Live And Let Die (1973) REVIEW
Directed by Guy Hamilton
Produced by Albert R. Broccoli & Harry Saltzman
Screenplay by Tom Mankiewicz
Based on Live and Let Die by Ian Fleming
Starring Roger Moore, Yaphet Kotto, Jane Seymour, Gloria Hendry, Julius Harris
Music by George Martin
All James Bond film reviews and ultimate lists can be found here
A new review, and a new James Bond that hopefully removes the sour taste left by Diamonds Are Forever.
Returning to the directors chair for the third, but not final, time, Guy Hamilton brings on board Roger Moore, as MI6 Agent James Bond 007. Left vacant when Sean Connery departed after Diamonds Are Forever, Roger Moore stars as the whitest man in this blaxploitation film. I’m not being racist, just explaining how it is. After three MI6 agents are killed within a single 24 hour period, M orders James Bond to head to New York City to meet up with Felix and investigate murders. Through chance meetings and some spectacular set pieces, James Bond finds himself involved with tarot card, gangsters and occult voodoo members, all the while figuring out how Dr. Kananga, Prime Minister of San Monique and Mr. Big, Harlem drugs lord, fit into it all.
Before reading on, please be aware there will be SPOILERS AHEAD.
You may remember her from many years later as Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman, but I’ll always know her first and foremost as tarot card reader, Solitaire. At the age of 22, Jane Seymour is the main Bond girl of Live And Let Die. A reader of the tarot cards who happens to work exclusively for Dr. Kananga. She has the ability to read the future predicting events for Kananga allowing him to turns things in his favour. At the same time, Solitaire is also a virgin. Why mention it? Well it is part of the plot. She has a naivety about her similar to Honey Ryder from Dr. No. Part of what makes Solitaire so interesting is that once Bond manages to bed her, she loses her ability to read the cards proving to be pointless to Kananga. The relationship they share is disturbing in nature. Although well looked after it her own house in San Monique, Solitaire is very much a slave being called upon to read the cards when needed. I just don’t understand if this is meant to be a sex slave deal.
During the course of Live And Let Die, Kananga refers to Solitaire as ‘that’ (an object) and claims that when the time was meant to be, he would’ve taken her virginity away. So I’m always confused by the deal between them. I understand Solitaire provide insight into future events, but she’s very much a slave. Jane Seymour plays the role with such innocence. She sells her immaturity and has blind faith in the readings throughout. Her motives do confuse me slightly though as she tips off Bond during the film, but I have no idea why. I like Jane Seymour and find her very attractive here. Her character isn’t annoying or forced in any way as some Bond girls are. We find out just enough backstory to care, and the chemistry she shares with Moore is top notch.
Another female lead that I’m fond of here is, Rosie Carver as played by Gloria Hendry. In a movie where most African-Americans are portrayed as the villain of the piece, it’s upsetting to see that Rosie falls into the same category. That’s not to say I don’t like the character, just a missed opportunity. Although a CIA agent tasked with helping Bond, once her true allegiance is revealed, its not long before she’s removed from the film. Hendry is clearly a beautiful woman, and holds up in the acting department. She has a clever scene where she tries to lure Bond into a trap, and her line delivery is great. Of note is the fact her love making scene, (picnic with Bond) was originally cut in South Africa for showing a ‘black and white’ couple on screen. Something which is now largely, a non-issue.
Quick mention on Italian Agent, Miss Caruso. Seen briefly in Bond’s apartment at the beginning of the film, she does everything thats required of her. Be gorgeous on screen, and come from a European country. She ticks all the boxes, and thats enough to be Roger Moore’s first conquest as 007.
Time to move over to the villains of the film and there are a few to talk about. Tee Hee and Baron Samedi fill the henchman role in Live And Let Die, there are others, but these two are the main two. Each has their own traits making them unique to this film alone. Baron Samedi is one of the most iconic in the Bond franchise, even being the only henchman killed by Bond, TWICE, and then returning at the final moments. This voodoo aspect of the character proved so popular, he later made an appearance in GoldenEye 007 for Nintendo 64. For many, this was their first exposure to Samedi. I remember seeing this film at a very young age and being creeped out seeing him rise from the grave. Geoffrey Holder, looks especially disturbing in full make up, but his dancer-like stature sure does make him a towering presence on screen. Also the laugh helps.
Tee Hee, I feel though really fills the shoes of ‘iconic’ henchman archetype. Even though Samedi is the most memorable, Tee Hee has the physical attribute. With a very tall figure, Tee Hee stands over James Bond in most scenes together. Armed with a mechanical…arm, and used throughout to smash, break and destroy all things in his path, Tee Hee is like a precursor to Jaws. Only issue I have, is the pincer like appendage looks really bad on screen. You can clearly see actor, Julius Harris, holding the attachment in place giving that extra bend under his sleeve. Still, I do enjoy the character and glad Bond gets to face off against him in a fairly brutal fight in a train. Brings back memories of From Russia With Love.
Now come the big spoilers with Dr. Kananga and Mr. Big as both are played by Yaphet Kotto. Being seeing him here, Yaphet was always known to me from his later work in Alien, The Running Man and Midnight Run. In all films he played the ‘good’ guy and I was always sold on him, but he had a way of talking. It was strange with a guttural sound. Each role I’ve seen him in, Yaphet has always grabbed my attention, and in Live and Let Die, I feel the same way.
When its revealed that Mr. Big is just Kananga in disguise, so too is his evil plan. By flooding the drug market with two tons of free heroin, Kananga will effectively put opposition dealers out of business and once the market grows, he will release more and hike the price up. Frankly, it is an absolutely masterful idea and one that I’m glad didn’t involve world domination or ransom of any kind. Being Prime Minister of San Monique, a fictional location made up for the film, Kananga has many resources at his command. For some reason, letting James Bond escape all the time seems plausible here because Kananga comes across as very superstitious and full of himself.
Now, when the big reveal comes a third of the way through the film, Mr. Big and Dr. Kananga are one and the same, I can honestly say it got me. 15 years ago when first watching Live And Let Die all the way through, The reveal moment actually had me gasping. Prosthetics are used over Yaphet’s own facial features which throws the viewer off just enough. You know something is off with the character of Mr. Big, but thankfully he’s only given a few minutes of screen time that you’re never left with long enough to question it. It’s a really intense moment and shows just how crazy with power, and how much Kananga believes in the occult, that he completely reveals his whole plan to Bond, yet he still believes so much in the cards. It also goes to show how delusional he is.
As much as I don’t agree with the evil scheme, I do feel it is a well thought plan. After the out of space death beam made by Blofeld in Diamonds Are Forever, having a more down to earth (pun intended) plot with the new James Bond, just fits perfectly.
Speaking of the new James Bond, it’s about time to talk Roger Moore. As the oldest actor to take on the lead at the age of 46 years old, Roger Moore brings a fresh look to the franchise which, after Diamonds Are Forever, was beginning to feel like a joke of itself. Not only the villains, but the character of 007 himself was looking tired and worn out something which sadly puts a taint on the Sean Connery era.
Upon being cast as James Bond, Roger Moore made the choice to distance his performance from Simon Templar (The Saint), and what had been done before by Connery. Gone were the tuxedo’s and vodka martinis, and in their place were safari suits and bourbon…well he later drinks a vodka martini, but not in this film. Further changes were the gun of choice. The Walther PPK is here, but for the major action scene and some theoretical posters, Roger Moore instead uses the .44 Magnum. It is a far change from the James Bond of the 60s and the point of it all, is that Roger Moore isn’t Sean Connery. Something some people can’t leave behind. Everyone has heard the arguments hundreds of times over, but truth be told, everyone has their own favourite James Bond actor, so get that out of your mind before watching Live And Let Die, and deal with the fact Roger Moore is here for another six films.
He’s James Bond is cool and with a gentleman charm. His opening scene proves just what a ladies man he is, but Moore also has this hard edge to him that many people forget. The moments when Rosie’s true allegiance is revealed, Moore drops his softer side holding a gun to her demanding he know everything. His dialogue (listed below) even adds further proof that he may just be deadlier than Connery’s Bond before.
“Oh James, You don’t know what finding you has meant to me.”
“Oh, I can imagine. And you’ve no idea what finding this has meant to me.”
holds up tarot card
“You do know what the Queen of Cups means in an upside-down position? A deceitful, perverse woman, a liar, a cheat, and I’d like some answers now.”
“Please, you don’t understand, see. They’ll kill me if I do.”
“And I’ll kill you if you don’t.”
“But you couldn’t. You wouldn’t. Not after what we’ve just done.””
“I certainly wouldn’t have killed you before.”
It wasn’t until this viewing when all these traits stuck out and I came to appreciate Moore a lot more in the role. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always liked him, but the Moore era of films have usually been my least viewed of the lot. I sense that will change with these viewings.
It’s also pleasing to see Moore present during the action scenes as I felt that Connery in his previous film wasn’t being as hands on, or at least interested. At the end of it all, Roger Moore brings a fresh wave of confidence into the role. He oozes class with a well spoken manner. I actually find him deadlier on screen because of this. He comes across as an English Gentleman, but instantly turns on a dime into a deadly killer. Moore shows excellent acting chops and a great sense of timing for his comedic delivery. He looks good in the action scenes, and at the age of 46, he has kept himself in good shape.
There are some standout action scenes to be found here. The boat chase scene in the Louisiana Bayou is a standout action piece. Unfortunately is does tend to drag on and introduces the awful racist known as J.W. Pepper. The character is on screen for roughly five minutes, but its these minutes the film could’ve done without. Stunt work is at its highest here with the Crocodile jumping actually done in real time with no effects used. Bond films constantly push the envelope and this film certainly delivers.
To this day, Live And Let Die holds up still. Mainly because of all the fun characters and masterful plan involving drugs, which is still in news headlines today. Kananga is a brilliant villain and plays off against the equally pleasing to watch Moore, who suits the role better than anyone could’ve expected. The voodoo occult angle is something I’m sure added to the strange exotic feel, plus the henchmen add just enough danger to excite through the course of the film. Yes, Live And Let Die can drag on during some scenes, and at times has a Dr. No vibe, but it doesn’t detract from what is a worthy addition to the 007 franchise.
James Bond will return in The Man With The Golden Gun