Hello everyone and welcome to the eighth edition in my series of reviews covering the illustrious James Bond film franchise. In our review from last time we sadly waved goodbye to our fine friend and most capable comrade, Sean Connery, who served us so nobly through so many daring adventures as the one and only James Bond for the official franchise in six films dating from 1962 to1971. For those of you that may now already be suffering from Sean Connery withdrawal, my only solace for you is that Sir Connery will return in my examination of the non-canonical Bond picture ‘Never Say Never Again’ that he starred in, in 1983. However, our focus of attention tonight is not a film made in 1983, but rather, one a decade earlier, from 1973, starring none other than one Roger Moore in the lead role for the first time as the legendary British secret service agent 007 in Guy Hamilton’s campy but overall fun romp ‘Live and Let Die’.
If the producers had gotten their way though this would not have been Sir Roger’s turn at bat, as after the success of ‘Diamonds are Forever’ they all unanimously got on their knees and groveled before Sean Connery to return once more to the franchise that had made him a household name, but it was ‘nothing doing’ this time around at least, and as I mentioned up above, it would be several more years until Connery would get the Bond itch once more. As I’m sure you will recall, the last time Connery stepped aside for a ‘replacement Bond’ if you will, was for George Lazenby in 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, which, while still a classic film, was also a box office disappointment, and Lazenby to this day normally ranks right at the very bottom of the list of men to have dawned the Bond tuxedo on the silver screen. With Roger Moore though, we enter into a whole new era of the noted super-spy. Part of the reason for his longevity in the role in my mind is that instead of trying to do a poor man’s impersonation of Sean Connery, Roger Moore was intent on taking the character in a direction entirely his own. For starters, in contrast to Connery’s more sardonic and impish use of one liners, Moore’s various puns were delivered more or less straight faced as throw away comedic remarks, sometimes hitting pay dirt and inciting laughter, other times missing the mark and eliciting only groans.
Furthermore, Moore seemed to have a more approachable element to him than did his predecessor, and also a general accessibility that was foreign for the most part from Connery’s colder, cunning, and more detached but calculating presence as was evident to me in an early scene in this movie where Moneypenney helps Bond hide one of his female conquests in his closet, during a visit from M, after which Bond warmly smiles at Moneypenney and says ‘thank you’ in a sincere and heartwarming manner, something I could not see Connery’s Bond, for whom Moneypenney was merely a trivial ‘office flirt’ and potential plaything, ever doing. Moore’s Bond also wasn’t above killing when it was required, but you get the picture from his performances that he didn’t savor the deed in the same way Connery’s Bond did, even though the body counts in Moore’s movies would go on to far exceed anything from the Connery era. Now when it came to the issue of women, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that Connery was by far the ‘smoother’ Bond in this regard. Moore could pull off respectable numbers in this area, but he did not have nearly the amount of charm and style that Connery displayed in his female conquests. That not withstanding, while Connery was sort of like a slick, sleek panther that seemed to gracefully glide across the screen in his suit and fedora, Moore had a more dignified demeanor about him that he never let slip. He gave off the aura of an aristocrat at times, royally rigid and upright in his posture, the proud majestic lion to Connery’s cool alley cat persona.
Yes, Bond was still as big a womanizer as ever, and he could still single handedly disarm multiple opponents at once, and his classic Bond witticisms were still in full force, but as I said previously, Moore added many subtle tweaks to Bond that were entirely his own, which while sometimes less than faithful to the literary Bond penned by Ian Fleming, still made for an entertaining cinematic character nonetheless. Now with all that said, I will try to avoid, for the time being, getting into the age old debate about who was the better Bond, as this is a rivalry as famous as Coke verses Pepsi, the USA verses The USSR, Republicans verses Democrats, Dogs verses Cats… you name it, Sean Connery versus Roger Moore was a subject that had the power to break up friendships and ruin relationships once upon a time… of course now that there have been so many other Bonds added to the mix, it is a much more complex debate, and Connery seems to be the run-away favorite these days, with Moore’s era being fairly or unfairly treated with subtle disregard by critics and film aficionados alike. But enough about all that… Let us now get down to the business at hand, of reviewing tonight’s feature film.
The plot, if you care (or dare) to call it that, of this movie revolves around a complex and silly little scheme concocted by the devious Dr. Kananga, also known as Mr. Big, who is the chief dictator of the small island of San Monique, as well as the billionaire proprietor of a national chain of American soul food restaurants known as the ‘Fillet of Soul’… who plans to flood the United States with massive amounts of high priced Heroin at no cost to the buyers, thus simultaneously costing his other criminal competitors untold millions of dollars, putting them out of business in the process, and leaving everyone who takes the free samples hopelessly addicted, so that they will then have no choice but to buy this same product from Kananga once their free dosages run out.
Serving under Mr. Big is a very well connected and technologically advanced assortment of characters that consists of everything from black militants, pimps, voodoo witch doctors, and last but not least, a lovely young virgin (though not for long) tarot card reader, known simply as Solitaire, who is valued by Kananga’s organization for her ability to accurately predict the future, especially in matters concerning imminent death. There is no shortage of henchmen in this movie, beyond the normal copious amount of extras that are to be disposed of that is. The two most prominent villains in the film, besides Mr. Big himself, are Tee Hee Johnson, an imposing specimen if there ever was one, who lost an arm while feeding the crocodiles located on the property where Mr. Big’s Poppy plants are grown and processed, but who now is super-equipped with a state of the art solid steel contraption that has a set of razor sharp snippers where his fingers formerly resided, and Baron Samedi , an equally imposing figure with a painted face and who also has deep connections into the local occult voodoo scene, and who is also supposedly a practitioner of the black arts himself.
Basically, what I have just described is the basic building block cliches of a genre of film known as ‘Blacksploitation’… which one would think would make for a pretty strange companion to the dry British humor of a James Bond film, and on that account, one would be right. To me James Bond is a man who should be jet setting in exotic foreign locales like Istanbul, Rome, Paris (not the Paris, Louisiana mentioned in this film though), or some other thousand year old city in Europe, doing battle with the most sophisticated of international enemies and outwitting them tit for tat. To toss him into the middle of this swamp with these small time drug pushers is tantamount to a demotion. To his credit though, Commander Bond makes the most of his situation by sleeping with just about every willing female who gets within twenty feet of him, including a lovely Italian agent at the beginning of the film, a dense but desirable Jamaican beauty named Rosie Carver, who turns out to be a double agent working for Kananga, and finally, the ultimate insult, Kananga’s chief adviser herself, the beautiful Solitaire, played here by none other than the young ‘Dr. Quinn: Medicine Woman’ herself, Jane Seymour.
Bond is first assigned to this complex case after a couple of other under cover secret agents, one of whom is ‘on loan’ to the US government are murdered in a series of rather bizarre incidents while investigating Kananga’s various operations in New York and New Orleans. After meeting with M and Moneypenney at his own quarters, Bond is then taxied off to New York, where he runs into long time ally and trusted friend, Felix Leiter, who will assist him on this mission. Also assisting Bond in this film, besides his aforementioned lady friends, is Quarrel Jr., the son of a previous Bond ally from his feature film debut ‘Dr. No’ who will shuttle Bond about in his private boat. This was one of a few subtle nods to ‘Dr. No’ I caught during this film, another being Bond’s run in with a deadly snake in his hotel room, which I assumed was supposed to remind me in some way of Connery’s encounter with a spider in his hotel room from the aforementioned picture.
Speaking of boats, this movie’s most redeeming aspect in my mind, is the legendary speed-boat chase, which sees Bond successfully evading a swamp full of pursuers while performing all the expected stunts such as jumping his boat high over a road on which sits one very agitated redneck sheriff J.W Pepper, who reminded me very much of Jackie Gleason’s character of Buford T. Justice in Smokey and The Bandit, but who I found mostly annoying in this movie. One person whose presence is sorely missed in this whacky little film though is Bond’s trusty gadget creator, the ever resourceful Q, who does not show up in one single scene in this film. His handy work is visible throughout however in the different forms. Even Q would be interested in this huge list of gadgets available, but Bond in this movie had super powered magnetic watch that can deflect bullets allegedly (a claim later tested and debunked by the Mythbusters) and a strange shark gun that shoots bubbles of air located inside a plastic pellet into whatever or whomever it hits, and causes the target to then expand and blow up like a balloon and then to bust with a loud popping sound, similar in a way to the kid who suffered a similar demise in Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory after eating a forbidden blueberry treat.
Besides the aforementioned boat chases here, Bond is also seen at various times behind the wheel of about every kind of vehicle imaginable including a double decker bus and a small airplane both of which Bond destroys thoroughly in the midst of the elongated chase scenes. Not to be seen anywhere though are the classic Aston Martins that Bond normally styles around in, which come equipped with various little Q designed enhancements, like rocket launchers, machine guns, and ejector seats. Perhaps that’s where little old Q was after all; out test driving Bond’s prized automobile for the next movie? One can only surmise as such anyway. You can probably guess by my rating alone that this is far from my favorite Bond movie. I thought the setting and the villains made Bond look like a complete fish out of water for one thing, although Roger Moore adjusted admirably and never seemed to be ‘phoning it in’ at any time to his credit. Among the things I liked the most though were the few scenes with Bond and Solitaire who proved to be a very good ‘Bond girl’ in this movie all things considered as well as a sympathetic love interest to boot, even though Bond seemed to only want her for tactical reasons and well…. you know.
On top of that, the final fight scene with Tee Hee Johnson on board the passenger train Bond and Solitaire were on together brought back fleeting memories of my favorite Bond movie ‘From Russia With Love’, even if it was unintentional. The aforementioned chase scenes, especially the massive speed boat one for sure, were all very well done and exciting too, but in the end the entire Blacksploitation thing just fell flat with me completely. While it didn’t necessarily ruin the movie for me it very much limited its potential from the get-go. The climactic battle where Bond single handedly invaded a big voodoo ceremony to rescue Solitaire came off exceptionally hokey to me. And before I wrap this one up, what on earth was Roger Moore doing with that 44 Magnum? You never saw Clint Eastwood packing a Walther PPK in his Dirty Harry movies did you?
This was yet another example, of what I felt was this movie’s awkward attempt to take James Bond out of his usual element and turn him into a gung-ho styled action hero packing his own personal private cannon, which is just so not in keeping with Bond’s usual style. The basic premise of this film would later be re-worked without the aforementioned Blacksploitation elements in 1987’s ‘License to Kill’, starring Timothy Dalton in the lead role, in what I felt was all in all, a much better Bond movie than this one. So while ‘Live and Let Die’ has a few enjoyable scenes here and there as well as one of the better theme songs in the history of the series, I would not call this an essential James Bond movie by any means, nor would I adamantly recommend it to anyone but the die hard James Bond fans out there. It is a halfway decent action movie though, with plenty of comedy throughout, so I can’t call it a total dud in that respect. So with that said, I will cut this review short for now, and bid you all a fond farewell. Until then, take comfort in knowing that James Bond, and Sir Roger Moore, will return next time in my review of 1974’s ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’.