Live And Let Die (1973 United Artists)

LALDYou’ll have a rucking good time watching a clown in a tuxedo, I mean Britain’s most famous spy, in his 8th adventure. Buttocks will be kicked and maybe even some names taken in vain. Mix in some racial tension and viola! An above average Bond flick. This time it feels smaller scale and slightly less over the top although it has the action comedy tone which would define the Roger Moore era. Ludicrous yet rooted in the real world and centred on a very real issue rather than the usual world domination or diamond lasers. Director Guy Hamilton manages to get the tone just right. This was a stark change to the usual proceedings: Roger Moore’s debut is about voodoo, the supernatural and the majority of the cast are black people. 

Say what you want about James Bond movies, that they are traditional or clichéd or predictable, but if you look at them in the spirit of their age you’ll notice that there is often a lot of clever market research and marketeering involved. Bond’s interstellar adventure “Moonraker”, for example, got released around the same time as the immensely popular “Star Wars” films and thus at the height of the Sci-Fi cinema revival. Well, “Live and let Die” also cashes in on a contemporary very profitable movie trend, namely the rise of the so – called “Blaxploitation” cinema. With a capital B. These are films with an ensemble cast existing almost entirely of black actors/actresses and often dealing with organized crime and gang wars in New York City. Of course James Bond himself is still white and typically British, but for the first time in eight films his opponents are Afro-Americans with heavily pimped cars.

(The name is Moore, gentlemen. Roger Moore… and I’ve got a feeling you don’t like honkeys.)

The villain of LALD is Kananga, leader of the small Caribbean island of San Monique. He is also known as Mr Big – a big time Harlem gangster. He deals in heroin and is a suspect in the death of some British agents. For a Bond villain, Kananga’s ambitions are surprisingly limited, with no scheme for world domination. He has, however, close links to the New York underworld, and has hatched a plot to flood the American market with heroin. Kananga is deeply superstitious, and employs the services of Solitaire, a beautiful young woman with the power to foretell the future through the use of tarot cards. As with a number of the other films, much of the plot of this one revolves around Bond’s ability to win over the villain’s female accomplice. As Kananga, Yaphet Kotto is adequate, but he does rather suffer the fate of being outshone by the two secondary villains, his henchman Tee Hee (the man with the metal arm and claw for a hand ) and Baron Samedi, with his demonic peals of laughter.

Paul McCartney & Wings’ theme song is a classic mix of tunefulness, drama, popcorn lyrics, even a dash of reggae is thrown in just for fun. The film then gets off to an offbeat start where it is hard to predict what will happen next on a first viewing. Where previous instances of debriefing/mission assigning have taken part during the (compared to this) far more relaxed, even leisurely, locale of M’s office during normalized hours, M and Miss Moneypenny decide to invade Bond’s house in the early morning! Of course he is not alone. Things progress to the Caribbean, with the nation of Jamaica doubling up for a fictional island country of similar geographical locale named San Monique; a strange place, an eerie and seemingly backwater zone populated by some very specific individuals who move and dance and perform in a very unique and very uncanny way. 007 meets tarot reader Solitaire (Jane Seymour), a girl whose own plight of independence and ascent into womanhood is just as interesting as Bond’s investigative strand as she begins to clash with Kananga’s established patriarchy.

We are treated to the first viewing of a hang glider in a movie, plus some exciting chase sequences, particularly the one in the old bus across San Monique, and the waterborne one through the Louisiana Everglades. The tap dancing across the row of alligators is always fondly remembered too. There is some successful use of sardonic humour, such as the scene where a man, watching a traditional New Orleans jazz funeral, asks “Whose funeral is it?” and is told “Yours” immediately before being stabbed to death. This film has no beautiful locations whatsoever, but instead they decided to maintain a rather eerie tone throughout the entire picture. To make it as real and creepy as possible,  not particularly the sort of environment where you’ll normally find James Bond adventuring. Even the immediate train-set ending to the piece is a full blown, anti-Bondian, anti-mainstream slice of ambiguous; open ended film making designed to force a complete revaluation on where we now stand in terms of whether things are as wrapped up as they seem. This is a dark (no pun) film indeed.

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Comments

  1. You are spot on with this hilarious review. “The name is Moore, gentlemen. Roger Moore… and I’ve got a feeling you don’t like honkeys”, I read it in his voice and almost died laughing! 😛

    Liked by 1 person

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