Review: Live And Let Die

Welcome to my review of Live And Let Die, the eighth part of my challenge to review all of the James Bond films. I’m watching each film in turn and trying to figure out which one is my favourite. For more information, see my introduction here. You can read my review of the previous film, Diamonds Are Forever, hereSpoilers follow.

Live And Let Die
(dir. Guy Hamilton, 1973)

Live And Let Die trailerLet’s take a moment to look at the actors who have portrayed James Bond so far.

Sean Connery is the ideal Bond to many; even Ian Fleming, who famously didn’t like Connery to start with (he wanted someone like David Niven), warmed to Connery enough to write in a Scottish heritage in the books. Connery is dashing, flippant and suave. He is also a killer. It’s in his eyes and his body language and his attitude. Get in his way and he’ll turn off the charm and shoot you.

George Lazenby was—at least in my eyes—a little less of the same. That’s not to run him down at all (remember: his film is currently sitting at the top of my league table), but merely that, while he was a charming assassin, he felt like he was more in control than Connery. He’d say “please” when he was questioning you and backhand you if you refused to cooperate. He came across as a pretty likeable guy, which might be why some people still don’t see him as 007.

Which brings us to Roger Moore: the gentleman spy.

As I stated in my introduction, I came into this challenge with some preconceived notions about Moore. I saw him as a ‘softer’ Bond; less of a killer and more likely to resolve a situation with an arched eyebrow and a well-placed quip. Someone who relied on convenient gadgetry to get the job done. Bond is always well attired, but I remembered Moore as being fashionably so, even inappropriately so. A toff, a dandy, a fop: a public schoolboy with a gun.

It turns out that all of this is true. But that doesn’t make Live And Let Die a bad film. In fact, I thought Live And Let Die was actually quite a good film, despite a few missteps.

Government agents around the world are being killed. Bond travels to New York to find out why, and somehow ends up in the middle of a plot to give heroin away to little kiddies in the hope of driving all of the other drug dealers out of business so that the bad guy (Mr Big in New York, Kananga elsewhere, both played by Yaphet Kotto) can create a drugs monopoly. And there’s voodoo, and tarot cards that actually tell the future, and an invincible henchman called Baron Samedi. As far as plots go, this is slightly more plausible than You Only Live Twice, but not by a lot.

I wrote about the racial stereotyping in You Only Live Twice, and even marked it down on my league table. Live And Let Die is no better, really. I was concerned during most of the first half of the film that the theme was that all black people in the world were bad guys. There are some worrying moments when every single black person in Harlem (and everywhere else) seems to be in on some huge conspiracy to murder people—witness the pre-credits funeral scene, for example. There is literally one black person in the film who is not a bad guy, and he’s the son of Quarrel from Dr No, which is a bit random.

None of this is helped by the unfortunate implications of getting a well-spoken white British man in to fix all the problems. Nowhere is this more apparent than during the climax of the film, where Bond goes to rescue Solitaire (the lovely Jane Seymour): a defenceless white maiden about to be savaged by evil black voodoo worshippers.

Actually, Solitaire isn’t really a maiden. She is at the start of the film, until Bond tricks her into sleeping with him. So, a return to racial stereotypes, and a return to sex-offender Bond. I really want to hate this film.

And yet I enjoyed it. It’s a lot of fun if you can get past the sleaze—which isn’t real sleaze, but more a naïve innocence and lack of thought on behalf of the film makers. Moore might not be as brutal as his forebears, but he’s definitely charming. He might not be so keen to reach for his gun (I’m not sure he fires a shot until the aforementioned rescue of Solitaire), but he can still pull off a kill-and-quip in an entertaining fashion. Contrary to what I was expecting, he wasn’t weighed down by gadgets; Q is nowhere to be seen (he gets a mention as part of a throwaway joke courtesy of M), and all Bond has is a watch with a magnet (which he makes liberal use of in a pleasing variety of ways) and a circular saw (which is never mentioned until it is used in a much less pleasing and over-convenient fashion).

When his gadgets won’t do the trick, Moore improvises, such as when he combines a cigar and an aerosol to flame grill a poisonous snake. He then uses the cigar to disarm someone. Connery would have used his gun for both situations.

After criticising the over-Americanised comedy of Diamonds Are Forever, I even found the slightly US-centric humour of Live And Let Die funny. There’s a hick sheriff that got on my nerves a bit, but overall the film is less slapstick than Diamonds Are Forever, more self-depreciating. More British, one might argue.

The film looks better than Diamonds Are Forever too, presumably because they didn’t have to sacrifice their special effects budget to pay Connery’s exorbitant fees (he demanded $5.5 million to do another film). Gone are the ropey satellite explosions, the Las Vegas setting, the moon buggies. Instead, we’re treated to handbrake turns in a double-decker bus, Bond running over alligators (which was a stunt performed without any visual trickery, apparently), and best of all a long, thoroughly entertaining speedboat chase across Louisiana. Live And Let Die looks great and refused to let me get bored.

I wasn’t expecting to like Roger Moore, and by extension I wasn’t expecting to enjoy Live And Let Die. The film is flawed and Moore is certainly not Connery or Lazenby, but both film and actor turned out to have enough charm that by the closing credits I was firmly won around.

Title song: Paul McCartney and Wings give us a belter with Live And Let Die, which might be one of my favourite songs in the world.

Greatest moment: Bond coaxing a handbrake turn out of a double-decker bus is at once utterly ludicrous and crazily awesome.

Worst moment: Bond paraglides onto a remote island. He pulls off his black trousers Chippendale-style to reveal a light pair of trousers underneath, and then flips his jacket inside-out so that it matches. Ugh. This is what I was dreading with Roger Moore.

Best gadget: Not much choice here, so the watch wins by default. To be fair, Bond uses the magnet in a variety of ways, making it a multi-purpose gadget as opposed to something uniquely tailored to a single situation.

Best quote:
James Bond: You see, sir, by pulling out this button it turns the watch into a hyper-intensified magnetic field: powerful enough to even deflect the path of a bullet at long range, or so Q claims.
M: I feel very tempted to test that theory right now.

Most obvious product placement: The watch again–a Rolex–which due to its role in the plot keeps getting literal face time on screen. There’s also a lingering shot of a Pan Am plane when Bond is flying to New York that overstays its welcome by a couple of seconds.

Verdict: I agonised over this one. Yes, the film is not very politically correct. Yes, it’s got Roger Moore in it. But it’s a good film. Better than Connery? Better than most of them, to be fair, and good enough to hit fourth place on the league table.

  1. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (dir. Peter Hunt, 1969)
  2. From Russia With Love (dir. Terence Young, 1963)
  3. Goldfinger (dir. Guy Hamilton, 1964)
  4. Live And Let Die (dir. Guy Hamilton, 1973)
  5. Dr No (dir. Terence Young, 1962)
  6. You Only Live Twice (dir. Lewis Gilbert, 1967)
  7. Thunderball (dir. Terence Young, 1965)
  8. Diamonds Are Forever (dir. Guy Hamilton, 1971)

Sorry, Dad–feel free to disown me. Anyway, next time I’ll be seeing whether Moore can continue to surprise me with The Man With The Golden Gun.