Bond’s 8th official outing sees “The Saint” (TV series) himself, one of “The Persuaders” (TV series) – Roger Moore (Sir Moore), starring as the super spy, as he tries to topple Mr Big (Yaphet Kotto), while avoiding the deathly clutches of Baron Samedi (Geoffrey Holder). He is sent to the fictitious location of San Monique, as well as New York to find out why MI6 agents are being murdered. He stumbles on a Heroin production plot which has the potential to flood the world market causing chaos.
To me this film always felt like a cheap knock-off of the spy franchise which presided it, but it is important to realise that the franchise had been long heading in this direction since “007: Goldfinger” (1964). This film just picked up where the ridiculousness of “007: Diamonds are Forever” (1971) left off. Things were becoming more tongue-in-cheek, gadgets were getting more ludicrous, and Bond’s quips more eyebrow raisingly stupid. On the point, enter Roger Moore, the perfect person to be able to successfully lift his eyebrow and take the responsibility of Bond’s bad quips forward. At 45 years old, Moore was older than a lot of the previous actors to don the tuxedo, this made for an actor who would have a lot more time on green-screen, and somebody who needed stunt doubles who could fling themselves off of things. The ability to use more green-screen and stunt doubles though meant for a lot more over the top action sequences could be coming, unfortunately “Diamonds are Forever” did not really them, so my hope is that future Moore/Bond films would.
As a fan of the Bond franchise I know that 45 years of age is the fictional age at which a double-0 agent was retired, in my opinion this made Moore a random choice for the lead. He however was a massive fan and really wanted to play the role so to some extent pestered the production team to make it clear he longed for the role. The hunger to be Bond was something that actually worked with fans as is brought a lot of them back to the franchise to curiously see if he would be a success.
In the film it felt like Moore hadn’t quite found his feet yet as he stumbled through scene after scene, reacting to events, rather than being the catalyst to them (obviously that’s down to directing Guy Hamilton) and writing (Tom Mankiewicz) too).
In the film we see Bond walking through Harlem as the whitest of white people (I’ll come onto this later in the review), to chase scenes with comedy buffer Sheriff Pepper (Clifton James) that seem to come straight out of “Smokie and the Bandit”, and also a sprinkling of Voodoo and Black magic for him to deal with too. Joining Moore in this adventure is Jane Seymour as Solitaire, who is as intense as she is beautiful. Bernard Lee returns as M and as does Lois Maxwell as Moneypenny, absent though is Llewelyn as Q. The bad guys are good in the film, probably more Baron Samedi than Mr Big/Kananga. Certainly, as a child watching this Bond film, it was the Baron who scared me the most. To add to that, a lot of the menace was taken away from Kananga when he floats to the ceiling and explodes like something out of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory“. After seeing that as a child, any fear he might have given me soon evaporated for future viewings.
One of the things that irked me when I watched the film the first time and on subsequent viewings is the way that it handled racial themes. Another annoyance was the misogamy present. Bond films were never known for their sexual empowerment and equality towards women but in this film Bond is a little rapey – especially the way he tricks Solitaire into bed. So with racism and sexism rife, there certainly are issues with the film, and issues that would make this film age disgracefully in the future too.
Earlier I wrote that Bond walks through Harlem as the whitest white person – what I mean by this is that this part of the film feels like a 70’s Blaxploitation movie, which is probably justified as films of that ilk were doing well at the box office when DAF was released. In 1971 there’s “Shaft” and “Sweet Sweetback’s Baadassss Song”. 1972 brought “Superfly“, “Hit Man” and “Hammer“. In 1973, “Gordon’s War“, “Cleopatra Jones“, “Coffy“, “Detroit 9000“, and “Hell up in Harlem“. Then we have this, we have Roger Moore, in all his quintessential Englishness, dropped in the middle of it. He does not blend in, he does not even try to blend in, he almost acts superior to his environment. While in other films it’s people with German or Russian accents that are the bad guys, in this film it seems to be black people – they all seem to be working together to bring down Bond, and ultimately all they want to do is sell drugs?!? In the Harlem environment he is put in, everybody seems to use fractured ‘blackspeak’ – everyone talks like they are in a gang, or a drug dealer, mob enforcers or a trouble causer. When Bond is dealing with Baron Samedi and his personnel, they are all dumbed down tribal islanders. It is only really Kananga that is handled a little differently, but he is not as stereotypically written – showing that you need brains and a decent accent to escape the slums of Harlem and become a criminal mastermind.
One thing I want to be clear about here is that the way that the race element of this film is handled came straight from the Ian Fleming book by the same name, I’ve read it, I know. That book was published in 1954 – when the world, and race relations in particularly, were completely different. Language was different. What the film failed to do, was make up for the way the book handled the subject, and make things right. I can only believe that the attitudes of 1973 when this film came out, weren’t massively different from 1954 when the book was published. The film missed a trick here and could have at least tried to mend things.
In the book Mr Big is a SMERSH agent and runs the criminal element of Harlem and he uses fear to do so, people are convinced that he’s the reincarnation of Baron Samedi. He is moving pirate treasure/ golden coins from Jamaica to Florida where’s exchanging it for real money. He can make practically any black person do his bidding. Tee-Hee is only a small part in the book and he is dealt with fairly quickly. Bond helps Solitaire escape but then has to rescue her again resulting in them both being tied and dragged through shark infested waters (a-la “007: For Your Eyes Only” (1981)). Felix Leiter is helping Bond but get’s fed to the sharks and crippled (a-la “007: A View to a Kill” (1985)).
In the film Mr Big is running a criminal empire with Heroin the main source of income. Mr Big is really Karanga, a dictator from San Monique and his henchmen include Tee-Hee, who has a robotic arm and a penchant for crocodiles, and Baron Samedi, an occult leader. Through links with voodoo and black magic, Karanga is able to able to scare the black populous around him into ding his bidding. Felix Leiter escapes in the movie with all of his limbs. Karanga is assisted by a double agent, Rosie Carter, and he also has Solitaire too. Solitaire has psychic powers which are based on being a virgin, but Bond tricks her into bed using a fake pack of tarot cards so she loses her ability, and worth to Karanga. Solitair is given to the Baron, Bond rescues her, deals with Karanga, and they make their way safely home. At the end of the film it looks like Baron Samedi has them cornered on a train but they are blissfully unaware and make love. In the film you also get Sheriff Pepper (Clifton James), who is a badly written comedy buffoon, stereotypically written as a fat, sweaty, dumb redneck from the southern states of America.
Both the film and the book do have parallels, but I think, given a better treatment the film could have made up for some of the issues that the book churned out. Yes it was a different time. Yes things have changed in recent years. But in my opinion, it takes small actions to make a big change and this film, rather than trying to empower a generation and make things good, instead piggybacked on the boo, the era, and the divide that was in the worlds psyche.
Rather than get carried away let me get to a conclusion. To me this isn’t Moore’s best performance as Bond (those are yet to come), but Seymour is brilliant. The bad guys in this aren’t well written. The pace of the film suffers badly. I think the writing and script really didn’t help anybody and could have been a lot better. This film continues to take the Bond franchise in the wrong direction. There are racist elements to compliment the sexism that Bond films have already brought. The film feels like a cheap imitation or parody of what it could be. The title theme tune though – by Paul McCartney and Wings, now that is epic and possibly my favourite thing about the film. It is a pity that the film didn’t match the theme tune it was given. This was one of the hardest reviews I have had to write. Out of all the Bond films I have watched this is one of my least favorite, made at the wrong time with themes and attitudes that cheapen it greatly. Yes I love Bond films, but this is the dirty little secret that I rarely talk about in polite conversation.
Title Song: Live and Let Die – Paul McCartney and Wings
In terms of Bond films this is a 5 out of 10.
In terms of movies in the long and illustrious history of film I would give this a 4 out of 10.
Bond, James Bond, 007 – Ranking