dear readers, is production value.  Elsewhere, Hai Fat's house is quite a sight:

Points awarded (Locations):  007/007.  It doesn't get a whole heck of a lot better than this, does it?

Overall points awarded ("Oh, James..."):  005/007.
(5)  Q Branch

Bond's Allies:  Bernard Lee and Desmond Llewelyn are on-hand, as is typical, playing M and Q, and here, the characters are a bit more involved in the pot than is typically the case.  They go into the field and actively brief and debrief Bond on his activities.  Both Lee and Llewelyn do good work, and seem somewhat invigorated by their increased responsibilities.

Lois Maxwell also has her customary Moneypenny scene, and it's one of the better ones.  She flirts with Bond in a somewhat taunting way this time, and shows some active annoyance with him for not rising to the occasion a bit more strongly.

Bond's primary field ally here -- excepting the wretched Mary Goodnight -- is Lieutenant Hip, who is played by Soon-Tek Oh.  Oh is pretty cool, but the character isn't really given enough to do to make a huge impression.

He and his kung-fu-fighting nieces show up just in time to save Bond's bacon in the scene at the training school, but Hip literally just drives off, leaving Bond chasing him down the road on foot.  This bizarre moment is probably more a reflection of a sloppy screenplay than it is a reflection of Lt. Hip's quality of character, but then again, perhaps he is just a shitty agent.  Like Goodnight.

And then we come to J.W. Pepper, the comedic redneck relief, who makes an unlikely return for a second film.  I have a love/hate relationship with this character, who is genuinely vile (and was a genuinely bad idea) in Live and Let Die.  The fact that the series brought him back is ... well, it's really rather amazing.

And yet, I have to confess, he makes me laugh in this movie.  God help me, but he does.  "Yore that English secret agent from England!"  I think it's all about Bond's punchline, "I shore am, boy!"  I don't know how else to explain my tolerance of Pepper here.  It might also be that is is simply SUCH a retarded idea that there is no choice for me but to roll with it.

I dunno.

Points awarded (Bond's Allies): 004/007

Direction:  I think Guy Hamilton did a reasonably good job here; in terms of his own work, it is probably his second-best Bond directing behind (WAY behind) Goldfinger.  The film moves along at a solid pace, it has an actual air of mystery and suspense for the first two acts, and on the whole looks good from a visual standpoint.

Hamilton probably deserves better commentary than that, but for the time being, it's all I've got.

Points awarded (Direction): 004/007

Cinematography:  The movie had two cinematographers: Ted Moore, a series veteran, became ill during filming, and was replaced by Oswald Morris (who lit Lolita for Kubrick and later won an Oscar for his excellent work on Fiddler on the Roof).  The movie looks great; the scenes in Scaramanga's funhouse are particularly good.

For some reason I can't explain, I'm also struck by the scene in Anders' hotel room.  There is something very naturalistic about the lighting there.  I dig it; I can't explain why, but I dig it.

Points awarded (Cinematography):  006/007

Art Direction:  Peter Murton handled the chores on this film, and it is consistently inventive work.  The standout is undoubtedly the Caligari-esque Queen Elizabeth set, which is just cool.

Scaramanga's funhouse -- though a bit dopey from a storytelling standpoint -- is also rather cool.

Points awarded (Art Direction): 006/007.

Special Effects:  Here's a peek behind the scenes of You Only Blog Twice: the way I rate these movies is that I take multiple passes at it.  First, I watch the movie; no note-taking, just watching for enjoyment.  Then I go through my form and assess initial scores in each category.  Next, I watch whatever behind-the-scenes documentaries are present on the DVDs, and after that I reassess my scores to see if the results have changed with the information on how the movie was made in mind.  After that, I will watch the movie with the commentary track on, and make notes about what elements I want to talk about in my review; when that is done, I revisit the scores again.  If there is a second commentary track, then repeat.

Sometimes, I will even find that as my thoughts on the movie at hand evolve, it causes me to want to reevaluate one of the older movies, and so occasionally I'll go back into those posts and change the scores marginally, then retabulate the master rankings.

I mention this because when I did my initial scoring for The Man With the Golden Gun, I assessed a 003/007 for special effects; I felt the really didn't have many, and that the big explosion of the island at the end wasn't entirely successful (which it isn't), hence a slightly-less-than-average score.

In watching the supplemental material, though, I came to appreciate the effects much more than I had before.  For example, while I knew that the destruction of Scaramanga's solar-power station was achieved via miniatures, I had no idea that several shots of the miniatures are present scattered throughout the film, presented as sets.  Guy Hamilton points one such shot out in the commentary:

That is tremendously good miniature work, and if the director hadn't pointed it out, I'd have no clue.  This makes me wonder how often genuinely awesome effects go unrecognized simply because nobody notices them AS effects.  After all, blending in is entirely the point, right?

Similarly, the shots of the sun disappearing behind the clouds are apparently achieved via matte paintings:

That's quite good.  Points awarded (Special Effects): 006/007.

Gadgets:  In keeping with the more-realistic tone, there aren't many gadgets here, and Bond uses literally none.  There is, however, a visit to Q's lab for the first time since Goldfinger, so that's kinda cool.

The two gadgets of note are both used by Scaramanga (a fact that subtly goes a long way toward enhancing his status as an evil Bond-like figure): the flying car and the golden gun itself.

The flying car was apparently based on an actual flying car some madman built, but he crashed it and killed himself; otherwise, my money says he'd have eventually been approached by the producers to fly it in this very movie.  As is, they opted to use a miniature for the scene in which the car takes off.  That, too, is a convincing job by the effects department.  Points awarded (Gadgets):  005/007.

Opening-Title Sequence:  Not one of my favorites.  The Asian locales provide a bit of a theme, as does the continual appearance of the golden gun (which the models stroke suggestively).

I can verify that she has at least one-third as many nipples as Scaramanga

On the whole, though, this sequence is a bit lazy and uninspired.  Points awarded (Opening-Title Sequence):  003/007.

Overall points awarded (Q Branch):  004.86/007
(6)  Mission Briefing

The majority of this movie's problems come from the screenplay.  The first two acts are relatively suspenseful and engaging (despite occasional bits of inanity), but the whole thing falls apart rather badly in the third act.  The MacGuffin is the Solex agitator, whch Bond successfully coerces Andrea to steal for him.  It costs her her life, but Bond is able to gain possession of it, and is able to pass it off to Hip despite Scaramanga sitting right beside him.

Up to this point, what we've got on our hands is a basically good movie, marred somewhat by things like J.W. Pepper showing up in Bangkok (odds = not good) or Lt. Hip driving off and leaving Bond at the kung fu school.  But, basically, a solid suspense/action flick.

What clearly needs to happen at this point in the film is for Bond to successfully retrieve the Solex agitator, but then find a reason why he has to continue to pursue Scaramanga.  Failing that, Scaramanga needs to -- by virtue of his own strength -- regain the Solex agitator, making it necessary for Bond to continue to pursue him.

Instead, Hip gives the damned thing to Goodnight, who decides to track a midget, and ends up getting shoved into the trunk of Scaramanga's car.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is poor writing.  It was clearly designed only so the Bond girl could continue to be a presence later in the film, and it does not work.  Period.  As a result, it very nearly kills the final act, and the movie altogether; only good performances/locations/music, etc. distract us from the deficiencies in the plotting.

The screenplay was credited to Richard Maibaum and Tom Mankiewicz, but Makiewicz completed the final draft.  He'd previously written (or co-written, which in this instance means "wrote the final draft of") both Diamonds Are Forever and Live and Let Die, and seems to be responsible for pushing the series in the comedic directions it went.  I don't know if Maibaum or Mankiewicz should get the "credit" for the less-than-satisfactory results here, but Mankiewicz never returned to the series agai, whereas Maibaum had a hand in each film (excepting Moonraker) for the next fifteen years, so you draw your own conclusions there.

That said, there is at least some snappy dialogue at various point in the movie.  Here is one favorite exchange: Bond, learning that Scaramanga is out to kill him, wonders who would want to have him killed. M responds, "Jealous husbands, outraged chefs, humiliated tailors ... the list is endless."  I might say that the word "chortle" applies to my reaction to that exchange.

Not long after, Bond asks Moneypenny for some information, and she has it committed to memory, and tells him.  He compliments her by saying she is better than a computer.  "In all sorts of ways...," she quips.

Those scenes are not enough to make up for how unsatisfactory the screenplay's third act is, but they are at least something.  And it ought to be noted that while the final act is a failure, at least the first two feature Bond doing some honest-to-goodness investigating; for once in his career, he has to work a bit to find what he needs to find.  Overall, though, it's impossible to forgive an unsatisfactory conclusion, and that's what this screenplay has.  Points awarded: 002/007.

(07)  The Music

Title Song: Once upon a time, I hated Lulu's "The Man With the Golden Gun."  I've become accustomed to it over the years, and while I certainly wouldn't say that I like it, I can tolerate it.  The tempo is kinda weird, and the instrumentation seems off; the electric guitars don't quite mix with the horn section.

Points awarded (Title Song): 003/007.  Arguably one of the worst of the series . . . but a minimum of three serious competitors for that distinction leap to mind immediately, and I think I prefer this to all of those.

The Score: After sitting Live and Let Die out, John Barry returns, and turns in customarily fine work.  I love the rapid-fire five-note sting that begins the theme song; it is used to great effect several times in the score itself, as if the song's melody.

The best bit of score is perhaps the scene in which Bond is flying the seaplane in low, underneath radar.  That's tense, ominous, thrilling music.

I'm deducting a point, however, for the bone-headed decision to inset a penny-whistle effect int the middle of the big corkscrew-jump car stunt.  That sort of lowbrow Mickey-Mousing went out of style LONG before Barry used it here.  He apparently did so over Cubby Broccoli's objections, but Broccoli allowed it to stand.  In later years, Barry agreed that Broccoli had been correct, and that he regretted the decision.

Points awarded (The Score): 005/007

Total points awarded (The Music):  004/007

Double-0 Rating for The Man With the Golden Gun: 003.77/007

Somewhat surprisingly to me, that places this movie ahead of You Only Live Twice in the rankings.  And yet, that seems correct; I think the good elements of The Man With the Golden Gun mostly work better than the good elements of You Only Live Twice, and the bad cancel each other out.  On the whole, I do indeed think it is a better film.

So, the Double-0 Rating process has yielded an unsuspected result: I now actually like one of the movies that previously I disliked.  So far, that's the first time my opinion on one of these movies has actually been changed via the rating process.

The next two films in the series offer possibilities for something similar to happen.  Will it?

We sha-all seeeeeeee!

The tally so far:
006.23 -- From Russia With Love
006.03 -- Goldfinger
004.76 -- Dr. No
004.39 -- Live and Let Die
003.77 -- The Man With the Golden Gun
003.09 -- You Only Live Twice 

You Only Blog Twice will return in ... The Spy Who Loved Me.


  1. If you're not familiar with Christopher Lee's work, you should check out all of the great Dracula and other horror pics he made with Hammer Productions. Christopher Lee's acting was formative in developing my love of horror movies as a child, watching these classics from the 1950s and 1960s on late night reruns.

    1. Lee's Hammer work is on my long-range to-watch list. I'll get around to it one of these days (I hope)!

      I'm sure he won;t be in it all that much, but I'm looking forward to seeing him in "The Hobbit." Very pleased that Saruman is returning.

  2. I can't recall if this was my first exposure to Christopher Lee or not. My Mom was a big Hammer fan, and I saw a lot of that on VHS. It's likely I was familiar with him from Hound of the Baskervilles before this one, but round the same time, anyway.

    Those JW Pepper screengrabs are great. "Okay, this time, we want you to grimace with the other side of your mouth... great job, JW." I wonder if he was upset they never called him back for more. I'm sure both JW and Jaws will be back in Skyfall.

    One thing that always stuck with me from this was when Bond, patiently, but with barely-controlled irritation/ menace, says "Good Night..." from the bottom of the pit when trying to get her to push the right button. It's a tone of voice I've found myself using many times over the years, myself.

    Good call drawing attention to the miniature work. It never registered with me as miniatures. The superb locations draw attention to themselves, I agree. (And that one shot where the askew doorframes/ rectangles appear one after one another and the mad laughter echoes down the hall in Scaramanga's lair has always stuck with me.)

    Have you seen Oliver Stone's "Seizure?" It's okay (oddly, it's listed among King's recommended-viewings at the back of Danse Macabre) but "And Herve Villachez as... The Spider" is one of my favorite title credits.

    Finally, just a tip of the cap re: the "behind the scenes" methodology. You put a lot of work into these things, and it shows. Technical question - do you grab the pics as you go from the net, or do you capture screenpics as you watch?

    1. I watch the movies on my television, but then listen to the commentaries on my laptop and pause for screen-grabbing purposes about a gajillion times. I only started doing that recently, which is why the first few movies have considerably fewer photos!

      I'll have to go back and re-do those one of these days. I'll probably also eventually have to re-do the whole shebang when I get a Blu-ray drive one of these days, so the screengrabs will be cleaner.

      I love doing it, though. It is making for an excellent slideshow folder for my screensaver!

  3. Had the opportunity to rewatch this for the first time in a few years last night and jotted down some things for consideration...

    - When Scaramanga gives Bond a tour of his facilities, Bond mentions the pools that cool the superconductor coils are kept at hundreds of degrees below zero. I'm no scientist, but how is it possible for Kra's body (presumably only 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit, like the rest of us) to raise the temperature hundreds of degrees? As Bond mentions to Goodnight when he wonders what she has against signs, "the addition of this man's body will raise the temp past zero." Perhaps I'm misremembering the dialogue, and I'm willing to concede that any raise of temp will be bad news, but that puzzled me.

    - Speaking of Kra, are he and Nick Nack the only guys on Scaramanga's payroll? What exactly does Kra do around there? Just additional security? Does he commute?

    - I wondered the same thing about M's assessment of Goodnight.

    - Sticking with Goodnight for a second, a) how does she not notice her backside is depressing the button on the console? I'm willing to go the benefit-of-the-doubt route here and say she suffers from a numb-ass condition from a previous assignment. But still. b) What is up with the way she's acting during the lunch scene? Is she trying to speak to Bond in code? If so, this is poorly foreshadowed. Perhaps there was a deleted scene (or something that I missed) that explains it. and c) Like you mention, why the hell is Goodnight hanging out with Kra in that scene? Scaramanga said she had the run of the island, since she couldn't escape, so... (Tho, she probably just wanted to be somewhere away from Nick Nack.)

    - Scaramanga's income is a bit of a headscratcher. Sure, a million dollars a hit is a lot in 1974 money, and we can safely assume he pays no taxes. But... how many people does the guy kill a year to afford his set-up and facility and flying plane and travel, etc.? I guess he's a good saver.

    - Finally, So what happened to the Solex? A device that singlehandedly defeats the energy crisis is now in Britain's possession, apparently. I understand that it's a fictional device, of course, but it's a bit like capturing an Enigma machine in ww2 then never using it or mentioning it ever again.

    - One more: while the theme songs rarely make much literal sense, the lyrics to this one are particularly chuckleworthy, maybe because they seem to be TRYING to comment on the story/ characters.

    "His eye may be on you or me Who will he bang? We shall see, oh yeah..."

    They really go out of their way to imply that Scaramanga has a sexual dimension to every hit he undertakes. Maybe they'll do a NC-17 prequel someday...

    1. I got a hearty chuckle out of that "numb-ass condition" comment. I can't even imagine how such a thing have occurred, but it's as good an explanation as any. Perhaps some future volume of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen will tell us...

      Good points all, by the way. But I suspect that trying to make sense of this movie would drive a sane person mad.

    2. I'm not 100% sure on these, but I thought I'd try answering some of your questions bmcmolo, since I just watched it recently.

      -- Wasn't there a sign that said a sudden rise in temperature will trigger prompt criticality? I seem to remember them mentioning it in the commentary. So maybe Kra's body was enough to jumpstart it. Maybe Hai Fat's scientists should've invented some pool covers.

      -- My guess is Mankiewicz is responsible for the bumbling females in DAF, LALD, & this one, & M's judgement had to be sacrificed for the plot. It seems like some things don't really stand up to scrutiny but they're hoping we're so entertained we won't notice or mind.

      -- a) I'll have to agree that she suffers from numb-ass condition.
      b) Maybe she was trying to tell Bond about the solar collector on the top of the big rock, since I think it's actually called Mushroom Rock or Mushroom Island. But I only know that from reading some article. Her dialog really doesn't make sense.
      c) I think once again, Goodnight is around Kra because of the plot. Kra is made to look pervy on purpose, so he'll come on to her, so that when she knocks him out later, effectively killing him when he falls into the pool, she'll look justified & not so cruel.

      -- Scaramanga says he does jobs for the Chinese government & they let him stay free on the island. The exchange rate was also probably extremely good, so a million dollars really went a long way. Andrea doesn't look like she eats a lot, & Nick Nack even less.

      -- I have a feeling they were doing testing on the Solex in England but somehow Goodnight was around & the device along with the whole facility was destroyed. M was incredulous.

      -- John Barry may have said this is his least favorite of the Bond songs. I like it though. It's not the best, a little weird, a bit crass, a bit corny, so I think it fits this movie well. I can imagine it playing in a Hong Kong club with go go girls dancing. At least in the 70s. Maybe even today :)

    3. Just seeing this now - thanks for the thoughts, B. "Maybe Hai Fat's scientists should've invented some pool covers" - ha! Absolutely. Also: I'd love to see that "Oops... we destroyed the Solex" scene as a special feature; that'd have been mega.

      Have you ever heard the Ventures's cover of the theme song? It's great.

    4. This is my Friday Night Background Film of Choice this eve. Someone - maybe me - needs to make a series of memes about Bond owing the river merchant kid 20,000 Baht.

      Better than that would be a serious-minded Continuation Bond about this kid growing up to be a super-criminal who starts every negotiation at 20,000 Baht, with a particular disdain for the English.

      I still really enjoy this movie. 33 years of a returned investment on viewings. (I think I saw it first in '83, might have been '84. I probably didn't watch it more than a handful of times from 1990 to 2010, tho. Much too much information, I know, forgive me.)

    5. "Much too much information"?!? HERE?!? Never!

      I would read that spinoff story about the underprivileged river-rat kid. As long as he's not retconned into being Blofeld or something silly like that...

    6. "20,000 Baht!" could be the name "TWO DOLLARS!"

      (Well, in a world where "Better Off Dead" and "The Man with the Golden Gun" were commonly referenced. By civilians, not by people like us.)

    7. "That's a waste of a perfectly good white boy."

  4. Bryant,

    Sorry for the snarky attitude on that comment I left on the 'View to a Kill' article. I hope I didn't sound like a jerk, I'm just passionate about these Bond films and, after reading through your reviews here, I felt like something had gone seriously awry in this admittedly thorough examination.

    Yes, I thought AVTAK was waaay too high on the list, but also that some of the others were rated criminally low. That's why I came back here to have another look at 'The Man with the Golden Gun' and see what happened.

    I think you're "loathing" of Hervé Villechaize, your not finding Britt Eckland remotely attractive (0 out of 7? Really), your deducing an entire point from John Barry's score for that slide-whistle effect on the car jump (yes, it was silly, but not THAT silly), and your distaste for Tom Mankiewicz's quips, are what put this so low on the list. Maybe it's a matter of taste, but I think Nick Nack is perfectly cast (he's supposed to creep you out a little), that Britt is quite attractive (if a little daft), and that, while this isn't John Barry's finest Bond score, it is FUN. I love that tin pan alley piano take on the theme, and whenever I watch it, it gets stuck in my head. (Barry is one of my favorite composers, along with John Williams and Jerry Goldsmith.) Also, Mankiewicz's script seems to fit Roger Moore perfectly. One of my favorite lines is when the belly dancer realizes that her golden bullet is gone, and she says, "Ahh! I've lost my charm!" Bond: "Not from where I'm standing."

    Yes, TMWTGG was one of the very first 007 film as I saw as a boy, so of course it has a special place in my heart, but nostalgia is not the only reason I like it so much. I would argue that Roger Moore's best Bonds were the first three he made. I might even say the same about Sean Connery.

    Anyway, I've enjoyed reading these reviews, and hope I didn't insult you with that other comment. I meant what I said, but didn't mean to sound mean.

    So, after all this, tonight I think I'm in the mood to pull out my James Bond 50th Anniversary Blu-ray box set and have a double feature of Live and Let Die and The Man with the Golden Gun. Maybe over the next few days I'll watch all the Roger Moore's, including A View to a Kill, and see if you've swayed my opinion at all. I'll let you know.

    Keep up the good work, Bryant. Your output shames me.

    PS – This coming Wednesday I'm going to Boulder to see Stephen King read from 'Doctor Sleep.' Am I excited? Yes. I. Am.

    1. In BOULDER, no less?!? That is awesome, and I am jealous.

      What I'll say about "Golden Gun" is that I found myself with a higher opinion of it after writing this review than I had had of it previously.

      But I won't back off of my anti-Mary Goodnight stance even one iota. I feel the need to point out that my rankings of the Bond girls are NOT based on their attractiveness. It factors in, but not much. I'd find ranking them that way to be quite distasteful, actually; that's not what these reviews are about, and I've somehow given the perception that it IS what they're about then I've failed miserably.

      Now, it's true that I don't personally find Britt Ekland to have been particularly attractive. But the 0/7 ranking is based on the fact that Goodnight is a poorly-written character whose only purpose in the story is to be stupid enough that she can bend over and activate the Solex or whatever with her stupid bikini-clad ass. Even if I thought Britt Ekland was the hottest thing this side of microwaved magma, it would probably only jump my ranking of her up to 1/7. She is a playing a genuinely awful character, so no amount of attractiveness could redeem Goodnight.

      That's my story, and I'm sticking to it!

      I'm also sticking by my assessment of Nick Nack. He is awful. BUT...I can see how nostalgia might color one's view of him. Witness my review of "Moonraker" if you want to see nostalgia in action. However, since I'm grading these movies based on my own feelings, and not trying to be objective, I don't feel the least bit bad about it.

      Have fun seeing the King!

    2. "I'm grading these movies based on my own feelings, and not trying to be objective."

      Ohhhhh, well, why didn't you say so? That changes everything. Pppffhhh. Perhaps I should make sure I have all the facts before being such a quickdraw with my criticisms.

      I did watch both 'Live and Let Die' and 'The Man with the Golden Gun' last night, and – while I still love both films (certainly more than 'A View to a Wrinkle') – I am still confused about some of your criticisms.

      I don't understand the logic behind judging Bond girls on how well they are written. Reason being, ever since Ursula Andress walked out of the ocean in 'Dr. No', was she ever supposed to be anything more than eye candy? The fact that she was more than that (here we are talking about her over 50 years later), likely has more to do with the iconic image of her in that swimsuit than any (dubbed) dialogue that may have come out of her mouth.

      Has there ever been a Bond Girl who was a shining example of feminism? No. Nor should there be. Granted, we've come a long way since Sean Connery smacked a girl on the rear in 'Goldfinger, but, even going back to Ian Fleming's books, this is nothing more than male fantasy. As for Britt Eckland … calling her a "genuinely awful character" is a mystery to me. She (along with Maud Adams) looked stunningly beautiful in the film (and I don't feel remotely bad about saying so), she provided some comic relief, and gave Bond someone with whom to sail off into the sunset. I think you find Tom Mankiewicz's writing distasteful, since all of the Bond films he worked on rank low on your list. (When I'm watching 'Diamonds are Forever', I'm not really caring much about what Tiffany Case and Plenty O'Toole are saying, My eyes are otherwise too enamored. Does that make a male chauvinist? No, it make me a red-blooded male. It makes me a Bond fan. It's 007 for crying out loud. Me thinks the ruler you are using here is inappropriately rigid.

      Speaking of Tom Mankiewicz – who I became familiar with in the Making Of documentaries on 'Superman' – I find it kind of funny to spot his dialogue. In Richard Donner's 1978 Superman (which 'Creative Consultant' Mank rewrote without credit), a black pimp says upon seeing Superman in costume: "Say, Jim, whooo! That's a bad outfit!" In 'Live and Let Die' (4 years earlier), a black cab driver says to Bond, "Well, hello, Jim! What's happenin', baby? Just ease back now, Jim. Relax!" Though I doubt Tom M. ever won an award from feminists or the NAACP, I find that funny.

      As for your "loathing" of Nick Nack … I'll just chalk that up to personal taste. I find him charming. (You probably didn't like 'Fantasy Island' either.)

      I may have been overselling my opinion when I called 'A View to a KIll' a "steaming pile of dog shit." I'll amend that when I watch it again, and try to take into consideration that these reviews of yours are not meant to be objective, but strictly your opinion. That doesn't mean I won't try to sway your opinion, but I won't sound quite so bombastic. Incidentally, when I said that 'AVTAK' belonged at the very bottom of the list, I may have been overselling that, too. 'Die Another Day' is the steaming pile of dog shit that belongs there. But that's a discussion for another day.

    3. Andy, I don't really know how to take what you're writing here, so I'm going to elect to just not respond to it with any specificity.

  5. That's cool, Bryant. After re-reading it, I don't know what the hell I was trying to say either. What I meant as mild sarcasm read as snarky, what I meant as sincere came out sarcastic. Sorry. I think I'm in a weird place and not thinking right.

    I will say that, after watching Live and Let Die and The Man with the Golden Gun, they weren't as great as I remember. Your points are valid. I will be more careful next time before posting a comment anywhere that has the least little whiff of vitriol. Particularly when I'm in a weird place mentally. And especially when I respect the writer. As I do you.

    Thanks for putting up with me.

    1. No problem, Andy! I was literally just having trouble figuring out what you were being serious about and what you were kidding about.

      I should also say that in the cases of both of those movies, writing my reviews really hammered home that while I have problems with them both, I do basically like both movie. In the case of "Live and Let Die," I like it a lot. That proved to be the case with virtually all of Moore's Bond movies, to one extent or another. (Not so much "The Spy Who Loved Me," though; I think that one is just dreadful, albeit with some fun to be had in certain specific areas.)

  6. This made me smile. ""Hmm," I pondered to myself; "that's an interesting person. I feel as if I would like to know more about her in some way that does not make sense to me but that I will no doubt look back on decades later and realize (possibly while writing a blog post on an advanced form of worldwide communications system, or "web") that what it meant was that I really, really wanted to make the sex with her."" Ah, youth.

    Haha, I definitely went through a freeze framing session with Chew Mee for further study. I was shocked to learn this was her only acting credit. Maybe I shouldn't have been.

    Moore roughing up Andrea is painful to watch, I think it's because the treatment goes on for so long compared to Connery's in From Russia With Love. Was there another time that Connery's Bond roughed up another woman?

    I've always liked that first shot inside the Bottoms Up Club, nice.

    At the end, when Scaramanga's base is exploding, Roger really runs far ahead of Britt, forget about holding her hand!

    I was wondering about Scaramanga's laser, they don't seem to talk about why it didn't have a light effect put on it for when it shoots Bond's plane on the beach. They had a laser light effect in Goldfinger when Bond was strapped to the table. Did they just run out of time/money for this?

    Some similarities in Sean & Roger's films:
    Their 1st films have location shooting in Jamaica, although in LALD it doubles for San Monique.
    In their 2nd films they're up against assassins who are the dark side of Bond. Red Grant & Scaramanga. They also rough up women.
    So while they tried to make Roger different from Sean, it seemed like they were definitely reusing some things to get the right balance of familiarity & newness for audiences. Wish I could think of more chronological examples.

    1. Interesting parallels there. I wonder if those were the result of conscious effort or not.

      Ol' 007 has done his fair share of smacking-around when it comes to the ladies, albeit not recently. I have to say, though, there are very few of those scenes which bother me. In most (if not all) cases, he is (let's bear in mind) in search of vital information which will, presumably, save numerous lives. So really, why WOULDN'T he beat up a woman or two? He'd be a failure at his job if he didn't.

      The scene with Andrea in this movie is a serious exception, though. He seems merely cruel here, and it is decidedly not one of the highpoints of the series.

      I don't think there is another scene in which Moore's Bond gets rough with a woman. Nothing comes to mind. I don't think you get anything similar until "The Living Daylights," in the scene where Bond roughly tears the woman's shirt off so he can use her naked body to distract a guard.

  7. "For one, I like the fistfight he has in the belly-dancer's dressing-room in the Beirut scene."

    Next time you watch this scene, have a look at the dressing-table mirror - you can see the camera crew; you don't even need to pause!

    The Beirut sequence sums up why I don't like this film - there's no attempt at all to convince us they've left the sound stage. Doesn't help that they seem to have used the same cafe set as Carry On Follow That Camel.

    There's an air of cheapness over this film at times, for all the gorgeous locations - it feels to me like a two-part episode of The Saint or similar ITC adventure series.

    Goodnight's terrible, there's no way round it - I don't mind Ekland or her performance, but the greatest actress on Earth couldn't save that character!

    1. I agree. Maybe it's that that bothers me more than Eklund herself; something for me to bear in mind whenever I watch this movie next.

      That's a good point about the Beirut sequence. And about the relatively cheap-looking aesthetic. I don't necessarily blame the producers for that, though, given the uncertainty over how people were reacting to Moore in the role. Certainly, they went all-out for his next film ("The Spy Who Loved Me").

      I've seen that bit with the camera crew in the mirror, which is great. Nowadays, they'd just use CGI to wipe 'em out. That seems like a shame to me. My feeling is, if a mistake like that somehow gets through, then it deserves to stay.

  8. I always enjoy Lee's performance - clipped, assured, understated sarcasm, especially the line "He always did like that mausoleum. Put him in it." Surely worth an extra half point for that alone!

    1. He's wonderful. Wasn't he always? Randomly, I saw a little clip last night of him being interviewed about his appearance in "The Hobbit," and was so smart, so passionate, so gentle (AND simultaneously strong) that it seriously made me choke up. And I'd seen this interview before!

      He was truly one of a kind.

      And imagine how adversely this movie would have been impacted by having a lesser actor in the role! It's not all that great on paper; he elevated it far beyond what it might have been.

  9. I saw Man with the Golden Gun when it first came out (I was about 12) and hadn't seen it since until watching it recently. I had always regarded it as the worst film in the series, so I was surprised that upon seeing it now I actually enjoyed it - and thought it was good.

    I think it would be a top 10 Bond movie it 3 things were removed:
    1. J.W. Pepper
    2. The school girl karate experts
    3. The whistle during the car stunt

    One other comment: it seems as though Golden Gun shows the most female skin of any Bond movie, and maybe comes the closest to full frontal nudity. Is this correct or is there another movie I'm not thinking of which tops it?

    1. I'd say you might be right about the amount of skin, although a lot of the opening-credit sequences have straight-up nudity in them. Semi-obscured via silhouette or whatever, but still.

      Glad to hear the movie worked better for you than you remembered!