#15 in my Ranking of the James Bond Franchise.
Roger Moore’s second James Bond adventure seems caught in between tones. On the one hand we have flying cars, cartoony stunts, a midget henchman, the inexplicable return of a Louisiana sheriff in Thailand, a laser gun, and a third nipple. On the other we have Bond with an edge again and an antagonist who feels like a real threat and a late soliloquy about how he and Bond are mirror images of each other. It’s all arranged in a rather overly complicated fashion designed to include some kung fu because it was popular at the time. I think it’s a step up from Live and Let Die, but only just.
James Bond gets pulled off a mission because he’s received a golden bullet with “007” etched into it, implying a real threat from the known gunman Scaramanga. Bond won’t sit back and let the threat sit, so he goes to Southeast Asia to search out the man with the golden gun and face him one on one. Through a series of actions in Hong Kong and then Thailand, Bond comes into contact with Hip, a local contact who helps Bond navigate the foreign country, and Goodnight, one of the prettiest but also probably the single worst Bond girl in the franchise. Yes, Britt Eckland is really good looking, but Goodnight is an idiot who’s only desire is to sleep with Bond. She’s boring and a complete waste of space that occupies the last half of the film.
Moore has a different job to do as Bond here. In Live and Let Die, Moore felt like little more than a lothario who used his job as an excuse to find exotic women to sleep with. Here, Bond, as written, feels like he should have been played by Sean Connery. He’s much less universally flirtatious without women, going so far as to threaten to break a woman’s arm if she didn’t give him information. That doesn’t feel like something Moore would do (and, reportedly, he was really displeased with having to do it at all), and it’s an odd moment to see. Most of the rest of the time, he’s able to largely be the Bond he had created in Live and Let Die, but the performance is marred by those moments that don’t fit.
The MacGuffin of the film is a piece of technology that’s supposed to make solar power actually feasible as a large scale energy source. Luckily for everyone involved, it’s pocket sized and can move around easily. Narratively, it’s disposable and doesn’t really matter. It does end up powering a solar laser gun late in the film, but it’s secondary to Scaramanga himself.
In this bit of a mess of a film, there is Christopher Lee’s Francisco Scaramanga. He is a great villain. He’s intelligent and has a code of ethics to follow. He’s given opportunities to kill Bond but doesn’t take them because he doesn’t feel the need to. Bond is a nuisance, one that entertains and intrigues him to a certain extent. When he does get to the point to kill Bond, Bond has given little other choice, but the prospect of killing Bond excites Scaramanga at that point. I think the late stage idea of them being mirror images of each other is really underdeveloped (look to The Dark Knight where this same idea plays out much better), but even without that, Scaramanga is great.
I just wish he was in a better film. The film he is in meanders around Southeast Asia, dealing with a MacGuffin it doesn’t really care about being passed around by other, unimportant antagonists. Turning the film into a steadily building showdown between the two, clearing up the messy plot with a more streamlined and focused one that more took advantage of the implications of two mirror images going after each other would have made this a better film. Instead, it’s just a middling Bond picture with one of the best Bond villains. And seriously, Goodnight is just the worst.