One of the more ridiculous scenes involves Bond running over the backs of a bunch of alligators and crocodiles to get off an island before the carnivores can eat him. It's completely unbelievable... except for being real. According to the commentary on the film, they were planning to have Bond escape using his magnetic watch to pull a boat over, but felt it lacked excitement. They asked the animal handler on the set how he would escape from the island and he proceeded to do the "run-over-their-backs" stunt for the camera. The footage is actually of him doing it!
Jazz funerals, or "funerals with music" as they're traditionally known, are a noted tradition in New Orleans, held for deceased musicians or other prominent New Orleans natives. Though the film greatly exaggerates it, showing the procession immediately switch from a somber tune to a happy tune ("Rock Around The Clock", as shown during the film). In real life, they play a somber tune (such as "Nearer My God To Thee") on their way to the cemetery, and play a happy tune (such as "When The Saints Go Marching In") after the deceased is laid to rest.
The villain himself, especially for younger audiences. You could be forgiven for thinking that the concept of a Caribbean dictator using voodoo imagery to strengthen his mystique and terrorize his underlings was simply the movie following the trashiest traditions of pulp fiction and Hollywood Voodoo. Unfortunately, that's a perfect description of real-life Haitian dictator François Duvalier, who died in office just two years before the film's release.
"Boy didn't we get taken - listen to this!" I said to him, "Cubby, this is terrific. Jerry Moss [of A&M Records] was in London at the time [and] listened to it. "Cubby, I can guarantee you thought this record will go platinum and it will become the Number One song in the world. If you don't like it, I'll be happy to give you $1 million for your rights to the song right now". Cubby just stared. Starting the next day, Cubby said, "We have this great song by Paul".
Ass Pull: The circular saw function on Bond's watch comes completely out of nowhere. Although since we don't have the usual Q scene where he explains the watch and its abilities, it's justified. M just returns Bond's watch that Q has repaired, and when he makes a snarky comment about the waste of taxpayer's money, Bond reveals it's a Q watch by magnetically stealing his spoon.
Badass Decay: Bond is supposed to be a very good spy and secret agent. Yet on this movie it is quite jarring how everybody seems to know what he is, what's he's up to, and what he's doing. Not only that, but they're following and tailing him at almost every single instant in the whole film, to the point he gets betrayed twice and trapped three times. At least part of this is explained by Solitaire's tarot reading giving the bad guys a heads up. After that, Mr. Big is well connected. There is also a recurring theme in the Roger Moore films where Bond is less of a secret agent and more of a living legend given Scaramanga's reaction to him (which is not entirely unlikely given how he is a One-Man Army who has saved the whole world at least twice by this point), but even in that case, the bad guys getting the drop on Bond so many times is something that is rare even on other Moore Bond films.
Base-Breaking Character: Sheriff J.W. Pepper; either you hate him for being a bumbling buffoon whose involvement radically changes the tone of the movie, or you love him for those same reasons.
Bond shoots Baron Samedi, only for him to shatter like a vase and then reappear. In fact, with the Hollywood Voodoo and Solitaire's tarot card ability, this is the only Bond film to have any implied supernatural elements.
The emphasis on Bond using an espresso machine seems like this to today's audience. Especially considering the complete lack of a scene involving Q and his gadgets.
Relating to Baron Samedi's immortality, Solitaire's Virgin Power of clairvoyance, and the implication that Kananga is old enough to be Solitaire's grandfather despite appearing to be in his late 40s. Accepting that these are real (and there is a lot of potential evidence that they are) means that you are accepting the existence of magic in the James Bond franchise, which is understandably something that a lot of people have a problem with in their spy fiction. Especially if you are a fan of the darker and more realistic incarnations of Bond such as Timothy Dalton. (That said, "magic in James Bond" is Older Than They Think - in the novels, this one, From Russia with Love and You Only Live Twice all feature surprisingly accurate prophesies.)
The idea of the supernatural existing in the world of James Bond is something even the franchise's most ardent fans have a hard time accepting, which is perhaps why it is the only film to date to imply that it does. At the same time, there are other fans who feel it gives this film a unique identity among the rest of the series.
Kananga's elaborate plot to distribute heroin for free across the US to monopolize the drug trade is considered by some to be a rather underwhelming scheme when lined up against the ambitions of so many other villains in the series. Others find it a welcome change of pace after Blofeld's world domination schemes, and something more akin to the kind of threats tackled by the literary version of Bond.
David Hedison is one of the more popular actors to portray Felix Leiter. His likability in the part and his great chemistry with Roger Moore probably did much to convince the producers to bring him back opposite Timothy Dalton sixteen years later in Licence to Kill.
Fair for Its Day: For all the cringeworthy portrayals of African-Americans as jive-talking superstitious criminals, Bond's two most competent allies, Quarell and Strutter, are both African-American, and the bigoted white sheriff J.W. Pepper is portrayed as and openly referred to as an idiot. And if you're feeling extra generous, you can write off the "jive-talking superstitious" part of that last sentence as Kananga's personal fetish, enforcing the theme on his underlings. You could also note that Yaphet Kotto plays Kananga as being every bit as sophisticated, intelligent and dangerous as any other Bond villain.
Genius Bonus: At the close of the pre-credits sequence, to ratchet up the tension of the agent's death, the musical score quotes the Huge Chord from The Beatles' "A Day in the Life". The film's composer was George Martin, the Beatles' producer.
Harsher in Hindsight: Upon discovering that Kananga is simply a drug dealer, Bond tells Solitiare that he plans to just turn the whole case over to Felix Leiter and then scarper. This is bitterly ironic in the wake of Licence to Kill, where Bond sets out to destroy a drug dealer who hurts Leiter.
Bond hears Felix communicating to his car through a cigarette lighter, noting "A genuine Felix Leiter/Lighter. Illuminating." In Licence to Kill, Felix (again played by David Hedison) gives Bond a cigarette lighter as a gift for being his wedding's best man which he uses to kill Franz Sanchez as vengeance for the maiming of Felix and the death of Felix's wife ...all of which happened to him in the book Live and Let Die.
Magnificent Bastard: Dr. Kananga, dictator of San Monique, uses Voodoo religions to maintain a tight control on the populace. Eliminating a number of MI6 agents investigating him, Kananga plots to monopolize the heroin trade in America. Disguising himself as rough Harlem gangster Mr. Big to fool any onlookers and divert suspicion to a man who doesn't even exist. Kananga processes heroin on his island and intends on sending 'free samples' to double the amount of addicts before he begins charging, utterly dominating the trade. Staying two steps ahead of Bond for most of the film, Kananga proves himself a charming, suave mastermind and more than a match for 007's best.
Italian agent Miss Caruso, seen only in the opening scene where she had slept with Bond after a mission in Rome, then hides in the closet from M when he and Moneypenny unexpectedly show up at Bond's apartment.
Adam, one of the the Big Bad's goons who leads the lengthy boat chase after Bond.
Dambala, Baron Samedi's snake-handling follower who wears a thong and a goat-skin headpiece, appears in two scenes, but one is very brief, and he doesn't talk in either scene.
The Scrappy: Sheriff J. W. Pepper, to a certain extent, although this really set in for him after he reappeared in The Man with the Golden Gun. Amusingly the designer for Victory Games' RPG based on the franchise glommed onto the character for this reason: a lot of random encounter charts call for the sheriff to appear wherever the player characters are and attach himself to them in order to make their activities more difficult.
Kananga's death scene. There were limits on how realistic they could have possibly made that sequence without outraging the censors at the time. Still, it just goes to show what a poor idea that method of dispatch really was.
It's quite obvious that the actor playing Tee-Hee is wearing a prop claw (you can see his wrist bending the sleeves or part of the actor's arm during the final fight, even though it's supposed to be solid steel that covers the entire arm).
When Whisper carries Bond after he's been knocked out by Tee-Hee, he's obviously carrying a rubber dummy.
Averted, surprisingly, on Bond's escape after being left to be eaten by crocodiles in a very small island. Instead of using fake props, those were actually real crocodiles. That ain't Moore or even a proper stunt double running on top of them. That's the owner of the ranch, Kananga himself.
Also averted with Bond using his magnetic watch to give his Italian lover Ms. Caruso a not so Shameful Strip once they're alone. It was basically just a very thin wire connecting the watch to her dress zipper but it's impossible to see. However there appears to be a crew member's hand holding her dress steady, though most might ignore it in favor of seeing the lovely Ms. Caruso's backside and top of her panties be revealed again.
When Tee Hee bends the barrel of Bond's PPK, it's obviously a thin piece of metal that doesn't match the finish of the rest of the slide.
Mr. Big's reveal as Dr. Kananga; the mask simply does not achieve the intended effect and most can probably make the connection by the time he's shown himself to Bond.
The snake Dambala uses during the voodoo ceremonies is clearly made of plastic.
Unintentional Uncanny Valley: Because Yaphet Kotto is wearing a real Latex Perfection mask to play "Mr. Big", and because in real life such masks tend to have this effect due to not being as effective as they are in movies, there's something noticeably off about Mr. Big's appearance.
Values Dissonance: The scene where Bond tricks Solitaire into sleeping with him is pretty uncomfortable by modern standards, doubly so because she's one of the few women Bond's bedded to be clearly unhappy afterwards (though not because she didn't enjoy the sex, but because she was afraid that Kananga would kill her for it).
The Woobie: Solitaire, Good God. Obligated to serve a cruel and possessive madman who constantly has her under his thumb just like her mother and grandmother before her, Solitaire is under constant threat of death if she were to ever go astray or to lose her divine powers by enjoying intimacy with anyone. And the only way she would be released from this commitment is if Kananga himself makes love to her. When she violates this pact by making love with Bond, an act he engineered in part just to get information out of her, Kananga smacks her down and condemns her to die. Terrified and unable to fight her way out alone, it's impossible not to feel sorry for her through her entire ordeal.
Fair for Its Day: This was Ian Fleming's second 007 novel (1954) - while the book's narrative and the black dialect Bond hears in Harlem read pretty cringe-worthy, and Bond's got some very politically incorrect attitudes towards blacks, he does observe that a typical young couple in the restaurant he goes to is interested in the same things as everyone else in the world, and is glad "they're not genteel about it". Mister Big himself notes that blacks have made major contributions to many human endeavors, and aims to be the first black super-criminal. Felix Leiter is also openly accepting of blacks and even reminds Bond to be less rude when referring to them. Also, during Bond's initial briefing, even M (a hidebound reactionary even by the standards of the time) says that Mr. Big or someone like him was inevitable.
"The Negro races are just beginning to throw up geniuses in all the professions-scientists, doctors, writers. It's about time they turned out a great criminal. After all, there are 250,000,000 of them in the world. Nearly a third of the white population. They've got plenty of brains and ability and guts. And now Moscow's taught one of them the technique."