BOND RETROSPECTIVE 08: LIVE AND LET DIE

Bond 25 arrives in September 2021.  I continue my marathon re-watch of the films with Roger Moore’s first adventure LIVE AND LET DIE. Expect spoilers…

THE OPENING

A new gun barrel with British TV and movie star Roger Moore, already well known for his work in Ivanhoe, The Saint, and The Persuaders is the first glimpse of the new Bond. The pre-credits scene starts with a mysterious murder of a delegate at the United Nations in New York, continues with an agent being murdered on a street in New Orleans, then finishes with an agent being bitten by a snake as part of some wild ritual on an island in the Caribbean.

Maurice Binder’s titles then start and the music bursts into life – and we have a rock song as the theme for the first time. Paul McCartney and Wings Grammy and Oscar-nominated “Live and Let Die” marks a shift in style befitting a new Bond. The thrilling titles burst with flames and get you in the mood for a different Bond experience. The score is produced George Martin (best known as producer of The Beatles).

NEW MAN

The first time we see Bond is in bed with a lady we later learn is an Italian agent.  He answers his door to discover M, and later Moneypenny, who have arrived to give him his instructions to investigate the three murders.  Poor Moneypenny, in love with Bond yet reduced to helping hide the scantily clad Italian from M like some 1970s bawdy comedy.

Moore is a different type of Bond, an English gentleman, with immaculate hair, a lovely lemon bath robe (initialled JB on the pocket) and an elaborate coffee maker in his kitchen.

There’s no Q in this film although one of his gadgets, a watch with a “hyper-intensified magnetic field”, is demonstrated during this scene.  As usual, remember that for later. For now, be content with how the watch allows him to unzip a dress.

NEW YORK

In a neat sequence, we see a plane leaving London while superimposed we see a tarot reader place cards on a table. The female voice coolly decodes the cards:

“A man comes. He travels quickly. He has purpose. He comes over water. He travels with others. He will oppose. He brings violence and destruction”.

This is a nice touch, accompanied by some groovy music from George Martin.

Bond is sent to watch San Monique’s Prime Minister Dr Kananga (Yaphet Kotto), and on the way from the airport into New York, his driver is shot and the car careers off the freeway. I always liked this sequence as it is filmed on location and suggests the bad guys are already one step ahead of Bond. Indeed, they are one step ahead all the time.

We also meet David Hedison’s Felix Leiter, as the CIA are cooperating with Bond in this adventure. Yet another actor playing Leiter.  Unless of course “Felix Leiter” is a CIA code name, right?  Hedison gets the immortal line: “Get me a make on a white pimpmobile”.  So, there you have it, Bond taps into Blaxploitation.

“IT’S THE 70’s!” QUOTES:

Leiter: “Get me a make on a white pimpmobile.”

Taxi Driver: “Hey Man, for twenty bucks I’ll take you to a Ku Klux Klan Cook Out!”

Agent: “You got a honky on your tail.”

Bond ends up in the Fillet of Soul in Harlem (we saw a Fillet of Soul in New Orleans in the pre-credits) where he meets “Mr Big”, an organised crime boss, and Solitaire (Jane Seymour) who is the tarot reader we heard from earlier.

He also meets Tee Hee, the chief goon with the metal claw for a hand (Julius Harris) which can crush a handgun – we saw him and Solitaire with the prime minister earlier.

Mr Big dismisses Bond as he tries to introduce himself with the awesome line:

“Names is for tombstones baby”

and then the goons take him to the alley to kill him.  A seemingly pointless scene except to show us some characters, and to have CIA agent Strutter save him.

SAN MONIQUE

Bond heads to San Monique to continue his investigations. In his hotel, he incinerates a poisonous snake planted in his bathroom by using his lighter and an aerosol can – worth pointing out, Moore’s Bond smokes cigars (like Cubby Broccoli). 

Rookie CIA Agent Rosie Carver (Gloria Hendry), posing as Mrs Bond, initially resists his attempts to seduce her, but is superstitious and upset when she finds a voodoo hat on the bed in her room so ends up in his arms:

“I’m going to be completely useless to you.”

“Well, I’m sure we’ll be able to lick you into shape.”

Solitaire is still reading the tarot cards for Dr Kananga and can tell Bond’s movements from the cards. We all know that the “meaning” of the Tarot cards isn’t as simple as what is on the card, but the movie tarot readings work well here.

We learn that Rosie is working for Kananga and after a jungle sex picnic with Bond she is shot in the back from a gun hidden in wooden scarecrows in the trees.

Before you know it, Bond is hang gliding, chewing on a cigar, then kicking a goon off a cliff before sneaking into Kananga’s hilltop mansion.

Solitaire is an interesting character, as we learn that Kananga used her and her mother before her to read the cards, and that she is somehow “kept” by him.  The idea that the cards suggest both she and Bond will become lovers is silly, but it drives a wedge in her loyalty/fear of Kananga.  It doesn’t help when Bond cons her by having a tarot pack full of “lovers” cards.

Solitaire and Bond sleep together – a “physical violation which cannot be undone” which means that she thinks she has lost her “power”. Yet she asks him if they can go again. Bond replies:

“No sense in going off half-cocked”.

THE ACTION

  • Bond and Solitaire steal an old double decker bus and are pursued by local cops. The moment when the bus goes under a low bridge and is sliced in half is a great stunt.
  • Bond poses as a flight instructor in a light aircraft to escape some goons who chase him along the runway and through the hangars, one car ascending a ramp and screeching along the length of a plane before Bond’s plane itself loses both wings. We later learn that Poor Mrs Bell, the trainee pilot, is in intensive care. Strange punchline!
  • Bond escapes from being eaten alive at a crocodile farm by running across the backs of the crocs to get to safety.
  • The Speedboat chase across the bayou is a showcase for some great piloting and boat stunts, with jumps, a boat which skips up from the water and across a lawn, and one that skims past a wedding.  It’s great to look at, especially when you see a lot of Roger Moore piloting the boat in close up – none of that poor 60’s back projection. Yet the long thirteen-minute sequence is strangely flat and spends a lot of time with the hapless cops trying to stop the boat chase on land.

NEW ORLEANS AND BACK AGAIN

Bond ends up in New Orleans Fillet of Soul, where he learns Mr Big is Dr Kananga in disguise, and that the fields around San Monique are being harvested for heroin.  “Mr Big” is distributing it through the Fillet of Soul chain, in a plan to saturate the market, remove the competition, and get millions addicted.  Bond mentions that the fields are protected by the fear or superstition of Baron Samedi’s voodoo.  Interesting that the villain appropriates voodoo to protect his drugs, and yet seems so hooked upon the tarot cards himself.

The big set piece finish is in San Monique, starting with another “voodoo” ceremony where Solitaire is to be killed by a snake like the agent at the start. It’s a scene reminiscent of the devil worshipping scene in the Hammer horror movie The Devil Rides Out (1968) directed by that other Bond helmer Terence Fisher.

Baron Samedi is thrown into a coffin full of snakes and a quick unsatisfying fight.  In fact, when the fist fights happen you positively mourn for the editing style of earlier Bonds.  Moore is a great version of Bond, the best for his era, but if any Bond actor needed better action editing it was his.

As the opium fields are incinerated by the CIA, Bond and Solitaire end up in Kananga’s underground lair, a high-tech cavern with a lab, living area, pools, sharks, and a monorail (strangely.not used!).  Bond uses his watch to steal a compressed air pellet which ends up inside Kananga who pops his clogs in a deeply ridiculous manner, when he inflates, ascends and explodes.  Even as a young child I looked at this awkward human shaped balloon bursting and shook my head. You look at it now and think that surely the production team must have filmed that and thought “Should we rethink this?”

It’s worth mentioning that before Kananga pops, there is a short knife fight which promises much, and Yaphet Kotto makes for a nimble attacker, but alas, this also is over too soon. Kotto was disappointed with the film, and with the character, which he tried to do something different with, in franchise full of middle-aged white male villains.  A pity, for he looks great and is quite menacing at times, but the script is too keen on making Moore look good.  Sound financial sense I suppose, but a missed opportunity.

TRAIN FIGHT

In a great epilogue Bond and Solitaire leave New Orleans by sleeper train and are attacked by Tee Hee in a cracking fight, which (as you can now expect) is over too quickly, but filmed with some great claustrophobic moments, and performed mostly by the actors themselves.

FINALLY

The film is full of “black” stereotypes which may be symptomatic of the seventies.  Yet not to be outdone, the film also throws in the ultimate redneck southern tobacco-chewing sheriff JW Pepper (Clifton James) in a caricature of Rod Steiger’s Sheriff Gillespie from In the Heat of the Night.

As a youngster I loved the voodoo, the action and the range of villains in Live and Let Die. In fact, before writing these reviews the only two Moore films I really liked were this one and For Your Eyes Only.  By the end of these rewatches, that may change.

How can Baron Samedi, killed in the snake-filled coffin, be on the train as the film finishes? Perhaps that’s not Kananga’s fake Samedi… Maybe that’s the real one!

The film made money, though not as much as Diamonds are Forever, but it was another success, and the team were confident they had the right Bond moving forward for the next adventure, The Man with the Golden Gun.

Production Cast
Produced by: EON Productions
Presented By: Harry Saltzman and Albert R Broccoli
Director: Guy Hamilton
Screenplay: Tom Mankiewicz
Composer: George Martin
Diamonds are Forever” written by Paul and Linda McCartney
Performed by Paul McCartney and Wings
Production Design: Peter Lamont
London Premiere July 1973
Roger Moore
Yaphet Kotto
Jane Seymour
David Hedison
Gloria Hendry
Geoffrey Holder
Julius Harris
Earl Jolly Brown
Clifton James
Bernard Lee
Lois Maxwell

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