Finally, we enter the Roger Moore period, for better or for worse. His first gig, Live and Let Die is a pretty weird one too, with a some tweaks from the established formula, but already with firm indications of the tone the series will be taking with Moore as 007.
Bond’s reveal is held back for after the titles as we see a sequence of three other British agents getting bumped off in a manner of bizarre ways.
Arguably Maurice Binder’s best opening sequence yet, with voodoo imagery, a really good song (which I’ll get to shortly), HELVETICA that shimmers in and out in a pleasing manner. Yeah, you get it, I love Bond movie titles.
With John Barry doing other things, Paul McCartney (and Wings) gets the tap on the shoulder for the title song, which Paul co-wrote with wife Linda, and it’s a good’un. Not even Guns’n’Roses could ruin it a couple of decades down the track. The song gets another rendition by B. J. Arnau during the film proper. As for the main score, another Beatles producer George Martin is on duty, and makes a good fist of working the classic themes and the McCartneys’ title tune into the action.
Mostly set in New York, New Orleans and its surrounding bayous, as well as the fictional Caribbean nation of San Monique (when I do the map at the end of this I’ll put the dot between Jamaica and Haiti). While the US locations still can’t help but looking prosaic if not downright tacky, the backwaters of Louisiana don’t seem quite as mundane as Kentucky (Goldfinger) or Las Vegas (Diamonds Are Forever).
The New Fellow
The first look here he’s immediately wrapped up in some Italian attache in his own place, before being rudely disturbed by M, whom he distracts with an espresso machine while his guest can get some clothes on.
There’s one word that immediately comes to mind, and that’s suaaaaave. Moore’s portrayal of Bond is as more of a lover than a fighter, although he is still capable enough of the latter. Whether it’s appropriate to bring the age thing in, well, Moore was even a bit older than Connery, so while he looks youthful enough in his mid-40s, by the time he got to the end of his run you’d think a successful agent would’ve hung up his Walther by then.
And by the way, he is still a prodigious sex pest, perhaps even more so…
The villain du jour is Mr Big/Dr Kananga (Yaphet Kotto), the Prime Minister of San Monique who also doubles as a heroin kingpin with a chain of restaurants across the US serving as his distribution points. His cunning plan is to dump so much heroin into the States for free through these outlets that it bankrupts his opposition and then he can raise the prices clean up – so, essentially, the Coles-Woolworths strategy.
He has an impressive rogues gallery of henchmen working for him, such as Tee Hee Johnson (Julius Harris), who runs a farm with crocodiles AND alligators, and a creepy prosthetic arm which he acquired after his livestock got a little unruly. There’s also Baron Samedi (Geoffrey Holder) who’s got all the moves, enjoys a good laugh, dabbles in voodoo, and is a bit of a herpetologist as well.
Rounding out the lieutenants is Whisper (Earl Jolly Brown) who, erm, whispers.
There’s no denying that this is pretty much a blaxploitation movie, that just so happens to have an overly mannered British gentleman in it as the fish out of water. Even so, Kananga and Tee Hee are played straight, with the acting much more dignified than the villains were able to muster in Diamonds Are Forever.
Jane Seymour plays her first big break, Solitaire, with far more substance than whatever was going on with Tiffany Case last time ’round. Having said that, the role is suitably ludicrous as befits the film. Solitaire starts out as a psychic working for Kananga, being able to reliably foretell the future through the tarot. In which case; with this unique talent, why the hell doesn’t Kananga just go hogwild at the racetrack with Solitaire’s tips instead of dumping horse everywhere?
But anyway Bond turns up in San Monique, stacks the deck so it says they’re definitely going to do it, and so they do, and it turns out Solitaire can’t read the tarot anymore because she’s no longer a virgin. Tres awks. Kananga is particularly aggrieved probably more because he wanted to be the one to deflower her than the loss of her prognostication skills.
Notably, this also marks Bond’s first (but definitely not the last) inter-racial liaison, as prior to tracking down Solitaire, he also picks up Rosie Carver, ostensibly working for CIA but doubling for Kananga as well. Alas, she becomes the sacrificial lamb before she can cough up any intel.
Regular Bond ally Felix Leiter pops up again, in the form of David Hedison. As Leiter usually does, he gets to do all the fixing, writes up all the paperwork, and again letting the British guy wreak havoc as he conducts his investigation on foreign soil. I should mention that it has been incredibly confusing having a different guy for Leiter every time he appears. Hedison does play the role again in a later role – much later.
There’s also another return of a sort, with Quarrel Junior, the son of Quarrel from Dr No, running the boat at San Monique. I dunno, assuming that Junior was left fatherless as a result of Bond’s earlier mission, I’m not sure I’d be so cooperative in his shoes, but at least he gets to survive this adventure.
Not so much allies as the comic relief, the Louisiana cops turn up, with Sheriff J W Pepper played as a good ol’ boy by Clifton James. I should cringe at the boat chase segment as a canonical example of what’s bad about the Moore movies. But if I’m going to be honest, I thought it was fairly well done. Anyway, I know already that there are better bad examples ahead.
What I couldn’t really get past is Kananga’s demise, where he gets blown up. It’s bad. Probably they thought they had to do something with the shark dart, but the production up to that point is pretty solid, and then bam, it’s amateur hour all of a sudden.
And the whole blaxploitation thing? Well, it’s problematic, but the actors playing the role gave pretty good performances.
There’s nothing like a good tool that gets you out of a tight spot, or even into one, and Bond finds all manner of applications for his electromagnetic watch. Besides that, this film is pretty low-key in its gadget use, as Q doesn’t even appear this time around, and the only other time Bond gets any hi-tech kit out is tracing bugs around his hotel room on San Monique.
Things just seemed to be a bit slicker this time around, putting aside some of the cheap effects mentioned above. There’s no doubt Moore brings a slightly different tone to the character, and the script was written to work in his relative strengths. As Guy Hamilton’s third go as director, it’s definitely a return to form after the scatterbrained Diamonds Are Forever, restoring his record.
I reckoned this was a pretty solid, if rather unique instalment in the 007 series, and sets up Roger Moore’s run in the lead role, still the longest to date – and at least at this stage he doesn’t look unfeasibly old to still be doing fieldwork. All the other players range from capable to charismatic, particularly Yaphet Kotto as the enterprising entrepreneur who ends up being crushed by The Man for being the wrong colour.
I reckon it’s nice solid 16 out of 20 gris-gris.