In which 007 squeezes a sumo wrestler’s buttocks to escape a death grip. The story, revolving around Bond simultaneously chasing a renowned assassin and energy device (the year was 1974 after all), is actually quite strong. Much of The Man with the Golden Gun is spent developing parallels between James Bond (Roger Moore) and the titular Francisco Scaramanga (Christopher Lee). Both are expert assassins, emotionally detached from their dangerous line of work. Their connection strengthens as we discover the two share similar taste in women also.
This thrilling premise, a game of cat-and-mouse between professionals, where we in the audience are unsure who is which, is all the more enticing when considering the two powerhouse leads. Lee imbues Scaramanga with a vicious vitality, treating the job of assassin as an art form. His masterpiece: killing 007. Roger Moore, the oft-labeled “clown” actor in the role, rises to the occasion. Guy Hamilton seems to direct Moore as if he were the legendary Sean Connery, showing a side of the suave actor rarely seen throughout his tenure. While Hamilton’s direction occasionally dominates the performance, failing to allow Moore to organically make the role his own, it does lead to some of his best moments. Each scene between the two assassins, of which there are criminally few, bridles with dramatic flair and palpable excitement. Their showdown, on Scaramanga’s illustrious remote island, is outstanding, moving from a traditional “20 paces” duel to a colorful stalk-and-hunt inside his bizarre “funhouse.”
Guy Hamilton’s touch as a director is visible without, and he injects the film with his trademark bizarreness. Nick Nack (Herve Villechaize) adds to the ridiculousness, and pairs nicely with Lee’s menacing Scaramanga. As 007’s “kung fu” movie, it moves at a nice clip throughout Asia and Ted Moore’s cinematography is lush and vibrant. A few of the newer Bond films could learn a thing or two from Gun‘s refreshing mix of exoticism, adventure, and escapism.
Unfortunately, obligation to hit many trademark “Bond beats” handicaps the film considerably, moving away from the central relationship far too often in favor of lackluster action sequences shoe-horned in out of “necessity.” While Maud Adams gives a weighty and dramatic performance as the tragic Andrea Anders, adding dimension and bulk to a thin character, Britt Eckland does no favors to the paper thin leading lady: Mary Goodnight. Her “bimbo-Bond-girl” is a far cry from the multifaceted women that graced the entries of the 1960s, highlighted further by the grounded performances from Moore and Lee. Ultimately, although his intriguing stamp is left on the film, Guy Hamilton’s fourth shot at the Bond franchise betrays his fatigue and creative stagnation. His wry, absurd, and thrilling inventiveness from his previous three films is largely missing from The Man with the Golden Gun, when an unfocused plot needed it most.
Despite featuring one of the series’ best villains, and a commanding lead performance from Roger Moore, tonal inconsistencies and lack of that essential energy solidify The Man with the Golden Gun as a lesser entry in the 007 franchise.