Thursday, 24 April 2014

Sheriff J.W. Pepper and the Worst of Bond

"A Secret Agent! On Whooose Side?"

Oh dear, Sheriff J.W Pepper may not represent the nadir of the James Bond franchise - that particular honour is reserved for Die Another Day - but he is still an embarrassment to most 007 aficionados.

The Louisiana lawman is played by Clifton James in Live and Let Die and The Man with the Golden Gun. There has never been an explanation as to why some faceless idiot thought giving Roger Moore an unlikely 'buddy' partner would be a good idea. The tubby cop is a lame sideshow to what should have been Moore's breakthrough Bond role. His presence marks the moment when the series became more of a comedy than drama.

There is no disguising the fact that Pepper is an obvious caricature. He speaks exclusively in exclamations, with 'boy' and other features of southern dialect clumsily splattered across his speech. Once again a Bible Belt character is portrayed by Hollywood as some sort of feckless, incompetent moron. Moreover, in typically stereotyped fashion, this clown continually spits to show us all how quintessentially cowboy he is, as if we did not get the hint already.

Ok, maybe his pompous demeanor is funny the first time you watch him. But one good joke is a fleeting experience; it cannot add worthwhile commentary to the main chase sequences in TWO films. I would not like to count his total screen time but anything over a couple of minutes is too much to justify.

If his first appearance was not silly enough (having his car smashed by a flying boat) Pepper's return in the following movie, otherwise one of Moore's best Bond stories, is too ridiculous to fully comprehend - a British secret agent meets the exact same bystander from his previous mission whilst hunting a deadly assassin.

At one moment 007's new friend is working the beat in Louisiana swamplands, the next he is on his holidays with the wife in Thailand. What are the chances? Pepper must be an incredibly lucky man because it would take a financial windfall for a man on his wages to afford a trip to the Far East in 1974.

Admittedly, there have been some awfully dire supporting characters across the 23-film franchise. Yet Live and Let Die's comic creation is so outrageous he makes Mr Wint/Kidd and the random nuclear physicist in Thunderball look like they were written by Mike Leigh.

J.W. is a testament to the repeated mistakes of 1970s MGM Bond. Roger Moore would continue to stretch the realms of belief for another five productions, visiting space and wrestling Grace Jones along the way. The Spy Who Loved Me is partly his best because it lacks the cartoonish sheriff and replaces him with the most famous henchman of all: Jaws.

Imagine what would happen if Pepper ever appeared in a Daniel Craig or Sean Connery movie. I don't see him comin' outta that too well, boy!


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