After both critics and audiences rejected one-time Bond George Lazenby in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman lured Sean Connery back for Diamonds Are Forever (1971) with a then-record paycheck of $1.25 million dollars. Connery donated his earnings to the Scottish International Education Trust, a charity he founded and made it clear that he was done (though he did end up returning for the unofficial Thunderball remake, Never Say Never Again in 1983). Broccoli and Saltzman were once again left with the daunting task of finding a new James Bond. Enter Roger Moore, the actor who would play 007 in more films in the official series than any of the others. Moore became the Bond of the seventies and eighties. He has his devoted fans and critics. I include myself in the former camp. Moore brought a fresh take to the character and his sarcastic, tongue in cheek humor was usually spot on. Generally, his Bond films are more lighthearted than others in the series but are still great fun. Moore made his debut as 007 in Live and Let Die, ushering in a new era of Bond and ensuring that the series would continue.
Logline: Bond tracks down a dangerous drug lord who will stop at nothing to control the international heroin market.
Live and Let Die marks the beginning of Roger Moore’s thirteen year tenure as British Secret Agent 007. Even in his debut Bond film, Moore sinks into the role with ease. It is a shame that the film itself is not too good. While still an entertaining Bond film, Live and Let Die is one of the weakest entries in the series.
Oftentimes, Bond films are like time capsules, providing a glimpse into the period in which they were made. Live and Let Die is a great example of this as it feels so encapsulated in the 1970s. Blaxploitation cinema was popular at the time and the producers of the film attempted to ride on this success by using a predominantly black cast. It was not the first or last time the producers would adopt popular film trends of the time.
There are plenty of great scenes, such as the pre-title sequence, which showcases a Jazz funeral in the streets of New Orleans that masks an assassination. Then there is the great scene in which Bond slickly escapes hordes of crocodiles. Admittedly, the film does drag a bit in the middle but picks up again with the film’s centerpiece action scene – a lengthy speedboat chase that is exciting and funny. Despite all the hate that Sheriff Pepper gets, I have to admit that I do not mind the character and in fact, find him amusing. His return in The Man with the Golden Gun (1974), though was unnecessary. The characters in Live and Let Die are either hit or miss. The tarot card reading Solitaire, played by a gorgeous Jane Seymour, is the Bond girl here and she is a bit dull. Live and Let Die is sometimes criticized for being racist. When it comes to bedding women, Bond certainly does not discriminate though. The secret agent sleeps with Rosie Carver, an African American CIA operative who unfortunately, is rather annoying.
After seven Bond films in which Blofeld and/or the organization SPECTRE were the threat, Live and Let Die dares to be different and has an entirely new villain for Bond – Kananga. Played by Yaphet Kotto, Kananga is an interesting villain, namely because he is so unusual. Kananga uses an alter ego – Mr. Big for his drug bidding. Furthermore, he uses Solitaire’s psychic abilities to his advantage. It is a shame that Kananga is given such a terrible anticlimactic exit at the film’s climax. Bond puts a bullet with compressed air inside of Kananga’s mouth, causing him to inflate like a balloon, rise to the ceiling, and explode. It must be the worst death scene of a Bond villain to date.
Most people are familiar with the film’s title song, sung by Paul McCartney and the Wings. It is a great tune and easily one of the best Bond theme songs. The score, composed by George Martin, is much less memorable. The great John Barry, who scored eleven Bond films, was unavailable for Live and Let Die. Unfortunately, it shows and the score is used very sparingly. In fact, there are moments in the film, such as the boat chase, in which you would expect a rousing score but there is no music to be heard.
When I first saw Live and Let Die some twelve years ago, I thought it was just okay. It was one of the few Bond films I had only seen once until this most recent viewing. I have a more positive outlook on it now. It has its fair share of problems but remains a pretty good Bond adventure and a solid debut for Moore.
Rating (out of ****): ***