Should I Watch..? Live And Let Die
What's the big deal?
Live And Let Die is an action spy thriller film released in 1973 and is the eighth film in the James Bond series. This time, the film sees Roger Moore play 007 for the first time and sees him face off against a villainous heroin magnate and his tarot-card reading accomplice. Made during the peak of Blaxploitation, the film is very much a product of its time - gone are the megalomaniac villains and SPECTRE criminal organisation as the film deals with gritty issues involving drug cartels and features a predominantly African-American cast. It also uses a lot of clichés and derogatory language that seems rather passé these days. But alongside the more realistic story, the film also has a slight supernatural edge to it that actually makes Live And Let Die unique in the Bond series.
What's it about?
Three MI6 agents are investigating the activities of Dr Kananga, the dictator of the small Caribbean nation of San Monique. But when all three turn up dead within 24 hours of each other, British secret agent James Bond is dispatched to New York to look into the murders. Meeting up with his old CIA buddy Felix Leiter, Bond learns of a heroin dealer with links to Kananga - Mr Big - and is soon out of his depth.
The closer he seems to get to Kananga, he suddenly finds himself on the back foot again. Kananga, aided by a tarot-card reading virgin named Solitaire, is always one step ahead and Bond finds that he has to think fast in order to shut Kananga's operation down for good before the US is flooded with heroin. Can Bond out-wit his opponent and get out without getting shaken or stirred?
Dr Kananga / Mr Big
Sheriff J.W. Pepper
Tom Mankiewicz *
Release Date (UK)
6th July, 1973
Action, Spy, Thriller
Academy Award Nomination
Best Original Song
What's to like?
It is no surprise that this film feels very different from any other Bond film released up until then. With Moore taking over, you sense that there was a lot of effort to make the character relevant again and by and large, it works. Just like that, Bond is no longer the cocktail-guzzling, tuxedo-wearing, 60's stereotype that he had become - Moore makes Bond feel rougher and ready for action but still retaining enough smoothness to blend into a crowd or remain a serial seducer. The soundtrack has also been jazzed up and the story also gives the film an edge that had been solely missing for a number of years.
Alongside Moore, Kotto and Seymour (in one of her earliest roles) are an intriguing combination but both are on top form. Kotto plays against his usual nice-guy routine as Kananga while the internal turmoil Seymour expresses as Solitaire when the danger of her predicament becomes apparent is all too real. The film also crams in not just one but two of the series' more memorable baddies - the mechanical-handed Tee Hee and the apparently immortal Baron Samedi whose supernatural presence also marks Live And Let Die out as unique. You can't help but admire the amount of effort put into this film to make it stand out against Connery's catalogue of credits as 007.
- The film holds the record for the most watched film shown on British TV - 23.5 million viewers tuned in when it was shown on ITV on 20th January, 1980.
- Both Yaphet Kotto and Julius Harris would both go on to play Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in television movies and both were made in 1976.
- Dr Kananga's name in the novel was Buonaparte Ignace Gallia. The name Kananga comes from stunt performer Ross Kananga who not just owned the crocodile farm shown in the film but performed the famous stunt where Bond walks across several crocodiles himself.
What's not to like?
As it turns out, there was too much effort. The film feels such a jolt from the earlier movies that it simply doesn't feel like a Bond movie - the moment when Bond draws an enormous Magnum instead of his trademark PPK makes Moore feel less like Bond and more like Dirty Harry. The other thing the film didn't need was Clifton James' comedic appearance as tobacco-chewing redneck Sheriff J.W. Pepper who feels out-of-place and more in keeping with the likes of Smokey And The Bandit.
The film's action is somewhat disappointing, despite the over-long but very exciting speedboat chase. There's no big finale to the picture which frankly ends on a somewhat odd note involving one of Bond's least useful gadgets. Hardly surprising it's so poor because there's no Q in this movie - an oversight thankfully rectified in future Bond movies. It just feels like they tinkered too much with the winning formula although I do understand their thinking. They knew that going back to Connery was a non-starter so the series needed some serious rebooting (as we call it these days). It had gotten stale and while this movie certainly feels fresh in every sense of the word, it now looks as dated as what preceded it.
Should I watch it?
While perhaps not the triumphant return of Bond, it at least marks a new beginning for the series. There were a lot of ideas thrown into the film and while not all of them stick, enough of them do to make Live And Let Die a decent enough Bond film. Nowadays, however, it looks about as cutting-edge and contemporary as a Sinclair 128k...
Great For: Bond fans, 70's jive bunnies, Blaxploitation fans
Not So Great For: fans of the Bond books or earlier films, people still wishing Sean Connery was 007, modern audiences
What else should I watch?
Moore's next film The Man With The Golden Gun is a more simplistic affair, stripping back the complicated plot and settling for a more one-on-one approach. But it does have the late Christopher Lee as the villain and some truly staggering locations to enjoy.
Of course, it wouldn't be the last reboot Bond would experience - the first film of the Pierce Brosnan era, GoldenEye, would also herald a new dawn for the character though it proved to be short-lived. Similar hyperbole surrounded Daniel Craig's debut as 007, Casino Royale, which dispensed with Bond's cinematic history entirely after Brosnan's disastrous tenure. But no other Bond film would have such supernatural elements involved and while this film is certainly not The X-Files, it is certainly feels a long way from the likes of Dr No and Goldfinger.
© 2015 Benjamin Cox