The Bond: Roger Moore in his second of seven.
The Release: December 19, 1974 in the UK and the 20th in the US. While Live and Let Die was an improvement on Connery’s last (official) Bond outing, The Man with the Golden Gun is one of the lowest grossing installments in the franchise. It did only slightly better than On Her Majesty’s Secret Service worldwide with $97.6 million and even made less than the Lazenby film in the US.
The Girl: Britt Ekland as (Mary) Goodnight, the second coming of Tiffany Case. Not only does she do little more than run around in a bikini and be as unhelpful as possible, she almost gets Bond killed. During the film’s climax, she accidentally activates a solar device with her ass and Bond unwittingly sits right in its path after she tries and fails to turn it off. There’s also Maud Adams as the villain’s girlfriend Andrea. She and Moore have better chemistry than he and Ekland, so much so that she returned a few films later to play the titular Octopussy.
The Villain: Christopher Lee as Scaramanga. Lee and Ian Fleming were actually cousins and they often golfed together before the author’s death. The actor was best known at the time for playing Dracula in the Hammer adaptations and he brings a similar level of gravitas to this character, but with less hissing. He strikes a perfect balance between unnerving and absurd and he’s better than the movie deserves.
The Gadgets: The titular golden gun isn’t just a gold-plated pistol as it is in the book, but a weapon assembled from seemingly innocuous parts. The barrel is a pen, cufflinks form the trigger and a lighter and cigarette case act as the grip and magazine, respectively. I don’t know anything about guns, but it seems unlikely that this one would function, let alone give the shooter much accuracy, but, man, do I want one.
The Song: “The Man with the Golden Gun” by Lulu. You’re probably asking yourself, “Who the f–k is Lulu?” and the answer is: a mediocre ’70s singer who sounds like bargain basement Ann-Margret. Though her highly theatrical vocals are perfect for lines like, “His eye may be on you or me/Who will he bang?” the song is mostly an awful mix of the brassy bombast that characterizes the early themes and the rock and disco that dominated popular music at the time.
The Book: Golden Gun was Fleming’s last full Bond novel (his family released it posthumously), but that’s not the only reason it’s a little sad. While–like every entry in the series–the book is essentially about reaffirming Bond’s supremacy, in this case, it’s also about reestablishing his identity. Long story short, thanks to Kissy Suzuki’s meddling in You Only Live Twice, Golden Gun begins with Bond attempting to kill M. He’s eventually cured of his Russian brainwashing, but as the book goes on, it’s hard not to wonder if either it changed him or if seeing three films (Dr. No, From Russia with Love and Goldfinger) influenced Fleming’s writing of the character.
There’s a slight touch of cruelty to Bond’s actions toward some of the women in Golden Gun that seems out of character. The first comes when he slaps a girl in the face. Movie Bond has an infuriating habit of smacking women, but Book Bond does it precisely once. Granted he’s trying to snap her out of shock so maybe it’s justifiable. Much more difficult to accept is the moment when, during a party with a bunch of gangsters, Bond suddenly shoots a pineapple off a girl’s head. She swoons and then Bond sends her off with a hundred dollars stuffed down her bra and a slap on the ass.
However, two moments reaffirm that Bond is still the same guy he’s always been. The first is his final scene with Mary Goodnight (who is his longtime secretary in the series and has as much chemistry with him in it as Moneypenny does in the films). Book Bond may be a commitment-phobe, but he never hesitates to jump into a romantic relationship. When Mary offers to let him recoup in her house in a way that hints at a longterm relationship, Bond, “in the full possession of his senses, with his eyes wide open, his feet flat on the linoleum floor, stuck his head blithely between the mink-lined jaws of the trap.”
The second comes when he kills Scaramanga. Despite earlier excitement about the prospect of the chase and finding a way to hurt the KGB (which replaced his longtime rival SMERSH), when the time comes for Bond to pull the trigger, he puts it off. In fact, he hesitates so long that Scaramanga nearly finds a way to take him down. He even questions the merits of his job while recovering in the hospital later in much the same way he did in the first novel, Casino Royale. The moment–and the whole book–feels both elegiac in its callback to that younger, less damaged Bond and somehow like a reaffirmation of who Bond is at his core. It’s oddly the perfecting ending to the series.
The Movie: The Man with the Golden Gun is clearly the Bond franchise in transition. It’s an uneasy mix of serious spy thriller and outright comedy. That’s most evident in Bond himself. Moore is strong with both aspects of the role but his–and therefore Bond’s–ability to switch between playful and cruel so easily makes the character seem borderline sociopathic. That’s especially true of his interactions with women. He’s surprisingly violent with Andrea, slapping her around, pushing her onto the bed and then basically calling her worthless when she doesn’t tell him the information he needs. Even then, she still sleeps with him later.
That scene, by the way, is pretty perverse. Bond, rightfully I’d argue, spends most of the movie refusing to sleep with Goodnight, but when he finally gives in, Andrea interrupts them. Bond pushes Goodnight into a closet and the poor girl has to sit and watch (then blessedly fall asleep) while Bond and Andrea have sex. That she doesn’t offer to sleep with him anyway after Andrea leaves is the only likable thing she does. While the moment is meant to be funny, there’s a lack of emotion to Bond’s actions that feels out of character even at this stage in the franchise. Connery’s Bond could be a cad and Lazenby’s encountered a similar situation in OHMSS, but the way this Bond so clearly doesn’t care for these women gives him a distinctly unlikable edge. And the less likable Bond is, the harder it is to root for him.