Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Man With the Golden Gun - B-Movie Kung Fu Fantasy Island Bond

The Man with the Golden Gun- 1974

Bond:  Roger Moore
Directed by: Guy Hamilton
Produced by: Harry Saltzman & 
Albert R. Broccoli
Theme: "The Man with the Golden Gun" performed by Lulu

This is a terrible movie. It's by far the most tragically Seventies of the franchise, but somehow still manages to not be the worst Bond film. If I subscribed to the theory "if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all" this would be a very short blog post.

Everyone looks old this movie, because they were: M, Q, Moneypenny, and even Bond. It's stunning to think Roger Moore still had five movies as Bond ahead of him. I suppose after this film, we just accept that he looks old and go with it, but watching Moneypenny flirt with him is kind of like imagining your grandparents making out.

There isn't a single exchange of believable dialogue in the film. The exposition is cringeworthy, especially the parts where M is explaining the energy crisis and solar power. The science in the film is laughable. Somehow solar power involves mirrors, an oversized 1950s microphone, liquid helium chilled storage units, works even when it's not in the sun but can be turned off by a cloud passing over-head, and all hinges on a tiny "solex agitator" the size of a box of cigarettes. That's all Bond needs to take at the end. The rest of the power plant blows up, but with that Solex he can solve the energy crisis. Which apparently he doesn't do because we're not all living off of solar power right now, or even in the rest of the movies in the Bond universe.

I imagine the writer's meeting for this movie went something like this:
"Hey, blaxploitation worked so well in Live and Let Die, let's make this movie Kung Fu!"
"Yeah! And that boat chase on the bayou worked so well, let's have one on a rivers in southeast Asia!"
"Yes. And we have to have a car chase that wrecks a fleet of police cars or we'll get kicked out of the writers guild." 
"Oh! Oh! And let's bring back the racist hick sheriff J.W. Pepper by having him be on vacation with his wife in Thailand! Because Thailand was such a hot vacation destination in the 1970s for small-time Louisiana sheriffs. That way he can make all sorts of racist comments about Asian people!"

It's like they took things that worked in Live and Let Die and shoe-horned them in to this movie without bothering to stop and think about why those thinks had worked the first time around. The blaxploitation worked in LALD because it was played straight and the villain was black. The Kung Fu in this movie is not played straight. It's ridiculous, played for laughs, and comes off as horribly insulting. And the villain is not Asian. True, Christopher Lee played an Asian in FIVE Fu Manchu movies, but that only makes it worse somehow.

J.W. Pepper worked in the last movie because he had a reason for being there. He was an active participant, but every decision he made was bad and ended horribly for him. That made you laugh and think "Ha! Racism is wrong." In this movie his character serves no purpose, he's totally passive, doesn't really have any comeuppance, and comes off as just plain uncomfortably racist. You're left squirming thinking "Ew, racism is wrong."

Roger Moore has two facial settings in this movie: his "deeply concerned" face and his "smarmy turning on the charm" face. Yes, that's Tattoo from Fantasy Island, playing essentially the same character, or rather I suppose he played Nick Nack on Fantasy Island since this movie came first. And you may recognize Soon-Tek Oh because he played every Asian character on TV in the Seventies and Eighties. Britt Ekland is attractive, but in spite of having once been married to Peter Sellers, just doesn't have the comic timing to pull off the bumbling assistant Mary Goodnight. I'm not even going to pretend that Maud Adams is good because she's so much better in Octopussy. And I find it odd that both Bond Girls in this movie are Swedish without any particular narrative reason for that to be so. The entire film takes place in southeast Asia.

Having traveled to Hong Kong and Macau, I do enjoy the brief moments set there, and the MI6 base in the wreckage of the Queen Elizabeth is really cool. So there's about ten minutes of the film that are vaguely worth watching.

There are another twenty minutes of this movie worth watching near the end. It's the duel between Scaramanga and Bond. If you skip to about 30 minutes left and watch until Scaramanga is dead, that's your movie.

Which brings me to Christopher Lee. Now you might think he's make a truly awesome and memorable Bond villain. And he does in the aforementioned twenty minutes. Otherwise one must remember that Christopher Lee is largely famous for staring in B-movies, such as the aforementioned Fu Manchu series. He'd played some bad parts in bad movies long before he stepped into the role of Count Dooku. He was not known for being overly selective with the quality of the scripts he signed on for, TMWTGG being no exception. He really has absolutely nothing to work with in this movie.

The idea is that Scaramanga is the evil Bond. He's just as good as Bond at everything, only he works for himself as an assassin. Only that parallel isn't really played up until the end. The movie starts off all wrong in the opening pre-title sequence. Nick Nack has brought in a Chicago gangster, who you might recognize from Diamonds Are Forever, to try to kill his boss Scaramanga. Except that, we don't really know who any of these people are yet so we don't really care. And the way the duel is structured, we're left rooting for Scaramanga, which is odd. Why make us sympathize with the villain? Unless you're trying to be an art flick commenting on the nature of evil, which you're most certainly not.

Then Scaramanga proceeds to be not particularly villainous. After killing the gangster, he kills a scientist we'd never seen before on screen. We don't even know he's a scientist until later. So, there's no impact there. He kills Hai Fat, his wealthy industrialist partner who we knew was going to die at some point in the movie. He really did Bond a favor by killing him first. He doesn't even treat Maud Adams badly until he kills her. Bond roughs her up more than Scaramanga. When he does kill her, he does so off camera, and she's just confessed to Bond that she's been manipulating things the whole time to get Bond to kill Scaramanga so she can break up with him. Never mind that she lives with and sleeps with the guy. She had plenty of opportunities to slit his throat in his sleep but is too weak and helpless to do so. Still the confession and her seduction of Bond out from under Goodnight does not make her sympathetic and undercuts the impact of her death.

So really, he's not particularly imposing. Although I did keep expecting him to say to Bond "I gave you the chance of aiding me willingly, but you have elected the way of pain!"

This film also marks the end of a couple of Bond-eras.  It's Harry Saltzman's last turn as one of the producers. He was forced to sell his stake in Eon Productions to cover loses incurred through some unrelated bad business decisions. The remaining films are all produced by a Broccoli. This is also Guy Hamilton's final turn as a director. He was approached about directing the next film but turned it down because he'd been offered the job of directing Superman; a job he ultimately lost to Richard Donner. Hamilton was wildly inconsistent as a Bond director, with two solid films (Goldfinger and Live and Let Die) and two turkeys (Diamonds are Forever and The Man with the Golden Gun). It's really hard to believe those four movies were all directed by the same guy.

This movie rockets to the bottom of my rankings. As much as I can't stand Thunderball, it's primary offence is being boring not being outright bad.

Personal Rankings:

  1. Goldfinger
  2. From Russia With Love
  3. Live and Let Die
  4. You Only Live Twice
  5. Dr. No
  6. Diamonds Are Forever
  7. Thunderball
  8. The Man with the Golden Gun

1974 Context
President: Gerald Ford
Queen: Elizabeth II

Nixon resigns
UPC barcodes are introducted

Best Picture Nominees:


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In 1789, the governor of Australia granted land and some animals to James Ruse in an experiment to see how long it would take him to support himself. Within 15 months he had become self sufficient. The area is still known as Experiment Farm. This is my Experiment Farm to see how long it will take me to support myself by writing.