007 is sent to stop a diabolically brilliant heroin magnate armed with a complex organization and a reliable psychic tarot card reader.
“Names is for tombstones baby!”
Roger Moore’s run as James Bond gets off to a rather uneven start in this strange fusion of spy and blaxploitation movies. It starts off in slightly unorthodox fashion in the pre-credits scene with Bond notable by his absence, in his stead three British agents are assassinated, one at the United Nations building in New York, one on the island of San Monique and most memorably of all in the French Quarter of New Orleans where a funeral procession becomes a parade band. What follows is a Bond film that in truth is a cash in on a popular genre of the time (as with ‘Moonraker‘ following the success of ‘Star Wars‘).
Directed by Guy Hamilton two years after Connery’s swan song in ‘Diamonds Are Forever‘, the pre-credit sequence isn’t the only break from the norm for this entry in the series – no appearance from Q, no sign of SPECTRE and no John Barry (instead we have a score from the Beatles’ producer George Martin). Paul McCartney evidently didn’t take offence at the jibe in ‘Goldfinger‘ “like listening to the Beatles without ear muffs” as he provides the title track co-written with his then wife Linda. M and Moneypenny also take the unusual step of visiting Bond rather than the traditional MI6 office setting for the now customary exchanges between the trio.
The storyline sees 007 investigating the murders of three MI6 agents, in the process unravelling a plot by Mr Big (Yaphet Kotto of ‘Alien‘ fame) to take over the drugs market in the US (or should we say, Kanaga, the tarot obsessed Prime Minister of Saint Monique). In addition to the usual espionage elements there are some unusual diversions for a Bond film, with the inclusion of voodoo magic, a tarot card reading Bond girl (played by a very young looking Jane Seymour) and of course the criminal underworld in New York. The film is a clumsy attempt to cash in on the blaxploitation genre and ends up being more of a “James Bond versus” movie rather than a Bond film in its own right. It makes for uncomfortable viewing in places with broad racial stereotypes mixed with the usual questionable gender politics.
The film isn’t entirely without its merits, Roger Moore slips comfortably into Bond’s shoes (even if they’re covered at times by some dubious wardrobe choices) – he brings a lightness of touch to the role, making the most of his opportunities to deliver the trademark Bond quips and puns, helping to banish the memory of Lazenby and taking up the mantle from Connery who declared ‘Diamonds are Forever‘ to be his last Bond film (more’s the pity he didn’t stick to that promise given the risible ‘Never Say Never Again‘). The rosta of villains on display is impressive, from Mr Big/Kananga, to Tee-Hee, Baron Samedi (a legendary villain from the world of vidoegames, the classic Nintendo 64 game ‘Goldeneye‘) and the whispering henchman imaginatively named ‘Whisper’. The film also boasts some amusing set pieces, from the double (and single) decker bus chase, to a low speed light aircraft chase (minus wings) and a nicely choreographed scene involving a row of crocodiles.
Ultimately though, this ranks as one of the poorer entries in the series despite Roger Moore’s charismatic turn. As much as the film tries to get by with the benefit of the former Saint’s charm and good looks in addition to a memorable theme tune reprised throughout, it’s far too inconsequential to be thought of as one of the better Bond films. If anything it represents something of a curiosity but one with little replay value.
Review by Mark Thatcher
Directed By: Guy Hamilton
Starring: Roger Moore, Yaphet Kotto, Jane Seymour, Julius Harris, David Hedison, Geoffrey Holder, Gloria Hendry, Clifton James, Roy Stewart, Earl Jolly Brown, Bernard Lee and Lois Maxwell