Saturday, November 9, 2013

Roger Moore Takes Up The Mantle Of James Bond In Live And Let Die!

The Good: Some decent performances, It feels different than other James Bond movies
The Bad: Lousy characters, Blacksploitation feel, Utterly ridiculous plot, Atrocious special effects
The Basics: In Roger Moore’s debut as James Bond, Live And Let Die is an unfortunate trainwreck of a film that feels much more like a 1970s Blacksploitation film than a legitimate James Bond adventure!

There are some unlikely celebrities who I actually feel bad for periodically. For example, Patrick Stewart had a rough go of directing on Star Trek: The Next Generation - not because of anything he did, but because of the terrible scripts he was initially given to direct. In a similar fashion, Sir Roger Moore began his tenure as James Bond in Live And Let Die. Live And Let Die is an early 1970’s James Bond flick that feels more like a Blacksploitation film than it does a James Bond movie. The plot is one of the most absurd for a James Bond film and while the film has a pretty impressive cast – Moore is supported by a young Yaphet Kotto and Jane Seymour (who is anything but Dr. Quinn in the film!) – it unfolds more like a parody of James Bond and black culture than it does a compelling story.

The Blacksploitation feel in Live And Let Die begins in the teaser with a jazz funeral sequence. The clever murder cover-up that is the point of the scene is almost forgotten as director Guy Hamilton lingers far too long on the dancing black people who continue the funeral after the murder. That blacks continually refer to whites as “honkeys” and the indifferent “boy” is thrown out an uncomfortable number of times only aids the feeling that every black person on the screen has a personal fight with white people. That said, Live And Let Die is plagued by a formulaic plot progression and exceptionally dated quality regardless of the cultural setting for the film.

Opening at the United Nations Building, where the UK Ambassador is knocked out, right before a man in New Orleans falls victim to his murder at the hands of the jazz funeral procession, the Carribbean nation of San Monique becomes the setting for a third murder. M arrives at the house of James Bond in the middle of the night to reveal that all three murders were of MI-6 agents and after his latest fling is given one last pass at him, Bond heads to San Monique via New York City, where his coming has been foretold by a tarot card reader. In New York City, his driver is killed and in hunting the shooter, Bond ends up at Fillet Of Soul, where the tarot card reader Solitaire informs him that she knows exactly who he is and why he has come. After an assassination attempt by Mr. Big in Harlem, Bond heads to San Monique.

There, Bond meets the CIA agent, Rosie. While changing aboard a fishing boat they chartered, Rosie discovers a secret room and pulls a gun on the boat driver. The pilot turns out to be Quarrel Jr. and together the trio journeys to where the MI-6 Agent, Baines, was killed. There, Mr. Big orders a reading done on Bond and shortly thereafter, Rosie shows her true colors and is killed by Mr. Big’s voodoo gun talisman. Rescued by Solitaire, who Bond beds – thus risking her connection to the tarot – Bond’s investigation soon puts him in front of Mr. Big again, this time in New Orleans. In true Bond form, Bond goads Mr. Big into revealing his true identity as a heroin baron who is poised to upset the market by flooding two billion dollars worth of heroin onto the streets for free! Dragged out to a crocodile farm to die, Bond must race against gators, speedboats, and gunfire to stop Kananga from destroying the mob’s business and getting America hooked on heroin before he creates a deficit of product!

As a young adult, I went through a James Bond phase and I recall liking Roger Moore as James Bond. Somehow I missed his debut in Live And Let Die until my adulthood (just now, in fact!) and I think it might be fortunate that I did. Moore is just fine as James Bond, though this is not a film where James Bond learns, grows or stretches beyond his usual paradigms. He has sex with three women in the course of the film and uses a lone gadget – a hyper-magnetic watch. But Moore is hampered by bad writing, referring to one of the cars as a “pimpmobile” instead of its color, make and model in true Bondian know-it-all fashion.

A fundamental problem with Live And Let Die is that the villain does not have the magnitude of many of the megalomaniacal villains in the James Bond franchise. Mr. Big is a heroin wholesaler whose plan is to crush his competition before starting a drought of heroin that will force all the junkies he’s made to pay a premium. The thing is, Mr. Big’s plan – which is basically a supply-side drug war – has a decent chance of getting him killed by the mob, so why the British super-spy gets involved instead of letting a little street justice takes its course is a bit of a mystery. Once Bond knows that Mr. Big is behind the murders at the beginning and knows Kananga’s grand plan, it’s silly that he sticks with the case.

At the other end of the spectrum, the acting in Live And Let Die is generally decent. Moore leaps into the role of James Bond with dry-wit deliveries of all of James Bond’s snappy lines that makes the tongue-in-cheek nature of them work even better. Lacking Connery’s knowing smirk to the double entendres, Moore claims the mantle of James Bond as a serious character with a speed that makes his ability to think on his feet seem realistic.

Sadly, it is one of the only things that is realistic. Kotto and Seymour get through their lines fine, but their characters are somewhat monolithic (Seymour’s Solitaire, for example, does not play any sense of realistic trauma to her character losing her tarot connection when that had been her entire life). Far worse than the character issues are the special effects. Live And Let Die employs obvious stunt doubles, poor cuts during fight sequences and the least realistic exploding people ever to grace the screen. And the less said about the sidetrack with the Louisiana hick sheriff, the better.

On DVD, Live And Let Die has multiple commentary tracks and Moore’s commentary track is arguably more entertaining than the source material. There are also the usual featurettes on the making of the film and its place in the James Bond mythos. Still, the bonus features are not enough to forgive the problems with the film; Live And Let Die is more ridiculous than suspenseful and a poor start to showcase the talents of Roger Moore.

For other James Bond films, please check out my reviews of:
Dr. No
From Russia With Love
You Only Live Twice
On Her Majesty's Secret Service
Diamonds Are Forever
Die Another Day
Casino Royale
Quantum Of Solace


For other film reviews, please check out my alphabetical listing of every movie I have reviewed at my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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