The Man With the Golden Gun is probably the most problematic of the James Bond films. It has moments when it is very, very good; it also has moments when it is bone-chillingly awful. On balance, I have to say that I like it; its photography is too beautiful, John Barry’s score is excellent, Roger Moore settles into the role much more nicely than he did in Live and Let Die, and Christopher Lee makes a wonderful Bond villain. We always talk about “chemistry” as it applies to two romantic leads, but there also has to be a kind of “chemistry” between a hero and the villain. TMWTGG has that chemistry in spades, in the idea that Bond and Scaramanga are the best in the world at what they do, and that in the end only one of them can survive. (Hmmm….give them both swords and this could be a Highlander movie.) This plays out in a gun-duel on Scaramanga’s South China Sea island, and that sequence really is filled with tension. There is a genuine sense that Bond has, in fact, met an equal among all the villains with whom he tangles. I like that a lot.
Of course, it’s not enough for a Bond film to have the bad guy simply want to do Bond in; there has to be some kind of “world-domination” plot. The one in TMWTGG makes amazingly little sense, and as such I tend to completely ignore it. It’s really more of a Macguffin than anything else, designed to fill out the film’s running time and provide for the requisite “escape from an exploding fortress” that caps off most Bond films. The film’s attempts at scientific-sounding lingo surrounding this plot (something to do with hyper-efficient solar cells) are laughable.
The film continues, to some degree, with the sexism of Live and Let Die, with Bond clearly viewing women as nothing but sex objects. However, it isn’t quite as obnoxious as in the previous film. There is even a fairly amusing scene where Bond is actually rejected by the girl as he attempts to wine-and-dine her; he attributes his failure to get her into bed to the Chinese sparkling wine they had with dinner, a brand he has clearly never encountered before.
The action sequences in TMWTGG aren’t really anything to write home about, except for the gun duel. A couple of them are almost painful to watch, simply because someone thought it a bright idea to bring back Sheriff JW Pepper, a character stunning in his annoying-ness.
In summation: there is a lot to like in The Man With the Golden Gun, but there is a lot to dislike as well.