16 September 2011

BlogalongaBond- THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN Review

"He has a powerful weapon", Lulu warbles, at the beginning of The Man With The Golden Gun, and what follows is another three minutes of misfiring double entendres. The lyrics are shit, the melody is unmemorable, and it's probably amongst the worst theme songs the series ever had, barring Madonna's atrocity. It's not a good start, but it's an accurate omen of what's to come.

M pulls Bond off of a mission involving the current energy crisis, because he's been marked for death by the eponymous Francisco Scaramanga. Scaramanga is so good, he charges a million dollars per kill, and appears to have sent a warning to 007. M implicitly authorises Bond to hunt down and assassinate him, in order to restore his suitability as a field agent. Scaramanga appears to be more than a match for Bond, and a game of cat and mouse ensues, as the assassin searches for the means to power his solar cannon.

It's not the most empathetic career goal imaginable, but then he does also wind up trying to kill James Bond, and with what I've seen of Roger Moore's Bond so far, that's entirely reasonable. To me, Scaramanga is like Hank Scorpio, the spoof Bond villain who Homer winds up working under in The Simpsons. Though not as nice as Scorpio, he's reasonable enough, quite politely telling Bond to fuck off a couple of times, expressing no malice towards the guy as long as he stays out of his way.

He's a big villain, just as the stature of Christopher Lee's talent and popularity demands from a character. It's rare, in this series, that you find yourself wondering why the good guys don't just shoot the bad guy when they have the chance. Intentionally, Scaramanga is made just downright better than Bond for most of this film, making for a terrific bit of banter when the two get down to conversational dick-measuring before the final confrontation. It's not a stretch to declare Scaramanga the best of the series' villains so far.

The rest of the film, in tone and execution, approaches total anarchy. It cherry-picks from a number of different influences. It seems to make a pass at martial-arts cinema, following on from Live And Let Die's prevalent blaxploitative leanings. But this lasts for all of one setpiece, and all else is down to the largely Asian locations in which the film is set. There's a second-stringer bad guy called Hai Fat, but he's superseded by Scaramanga, both figuratively and literally, as the villain kills him halfway through.

The far more notable legacy of Live And Let Die is the exponential increase in piss-poor comedy. Unfortunately, this also means a return for Clifton James' character, bad-ol'-boy Sheriff J.W. Pepper. I cannot imagine that there is a worse character in any of the Bond films than this redneck cartoon character, who brings yet more racist invective to enhance the fun of another boat chase. And even though screenwriters Richard Maibaum and Tom Mankiewicz saw fit to include him in this pivotal sequence, you can tell by the way they use him that they had no fucking clue about why.

In the name of economical storytelling, we seem to meet Britt Eckland's Mary Goodnight in the middle of a long flirtation with Bond, so it's a good thing she has such endearing character traits, like being "weak" and stupid. Maud Adams is the film's other Bond girl, and she spends much of the time being batted about for information, by none other than our hero. There aren't many great female characters in Bond movies at this point, but it seems like they didn't even try in this one.

Similarly, Roger Moore's interpretation of the character seems to have gone from magnificent bastard to incompetent arsehole. Scaramanga may have a bunch of weird, mind-bending tricks at his disposal, such as his fearsome reputation, an island house of horrors for a HQ and a diminutive henchman called Nick Nack, but that's no excuse for some of his Bondfoolery here. When even Nick Nack gives him trouble at the film's ridiculous conclusion, the character seems to have lost any and all of the nous he's displayed in the previous eight instalments.

I haven't found a lot of time to praise Bernard Lee's M, in the previous eight months of BlogalongaBond, but finally, in The Man With The Golden Gun, I think I appreciated him most. Bond's boss starts off by deflating an unnecessarily convoluted chunk of exposition with a much-needed laugh, and thereafter, he's as frustrated by 007's gross incompetence as I was. That makes him one of two characters in the film who I actually sympathise with. Unfortunately, the other is Scaramanga.

OK, I admit this part was pretty cool.
The Man With The Golden Gun isn't boring like Thunderball, so I can't say it's the worst one I've watched yet. But I can say that I don't think much of Roger Moore's Bond so far. Christopher Lee actually makes a better audition for the role, but his organic villainy makes a compelling and memorable character out of Scaramanga. The film itself seems assembled from a shopping list of disparate and completely bat-shit crazy bits. But the surreal awfulness of it all is still somehow formulaic for the series, and it sends the film to places in which all I could do was roll my eyes.

#9- If a character is annoying once, he'll be doubly annoying the second time around. Fuck you, Sheriff J.W. Pepper.

For a full list of everyone's work on BlogalongaBond so far, click here.

The Mad Prophet Will Return, With The Spy Who Loved Me... in October.

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