“He always did have an inflated opinion of himself!”
The Bond: Roger Moore
The Villain: Dr. Kananga/Mr. Big
The Henchmen: Tee Hee, Whisper, and Baron Samedi
The Bond Girls: Solitaire, Rosie Carver and Miss. Caruso
The Plan: A monopoly on the heroin market
The Gadget/Car: Magnetic watch. That’s it. No Q in this one.
The Song: If ya have to ask, I feel sorry for you, son. “Live and Let Die” by Paul McCartney & Wings.
With Sean Connery yet again refusing to play 007, the search was on again to find a new actor. United Artists wanted an American and one of their top choices (for an American) was none other than Clint Eastwood. He famously turned down the offer stating that the character should only ever be played by an Englishman. Sorry, Lazenby. So eventually Roger Moore was cast and we finally have our new Bond. He’s a very different Bond and (partly) as a result the movie is very different than any other. Here we have a “really fly” blaxploitation attempt, a vodka martini-less Bond, a scary Haitian spirit , and The Medicine Woman herself Jane Seymour.
Live and Let Die is a strange film but it’s actually really great. I wasn’t really that fond of it the first time I saw it owing mainly to a certain obviously racist caricature of the South and an extremely weak and annoying Bond girl (Def not Seymour. No, sir.) but upon a few more viewings I’ve really grown to like it a lot. It deviates from the typical Bond formula of some giant terrorist organization hell-bent on world domination and instead focuses on a more “real world” problem with drug trafficking. It dabbles in the supernatural without ever giving a decisive stance on the subject which is something never explored again. This movie tried to distance itself from the Connery-era by changing aspects of the character. This Bond drinks bourbon, smokes cigars, and is essentially the epitome of English. At least that’s how I view him. Disappointingly Q is absent from the movie. I’ve read this is because the producers wanted to get away from the gadgets (which is stupid) and something else I read said it was because he wasn’t in the books. Alrighty then. If your’e gonna go by those rules then Bond was never a one liner quipping guy. He was drier than the martinis he drinks and Pussy Galore was a lesbian.
So what’s going on? Well three Mi6 agents are investigating the actions of a mysterious dictator Dr. Kananga. All three are killed in different and unique ways. It remains one of the best opening hooks despite a complete absence of our new Bond. Following this is Paul McCartney’s hit “Live and Let Die.” Most people consider this song to be one of the greats and this proved true when it got a nod from the Academy for Best Original Song.
During Bond’s investigation in the states we learn that there’s this dude Mr. Big (who looks oddly similar to Dr. Kananga), a gangster who runs a string of restaurants throughout the US of A and he is in something…big. (See what I did there?) Here, we meet our Bond girl: The beautiful virgin tarot card reader Solitaire. According to the movie, she can tell the future and is of great value to him. Eventually it is revealed that Mr. Big intends to distribute heroin, for free, to the masses. This will take the market away from the other sellers especially the Mafia and he can increase the prices of the drugs later thus having a total monopoly on the market. Even though this plan would only land him control over heroin and the Mafia could simply switch to coke and marijuana, I think it’s pretty ingenious. It makes more sense than using brainwashed girls to spread a virus or destroying a minefield between North and South Korea with a magical satellite so you can invade evil American-occupied southern portion of Korea, which is of course the only thing preventing an invasion. But I digress.
It’s a really fun movie! It has some of the best vehicle chases (that is, multiple chases) in the whole series and has some of the coolest stunts. The stunts are seriously awesome. One notable stunt is the alligator stunt. It involves running across the backs of real live alligators and is performed by possibly one of the stupidest people alive. It’s very short but of course it’s bloody short it’s a guy running on the backs of alligators!
The villains are pretty great too. The guy from Alien plays Mr. Big/Dr. Kananga or Dr. Kananga/Mr. Big is silly because his “disguise” is poor latex and powder. It’s humorous and I can’t really tell if Bond’s reaction is genuine or not when the big baddie “reveals” himself. The henchmen are the best though. Tee Hee is excellent as a huge guy with a seemingly permanent smile and a metal arm complete witch a pincer. Ya got Whisper, a really fat man who’s voice level is barely audible hence his name, and finally Baron Samedi. He’s by far the most interesting as he’s based on “reality.” One of Mr. Big’s things is that he’s a zombie being controlled by Baron Samedi who is in turn controlled by Dr. Kananga. This is used as a fear tactic to keep the people in line. But the question remains is Baron Samedi real or is he simply a very skilled magician who works as a henchman for Dr. Kananga? He’s “killed” several times in the film but keeps coming back.
Initially we’re lead to believe that the primary Bond girl is CIA agent named Rosie Carver. From the moment she appears on screen however, I cannot stand her. She’s by far one of the most annoying and useless Bond girls ever conceived. I don’t think it’s the fault of the actress but more so just the way the character was written. The twist in her character is painfully obvious from the get go and she’s just bleh. Thankfully though she wasn’t our Bond girl. Our Bond girl is Solitaire. What a choice. She’s one of my favorites not just because she’s one of the most attractive but because I really like her story. Solitaire is a prisoner of Dr. Kananga and is forced to perform these tarot card readings and is forbidden to do much else. She truly believes he possesses these powers and you can see the absolute fear she has for her “employer” especially when she believes her powers are taken away.
Live and Let Die, despite it’s triumphs does one thing that irks me. While Diamonds Are Forever had quite a few silly moments, the Roger Moore movies are notorious for having a lot of campy humor. Some love it, some hate it. I for most part don’t mind it. I think one of the main things that hinder this film is a character that most people either love or hate: Sheriff J.W. Pepper. This character is brought in to add comic relief but I’m not sure that’s how he was perceived back then or now. Basically he’s a very white older sheriff in a film with a lot of African American actors. It’s pretty clear at least to me that this character is pretty bigoted. While that may not have been the intention, his lines all reek of it. He’s actually kinda funny and if you can just be silly with it, he’s fine. However he remains extremely out of place…the character was evidently thought to be a good movie though because he returns for the next film as well. I mentioned that I didn’t really care for Rosie Carver but she’s gone quick enough to where I can let it slide. I forgot about her almost as soon as she was gone. Jane Seymour saw to that.
At the end of the day, Live and Let Die is a great entry in the series albeit different. As I mentioned, i think a lot of humor is just out of place and teeters on racism but you’ve got some great villains, outstanding stunts, a great Bond girl, and the start to the overall great tenure of Roger Moore.
Justin Davis will return…to review: The Man With the Golden Gun!