Well here we are. The first of 7 Roger Moore films in a row. The nightmare is about to begin. To be fair though, things don’t start off too badly. It’s where we head from here on out that begins the most derided of all Bond eras. I don’t think you can count Lazenby as an era. He’s more of a thing that happened. Well it’s 1973, the Bond films are apparently out of touch with the world and Cubby Broccoli has to find him a new Bond. Only one thing to do. Go pop culture!!!
In Live And Let Die Bond (Roger Moore) is called in to investigate the mysterious deaths of 3 MI6 agents. In his search for the killers he finds himself running into a man named Mr Big in Harlem who has a drug smuggling scheme in mind and the goons to pull it off. Meanwhile a superstitious dictator of an island called San Monique called Kananga (Yaphet Kotto) has been employing the tarot reading skills of a woman named Solitaire (Jane “Still looks awesome today” Seymour) to assist him in determining his fortunes. Bond has to stop these villains, destroy the drug fields and have his way with as many women as possible along the way. Is Roger Moore up to the task? Yes… of course he is. A Bond film would suck if Bond couldn’t save the day. Also, SPOILERS, Mr Big and Kananga are the same person.
In an effort to stay relevant to the modern audiences director Guy Hamilton takes the understandable route of enthusing the Bond world with as much street cred as he possibly can. What this results in is pretty much a Blaxploitation film with two honky ass crackers in the leads. Wait, are those terms I’m allowed to use? Am I taking them back or something? Anyway, word is Guy Hamilton wanted Diana Ross in the Solitaire role but the producers insisted they stayed with a white woman as she was described in the books. I guess having a random white woman in cahoots with the villains emphasizes the purity she is meant to represent. A purity Bond wastes little time getting all dirty. Instead the potential inter racial relationship is relegated to a short lived side character that gets herself killed early on. I guess it’s OK for a Bond girl to be Asian, as in You Only Live Twice, but the world clearly couldn’t have been ready for some ebony and ivory based lead romances in 1973. Hell, films these days seem to have an issue with it. Something that needs to be addressed.
Many attempts were made to keep this film in touch with the tastes of the time. The film features the first rock based Bond theme in the form of Paul McCartney’s Live And Let Die which, to be fair, is a fecking awesome song still today. I usually wouldn’t recommend listening to post Beatles McCartney but this song is an exception. Well maybe I’d recommend Band On The Run. That song’s great too. Along with him came Beatles producer George Martin to handle the film’s score in the absence of series regular John Barry who’s deck was getting pretty stacked in 1973. The result of this is probably the first of the Bond films to have modernised variations on the various Bond themes. There’s a lot of funk and soul worked into the score along with more rock and funk enthused versions of the Bond themes. It sticks out at times but largely suits the period and the Blaxploitation vibe the film has elsewhere.
Roger Moore was thankfully given the chance to give his own take on Bond. This is a relief after George Lazenby was given next to no room for movement in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. His approach is wisely to take a more lighter approach. It’s wise because if Connery were to say he’s going to kill you you’d probably believe it, after getting over the fact that Sean Connery was threatening you of course, but if Roger Moore were to threaten you you’d probably not believe it. He’s too soft edged and kind looking. So when Moore portrays Bond as more of the gentleman spy it may not be Fleming’s Bond but it’s an acceptable change. He’s also a lot more comfortable with the Bond style one-liners and quips which helps with the lighter tone. Performances elsewhere are pretty decent, especially from Yaphet Kotto. There’s quite a few reviews out there that call him a bad Bond villain but I find his madness and obsession with the occult, along with his violent temperament to be what makes him stand out as a villain at this point in the series. He’s probably the best actor they had had in the film series so far barring Donald Pleasence. How he goes out though… now that’s a problem.
See when Kananga is taken out by bond it’s easily the silliest of all the Bond deaths so far, maybe even the whole franchise. Basically Bond puts a gas capsule in Kananga’s mouth which makes him inflate like a balloon, float up to the ceiling of his underground base and promptly explode. This is endemic of the problems which will follow in future Roger Moore films. They err too far towards the silly and cartoonish. Another out of place moment in Live And Let Die comes when the immortal Baron Samedi rises from his grave only to be killed by Bond. The trouble here is what happens. Bond shoots him in the head which blows his skull open as though it was made of clay, Samedi then looks up at the wound and Bond shoots him a few more times and he shatters apart. Then another Samedi rises from the grave who get disposed of by being thrown into a coffin filled with snakes. Now I have no trouble with the idea of Samedi having doubles so when one is killed another appears. It’s the shattering like clay. He’s not a fake clay statue, he moves and looks around before being shot. This suggests that magic works within the Bond universe and actual magic has no place in James Bond’s world. The tarot card reading powers of Solitaire are played as they should be, as a superstition. It’s the actual magical property of Samedi that bothers me.
There is quite a few memorable sequences along the way to the finale though. Bond using the backs of a group of Alligators to escape being lizard food is still one of the most unique Bond stunts. A stunt done for real by Alligator farm owner Ross Kananga, to whom the villain was named after, running across 3 actual Alligators. There’s also a boat chase that is played out with the action following local sheriff JW Pepper as he manages to bungle his way through the entire sequence trying to stop the boat chase. At first it’s fun but the gag runs on a little too long. Eventually the chase settles into a more traditional action sequence though. Also I really like that, in a change from the last few films, the villains scheme to spread 2 tonnes of free heroin out into the world putting other drug dealers out of business and creating an epidemic of addicts is a much more believable villainous scheme than trying to start World War 3 or making entire species of animals infertile.
The film on the whole is actually one of the more enjoyable Bonds but the last act just manages to undermine everything the universe has established over the years by meddling with outlandish concepts and events. It’s issues largely come from it’s verging towards a too comical tone. It’s hard to say if this approach was a result of Moore’s lighter portrayal of Bond or if it was the plan all along but the result is less than satisfying. But hey, at least Bond isn’t in space firing laser beams and whatnot. That comes a few films down the line. Up next though one of the most famous Bond film, The Man With The Golden Gun. Goldfinger had a golden gun. No-one made a fuss about that.