Live and Let Die (1973) / Action-Thriller
MPAA Rated: PG for violence, sensuality, brief nudity, and mild language (definitely would be PG-13 today)
Running Time: 121 min.
Cast: Roger Moore, Yaphet Kotto, Jane Seymour, Julius Harris, Clifton James, Geoffrey Holder, David Hedison, Gloria Hendry, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell
Director: Guy Hamilton
Screenplay: Tom Mankiewicz (based on the novel by Ian Fleming)
Review published January 3, 2016
007 (Moore, The Cannonball Run) is sent to the U.S. to get to the bottom of a scheme to get Americans hooked on heroin so they'll be subservient to the mastermind from the fictional Caribbean island of San Monique, its prime minister, Dr. Kananga (Kotto, Across 110th Street). In order to get to the bottom of the drug ring operation that sees MI6 agents dead, James Bond coordinates with his counterpart in the CIA, Felix Leiter (Hedison, Licence to Kill), to investigate the kingpin in Harlem, Mr. Big. Signs point to Kananga, and Bond aims to chip away at his power by trying to seduce the drug boss's powerful psychic, Solitaire (Seymour, Somewhere in Time), whose ability to read into the future has catapulted him to fortune, but only so long as she remains a virgin.
Perhaps most notable for being the debut of Roger Moore as the next James Bond, popular from his TV stint as Simon Templar on "The Saint", with Sean Connery disinterested despite big paychecks, and George Lazenby widely seen as a bust after On Her Majesty's Secret Service. It's one of the more uneven Bond entries, perhaps due to trying to find the right footing for its new star, whose personality differs from Connery's in so many ways, yet the screenwriter, Tom Mankiewicz (Mother Jugs and Speed, Dragnet), couldn't quite know that he would be writing for a more dapper, romantic and tongue-in-cheek Bond than one that would intimidate and throw a solid punch. Considering that its director, Guy Hamilton, had been the one responsible for Connery classics like Goldfinger and Diamonds Are Forever, it's decidedly different tone is surprising. Future entries would capitalize better on Moore's charms, though the campiness of the series would only increase exponentially after this.
Live and Let Die is also known for providing the hit theme song by Paul McCartney, which some would argue is the best of them all (mine is, and will probably always be, Nancy Sinatra's "You Only Live Twice"), going on to Best Song Academy Award nomination. The film also has some incredible stunts, which would become a centerpiece of the Moore era, including memorable ones involving a pond full of crocodiles and speed boats in the bayous of Louisiana. Jane Seymour, whose character was supposed to be black but global marketing decisions steered away, is certainly a fetching would-be lover, but her role is written in a bland style that showcases her looks in a variety of garish outfits and nothing else. Yaphet Kotto is a terrific actor as Dr. Kananga, but lacks the formidable screen presence of a typical Bond villain, though Julius Harris (King Kong) and Geoffrey Holder (Annie) as evil henchmen Tee Hee and Baron Samedi, respectively, are quite memorable. Sorely missed in John Barry's sumptuous scoring, who was unavailable at the time of production, making way for the less intense compositions by George Martin, former producer of The Beatles.
Perhaps not quite confident enough to sell Roger Moore' first entry solely by being a James Bond flick, the makers of Live and Let Die try to capitalize on hot 1970s trends at the box office to try to broaden the scope beyond the fan base that might have checked out with the permanent departure of Sean Connery. First, The French Connection is echoed in the drug smuggling plotline. Next, the 'black power' cast draws inspiration from the Blaxploitation craze (except the white guys are the good guys), which may mar the film somewhat with its outdated stereotypes (it's the only entry that to assert that supernatural elements could be real). Then, seemingly out of nowhere, comes the debut of a recurring comic-relief supporting player, Sheriff J.W. Pepper (he would re-emerge in the next Bond entry, The Man with the Golden Gun), which further rides a wave of local-yokel southern cops, with requisite car chases and pile-ups, that ran rampant throughout the decade.
Live and Let Die is entertaining enough to sate series fans, but it's definitely one of the middling of Bond efforts. Roger Moore's more easygoing, quip-filled style proved to be popular enough, and the introduction of its self-aware humor would keep people entertained despite lackluster plotting. It's less spy thriller and more comic book heroes and villains, but it's fun while it lasts.
©2016 Vince Leo