Franchise Expansion (Or Implosion): ‘The Man With The Golden Gun’
by Ben Martin
Franchise Expansion (or Implosion) is a column that looks at franchises that have new installments or releases forthcoming. In looking at a franchise, each entry in a franchise will be given a review and then be examined as part of the bigger franchise. (i.e., Was this sequel a worthy expansion of this franchise or was it an implosion of sorts?)
Very seldom does one character define a subgenre. But that is precisely what James Bond 007 has done with spy/espionage fiction. Since making his film debut in 1962, Bond has appeared in over 20 movies. Moreover, the character has only been portrayed by a mere six actors (officially, anyway). Now that the 25th (official) Bond installment, No Time to Die, is finally slated for release on November 25th, I think now is a better time than any to look back at 007’s dossier. I’ll be examining the James Bond franchise to see how these pictures evolved over the decades with each new leading actor. Today’s mission: The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)!
Live and Let Die (1973) and Roger Moore (The Cannonball Run) breathed new life into the James Bond franchise. Thus, EON Productions was keen on putting another film into production very quickly, with Moore in front of the camera and seasoned series director Guy Hamilton behind the lens once again. This time, producers set out to make The Man with the Golden Gun; an adaptation of Ian Fleming’s 12th and final James Bond novel. The book is the only one in the series to be published posthumously in 1965 and was intended to be George Lazenby‘s follow-up to his sole outing, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), but we know how that worked out.
In its realized form, The Man With The Golden Gun sees James Bond 007 (Moore) tasked with finding a solar technology designed to be used as a mass weapon. If Bond does not intercept this solar technology, it will go to the highest-bidder with malicious intent. Typically, this would be a simple enough mission for 007. However, the world’s most exceptional secret agent has a million-dollar assassin on his trail this time — the man with the golden gun, Scaramanga (Christopher Lee)!
The titular character in this film would be played by an actor whom Fleming wanted to play Bond. A man who was a former black-ops agent for British intelligence, and was most-likely about as close to a real-life 007 as a guy can get. A gentleman who was also Fleming’s cousin. I’m, of course, referring to Christopher Lee (The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers). This film’s villain is incredibly charismatic as Lee eats up the scenery in the best way possible. More importantly, though, Scaramanga is the first villain in the series who seems like he could be a real threat to Bond. Of course, the palpable chemistry between the two actors helps you buy into their emerging relationship.
Alas, that is not something that can be said about the movie’s female characters. Firstly, there’s Bond’s apprentice of sorts; fellow Mi-6 agent Ms. Goodnight (Britt Ekland). Then there’s 007’s lady on the inside, and Scaramanga’s main squeeze, Andrea Anders (Maude Adams). While these ladies light up the screen with their beauty, neither of them is given all that much to do as performers. The character of Andrea felt largely unnecessary while Ms. Goodnight seems downright intellectually unequipped to be a secret agent.
Thankfully, Moore is almost as good of a leading man as he was last time around … with a few exceptions. See, Hamilton wanted to toughen up Moore’s portrayal of Bond in order to put the actor’s character more in-line with Fleming’s novels. To accomplish this, he staged a scene in which Bond slaps and twists Andrea Anders’ arm to elicit information from her; a favorite tactic of Bond’s literary counterpart. In another scene, our hero — our hero — pushes a child, albeit an annoying one, out of a boat.
I guess I was wrong when I previously stated that it seemed Moore’s Bond would never smack a lady. While Sean Connery might have been able to do such unsavory things without me wincing, Moore being rough around the edges does not work for me. As I stated in my Live and Let Die review, I find Moore’s Bond works better as a genuine gentleman. Not surprisingly, as a noted pacifist, Moore also regrets these scenes.
Much like its cast, The Man with the Golden Gun is a mixed bag from a technical standpoint. Specific departments are firing on all cylinders, such as cinematographers Ted Moore and Oswald Morris. (Both of whom are taking their final turns as directors of photography for the series.) When the cinematography is combined with the production design of Peter Murton (Superman II & III), the talents of these artists create an authentic visual product of 1970s cinema. Needless to say, the flick is rich in deep color tones. Perhaps it is my penchant for such a look, but I find The Man with the Golden Gun to be the visual equivalent of slipping into a warm bath.
Also, the titular Golden Gun prop was created by Colibri, a renowned lighter company that is still prominent in the cigar industry.
However, while some craftspeople are giving their all to The Man with the Golden Gun, others are definitely not. You can just feel director Guy Hamilton merely resting on his laurels at this point. Outside of his misguided decision to bring a more novelistic bent to Moore’s Bond, Hamilton seems to be sleepwalking through his gig. The same can be said of composer John Barry, who admittedly considers his score for this picture to be the weakest of the series. Although, Barry composed the score in a mere three weeks, so that could have something to do with the sparse and redundant music here.
The Man with the Golden Gun is ultimately a mixed bag of enthusiasm and laziness. More than any Bond entry I’ve reviewed to this point, this picture feels like it’s trying to be more of a sequel to its predecessor. Think about how Live and Let Die harnessed its New Orleans location as an excuse to be a Blaxploitation picture. Well, The Man with the Golden Gun does the same with Hong Kong, China, and “chopsocky” cinema. In fact, martial arts scenes were added to the script for that exact purpose. By this same token, many of the stunt set pieces are redundant. A prime example being a boat pursuit followed by a car chase.
In throwing itself into the new subgenre, the film also adds more campiness to its formula. Some of these goofy additions, such as the (forced) inclusion of Sheriff J.W. Pepper (Clifton James), are fun and welcome. By that same token though, third nipples and airborne automobile antics accompanied by a slide whistle nearly push the levity over the line. By adding this particular level of camp, The Man with the Golden Gun skates by as a Franchise Expansion. To me, this film proves how Bond can successfully ride the line of serious thrills and silliness. Alas, I think if the camp factor were pushed a bit more, we would be talking about a drop in quality akin to that of Batman Forever (1995) to Batman & Robin (1997).
It would be unfair to call The Man with the Golden Gun unsuccessful. Yet, this installment is among the lowest-grossing 007 pictures, which could be a sum of the mixed audience and critical reception at the time of its release. Still, producer Albert R. Cubby Broccoli and Moore would go to create more Bond adventures. However, The Man with the Golden Gun represents the final film in the series produced by Broccoli and Harry Saltzman as their working partnership had soured over the years. Following this film, Saltzman sold his 50% share of the pictures to United Artists and retired from the business. After such a departure, who knows what the future holds? Well, another 007 film, of course.
Live and Let Die is Available on Home Video.
James Bond Will Return For Another Installment of Franchise Expansion or Implosion with The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)!
007’s Newest Mission, No Time to Die, Will Be in Theaters on November 25th!
Read About Bond’s Past Franchise Endeavors-
From Russia with Love:
You Only Live Twice:
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service:
Diamonds Are Forever: