Our Word Is Our Bond returns, and today we move into the Roger Moore era with Dan D’Arpe giving his thoughts on Live And Let Die (1973) starring Roger Moore, Jane Seymour and Yaphet Kotto.
Following the release of Diamonds Are Forever, Eon Productions – heralds of the world-renowned James Bond franchise -found themselves in a bit of a pickle. Actor Sean Connery, who had defined 007 on-screen for six movies, was retiring from the role for good. Perhaps it was for the best: his last film had received mixed reviews, while Connery had been paid a small fortune just to lure him back to the role in the first place. The problem, however, was that for many people Connery simply was James Bond, hands down. How does one replace the man who is Bond?
Or, perhaps an even better question: was such a thing even possible?
Against such uncertainty, one could hardly have blamed Roger Moore for being nervous. Although he had been considered a likely candidate to replace Connery for years, there was nothing hypothetical about it anymore. He was now 007, and if he wished to succeed he needed to not only step into the role, but also own it.
To that end, Eon hired longtime Bond director Guy Hamilton and screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz to help usher in the next chapter of the franchise. The end result was Live And Let Die, a film that was a radical departure from the preceding Connery era.
The film opens with the death of three MI6 agents, who are killed at the United Nations, New Orleans, and during some sort of voodoo ritual. M (Bernard Lee) sends James Bond (Roger Moore) to New York, where he is to meet up with CIA Agent Felix Leiter (David Hedison). After escaping a few assignation attempts set up by the powerful Mr. Big, Bond meets the mysterious and virginal Solitaire (Jane Seymour), and travels to the Caribbean island of San Monique, home of the powerful Dr. Kananga (Yaphet Kotto). It becomes readily apparent that Kananga is somehow in league with Mr. Big, due to the fact that the same henchmen who attacked James in New York reappear on this remote island. That, combined with the fact that someone attempts to kill him immediately upon arrival, strongly suggest that the dashing British spy may have stumbled onto something.
After seducing Solitaire into helping him, the duo try to figure out Kananga’s scheme without getting killed. The rest of the movie follows their attempts to escape the island, evade uncountable henchmen, and find a way to escape from capture and certain death. Eventually, 007 and Solitaire have one final confrontation with Kananga in his secret underground base before boarding a train to find (unexpected) excitement and romance.
Two things truly stand out when one watches Live And Let Die. One of course is the title song, a rock ballad written by Paul and Linda McCartney and performed by their band Wings. Not only was it the first true rock anthem to be featured as a James Bond theme, but it would later dominate the music charts and even earn itself an Academy nomination. Even to this day, it is still one of Sir Paul McCartney’s most recognizable hits (alongside his tracks with The Beatles and Simply Having A Wonderful Christmastime, respectively).
Yet taking the music outside, the format of Live And Let Die is also striking for another reason. The film is a hybrid spy thriller/blaxploitation, made in order to capitalize on the success of the later genre. This made the movie a bit more grounded (in some ways) than other Bond films, with a focus being on the drug trade as opposed to some megalomaniac bent on destroying the world. That said, the producers didn’t forget to add cool gadgets (ultimate wrist watch, anyone?) or memorable villains like the metal clawed Tee Hee (Julius Harris), and the witchdoctor Baron Samedi (Geoffrey Holder). All in all, the mix worked: Live And Let Die made a fortune at the box office and, for the most part, received fairly positive reviews.
That said, how well the movie holds up today is much more a matter of debate. One area of some contention is Moore’s portrayal of Bond. Although effortlessly smooth and suave, his Bond comes off more as charming (yet completely chauvinistic) playboy than deadly agent. While Connery and George Lazenby (however brief his tenure was) show glints of how dangerous Bond actually can be, Moore’s 007 doesn’t really show such inner steel. He relies much more on his wit and one liners. Love or hate it, it was clear that Moore had succeeded and put his own mark on 007.
Ultimately, Live And Let Die feels like a film that has its moments, but has a convoluted story that is further punctuated by outlandish plot elements. The more notorious example is when Agent 007 plays hopscotch on the backs of crocodiles in order to make it safely to a boat. Another scene has Bond being lowered slowly into shark invested waters, since the once cool, rational drug lord has developed a flair for the dramatic. Such over the top (downright silly) elements go totally against the grain of the “grounded” approach and give the film a somewhat discombobulated feeling. It’s clear the filmmakers went overboard here: sacrificing logic in their eternal attempts to make the ultimate anti-Connery Bond film.
On top of all this, it is clear that the producers really did not know how to incorporate the blaxploitation elements. Instead, they created a series of clichéd characters and events that are ridiculous, cringe-worthy, and offensive. With the exception of two minor characters, every single African American character, including random citizens standing on street corners, is secretly in league with Kananga. Everyone either tries to kill James, or at the very least spy on him. Needless to say, the amount of stereotypes is ludicrous beyond belief.
Overall, Live And Let Die is not the absolute worst 007 film, yet definitely not the best either. Die-hard fans may love it, but most probably won’t consider it on their “Most Watch” list. If anything, the film is chiefly remembered today not for Roger Moore, but instead for Paul McCartney and its theme song.
MoM Rating: 6/10