Bondathon #8: Live and Let Die (1973)

Posted: March 22, 2016 in Movie Review
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Live and Let Die (1973)

Director: Guy Hamilton

Starring: Roger Moore, Yaphet Kotto, Jane Seymour

If you ask around among Bond fans, a large percentage of them will undoubtedly point to Sean Connery as the best of the actors to play the role. Among that same crowd, I doubt that any of the various 007’s have been as polarizing as Roger Moore. Although I was born during his run, I didn’t get into the Bond franchise until long after Moore had stepped down from the mantle. So my feelings on the matter will always come with a degree of hindsight, something that not everyone exposed to Moore’s entries can claim. I watch his movies with neither prejudice nor rose-tinted glasses. After all, even Connery didn’t knock it out of the park every time.

Unlike with both Sean Connery and George Lazenby, we don’t bother playfully obscuring the face of the new James Bond in “Live and Let Die.” Right away, you’ll notice a few differences in the new Bond. He now has blue eyes instead of brown, he quips more than usual, and he smokes cigars instead of cigarettes. Bond’s first post-SPECTRE mission is an investigation into the deaths of three fellow MI6 agents (New York at the United Nations HQ, New Orleans and the small Caribbean country of San Monique, respectively). The thought is Dr. Kananga (Yaphet Kotto) is somehow involved. A reasonable assumption, since Kananga is the prime minister of San Monique and was present at the United Nations. Bond goes to the scene of the first crime, in New York, even dangerously treading through the heart of Harlem. After an attempt on Bond’s life he consults with Felix Leiter (David Hedison) who traces the assassin’s vehicle. From there, Bond visits a chain restaurant called Fillet of Souls looking for its owner, notorious gangster Mr. Big.

In a hidden room inside the restaurant, Bond meets Solitaire (Jane Seymour), Dr. Kananga’s tarot card-reading fortune teller. Solitaire appears to legitimately have “the sight,” and she has anticipated Bond’s arrival. However, she is startled when his appearance coincides with her picking up the “Lovers” card. Despite adversity from Mr. Big’s men, Bond leaves to explore San Monique. At the hotel/bungalow where he stays, Bond is surprised to hear that he already has a female partner waiting in his room, under the name of “Mrs. Bond.” The look on Bond’s face when he hears those words, although he disguises it quickly, reminds us of the personal tragedy still fresh on his mind. Although Rosie Carver explains herself as a CIA operative and is helpful to Bond initially, he rightly suspects her of (reluctantly) working for Kananga, who has her killed before she can confess. Bond meets with Solitaire again, at which time he literally stacks the deck in his favor. When she pulls the “Lovers” card once again, the two have sex. To her horror, Solitaire discovers the loss of her virginity has also brought about the loss of her powers. While she fears for her life now, it was apparently a good enough experience for Solitaire to desire another round in the sack with Bond. Good on you, 007!

Tiring of Kananga’s control, Solitaire flees with Bond to New Orleans, where they are caught by Mr. Big. After demanding to know whether Bond has carnal knowledge of Solitaire, Mr. Big reveals what we’ve suspected all along… that he and Kananga are one and the same. At this time, Kananga reveals his plans to distribute two tons worth of heroin to the customers of his restaurant chain, free samples which will guarantee him many more new customers, driving mad and ultimately bankrupting his competition in the illegal drug market. Once Kananga proves that Solitaire can no longer predict the future, he becomes angry, though it seems to be about more than just the usefulness of her gift. Kananga seems personally hurt that she has chosen Bond over him. In retaliation for her betrayal, Kananga offers up Solitaire as a sacrifice for the Baron Samedi. Bond, in the meantime, is left to be eaten by crocodiles. Of course, nobody sticks around to make sure this happens, and Bond escapes. His reckless getaway by speedboat attracts the attention of Kananga’s men as well as Louisiana State Police.

Returning to San Monique, Bond kills two birds with one stone by rescuing Solitaire and destroying Kananga’s poppy fields. Down inside Kananga’s lair, Bond and Solitaire are subdued and set to be lowered into shark-infested waters. However, Bond uses two gadgets (a watch magnet and a shark gun pellet) to free himself and Solitaire and kill Kananga in absurdly over-the-top explosive fashion. The film closes with a fight on a train between Bond and Kananga’s mechanical-armed henchman Tee Hee. This is a scene that recalls the classic tussle between Sean Connery and Robert Shaw in “From Russia With Love,” even though it can’t help but pale in comparison.

There are more than a few ways in which one can choose to look at “Live and Let Die.” I’ll cite two examples. One approach would be to make the assertion that minorities and other special interest groups seem destined to be cast in a negative light. In “Diamonds Are Forever,” the most prominent of the henchmen were a pair of homosexuals. This time, it’s African-Americans who are the heavies. Alternatively, one could make the observation that “Live and Let Die” is the Bond film where the series ceased to be a trend-setter and started going with whatever was ‘cool’ at the time. In the early 1970’s, blaxpoitation films like “Superfly,” “Shaft,” and films featuring Pam Grier were very ‘in,’ so it made sense at the time to capitalize on that.

The more light-hearted direction which the Bond series had started to take in “Diamonds Are Forever” continues on in “Live and Let Die.” The difference is that Roger Moore fits this mood by finding a comfortable median in-between the Sean Connery Bond and his own former role of Simon Templar from TV’s “The Saint.” This is a good sign, since Roger Moore was the third actor in as many films to play the role, and the series was in need of a little stability at this point. As the villainous Kananga, Yaphet Kotto is very good. Hell, he’s fun to watch in just about anything. Same goes for the exquisitely beautiful Jane Seymour, who lends a certain wide-eyed innocence that the part of Solitaire requires.

“Live and Let Die” wants so badly to be among the greatest James Bond adventures… and it almost is. After the first satisfying 88 minutes, 11 out of the final 33 are wasted during the speedboat chase when the POV changes from Bond to Louisiana Sheriff J.W. Pepper, played by Clifton James. This bigoted nincompoop comes so far out of nowhere that you’d think someone changed the channel to a different movie. He would need to be played by Jackie Gleason to be considered funny. In any event, he completely sabotages the film’s momentum, and it never fully recovers because you can’t get out of your mind how blanking stupid that guy was. Despite this horrible misstep, I still find I have a lot of fun with “Live and Let Die.” Hard not to love a movie whose main theme song is performed by Sir Paul McCartney. Certainly, I recognize that there are Bond fans out there who disown the Moore era and cannot be convinced otherwise. In the case of his first film in the series, I say live and let live.

  1. vinnieh says:

    I love the Bond movies and this was one of the first I ever saw.

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