After the success of Roger Moore’s debut as James Bond in Live and Let Die, the English actor returned in 1974 to film the ninth instalment of the 007 series, The Man With The Golden Gun. Based on Fleming’s novel – the last written before his death in 1964 – Bond heads to Asia to face Christopher Lee’s Scaramanga and his diminutive side-kick Nick Nack in a film which rarely features amongst the best-loved movies in the series.
Due to John Barry’s commitment to composing his musical Billy, George Martin had stepped in to score Live and Let Die. However, Barry returned for The Man With The Golden Gun, although it wasn’t his happiest Bond experience. Due to his other commitments, the composer had just three weeks to score the entire film and the end result was by no means Barry’s finest work.
The Man With The Golden Gun (1974)
1. The Man With The Golden Gun – Main Title
2. Scaramanga’s Fun House
3. Chew Me in Crisly Land
4. The Man With The Golden Gun (Jazz Instrumental)
5. Getting The Bullet
6. Goodnight Goodnight
7. Let’s Go Get ‘Em
8. Hip’s Trip
9. Kung Fu Fight
10. In Search Of Scaramanga’s Island
11. Return To Scaramanga’s Fun House
12. The Man With The Golden Gun: End Title
The title theme, written once again by Barry and lyricist Don Black and sung by Scottish star Lulu, was actually the least successful of all the Bond themes, failing to chart in either the UK or US. It has been claimed by 1970s rocker Alice Cooper that he was originally asked to provide the title song for The Man With The Golden Gun, and his song of that name appears on his 1973 album Muscle of Love.
Presumably with the intention to have a huge chart star record the theme (as producers Harry Saltzmann and Cubby Broccoli had done with Paul McCartney and Live and Let Die), Cooper’s song is actually a thoroughly decent attempt at a sweeping Bond theme, mixing heavy guitars with an easily recognisable Bond sound. What prompted the producers to drop the song in favour of the composition written by Barry and his long time lyricist Don Black, is not clear, however.
The soundtrack itself is basically a series of reworkings of the title theme with little additional composition, although the action motif in Getting The Bullet does raise the tempo. The Man With The Golden Gun features in a circus style to soundtrack Scaramanga’s Fun House, as a soothing laid-back theme on Goodnight Goodnight, again in Kung Fu Fight and also as a jazz instrumental. Barry does introduce a new instrument to the Bond sound, however, with the Hungarian cymbalon helping to provide atmosphere for the South Asian scenes.
Whilst the soundtrack might not be one of Barry’s best, The Man With The Golden Gun broke with previous Bond musical tradition in two significant ways. Firstly, Barry dropped the famous plucked guitar Bond theme for the gunbarrel sequence, re-recording it with strings and trumpets. In addition, this was the first Bond movie not to simply reprise the theme song over the closing credits. Even though Lulu features once again, the closing titles contain alternate lyrics referring to Goodnight and to Bond himself. This practice would continue in subsequent 007 films, ultimately resulting in different songs being used over the opening and closing credits.
The Man With The Golden Gun also continued the musical ‘in-joke’ of reprising brief motifs from previous Bond films to help with audience recognition. This was first used in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (when a janitor could be heard whistling the theme from Goldfinger) but is used more obviously in a scene by a Thai river in The Man With The Golden Gun.
As the audience sees American Sheriff JW Pepper (improbably on holiday in Thailand,) a brief reprise of the Live And Let Die theme is played to remind us that he was the redneck police chief who Bond encountered in the previous film. These techniques were used in later Bond films (Vijay Amritraj famously plays the Bond theme on a pipe to attract 007s attention in Octopussy) and several of the films also wittily reprise themes from non-Bond films. The most famous example is in Moonraker, as when Bond inputs the key code to open the door to a secret science lab, the notes play the sequence from Close Encounters Of The Third Kind.
In 2003, a series of remastered Bond soundtracks were released on CD for the first time, many with additional tracks. Due to time and money restrictions, the man in charge of the remasters, Lukas Kendall, recommended to EMI that they restrict the ‘expanded’ editions to those which he considered the most historically important scores. This meant that The Man With The Golden Gun was the first of the remastered CDs not to feature any additional tracks, even though Kendall claims there are master tapes in existence.
Barry’s score for The Man With The Golden Gun is probably the low point of all his Bond work. In fact, the composer admitted as much himself in a TV documentary in 2006 when he confessed “It’s the one I hate most… it just never happened for me.” He also admitted that his use of a penny-whistle sound effect to soundtrack the spectacular 360 degree car jump in the film was a mistake. Barry admitted to breaking ‘the golden rule’ by undermining the dramatic and dangerous stunt in the sequence with an almost comedic sound effect.
Whilst the soundtrack is largely forgettable, the title track itself does have its charms, notably for an opening line which ranks as one of my all time favourites. Considered particularly raunchy lyrics, I love the Roger Moore-esque double entendre of the line “he has a powerful weapon…” which opens the song.