Roger Moore’s sophomore outing as 007 is a maddening experience because it has so many things that could have made it a great movie, but some unforgivable lapses into silliness just sink any effort at good storytelling.
It’s a shame, because for roughly the first hour and 20 minutes or so (barring some sequences that should have been trimmed), this really is a pretty decent Bond movie. But once Britt Ekland proves dumb enough to let herself get captured by the villain, forcing Bond to go after her in, of all things, a goddamned AMC Hornet (surely the lamest Bond car ever) with that dumbass Louisiana sheriff from the last movie, things just go down the toilet from there.
Let’s look at the bright side first. As the villain, you’ve got Christopher Lee, and that’s about as good as it gets when you’re casting bad guys. I love the way they turn a Bond convention on its head by having Lee, who is the large, imposing figure here, being protected by a pint-sized henchman (Herve Villechaize, who we all remember as Tattoo from “Fantasy Island”). Usually, the henchman is the more intimidating figure, a la Oddjob or Jaws. But the twist works, I think.
Also good is the fact that Moore plays it pretty straight again. In fact, he sort of veers into Connery territory in terms of his rather brutal treatment of Maud Adams, who he smacks around in a hotel room in order to get her to tell him about Scaramanga, the assassin played by Lee. These scenes are rather reminiscent of “From Russia with Love,” when Connery got rough with the Daniela Bianchi character after Kerim Bey was killed.
Frankly, the smacking around is uncalled for and not to the movie’s credit, and it is all the more jarring given that Moore is generally viewed as the “gentleman Bond,” in contrast to Connery’s rougher, more primal style.
The movie’s overall pacing is good, and the premise. Rather than a sprawling, need-to-save-the-world sort of epic, this is set up as a smaller-scale battle of wits between two characters painted as flip sides of the same coin. It would be nice if the script had developed this idea better and dispensed with a lot of the flab that gets in the way and detracts from this being a better movie.
With Moore and Lee as the competing centers of gravity, there was plenty here to sustain interest. Unfortunately, writer Tom Mankiewicz again throws in everything else but the kitchen sink. There’s a gadget called a “solex agitator” that supposedly gives the nation that ends up with it a monopoly on solar power. It clearly was a nod to the energy crisis of the 1970s, but today it only serves to make the movie look dated.
There’s also a silly martial arts sequence that clearly was a nod to “Enter the Dragon” and this ultimately leads to a boat chase, which seems derivative since we just had a boat chase in the last movie. And the return of Sheriff J.W. Pepper is just unforgivable. This tells me the lazy writers could not be bothered to come up with anything better, because there is no justifiable reason to bring him back.
The fights are good, with Moore handling himself well in an early brawl that takes place in a female dancer’s dressing room. Why the men bust in there to rough him up is never really explained, but overall it is one of Moore’s better fights from throughout his reign as 007. And there is one exceptional stunt involving the aforementioned AMC Hornet that sadly is ruined by the insertion of a silly slidewhistle sound effect.
Had these problems I’ve mentioned been addressed, “Golden Gun” would be a much stronger movie. But as I said, once we get near to the finale, the film falls apart. The potential for a truly epic battle between these two killers, Bond and Scaramanga, is undercut by having the action unfold in a silly carnival funhouse setting with all manner of silly gimmicks. This could have been a really interesting slant on “High Noon” — instead, it’s a lame finale to a lackluster film.
The less said about the title tune by Lulu, the better.
Lee gives a great performance. In fact, he is easily the best thing about the movie. It’s always a bit jarring to see him as anything other than Count Dracula, and always satisfying to see the many ways in which he can bring a more sophisticated type of villainy to any role in which he is cast.
Maud Adams is somewhat interesting as the doomed Andrea Anders. She is unique in that she is the only Bond leading lady to have appeared in more than one film (the other being “Octopussy”). She comes off better here than Britt Ekland, who like Jill St. John in “Diamonds Are Forever” starts out as a promising character but devolves to an airhead in a bikini.
Too bad. This film did have good intentions, I think, but ultimately “Golden Gun” misses the mark.
Overall rating: 6 out of 10.