Investigating the mysterious deaths of three agents, Bond investigates the murky world of drugs and black magic. But what links Mr Big, a feared crime boss, and Dr. Kananga, diplomat for a small Caribbean island?
There’s a very atmospheric opening to the film: the New Orleans funeral procession and the San Monique voodoo ceremony are especially chilling. There’s a heavy influence of the supernatural to the film with the aspects of voodoo and tarot and the sinister Baron Samedi (Geoffrey Holder). Rosie is scared by signs and portents- including, bizarrely, a very small hat- and there are creepy scarecrows in the cemetery. The second voodoo ceremony is also very well done. It’s telling that this is, to date, the only Bond movie which mixes in the supernatural with the traditional spy action. It’s very much a standalone, unique film in that respect.
Moore gives a decent performance in his first outing as Bond, the tongue-in-cheek quips and one-liners coming thick and fast. He doesn’t display the same killer instinct as Connery although he is quite handy with an improvised flamethrower. All in all, there’s the basis of a good character. This is also the fifth film to feature Felix Leiter and the fifth actor to portray the character (David Hedison, who will return to the role in License To Kill). Hedison’s performance is very decent (which might be why he was asked back to the role, albeit after sixteen years).
Yaphet Kotto makes for a powerful villain- his mask of philanthropy hides heroin growing and distribution. His obsession with Solitaire and his desire for control over her is unnerving. Jane Seymour gives a luminous performance as tarot reader Solitaire. Her powers are linked to her purity and, when seduced by Bond (in a clever little sequence involving fixing the tarot deck), she is unable to read the cards. She does then become very much a damsel-in-distress, reliant on Bond to rescue her, which slightly lessens the impact.
The sequence where Bond outmanoeuvres the San Monique police in a rickety old double-decker bus is still impressive. The stunt at the farm, where Bond runs across the ravenous alligators and crocodiles, is still impressive (all the more so for being done by a stuntman for real)
We then get to one of the big missteps of the film: Sheriff JW Pepper (Clifton James). A stereotypical racist redneck sheriff and about as funny as trapping your fingers in a car door. The boat chase then lapses into cheap slapstick which skews from the original macabre tone. This was the age of the blaxpoitation movie which is writ large all over this film: Mr Big (and several others) refer to Bond as a ‘honky’ and he’s criticised for being ‘a white face in Harlem’. It’s unlikely that a film this consciously racist- in all its forms- would be made in these more politically correct times.
There are several effects that haven’t stood the test of time- TeeHee’s prosthesis, some of the rubber snakes for the voodoo ceremonies and the inflated Kananga at the end- but on the whole it’s a decent film, well-acted (for the most part) and a heady mix of sorcery and spydom.
Rating: 4 out of 5