CAST: Roger Moore, Yaphet Kotto, Jane Seymour, Julius Harris, David Hedison, Gloria Hendry, Geoffrey Holder, Bernard Lee, Roy Stewart, Earl Jolly Brown, Tommy Lane, Lois Maxwell, Lon Satton, Madeline Smith, Michael Ebbin, Clifton James, Dennis Edwards, Robert Dix, James Drake, B.J. Amau
RUNNING TIME: 121 mins
BASICALLY…: James Bond (Moore) heads to New Orleans to investigate the murder of three agents, and crosses paths with a powerful heroin dealer named Mr. Big (Kotto)…
NOW FOR THE REVIEW…
With No Time To Die being pushed back all the way to November, the world needs its fix of Ian Fleming’s ace secret agent to tide them over until then. That’s why, every week until it finally comes out, we’re going to be taking a look at each previous movie in the series to see if, and how, they hold up today.
This week, it’s time for Roger Moore to don the tuxedo in his first outing Live and Let Die, which is surely a taste of things to come as the series delivers some of its campiest material to date, but as ever there’s a great deal of fun to be had with how over-the-top it can get.
Moore’s Bond is called into action when three agents are mysteriously killed, all of them linking in some way to an unknown criminal mastermind known as Mr. Big. Bond’s mission takes him from the streets of Harlem, New York to the wilderness of fictional Caribbean island San Monique, where he comes into contact with the island’s corrupt dictator Dr. Kananga (Yaphet Kotto) and his young, talented psychic Solitaire (Jane Seymour), the latter of whom ends up assisting Bond as he tries to take down the drug kingpin’s nefarious drug distribution scheme before it can cause a fuss.
This movie has the same level of silliness as Diamonds Are Forever had, but unlike that film this one actually feels like it’s a lot more aware of the joke, and certainly has an actor in the lead role who knows what kind of material he’s been given. Moore is commonly known as the more jokey incarnation of James Bond, with his pun-tastic one-liners and slight facial reactions that feel like they’ve come straight from a Carry On film, and this film wastes no time in giving him sitcom-level hijinks like trying to hide a woman from Bernard Lee’s M when he unexpectedly shows up to Bond’s abode. I’ll admit, it took me a little while to get used to Moore’s take on the character, because his gentlemanly attitude lacked the natural charisma that Sean Connery and even George Lazenby had, but eventually I equated him as such: while Connery was perhaps the cool uncle and Lazenby was the lovestruck younger brother, Moore is undoubtedly the cheery grandfather who likes to entertain his guests with humorous anecdotes and a soothing wink, which might not make him a particularly threatening hero but certainly an endearing one. He, like the others, makes his Bond his own, and Live and Let Die introduces us to a 007 who’s certainly sillier but a little more lovable, kind of like an action hero you’d find in the 30s or 40s, even giving us some imagery which adds to that old-fashioned adventure vibe.
That imagery comes from the producers wanting to capitalise on the blaxploitation popularity at the time, which they achieved by hiring a large number of black actors – among them Yaphet Kotto as a central villain, and Gloria Hendry as Rosie Carver, the first African-American Bond girl of the series – and incorporating some of the more flamboyant aspects of black culture such as voodoo and even pimpmobiles. The inclusion is noteworthy, especially at the time, and it results in some fun set-pieces and even more enjoyable villains, including a giggling claw-handed henchman called Tee Hee and Kotto who’s having an absolute blast in his part. That said, you can tell that the filmmakers are using all of it as much more of an excuse to have Bond get himself into some crazy shenanigans, such as facing off against an entire tribe of Caribbean voodoo worshippers and even some Harlem gangsters who have come straight from the set of Shaft or Dolemite.
Even crazier things happen all throughout the film, with the most outlandish being an extended speedboat chase through the Louisiana waters which feels like a mini-film in and of itself; so much so, in fact, that it suddenly feels the need to become Smokey and the Bandit out of nowhere, with an entire sub-plot that sees an uncouth sheriff becoming obsessed with tracking down Bond and the others who are chasing him on the boats. It’s a sequence that features some excellent stunt work, but also some baffling slapstick revolving around this sheriff and the numerous things that the boats literally ram into (they even disrupt a wedding at one point). Props to them for realising that just showing Bond being chased on a boat the whole time would have been boring, but the stuff they added around it to make it more entertaining is just so random and stops the rest of the movie dead in its tracks.
Nevertheless, this movie does have a lot of fun parts as well, particularly with the villains and especially with Kotto’s character (the death of which will surely go down in history as the most amazing exit for a Bond villain ever), and also with Bond’s flirtations around the absolutely beautiful Jane Seymour (who was in her early 20s when she filmed this, and… just, damn). As an overall Bond movie, it’s not the best but it’s decent enough, as long as you can overlook the ridiculousness of it all – which I have a feeling is something that’s going to be said a lot during the Moore era.
SO, TO SUM UP…
Live and Let Die introduces us to a sillier but more endearing Bond, played with a grandfather-ish quality by Roger Moore, and sets the stage for his following turns as the character with an adventure that’s not short on both fun and ridiculousness, yet it still manages to be entertaining enough to see you through.