The good, the bad, and the Bond: Re-evaluating 007 – Live and Let Die
WITH the passing of the Connery era, SCM now ventures forth into the campy jamboree of the Roger Moore era, in true 70s fashion. Dipping into the blaxploitation pot, our eyebrows are raised for Live and Let Die.
Jozef Raczka: I’ll get a few things off my chest first: I don’t know enough about voodoo culture to say if this film is an accurate depiction (I suspect it isn’t); yes, the female characters are, as normal, heavily underwritten, but I think we all know that by now and there’s nothing meaningful I can add to that (admittedly very fertile) debate. Yes, I am aware of how overly convoluted the plotting is, but this is Moore-era Bond; this is sleek, smooth and utterly bloody ridiculous. And boy do I love it.
So let’s all agree that the one-two punch of Paul and Linda McCartney’s opening theme and the Olympia Brass Brand’s New Orleans funeral march is great. B. J. Arnau’s nightclub take on the main theme is spectacular as well. In fact, overall, this is probably one of the best non-John Barry scores that Bond has ever had. Sure George Martin rests too heavily on the various elements of his main theme, but it keeps things pacey and even manages to make that cod-reggae bridge work. Supported by Maurice Binder’s stunning opening credits work, it’s just fantastic.
Guy Hamilton keeps things pacey, even if the film suffers from flabby script work by Tom Mankiewiecz. He ably handles directing the excellent chase sequences, the slightly uncomfortable romantic elements and even a mini-farce involving Bond, M, Moneypenny and a naked girl. The film’s use of Carribbean and New Orleans locations is beautiful and, as is often the case, the work of the set designers and dressers is on point. Also worth noting, the removal of Q and stripping back on the use of gadgets is clever in forcing Bond to rely more on spycraft than just the toys that he’s given.
Roger Moore, while lacking the grit of Lazenby, immediately establishes himself as a much more palatable Bond than Connery, trimming away the smarm but keeping all the charisma and knowing his way around a quip (and looking a lot better in the fight scenes than he would later). Jane Seymour manages to find a nice strain of melancholy as the Tarot-reading Solitaire. Where the writing of the villains suffer, it is more than made up for by the impassioned and cooly menacing performances of Yaphet Kotto and Julius Harris as Kananga and Tee Hee Johnson.
While I’m going to continue to focus on the positives and not the many, over-the-top negatives – Baron Samedi, J W Pepper, Kananga Balloon (though I could probably write the entire negative section of this review on Kananga Balloon) – this is a big, dumb, fun blast of a film. There’s a lot to be said that’s negative about it but, hell, it’s enjoyable as long as you try not to think too hard about it. Also if you remove J W Pepper, because fuck that guy.
Andrew Monk: Roger Moore was the most prolific Bond ever, playing the character seven times over the course of twelve years through the 70s and 80s. However, I shall make it no secret that he is my least favourite Bond because of the cheese and corniness he brought to the franchise. While I will concede that his subsequent films are sometimes an improvement, his first outing as Bond in Live and Let Die sets the tone for his era. The film is terrible; failing to hold up with the times is bad enough, but it’s really just plain boring.
The film’s pre-credit sequence is promising, with a series of people (later revealed to be MI6 agents) killed in sequence. However, this is severely undercut after the credits, with the introduction to Moore as Bond being a scene in his home as he hides his one night stand with an Italian agent from M, who has come to assign Bond his new mission to investigate the deaths of the agents. This scene may certainly pass for comedy in 1973, it does not hold up and feels interminable to watch as the very premise of the film is being established.
The plot bumbles further on throughout the film, and the big bad scheme is revealed to be smuggling heroin and gaining control of the drug markets in America, due to the work of Dr. Kananga, the Prime Minister of San Monique. When James Bond is meant to be an international superspy, stopping a drug dealer seems rather tame, contributing significantly to the dullness of the plot. The only truly villainous character in here is the henchman Teehee, who has a prosthetic metal arm. With his moment to shine being a fight in the train carriage at the very end of the film, he is woefully underused and, even then, used in what seems like a recycled event from From Russia with Love.
James Bond films are well renowned for their action sequences, but in this escapade there is very little to be said for any action sequence at all. There’s a scene where Bond has to prevent his cab from crashing on a New York Highway that unceremoniously ends with the cab screeching to a halt. Bond also makes his escape in New Orleans airport by driving a training plane through hangars in a sequence that is only missing the Benny Hill theme.
Ultimately, the main action sequence of the film (and what should by that logic be the best) involves speedboats rushing through the rivers of southern Louisiana. This sequence, however, is ruined by the inclusion of the red-neck Sheriff J.W. Pepper, who is perhaps the worst recurring character in Bond history. Included for what I assume is comic relief, the need to place him smack in the middle of the little redemption this film had in the first place is despairing to watch.
For me, Moore is the low point in the Bond franchise. This is not to say that there are films of his worth watching, but you should do yourself a favour and let this one be forgotten.