Oh my gosh...when PG meant nothing! I have to step back. I watched all of these movies as a kid. My dad watched them with me. I can tell you right now, The Man with the Golden Gun would not be PG. I don't think it would be R, but PG-13 would just be an inadequate rating for this movie. Mainly because James Bond, especially in 1974, is not woke. There's slightly obscured nudity (a skinny dipper in a pool) and tons of violence and antiquated ideas. But, yeah, PG.
DIRECTOR: Guy Hamilton
It's different now that my daughter might have dwarfism! I only change my political and sensitivity beliefs when they affect ME! I'm referencing that one of the bad guys --Nick Nack portrayed by the late Hervé Villechaise --is a dwarf who is often referred to as a midget. They make short jokes throughout. SPOILER: He is defeated by being stuck in an empty suitcase. He's then caged and hung high on a ship. Are they going to do that to my daughter? I certainly hope not. She probably won't deserve that. In my slow journey through the James Bond films, the political climate of today has made me more critical to my viewing habits. I don't think I can find a better era to stand out than the Roger Moore '70s to see how much the world has changed in terms of progress. Regardless, can these movies still be enjoyed?
I was actually holding out on watching The Man with the Golden Gun until the summer. We moved in January. At the old house, I converted our garage to a movie theater and I wanted to watch the next Bond film as impressively as I could. I just finished a few weeks ago. But then I realized that most people don't want to sit down for a screening of The Man with the Golden Gun, especially my wife. I usually don't recommend The Man with the Golden Gun for friends of mine who are actually kind of on board. By this point in the franchise, the James Bond films had bled the formula dry. Sean Connery was gone. George Lazenby was well into his self-destructive phase. The only real change to a tried-and-true method was the addition of Roger Moore's almost fourth-wall breaking comedy. I think that the Bond movies went from being truly great films like From Russia with Love and Goldfinger into something that was much more popcorn and fun. I don't really want to lift up the Bond franchise as the height of cinema, but those early movies are really good. I think that the people who made these movies, Albert Broccoli and Harry Salzman, also knew that these movies were top notch. This definitely seems like the precursor to the summer blockbuster. I can't really fault these movies. Live and Let Die is a really solid movie, but it also is really held back by greatness. There at least is an attempt to make Live and Let Die an objectively great film. It even sort of succeeds, but there is definitely a hint of where the wind was blowing with that film. The Man with the Golden Gun seems to be the next natural step in the Bond evolution. It is barely a spy movie. There is nothing really intricate with the plot, but it is mainly just a series of "I bet you didn't see this moment happening" moments.
The most famous scene in Live and Let Die is the riverboat chase. This movie has a riverboat chase. That's not the end of my argument. What I'm saying about the riverboat chase in Live and Let Die is that it is impressive. It is a well crafted (pun intended) action sequence. It is bigger than the other action sequences we've seen in the other Bond films. Honestly, it takes it to another level. The closest second place is the Little Nelly sequence in You Only Live Twice, but that's a lot of green screen and the riverboat thing is just out of this world. I'm sure the producers caught wind of how well that sequence came across. People were probably talking about it for a while and when the next movie in the franchise came out, the temptation was definitely there to mirror the events of the first movie. But bigger doesn't always mean better. The reason that the first riverboat sequence works so well is that it is meticulous. I can just imagine the storyboards for that thing. It's got this phenomenal balance of suspense and comedy. It intentionally runs just a little bit too long. Every time you think that sequence is done, it keeps pushing back. It's really well made. The Man with the Golden Gun has a lot of these cool action sequences, but none of them are crafted so well. They perform the job of being cool, but there's nothing that seems absolutely essential to the film. Perhaps the most famous stunt in The Man with the Golden Gun is the corkscrew car flip. Back in the day, I used to watch all of the special features that came with the DVDs. Live and Let Die, oddly enough, focused almost exclusively on Roger Moore's stunt double walking on crocodiles. The Man with the Golden Gun focused on the car corkscrew flip. It's a very impressive stunt, especially considering that there's really no trickery to the whole thing. I mean, they kind of messed it up by putting a slide whistle sound effect over the top of it, but that's another story that the filmmakers also agreed was a mistake. But the car corkscrew flip is a moment. A lot of this movie is about moments as opposed to creating anything really substantial. There's also the wreck of the Queen Elizabeth. You can tell that a set designer put in all of this work to make a truly dynamite set, but that set really does nothing outside of be a piece of spectacle. As such, the moments that actually matter are kind of flimsy. Scaramanga's lab at the end looks like an almost carbon copy of the lab in Dr. No. It's not even the set designer's fault. Because the filmmakers were interested in making all of these fun moments, they didn't focus on the thing that really mattered in this movie: the script.
The script is threadbare. Like, it's really weak compared to most of the Bond movies. Again, I'm not going to use the Bond franchise to talk about intricate plots. But this is barely a spy story. I know that there are a few outings in the Bond franchise where James Bond is more about the man than he is the mission. But Bond is on a mission for MI-6. M gives Bond this huge info dump (that he even acknowledges that he's completely aware of) surrounding the energy crisis. But we aren't really given a scope or scale of this threat. Rather, that plot is playing in the background to Bond's hunt for Scaramanga. There is this weird twist in the story and I don't always pick up on it in every viewing. The twist is meant to be this genius moment that is meant to tie everything together. It really doesn't. It is a revelation that completely falls flat in the grand scheme of things. Really, this plot device is just used to extend the film a little bit. It's actually odd that this movie has a full runtime because I could summarize this movie in two to three sentences. It's not very deep. It also kind of cheats with its twist. SPOILER: The movie's twist is that Scaramanga is never really after Bond until the absolute end of the film when the two disparate plots are actually intertwined. Maud Adams's Andrea Anders tricks Bond into hunting Scaramanga so she can get out from under his thumb. (Roger Moore and Maud Adams would meet again in Moonraker, but with Maud Adams playing a different, larger part.) But it doesn't make sense. Scaramanga has a James Bond wax doll that he practices killing. It shows his obsession with killing James Bond. The idea that he's going to act all casual about actually taking on Bond doesn't make a lick of sense. It is only there to make the movie last longer than fifteen minutes. My friend Derek turned me around to the importance of character over plot. Sometimes, a movie doesn't really need to have a good plot to be a great story. But The Man with the Golden Gun doesn't really advance the character of Bond. I may have talked about this in another of my Bond reviews, but when a franchise wants to last like the James Bond franchise does, many producers err on the safe side and don't make changes to the character. This is a story about James Bond acting as the most dangerous game. I would have loved to see him lose his cool a little bit. There was something there. What if Bond took some fundamental missteps? I mean, Scaramanga is supposed to be the most ruthless assassin in all the world. He's supposed to be Bond as a hitman. Why wouldn't they ruffle each others feathers? Their showdown should have been epic, not a set of tricks that Bond figures out. This should be the one that leaves him barely alive and crossing some lines that he never thought that he would cross. This movie doesn't offer that.
I like Christopher Lee as a bad guy. I'm not the first to the table to say that. He might be the best thing that this movie has to offer. Britt Ekland as Mary Goodnight is the opposite. She might be one of the more annoying Bond girls in the franchise. The James Bond films might be responsible for much of the chauvinism in action / adventure cinema. Many of the Bond women weren't strong, empowered women. But then there's Honor Blackman's character that I shall not name here. She's one of the most memorable Bond girls and not just because of her name. Yeah, there are very problematic elements of her narrative, but she's also strong and doesn't take any guff. But Mary Goodnight is almost a punching bag when it comes to representing the gender. The Man with the Golden Gun uses Mary Goodnight to just gripe about the weakness and stupidity of women. I never really liked Mary Goodnight and I could never really vocalize why. She really Jar-Jars up the movie at times. If she can make a mistake that sets back the protagonists unwittingly, she's going to do it. The odd thing is, from a James Bond fan's perspective, she is actually one of the key cast in the books. She's a fundamental part of the story and she's here as dumb window-dressing. Then there's the "All Asians know kung fu" trope. I admit. It's the '70s. Kung Fu was everywhere. But this movie, you guys. It's just checking off a list. It's all problematic.
But at the end of the day, it's kind of fun. This might be the worst thing I can write in terms of political correctness or savviness. What I'm saying is that this kind of filmmaking is extremely problematic. It is a dated film that doesn't really have much to offer in terms of spiritual growth or even solid entertainment. But there might be room for those who can differentiate problematic cinema from its cause can enjoy it, but it might not be worth it.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.