Wednesday, April 27, 2011
Re-viewing Bond- THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN (1974)
I’ve been rereading several of the James Bond novels recently and as often happens when I go on one of these jags I got the urge to watch one of the movies. As usual I had the unstoppable compulsion to pick at a scab and rewatch one that I disliked the last time I saw it. THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN was Roger Moore’s second Bond film and has three stand out elements. Christopher Lee plays the villain of the piece Scaramanga which is one plus and Herve Villechaize playing Lee’s dastardly and mischievously wicked henchman/cook is another. But even though Lee does a very fine job making his character both charming and threatening the film wastes his efforts which I consider a crime. He was a great choice for the role but the script is a muddled mess unworthy of his attention. The film also has one of the most impressive car stunts ever captured on screen in which a car is made to rotate in midair as it jumps a river. If the movie had nothing else to recommend it this amazing trick is well worth seeing for any fan of real car tricks. But within this scene you can see the overriding problem of the movie and the encroaching problem of the entire series at this point. Perfectly shot and perfectly accomplished though the jump may be the film cannot resist turning it into a joke by putting a slide whistle sound effect over the action. You read that right. A car jumps over a river while rotating between take-off and landing – an incredible thing to see- and the filmmakers put a childish whistle sound over the shot. If they can’t be bothered to take things seriously then why should we?
Not that the film starts off well and then deteriorates, oh no. It never really finds a good groove with its first misstep being the rather asinine pre-credit sequence that introduces Villechaize’s character Nick Nack and his ‘cute’ attempts to present his employer Scaramanga with a deadly test. I’m sure this was envisioned as an amusing start to the adventure letting us meet the bad guy and show off his gun skills but it plays like a Kato outtake from a Pink Panther film and a bad one at that. Then we have a catchy theme song sung by Lulu that I like even though it has some of the lamest lyrics of any Bond tune. After this the film briefly finds its footing until it stumbles into a truly embarrassing one-two punch of setting a secret meeting on the capsized QE2 (how amusing- everything is sideways!) and the mid-1970s pre-requisite karate scene. This martial arts sequence is awkward in the extreme. Not only is it stupid and clumsy but it serves no purpose in the narrative and could be edited out and not change one thing about the film’s sad, limping story. Pathetic. I know that by 1974 it was almost a required element to have some form of martial arts fighting in an action film but this is terrible. That it is used to add yet another stupid joke to the film should come as no surprise.
And as for elements that could have/should have been left out let us speak briefly of the inclusion of J. W. Pepper, the Louisiana sheriff making his return appearance after ‘wowing’ us in LIVE AND LET DIE. Which moron is responsible for bringing this character back for another slow witted dose of Hee Haw styled redneck guffaws? Easily the dumbest thing thrown into the film it makes no sense to have this backwoods idiot vacationing in Thailand and even less to have him in the car with Bond during the show stopping car jump. This demonstrates to me that the series needed a long hiatus to consider what it was becoming verses what it had been but I guess the money rolling in made it seem as if they were making smart choices. That the movies they made in the 1970s are almost unwatchable messes now doesn’t really matter measured against the huge box office at the time. They made the movies that were right for the times but unlike the 1960s output they have aged very, very poorly. For me the reason is simply that they started treating the central character as a joke and the movies followed that lead. Ridiculously, by MOONRAKER it seemed as if the general public in the stories knew who James Bond was! In other words, people on the street knew Bond was a British spy. What the Hell were the producers thinking?
When I was younger I liked the Moore Bond films quite a lot. I suspect it is because of their less than serious attitude that an adolescent would be attracted to them but as an adult I see them as the poorly written, sloppily constructed excuses for grin inducing set-pieces that they almost all were. They are embarrassing and I find I can only enjoy three of Mr. Moore’s run – LIVE AND LET DIE was a pretty solid introduction of the new guy; FOR YOUR EYES ONLY is a great Bond film reversing the downward spiral that culminated in the disaster of MOONRAKER; OCTOPUSSY was Moore’s last strong effort before they made the worst of the series with VIEW TO A KILL.
I’ve really got to rewatch a good Bond film soon to make me remember why I own the entire run. Maybe I should reread the book?