The Man with the Golden Gun
directed by Guy Hamilton
(United Artists/MGM, 1974)

The Man with the Golden Gun begins with one of the most promising storylines in the James Bond series. Francisco Scaramanga (Christopher Lee, in a role first offered to Jack Palance) is perhaps the world's greatest assassin, charging $1 million per kill (a hefty price for 1974), which he always delivers with a single golden bullet. Now, he's apparently targeted Bond (Roger Moore, returning for his second round in the role), who isn't quite as well paid but has still earned the respect of his peers in the global arena of death-merchanting.

Unfortunately, what could have been a suspenseful clash of titans got lost under the weight of too many plot devices and too many cliches.

Bond is pulled off a case to find a missing solar energy scientist when he receives a golden bullet with "007" inscribed on the side. Knowing he's been targeted by the master assassin, Bond is given unofficial approval to find Scaramanga first. But it turns out Bond isn't the intended target after all; instead, Scaramanga is gunning for -- can you see this coming? -- a missing solar energy scientist.

Maud Adams, as Scaramanga's lover and betrayer Andrea Anders, lacks both the fear and the passion the character seems to demand. Britt Ekland is too giddy as Mary Goodnight, a bumbling agent assigned to aid Bond and whose primary goal is, of course, getting him into bed. Luckily Bond has more competent help in Hip (Soon-Tek Oh), a high-kicking agent with two kick-ass nieces.

Herve Villechaize is amusing as Scaramanga's sidekick/henchman Nick Nack, but he lacks menace and can never be taken very seriously. His I'll-kill-you-if-I-can relationship with his employer worked better between Clouseau and Kato in the old Pink Panther movies. And Clifton James as hick Louisiana sheriff J.W. Pepper overdoes the caricature he created in Live & Let Die, pushing the stereotype of the Ugly American Tourist beyond a reasonable limit.

Minor spoilers ahead, but hey, you already know Bond wins, right?

The plot would probably have worked better if it had remained focused on the battle of wits between Bond and Scaramanga. Turning the assassin into a would-be solar energy mogul was a silly twist, serving primarily to provide the necessary machinery to blow up his island at the end.

Scaramanga's killing funhouse is incredibly hokey, and Bond's victory rests on the hazy notion that someone would put a working, loaded pistol in the hands of a wax figure. And sending an unconscious Bond to be kicked to death by the students at a martial arts school -- well, there have been more imaginative attempts on his life, you can be sure.

On the plus side, there's a really cool spiral jump in a jazzy red AMC. Bernard Lee as M is at his most irascible yet, and Desmond Llewelyn, notably missing as Q in the previous Bond adventure, is back with more wit than ever. And this movie features one of the cleverest "secret bases" of British Intelligence yet.

Moore didn't have to work too hard in the role for this one, but he seems a little more settled than he did in Live & Let Die. The Man with the Golden Gun is neither the best nor the worst in Moore's tenure as Bond. Fans of the series will likely enjoy it.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

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