New day, new Bond.
Live and Let Die (1973)
With Connery’s tuxedo and toupée firmly hung up, it was time for Roger Moore to step up to the plate, fresh from TV spy stardom as Simon Templar in The Saint. Some people can’t stand Roger Moore as Bond, citing him as too jokey, but I think Moore’s great. Whilst I think that him treating the whole thing as one big joke can be a little irritating, I find that when he takes the role seriously, he’s fantastic. He’s pretty good here too, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
James Bond (Roger Moore) is sent to New York to investigate the murders of several British agents.He soon twigs there may be a link between druglord Mr. Big and diplomat Dr. Kananga (Yaphet Kotto). Whilst snooping, Bond encounters Solitaire (Jane Seymour), a high priestess with the power to predict the future using tarot cards. To make matters weirder, Mr. Big also seems to have links with a voodoo priest by the name of Baron Samedi (Geoffrey Holder). Live and Let Die‘s a strange one. It’s pretty much a blaxploitation film starring the whitest hero imaginable. Plus, it doesn’t hold back when it comes to voodoo and the occult. This is probably the most experimental Bond has got and I can appreciate it for that. The story’s pretty decent, although it does come across as a “greatest hits” compilation at times, especially when the sharks come out of nowhere for the final showdown between Bond and Kananga.
Roger Moore leaves his own mark on Bond. He’s more of an English gentleman and significantly less vicious than Connery’s 007 was capable of being, but he’s lightyears ahead of Lazenby. I love Yaphet Kotto in this film. He’s erudite and measured but also incredibly cruel. He’s completely fearless when it comes to the Mr.Big persona too, cutting Bond’s famous introduction short by saying the immortal line: “Names is for tombstones, baby! Y’all take this honkey out and waste him! Now!” Jane Seymour gives a memorable turn as Solitaire, managing to come across as naive and sheltered without being weak and useless. She is also so ridiculously beautiful in this film I can’t even say her name out loud without sighing like a lovelorn 12 year old girl. David Hedison also finally gives us an interesting Felix Leiter. Scene stealer for me though was Geoffrey Holder’s Baron Samedi. I fucking love this guy. He’s like a cross between David Walliams and Ainsley Harriott.
There’s a fun energy here that was lacking in Diamonds Are Forever. Live and Let Die is certainly pretty camp at times (the aforementioned Baron Samedi embodying most of that camp) but it’s not painful to sit through. It’s actually really enjoyable. Bond has been rewritten to play to Moore’s strengths and at least to me, it works. OHMSS showed us the pitfalls of not playing to your actor’s forte and it shows here.The story’s pretty decent, although it does come dangerously close to retreading old ground at times. There are some brilliant scenes like the fantastic opening where we see an agent staking out a restaurant before a Dixieland funeral procession comes past. The agent asks who the funeral is for and is told it’s for him, before being stabbed in the side. It’s morbid and incredible memorable. The stunts are in a league of their own. This is were Bond films really started pushing the action barrier. There’s a well-executed bus chase and a still awesome boat chase around the bayou which features some incredible jumps. There’s also the super-famous bit where Bond uses several angry crocodiles as stepping stones to get to safety.
As for the bad, there are a couple of things. I’m really not a fan of Sheriff J.W. Pepper (Clifton James). He’s meant to be this dumb hick comic relief cop character, but he grated on every single one of my last nerves. He really isn’t as funny as the film thinks he is and we spend waay too long in his company during the boat sequence. Had he been used sparingly he might have been alright. One of his last lines to Bond is pretty entertaining. After finally catching up to Bond after the destructive chase, Pepper screams “What are you? Some kinda doomsday machine, boy?!”. Also, I fucking hate Kananga’s demise. It’s ridiculously cartoony and spoils the ending for me. It’s a bad send-off to a great character. Talking of characters, we have the proto-Jaws in Tee-Hee (Julius Harris) who “unexpectedly” turns up when Bond and Solitaire are on the train home. The guy’s not bad, but I didn’t need another Red Grant style claustrophobic scrap to add to the sense of déjà vu I already had from previous scenes. Also a quick mention of the first proper swear word in a Bond film. There had been a few mentions of “bitch” before, but I’m certain this is the first time “shit” has been uttered.
It won’t be to everyone’s taste, but I think Live and Let Die is great. It’s fucking strange, granted, but good all the same. To top it off, you have one of the best Bond title songs ever in the form of Paul McCartney and Wings’ song of the same name. It’s a shame the opening titles aren’t all that. Still, it’s a much-needed chaser to the offal and turd cocktail that was Diamonds are Forever.