James Bond, one of the great screen heroes, vs. Christopher Lee, one of the great screen villains. How could it miss? Well, follow my review of MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN (1974) and you’ll see … (all rights to poster image with current holder).
The original Fleming story pits Bond against an uninteresting assassin with a gold-plated pistol. In the film, Francisco Scaramanga is the world’s top assassin, $1 million a hit; his favorite weapon is a solid-gold gun he can assemble from his seemingly harmless lighter, pen and belt buckle (as my friend Ross says, it could probably pass airport security even today). He sees himself as Bond’s player on the other side, both of them supreme killers, though Bond foolishly kills for a pittance and a pat on the back (Bond’s retort to this is that he kills for queen and country, not for pay). Similarly to the subsequent Spy Who Loved Me, the film’s opening sets up the parallelism, with Scaramanga (Lee) getting the teaser sequence. His aide Nick Nack (Herve Villechaize) sends a hitman to take Scaramanga out in a weird labyrinth reminiscent of the X-Men’s Danger Room or Arcade’s Murderworld. If the killer wins, Nick Nack inherits Scaramanga’s assets; for Scaramanga it’s a fun training exercise. Which, of course, he winds.
And then we cut to Bond currently hunting a scientist who vanished with the Solex, a McGuffin that can convert sunlight to electricity with 80 percent efficiency, resolving the energy crisis (this was ultra-topical as the US was still in shock from the oil cartel OPEC raising prices a couple of years earlier). Then Scaramanga mails Bond a golden bullet marking 007 as his next target. M informs Bond that they can’t put him in the field on the Solex job when he could get taken out at any second, so he has to get Scaramanga first.
Everything’s set up for an epic confrontation (even though it turns out Scaramanga’s mistress sent the bullet in hopes Bond will off her cruel boss) and Lee is awesome as the arrogant, confident Scaramanga. But the Most Dangerous Game aspect of two great hunters pitted against each other is sidetracked for the solar-energy plot. Scaramanga seizes the Solex and sets up a model solar-power plant; he boasts to Bond that his big scheme is … selling the technology to whoever pays most. As evil plans go, this ranks lower than the control-the-water plot of Quantum of Solace. Even given the villain admits he might let OPEC buy up the tech to keep it off the market (a popular belief of the time was that Big Oil was shutting down all alternative energy options), it’s unimpressive now and I doubt it worked much better then.
Then there’s the comedy. A comic-relief Southern sheriff from Live and Let Die (very much a redneck stereotype) shows up on vacation during Bond’s time in Southeast Asia, where he makes various not-so-funny racist remarks. Bond has a very over-the-top car chase. There’s a drawn-out martial arts sequence (martial arts were getting big, just like energy issues) that’s played mostly for laughs. And Goodnight (Britt Eklund) has the distinction of being the only genuinely stupid Bond girl, acting like she’d wandered over from Britain’s Carry On film series. The big finish isn’t Bond vs. Scaramanga, it’s Goodnight accidentally sending the power plant haywire so that Bond has to struggle to save the technology.
Even allowing for all that, the confrontation we do get between Scaramanga and 007 is underwhelming. Instead of fighting the Man with the Golden Gun, Bond is mostly occupied with the tricks and traps of Nick Nack’s labyrinth. Where Scaramanga and the teaser hitman are ducking and shooting for several minutes, the actual Bond/Scaramanga action is dreadfully brief, and unimpressive (Bond substitutes for a wax figure in the labyrinth, gets the drop on Scaramanga, kills him).
I think that wraps up all the rewatching I need to do for Martinis, Girls and Guns, unless I decide to revisit some of Craig’s (Spectre, as I’ve only seen it once, is probably a necessity).