An Article by Ed
121 minutes-Starring Roger Moore, Jane Seymour and Yaphet Kotto Directed by Guy Hamilton.
After the departure of George Lazenby and a return performance from Sean Connery in Diamonds are Forever, the producers were once again faced with finding a new 007. They found him in the form of Roger Moore, at the time very well known from his several TV shows. He would bring a different take on Bond, in tune with the lighter tone of the previous film, blending his own style with a touch of Connery in his first two films before making the role his own by his third. But of course, before one can have a third film they must have a first.
The eighth Bond film starts off with a rousing, jazzy rendition of the James Bond theme and takes us on a mini-travelogue as three men are killed in the three locations we’ll see in the film. Oddly enough, Bond doesn’t appear in this sequence, an interesting choice that would work out here but in the next film proves to be a very bad mistake. After the terrific song by Paul McCartney we get our first look at Roger Moore, at his home in bed with a beautiful woman. I like how rather than the standard briefing scene in M’s office, M comes to Bond’s home and briefs him on his mission. It’s a nice change and does a little to avoid comparisons with Connery’s Bond, an inevitable dilemma that wasn’t addressed properly in the sixth film. Another difference is the absence of Q as we get Bond explaining what his gadget does to the mild annoyance of M. I also enjoy Bernard Lee’s reaction to Bond’s coffee maker, a Rube Goldberg nightmare that makes more noise than coffee. Did this actually exist? This is the kind of stuff that just needs to be known.
Back to Moore, the producers took an interesting strategy with him as Bond. They have him play the role fairly straightforward (Moore would really make the character his own in his third film), but removing the established “Connery trademarks”—martini order, joking with Q, etc.
From here we get a nicely atmospheric bit of filmmaking as Bond’s plane takes off and lands in New York. I’ve always enjoyed the voiceover by Jane Seymour coupled with her turning over cards. The music by George Martin is great too, as it is throughout the entire film. The New York scenes in general work very nicely in terms of setting up some of the characters, Kananga/Mr. Big in particular. Yaphet Kotto does an excellent job of giving a cool sense of menace and the tape recorder gag he uses to throw off Leiter’s surveillance is a neat touch. Bond’s tailing of Whisper is pretty good with the new version of the James Bond theme blaring over the scene. It also gives us a nice sense of how efficient Mr. Big’s operation is. The ensuing confrontation with Solitaire and Mr. Big is a great example of Bond at his cockiest. More portrays Bond as unflappable in the face of, well… pretty much everything. He also adds in a lighter touch that really should be credited more to screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz than Moore himself. Mankiewicz wrote the screenplay for the previous movie and subsequently co-wrote the next film with Richard Maibaum. That being said, Moore plays the character with a certain coolness and confidence that immediately makes one comfortable with him in the role. To the filmmakers credit they don’t try to make him exactly like Connery, though there is a bit more edge to him here and the second outing that isn’t as pronounced in the following five. The introduction to Tee Hee is equally fun. Moore’s reaction to the claw and his dumping of the gun into the trash can is very amusing. Also good is the brief appearance of Mr. Big and the even briefer scuffle with the thugs in the alley.
The intro of Strutter into the story leads nicely to the first San Monique sequence. Like the rest of the film it plays out at a nice brisk pace, much like Dr. No but we’ll get to that in the performance section of the article. Moore continues his unflappable portrayal into the snake sequence, a nice reworking of the spider scene in Dr. no. Not handled quite as well is the character of Rosie Carver, Gloria Hendry is certainly a gorgeous woman but the character is a bit too obviously not what she seems. Still, Moore and Hendry play their scenes well and the bit where Bond reveals that he knows she’s with Kananga is a nice moment, Moore shows Bond’s callous side quite well here. Equally effective is Bond’s seduction of Solitaire, only Moore’s Bond could get away with the loaded deck of cards ploy. The callousness is offset rather nicely by the following bedroom scene. Moore shows a relatively good amount of tenderness with her and his facial expression before he reveals the ruse is quite amusing.
The discovery of the poppy fields and escape from San Monique is well done with the bus stunt standing out as especially cool. The opening movement of the New Orleans sequence, however, is rather uneven. The reveal of the cab driver is good but the actor goes a bit overboard. Also uninspiring is the plane chase. It starts off well enough but the addition of Mrs. Bell is frankly unnecessary and detracts from a pretty neat, innovative stunt sequence. Making it a little better is the coda to the plane scene. David Hedison is fairly funny. His one sided phone conversation with the owner of the plane reminds me of a Bob Newhart routine.
At about seventy minutes in the film hits its high point, from Bond’s capture to the end of the boat chase is maybe the best stretch of the entire series. Virtually everything is done exceptionally well. Yaphet Kotto really comes into his own in this scene. I especially love the reveal that Mr. Big and Kananga are the same person. It actually builds nicely with Kananga getting angrier and angrier before finally tearing off the wig and slamming it to the floor with as much fury as one could possibly do that particular action. It’s really a funny moment, maybe unintentional but it certainly is memorable. Happily though, this is as over the top as Kotto goes in his performance, for the rest of the scene he exudes quiet menace, something Kotto is brilliant at.
The most interesting part of his performance, however, comes after Bond is taken out. His confrontation with Solitaire is remarkably subtle for what is essentially a summer action film. Kotto displays a mixture of anger and genuine hurt when he discovers her betrayal. It’s not what you generally see in any action movie, Bond or otherwise. Another aspect of this scene that I like (and the film in general), is the rather low key scheme the villain has. It’s nice to have something low key and mundane like drug smuggling as opposed to Kananga having an orbiting death ray placed in the latest spy satellite.
The quality continues with the gator farm sequence. I love the tour, Julius Harris makes his character nicely menacing, actually given that he has one hand and a huge metal arm with a pair of pliers on it it’s not really too hard to convey menace. Still, a good job nonetheless. The gator jump ends the scene perfectly. Having the watch magnet fail is also a nice touch, as is the reaction Moore has to the watch failing.
The boat chase is equally impressive. The stunts are superb as usual and unlike the film that would follow, having a redneck sheriff appear actually makes sense and adds to the story. Clifton James is quite funny as Pepper here and though his shtick is quite politically incorrect, it works for the film. Bond’s escape from San Monique is nicely done with good use of Baron Samedi Geoffrey Holder is really good in one of the more unusual villain roles in the series, a nice couple of exchanges with Kananga and a decent enough fight between Bond and Kananga. The only real problem the fight has is the ending. I have two problems with it: First off, having a very cool villain super-inflated till be blows up is really not the best sendoff they could have used. Second, and this ties in with my first problem, any time you have a shark in your finale and it doesn’t eat somebody, you’ve just wasted money on a shark. Still, it doesn’t hurt the movie too much and the fight on the train with Tee Hee more than makes up for it and the final shot of Samedi on the front of the train is very cool. In the end, it’s a solid summer action movie that serves as a good entry in the franchise. Not the best, but also not the worst by a long shot.
Another interesting element of the film is how closely it follows Dr, No in terms of story. Both films have a relaxed, laid back narrative with low key performances and less of an emphasis on gadgets. They both have major set pieces in the Caribbean and feature an animal as a threat as well as a slightly tougher Bond than we’re used to seeing.
Roger Moore does just fine in his debut as Bond. He tries to avoid any of Connery’s mannerisms and trademarks but doesn’t quite put his own personal stamp on the character. That wouldn’t happen till his third outing as 007. He plays a certain amount of toughness, something he would carry into the next film and refine into a rather casual detachment by the third film, but for the most part plays it light and relaxed. It’s a very confident, assured performance.
Ed Harris posts in the CBn forums as ‘Genrewriter’.