An American gangster named Rodney (Marc Lawrence) visits the famed hitman Francisco Scaramanga (Christopher Lee) with intent to kill him and collect the bounty on him but is killed by Scaramanga with his golden gun in a surreal funhouse on his estate. In London, MI-6 receives a golden bullet with the number 007 etched on it. M (Bernard Lee) relieves James Bond (Roger Moore) of his current mission concerning an energy scientist named Gibson. Bond sets out to find Scaramanga. First, he retrieves a spent golden bullet from a belly dancer in Beirut, then he traces it to a weapons-maker in Macau, forcing him to reveal how he ships the bullets.
Bond follows a shipment to Hong Kong in the hands of Scarmanga’s mistress, Andrea Anders (Maud Adams) and in her hotel room forces her to give him information about Scaramanga. She sends Bond to the Bottoms Up Club, where Scaramanga shoots Gibson and Scaramanga’s little assistant Nick Nack (Hervé Villechaise) steals something called a Solex Agitator off the dead man’s body. Bond, who had drawn his gun, is arrested by Hong Kong Police Lieutenant Hip (Soon-Taik Oh), but he is taken to the wreck of the RMS Queen Elizabeth, which is headquarters for MI-6. His boss M (Bernard Lee) and the Quartermaster Q (Desmond Llewelyn) help him work with Lieutenant Hip to find Scaramanga.
Bond goes to Bangkok and meets wealthy Thai entrepreneur Hai Fat (Richard Loo), who is a suspect in Gibson’s murder. Bond has been fitted with a fake third nipple so he can impersonate Scaramanga, but the plan backfires because Scaramanga is actually at Fat’s estate. Bond is captured and sent to Fat’s martial arts school to be dealt with. Lierutenant Hip and his nieces help him escape and Bond leaves on a motorized sampan and meets up with his MI-6 assistant Mary Goodnight (Britt Eklund). Scaramanga kills Fat with his golden gun and takes over Fat’s empire and the Solex.
Andrea Anders reveals that she sent Scaramanga’s bullet to London, hoping Bond will kill Scaramanga. They spend the night together and she promises to hand over the Solex. Naturally, she is found dead the next day. Scaramanga introduces himself to Bond, who is able to smuggle the Solex to Hip, who passes it on to Goodnight. She places a homing device on Scaramanga’s car but Scaramanga locks her in the trunk. Bond steals an AMC Hornet from a showroom to follow the tagged car, but it seems that J.W. Pepper (Clifton James), the Louisiana Sheriff from Live and Let Die, is inside the car. The chase ends when Scaramanga’s car, an AMC Matador (Product Placement!) turns into a plane and flies away.
But Bond follows the tracking signal to Scaramanga’s private island in Red Chinese waters. Scaramanga welcomes him and shows off the solar-power plant he got from Hai Fat, which he intends to sell to the highest bidder. He uses it to blow up Bond’s plane, trapping him. During a friendly lunch, Scaramanga suggests a pistol duel with Bond on the beach. But Scaramanga vanishes and Nick Nack leads Bond into the fun-house trap. Bond tricks and kills Scaramanga. Mary Goodnight kills Scaramanga’s security chief Kra (Sonny Caldinez) by dumping him in the liquid helium vat. This causes the entire plant to self-destruct. Bond grabs the Solex and escapes in Scaramanga’s Chinese Junk with Mary. Nick Nack tries to attack him and Bond foils the attack. He romances Goodnight as they sail away.
The film was directed by Guy Hamilton, the script written by Richard Maibaum and Tom Mankiewicz, loosely based on the posthumously published Ian Fleming novel. The film was met with mixed reviews and has not been seen as a triumph. Christopher Lee makes a wonderful Bond villain, the Far East is gorgeous, and there are some spectacular chases, but Roger Moore was not up to snuff, Brit Eklund’s MI-6 agent was a bumbling fool, and the appearance of the tiresome Louisiana cop was entirely superfluous and cringeful. Nick Nack was not an impressive villain and his defeat at the end was kind of mean. Altogether, the film was embarrassing and producer Harry Saltzman sold his 50% share of Eon Productions, which was bought by United Artists. The resulting wrangles delayed the production of The Spy Who Loved me, a much better film, for three years.
Tom Mankiewicz wrote a script emphasizing the battle between Bond and Scaramanga as a clash of titans, but that idea was sidelined. Christopher Lee was a former secret agent, a cousin of Ian Fleming, and his golf partner. I would really have liked to see him used properly. They actually cut out much of the final showdown between Bond and Scaramanga to shorten the movie. One car-stunt figured in the Guinness Book of World Records, but that didn’t make it believable. In fact, the shot was ruined by slide-whistle sound effects. Many times, Roger Moore’s Bond movies have been diminished with added cheap shots and sound effects. The movies may be fantasies, but they don’t have to be cartoons. Alice Cooper had written a theme song for the film, but they went with a pop-song by Lulu that was criticized for being both ludicrous and smutty. Many Bond films were criticized when released but came to be admired later. This one wasn’t.
In Thailand, Roger Moore found a cave full of bats and told Christopher Lee, “Master, they are yours to command.” Christopher Lee had studied languages with the British Secret Service and spoke Swedish with Britt Eklund. His personal golden gun prop was confiscated by U.S. Customs on his way to appear on the Johnny Carson show. Eklund was hired on the strength of a bikini photo. Hervé Villechaize was living in his car when he was hired. He always took a room on the first floor so he could reach the elevator buttons. He committed suicide in 1993, worn out with the pain caused by his dwarfism. In Thailand, the cast and crew were put up in a bordello. There was supposed to be an elephant stampede in the film, but the scene was cancelled and the order for 2,600 special elephant shoes was not, and the manufacturers were not paid.