Bond and the Beautiful
Live and Let Die is directed by Guy Hamilton and is the first Bond film in the series to star Roger Moore as Agent 007. The film also stars Yaphet Kotto and Jane Seymour and is based on the novel of the same name by Ian Fleming.
Following Diamonds are Forever, Sean Connery declined to return once again as Bond, thus beginning a search for a new actor to play 007. The search led to Roger Moore, a choice that Connery gave his personal seal of approval for. Moore had been considered by longtime producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman before Dr. No and On Her Majesty's Secret Service, and after some debate about if the part should be given to a popular American actor versus an English actor, Moore was offered the role.
The transition from Connery to Moore naturally resulted in some change-ups of Bond's on screen appearance. Moore wanted to be sure that he wasn't imitating Connery or his performance as Simon Templar in The Saint. This led to screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz formatting the screenplay to feature more comedic scenes, as well as a more light-hearted approach, thinking these would fit Moore's persona. And while it wasn't obvious initially, a more light-hearted and comedic take on Bond would lead to many future Roger Moore led Bond films that many have referred to as absurd. But absurdity is not something that plagues Live and Let Die, a Bond film whose story and execution actually seem to contradict Mankiewicz's comedic and light-hearted approach.
The movie opens with three MI6 agents being killed under mysterious circumstances in the United Nations, New Orleans, and a Caribbean nation called San Monique, which is under the rule of a dictator named Dr. Kananga. Bond travels to New York to investigate one of the murders, and he is eventually led to Mr. Big, a gangster who runs a chain of Fillet of Soul restaurants throughout the United States. Bond is captured by some of Mr. Big's henchmen in one of the restaurants, and this is when he meets Solitaire (Jane Seymour), who uses a deck of tarot playing cards to supposedly see both future events and present ones. Bond escapes and later meets Solitaire in her home, where he uses a stacked deck of tarot cards to trick Solitaire into believing that the two are destined lovers. Solitaire has a change of heart, deciding she no longer wants to be controlled by Mr. Big, and begins to assist Bond in his efforts towards stopping Mr. Big. Mr. Big has plans to distribute a large quantity of heroin free in his restaurants, in hopes of putting other drug barons out of business and leaving his business as a monopoly.
Live and Let Die was released during what was known as the blaxploitation era, in which black actors were prominent figures in cinema and television, as opposed to being simply portrayed as a hero's sidekick or a victim of some brutal act of violence. So while some may believe that Live and Let Die will be best remembered for Bond facing off against a predominantly black gang, I vouch for the film being best remembered as the first Bond film to present a plot that lacks any kind of self-absorbed villain and doesn't rely on any kind of super weapon. Live and Let Die addresses drug trafficking, though the "put the world at risk" element is still there like in previous Bond outings. What's bizarre about the film centering on drug trafficking, however, is how it contradicts the comedic and light-hearted tone that Mankiewicz gave the script. Are drugs and criminal gangs supposed to be an open invitation for jokes and cheesy one-liners? Mr. Big (Yaphet Kotto) is anything but silly and light-hearted, and we're not dealing with some sort of made up drug here. That's not to the movie shouldn't be funny in any capacity, it's just that it's hard to wrap your head around the oil and water combination that is drugs and cheerfulness.
- The first half of the film is an almost non-stop thrill ride, boasting plenty of action and tense conversations between Solitaire and Mr. Big. Solitaire's supposed power for fortune telling is put into question after her first meeting with Bond. She asks Bond to pull a card from out of the tarot deck, and he picks The Lovers card, suggesting that Bond and Solitaire will fall in love, which throws Solitaire into a state of confusion and disbelief, driving a wedge into her loyalty to Mr. Big. It's also worth mentioning how Mr. Big's henchmen are always on top of things, anticipating nearly every one of Bond's moves and providing him with no chance of getting the upper hand. Only until Bond gets some assistance from Solitaire later on is he able to swing things in his favor.
- Live and Let Die loses its fire in the second half, starting with a speedboat chase scene that goes on much much longer than it needs to. The chase is inter cut with scenes of the Louisiana State Police giving chase to Bond and the speedboats of the henchmen following him. After a few minutes of watching the speedboats zip through the Louisiana waters, you begin to realize that the chase keeps going and going with no end in sight. The only moments to spice things up is when a sheriff (Clifton James) accidentally shoots the engine on Bond's speedboat and then a bit later on when Bond has a one on one confrontation with one of the other speedboats. After that scene finally ends, the film eventually reaches its climactic moment in which Bond confronts Mr. Big, but the film decides to copy off of Thunderball, when Mr. Big unleashes a shark on Bond and Solitaire. The whole climax is just...passable, which is really how the whole second half of the film is.
So the first half of Live and Let Die is really good, and the second half is decent-ish, which amounts to a relatively uneven, but still satisfying Bond film. The action is there, the villain is commendable, and I don't want to miss the chance to mention that while Solitaire may not be the best Bond girl overall, I think she is in the running for most beautiful. But anyway, Roger Moore injects some appropriate change in Bond, and he would run with it to mixed results over the next decade. Live and Let Die serves as an acceptable debut for Moore as Bond, and would go on to be one of his better Bond films in his time as the character.
Recommend? Yes. This is a good choice for your first ever Roger Moore Bond film.
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