Directed by Guy Hamilton
James Bond (Roger Moore for the first time) must investigate the death of an agent and in doing so uncovers a drug smuggling plot by the dictator named Dr. Kananga (Yaphet Kotto) of a small Caribbean island nation to get millions addicted to heroin in the United States through free samples.
Now that I write that out, I realize how hair thin the plot of that movie is and how a bit ludicrous certain elements sound. There really isn’t much there. Even so this movie creates a lot of material from that small beginning. And it is all fun stuff.
This movie is basically James Bond starring in a blaxploitation movie. They even realized it at the time. I enjoy this movie but as an adult that reality does not escape me. It’s still a fun movie though. I understand why they did it. The film industry is an industry and they want to make as much money as possible, so they did this to not only appeal to a broader audience but to ensure a successful outing for Roger Moore in his first time as Bond.
Blaxploitation was a popular genre then. This film by using New Orleans, the Caribbean, Harlem and a drug ring plot attempted to capitalize on that. These elements appeared in those film to one extent or another.
It seems a little beneath James Bond to be busting up a drug ring. And honestly it is. The character functions best when he is facing world threatening villains. Even so Dr. Kananga is a big enough villain to be barely worthy of our recast hero. He’s got enough weird henchmen and his scheme is bizarre yet plausible enough to fit in with the world of our favorite secret agent.
Roger Moore was my first 007. And this may be blasphemous to some, but he is my favorite so I’m a bit more forgiving with him than I am with the other actors to play Bond. He takes the character and rather than try to emulate Sean Connery he does his own thing with it. He portrays a more lighthearted character where you are almost in on the joke. He’s more of a British gentleman whereas Connery was a charming tough guy.
Yaphet Kotto is a great actor. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him give a performance I’ve disliked. Here he is especially good as the villain. One of the things his character does is create a drug kingpin persona known as “Mr. Big.” The make-up used to disguise Dr. Kananga as Mr. Big is not too bad by modern standards and was probably quite good by the standards of the time. It was convincing enough that if it had played out a little longer you could have believed that Mr. Big was indeed a separate character but you meet Mr. Big and then as quick as that happens Yaphet Kotto is tearing off the make-up. I really wish they had gone further with it.
Kotto is deliciously villainous here. He’s got wild eyes and just revels in the part. He looks to be having fun up on screen and that translates very well to the audience’s experience. He practically steals his scenes with Moore.
I’m still stuck on how Geoffrey Holder-the uncola guy from the 7-Up ads of the 70s and 80s- is the henchman Baron Samedi. I never saw a Bond film in theaters until I was an adult so by the time this hit television, I was very familiar with those commercials. It made me laugh then and I still laugh a little now.
This was an early film role for Jane Seymour as Dr. Kananga’s/Mr. Big’s psychic Solitaire. This near as I can recall is also a rare if not only instance of the supernatural being present in a Bond film. She genuinely has psychic abilities here. She is not a fraud or just a good guesser. And I agree from a certain perspective Bond’s seduction of her to remove her abilities is a little cringy.
This film is the first appearance of Sheriff J.W. Pepper (Clifton James). He makes his second appearance in The Man with the Golden Gun and mercifully his character is done after that. I’m fine with recurring characters in any film series but a recurring comedic character in James Bond is inappropriate. He just didn’t fit and I’m not sure who thought this was a good idea, but they deserve to be taken out behind the woodshed for it.
This movie does contain a rather thrilling boat chase through the bayou. It’s exciting and has a few comedic moments in it which in the Roger Moore era work. I’m not sure if Connery could’ve pulled it off with his take on the character. While his version did have some humor, Moore moved Bond closer to comedic or a humorous action film.
Interesting thing about the theme song is a lot of people think Guns N’ Roses actually did it when they only remade the song. And yes, it is a killer theme song. I’m not big on McCartney. I know that borders on blasphemous to some, but I only ever found him okay. And that includes The Beetles. I said it and I stand by it. But I love this song. It’s a great Bond theme.
The locations aren’t nearly as contrasting as in some other bond films. Perhaps that’s because they don’t do too much here to establish the assorted locations before the action begins. You only really get a solid establishment of New York City. Beyond that you just suddenly pop up in Louisiana and then the fictitious island nation of San Monique. And the film really suffers because it makes you feel like you’re in Jamaica rather than in the fictitious Caribbean island nation and they filmed in Jamaica for the fictitious island nation.
It’s not the best of the Roger Moore Bond films but it’s still a good James Bond movie. I enjoyed it and rewatch it regularly.