Live and Let Die (1973)

Posted: August 11, 2019 in horror, James Bond
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Bond is back, but Connery has disappeared again, leaving 007 behind to make highbrow fair like, er, Zardoz. After dallying briefly with the idea of Burt Reynolds or Adam West, the producers insisted on a British actor, and in the end the man taking up the 00 licence was the Saint himself, Roger Moore.

It’s easy to make fun of Moore, easy to deride him as an actor and a Bond, but he made several of the most enjoyable Bond films, including this one.

Is it From Russia with Love or OHMSS? Not remotely! Is it better than many of the films that preceded it? Indubitably. Live and Let Die follows in the footsteps of Diamonds as a lighter Bond film, it also, in line with several Bond films, takes inspiration from other genres. Some might decry Bond becoming a follower rather than a leader but, for the most part it’s what’s kept the franchise going for as long as it has, it’s ability to reinvent itself.

Here the influence is Blaxploitation, and while some of the attendant lingo might be more than a little wince inducing now (honky, spade, pimpmobile) taken in the context of its time you could argue this is quite radical. Yes the majority of the black actors are the villains, but there are a decent number of them, and some are the franchise’s most iconic villains. Obviously I’m coming at this from the angle of a white middle class male so feel free to disagree.

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After hiding an Italian agent in his wardrove when M and Moneypenny come around, Bond’s off to New York to investigate the deaths of three British agents. He quickly becomes the target for gangsters led by Mr Big, who seems to be in cahoots with Dr Kananga, the dictator of San Monique (what can be the shocking connection between the two men???). He also comes across a woman named Solitaire who has an almost supernatural ability to predict the future.

I’m a fan of Roger Moore, but even I’d concede he should have quit the franchise long before he did. Here though he’s a joy to watch, effortless and charming, with a hint of danger and, for a guy who’s actually born before Connery, someone who looks in better shape than Sean did in Diamonds.

Roger was in on the joke but, unlike Connery, he plays it straight and leans into the ridiculousness of Bond. He doesn’t have the predatory physique of Connery, but similarly the vulnerability of Lazenby is nowhere to be seen. Moore’s Bond is brimming with self-belief, an assured confidence that sees him stare death in the face with a smile, most of the time. That isn’t to say he doesn’t face his mortality. When he’s on the verge of losing a finger to Tee-Hee, or on that island surrounded by crocs he does have the decency to look slightly worried.

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He’s not a nice guy though, from his assertion to Rosie that he wouldn’t have killed her before they made love, to telling Solitaire she’s safe now even though he’s planning to use her as bait. And on the subject of Solitaire, loading the deck with lovers cards is pretty far from 007’s finest hour. The only (slight) get out is that he’d already picked a genuine Lovers card from the deck, as did Solitaire, so you could argue it was always destined to be, or maybe the cards were picking up on Bond’s future deception? Time paradoxes aren’t usual for Bond, but then again this isn’t a usual Bond film. (but I’ll get to that).

Does Moore always convince in a fist fight? Maybe not, but he looks the part, and how iconic does he look in dressed in black touting a big fuck off .44 magnum at the end?

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As Mr Big/Kananga (sorry!) Yaphet Kotto is excellent. Urbane and intelligent, yet capable of flashes of anger and more than happy to do his own dirty work as required. Yes, the Mr Big prosthetics are a trifle silly, as is the fact 007 doesn’t cotton on, but he’s a top draw villain for me, shame about how he dies though. “Names is for tombstones, baby” is a wonderful line though.

As Tee Hee Julius Harris is clearly having fun. He’s a neat henchman with his pincer for an arm (and nice to see a villain’s oddity get a backstory!) to his affable nature, he genuinely always looks pleased to see Bond even though he’s about to try and kill him.

Neither of these men are the best villain however, which is kinda insane given how good they are, but they’re not the late Geoffrey Holder, they’re no Baron Samedi. I mean he isn’t in it that much, but he dominates the screen, he’s a giant of a man yet walks with the grace of a dancer (hardly surprising given Holder was a dancer and choreographer) and his deep baritone voice is a joy to behold (and by all accounts he was a lovely man in real life). All this is before he’s done up in his Baron Samedi get up, and this just propels him to another level. His fight with Bond is short but memorable, especially his demise in a coffin full of snakes.

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Best of all he’s a henchman like few others. A henchman who isn’t killed. Or is he? Were the snakes in that coffin non-venomous? Was he immune? Or is he really Baron Samedi, the man who cannot die? I mean he’s clearly still alive at the end, sitting on the front of the train uttering a wonderfully malevolent laugh, which doesn’t strike me as something a regular person would do.

And this is the thing about LALD. It’s the closest Bond’s ever got to an out and out horror film. I mean, either Solitaire is incredibly lucky, or she really can predict the future, which implies the supernatural is real, and if Samedi really did come back from the dead…

Whichever way you look at it this is a film with a unique and iconic production design, and certainly the most skulls we’ve ever seen in a Bond movie (and clearly was an influence on Spectre’s pre-title sequence).

2012_CSK_04431_0008_001(live_and_let_die).jpgAs Solitaire it has to be said that Jane Seymour is gorgeous, but yet again she doesn’t get a whole lot to do. She’s mysterious, but in terms of agency she really has none. She’s a slave to the cards, until she becomes a slave to love (or at least lust!). It’s also somewhat problematic that we have the virginal white woman held in the power of malevolent black men. Maybe it would have been better, as was originally considered, if Solitaire had been black as well (though she is white in the book).

Of course does get a black love interest in Gloria Hendry’s Rosie Carver, sadly she’s not one of the better Bond girls. As Bond’s allies we get Lon Satton as the poor unfortunate Agent Strutter, and Roy Stewart as Quarrel Jr. A nice call-back to Dr No. Thankfully Quarrel Jr. survives! Hurrah.

David Hedison is Felix, and it’s kinda ironic him giving Bond shark advice given what’ll happen to him in Licence to Kill! Still, he’s always been one of my favourite Felixs, and other than Jeffrey Wright the only Felix to be in more than one film.

Finally there is Clifton James as Sherriff J.W. Pepper as well. Again a divisive character, but for me he’s a lot of fun, and utters some memorable lines (“What are you, some kind of doomsday machine?”) He probably shouldn’t have shown up in The Man with the Golden Gun though.

After some substandard action fare in Diamonds, there’s some great set pieces here. The bus chase is fun, and the crocodile leap is inspired. The Louisiana speedboat chase is nicely shot, and comes to a neat conclusion. Bond hand gliding to Solitaire’s mansion is great, and Bond infiltrating the voodoo ceremony is just fantastic. Bond’s final fight with Tee Hee is good too.

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It’s not perfect, the Bond-less pre-title sequence is a bit of a chore (but have we ever met the villain and the girl before Bond before?) but I guess they didn’t want to ape the intro of George. The plane chase with Mrs Bell is a trifle silly, and Bond’s method of killing Kananga does a disservice to that character (and is surprisingly bloodless).

Also, just who is it that tips Bond off that Rosie is a wrong-un by slipping him the Queen of Cups? It doesn’t make a lot of sense.

A final word on the music. Paul McCartney and Wings’ title track is easily one of the top five in the franchise, and much as I adore John Barry, George Martin’s score here is wonderful and perfect for this film.

One of my favourite films in the franchise and probably tied for Roger’s best Bond flick all round (I’ll let you know if a couple of films time)

Anyway, James Bond will return, with an extra nipple…

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