on July 29, 2000
"Live and Let Die", released in 1973, is the eighth entry in the James Bond series produced by Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman. It is also the debut of Roger Moore as the British secret agent, a role he would play of total of seven times, more that any other actor.
Sean Connery was originally slated to reprise his starring role but no amount of money could tempt him to sign on. The producers turned to an actor they had originally wanted to play Bond back in 1962, Roger Moore. At that time, Moore had to turn down the role because he was committed to play Simon Templar in the successful television series "The Saint". But by time "Live and Let Die" was ready to go into production, Moore was available to take on the role. Guy Hamilton did return to direct his third Bond film and "Live and Let Die" does have a feel similar to "Diamonds are Forever". Bernard Lee and Lois Maxwell reprised their roles as "M" and Miss Moneypenny but Desmond Llewelyn is notable for his absence, the only time "Q" has not appeared in a Bond film. Also missing, this time permanently, is the evil organization SPECTRE and its leader Blofeld. Except for one uncredited cameo, Blofeld never again appears in a Bond film.
In this outing, James Bond is investigating a series of murders targeting British intelligence. The one common thread appears to be the prime minister of the island nation of San Monique, Doctor Kananga, who is currently residing at his consulate in New York City. The CIA already has a team led by Bond's opposite number Felix Leiter keeping tabs on Kananga. Bond follows Kananga to Harlem where he meets another ruthless character named "Mr Big", the boss of bosses in the black underworld. Bond also meets a mysterious young woman named Solitaire who seems to be able to predict the future by using tarot cards. Somehow, these two men are connected to each other and Bond must go to San Monique where he must penetrate a world of voodoo and discover the secret which has killed all others who tried.
"Live and Let Die" was shot on location in New York City, Jamaica and around New Orleans. It was the first Bond film (and the last) where African-American actors played many of the prominent roles. Yaphet Kotto plays Doctor Kananga with the sauve, menacing manner usually associated with Bond (some have called Kananga, rather than the assasin Scaramanga the anti-Bond). Solitaire is played by Jane Seymour, who portrays her in a detached, wistful manner. Bond participates in his first interracial love scene with the lovely CIA agent Rosie Carver(played by Gloria Hendry). Kananga's henchman TeeHee is well played by Julius W. Harris and Clifton James provides the comedy relief by playing Sheriff J. W. Pepper up as the reddest redneck one could ever hope to meet. Finally, Felix Leiter is played by his fifth different actor, David Hedison, who would later become the only actor to play the CIA agent twice.
Despite all the promising elements, "Live and Let Die" comes off as a pale shadow of Bond films past. Unlike his excellent portrayal of the Saint, whose character was similar to that of Bond, Roger Moore comes off as very stiff and formal, earning him the nickname as the "wooden Bond". However, the dry wit that is characteristic of the Moore Bond is much in evidence in this film. The female characters seemed to have regress from the strong minded women in the earlier Bonds. Even CIA agent Rosie Carver is played as hopelessly inept. Another problem is the growing tendency to play James Bond up for laughs, continuing a trend started in "Diamonds Are Forever". James Bond and his world are becoming a caricature of its sixties self. That kind of formula works better with Bond facing a major foe rather than a small time one. It is ironic that the story of "Live and Let Die" might have worked might have worked better if it had been made in the 1960's. In 1973, James Bond almost seems wasted here since the moviegoing public expects him to save the world or at least some of part of it.
If the sum is less than satifactory, "Live and Let Die" certainly has some good parts. The action scenes are first rate, particularly the boat chase and the plane chase. The fight scene on the train between Bond and TeeHee is reminiscent of the one from "From Russia With Love". Geoffrey Holder's portrayal of Baron Samedi is downright eerie, it is a shame that this fasinating character could not have had a more prominent role in the script. Perhaps the best element of all was the lack of references to earlier Bond adventures in order to establish Roger Moore as the new Bond. Moore is Bond, period.
Despite it all, "Live and Let Die" did well enough at the box office to permanently associate Roger Moore with Bond. Moore would in time make some of the best Bond movies of all time.
The special edition DVD contains the best print and sound track of "Live and Let Die" this reviewer has seen. The movie is shown in the widescreen format although it was not shot with the very wide Panavision camera like many earlier Bond films. Typical of the special editions, there are two audio commentary tracks and the documentary material as well as trailers, advertisements, and still photos. If one was just starting out their Bond collection, one might start with "The Spy Who Loved Me", "For Your Eyes Only" or "Octopussy" to see Roger Moore at his best. However if one has to have a copy of "Live and Let Die", the special edition DVD is the one to have.