Live and Let Die (1973)

James Bond film #08 (Roger Moore Bond)

Live and Let Die (1973)

James Bond is dead. Long live James Bond.

Bond never really died, of course (the closest he ever came was when he faked it in You Only Live Twice), but with the conclusion of the Connery era, we begin a new chapter in the series with Roger Moore as our sexy super spy. While George Lazenby’s stint mostly stuck to the conventions of Connery’s Bond, Moore ushers in a radical departure with Live and Let Die, a 70s-tastic blaxpoitation film. In it, Bond uncovers a plot involving a Caribbean dictator and the heroin trade, taking him to such locations as Harlem and New Orleans and causing him run-ins with oracles and Voodoo Loas.

Moore’s Bond is a different man than the one we’ve seen for the past seven films, most obviously in his appearance. Connery was beginning to look pretty mature in his last few films, and while Lazenby looked a little too boyish to be playing a secret agent, Moore just looks like a fresh young man – which is surprising, since Moore was actually 45 when he shot Live and Let Die, four years older than Connery in 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever. In any case, Moore plays Bond with more charm than Connery, seeming less like an actor and more like a natural playboy. While Connery was more likely to roughhouse a girl into bed with him (the barn rape of Pussy Galore is perhaps the series’ most egregious instance of misogyny), Moore uses his charm and dexterity to seduce the ladies – enjoyable when he’s using a magnetic watch to unzip a girl’s blouse, less so when he deceptively stacks a tarot card deck to sleep with a virgin.

Still, Connery and Moore differ in more ways than their shades of sexism. Gone are the cigarettes and the martinis shaken, not stirred. Even his adversaries are drastically different: SPECTRE is nowhere to be found, and instead of an evil mastermind, we get Mr. Big, still a dictator of a small island, but more interested in making profits off the heroin trade than turning nations against each other. Q is sadly absent, his only lacuna in the series until Desmond Llewelyn’s death in 1999. Even the technical features of the film are new: The colors look way more vivid than the muted 60s color palette we’ve had so far and, most noticeably of all, the iconic Bond theme has been replaced by a score based on Paul McCartney’s rocking title song. This was the first Bond film without John Barry’s involvement in the score, caused by a dispute between him and Harry Saltzman over the song from Diamonds; instead of Barry, McCartney’s old Beatles producer George Martin took over, and his efforts are rewarding and exciting in the updated action music throughout the film.

With all these new features to Bond, I was able to fully realize the appeal of these movies. They have a sort of “action figure enjoyability” to them, employing creative but shallow variations on the same motifs over and over again. Consider the henchman: There have been plenty so far, from Red Grant to Oddjob to Misters Wint and Kidd, and although none of them get too much in the way of character development, they all have their own memorable quirks, whether it’s using a hat as a weapon or having a weird homosexual relationship going on. Live and Let Die features Tee Hee Johnson, Mr. Big’s number two, who has a perpetual grin plastered to his face and a metallic claw that can crush a handgun. Tee Hee was actually a pretty enjoyable part of this film, outshining his superior who ends up being a very lackluster and generic Bond villain.

Another variation that every Bond film indulges in is that of the chase scene. This film has two incantations of the series staple, one in an airplane without wings and the other in motorboats on the rivers of Louisiana. While the former is done well in terms of excitement and pacing, the latter sequence goes on for far too long with little in the way of action; worse yet, it introduces the most obnoxious Bond character to date in the form of Sheriff J.W. Pepper. J.W. is loud, crass, and plays a stereotypical Southern good ole boy, chewing up scenery more than the tobacco in his mouth.

On the subject of stereotypes, it’s impossible to discuss this film without touching on race. Live and Let Die was made during the height of the blaxpoitation era, and because of it, features an all-black ensemble of enemies (which at times feels like every black person in the film – one conspiratorial murder involves an entire New Orleans marching band). There are afros, “pimp mobiles”, and gratuitous use of the term “honky”. To be honest, the whole thing was less offensive than I had expected; it seemed no more racist than the implicit white superiority that’s plagued all previous Bond films. Visiting black-centric places like Harlem and New Orleans was a treat, especially when we get to witness New Orleans funeral parades and carnivals, and Mr. Big and his henchmen are made out to be competent and cunning adversaries. They’re shown in a much more positive light than J.W., whose bigotry is made out as foolish and naive, something to point and laugh at.

Live and Let Die is a shot of adrenaline for the Bond series. Though it still has the troubling chauvinism and bigotry from the Connery films, it just feels more alive. The plot isn’t that great, but Moore is exciting and new, and there are several great instances of filmmaking (particularly the montage of Bond arriving in New York as Solitaire reads some tarot cards). A solid premiere for Mr. Moore, Live and Let Die rejuvenates the series and makes me excited to experience another decade of Bond.

Final rating: 7/10

–James A. Janisse

Stray Observations:

  • The cheesy post-Bond kill of this film is definitely “Well, he always did have an inflated opinion of himself” after literally blowing up Kananga with a shark pellet. Which, also, was a little too cheesy for me.
  • First black Bond girl! Too bad Gloria Hendry was a subpar actress. She just never seemed sure of herself. Probably because of the crappy character she had to play – Rosie Carver was lame and overly superstitious.
  • The 70s have fully blossomed, and there’s stylistic changes everywhere. We still have all those monitors that are ubiquitous in Bond films, but now they’re housed in awesome wood paneling.
  • Jumping on crocodile heads? Only Bond.
  • One more shout-out about J.W. Pepper being the worst thing to happen to a Bond film.
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