The gun barrel reveals British TV and movie star Roger Moore, known for his work in Ivanhoe, The Saint, and The Persuaders. 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 thrilling titles start 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 a style befitting a new Bond. As John Barry was unavailable, the score is by George Martin (producer of The Beatles).
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 Moneypenny, arriving to inform him of 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 bathrobe (initialled JB on the pocket) and an elaborate coffee maker in his kitchen.
There’s no Q in this film Bond has a watch with a “hyper-intensified magnetic field”, and demonstrates it. As usual, remember that for later. For now, be content with how the watch allows him to unzip a dress.
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 the late David Hedison’s Felix Leiter, as the CIA is 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 visits 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.
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.
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. Although she is superstitious and when she finds a voodoo hat on her bed she 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.
After a jungle sex picnic with Bond Rosie, now revealed as a double agent, 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.
Kananga has used Solitaire and her mother before her to read the cards. 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”.
- 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. They pursue the plan along the runway and through the hangars. One car ascends a ramp and screeches along the length of a plane. 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 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. It’s interesting that the villain appropriates voodoo to protect his drugs, and yet seems so hooked upon the tarot cards himself.
In San Monique, another wild voodoo ceremony is about to kill Solitaire. The scene is 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 (Geoffrey Holder) is a striking figure, usually in top hat and skeleton make up, scaring the islanders. His voice and laugh are suitably creepy and choreographer Holder’s movement is great. The character is inspired by Voodoo lore and it makes sense that Kananga employs him to scare the locals. We even see “Samedi” out of makeup in Kananga’s office suggesting this man is a goon playing a part.
Baron Samedi is thrown into a coffin full of snakes in 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 Bond but really deserved better action editing.
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 magnetic watch to steal a compressed air pellet and this is how Kananga dies. A deeply ridiculous kill as he inflates ascends and explodes. Even as a young child I looked at this awkward human-shaped balloon bursting and shook my head. 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 where Yaphet Kotto makes for a nimble attacker, but alas, this also is over too soon. Kotto tries to do something different in a franchise full of middle-aged white male villains and is menacing at times, but the script is too keen on making Moore look good. A sound financial sense I suppose, but a missed opportunity.
Bond and Solitaire leave New Orleans by sleeper train when Tee Hee appears. There is 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.
The film is sadly full of “black” stereotypes which may be symptomatic of the seventies. It also throws in the redneck tobacco-chewing sheriff Pepper (Clifton James) in a caricature of Rod Steiger’s Sheriff 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. Before these reviews, the only Moore films I really liked were this and For Your Eyes Only. By the end of these rewatches, that may change.
The film was another success, and the team charged ahead with plans for The Man with the Golden Gun.
Produced by: EON Productions
Earl Jolly Brown