By the 1973 rolled around it was time again for a change in the vodka martini fueled world of 007. Boasting the third actor change in about four years (Connery to Lazenby – Lazenby to Connery – and now this switch) it was time to say hello to ex-Saint Roger Moore and a whole new era of Bond was about to begin, one marked by a cocked eyebrow and the kind of one liners that would even give his predecessors pause for thought.
But times had moved on and simply slapping together yet another vanilla Bond adventure just wasn’t gonna cut it like it did in the old days – oh sure, you could still have the ludicrous plots, larger than life villains and James’ questionable dating habits but it needed something different. A new flavour, perhaps. Maybe even a different genre to enhance the tried and true methods of the 007 franchise.
After three MI6 agents in New Orleans, New York and the Caribbean are rendered irrefutably dead in suspicious circumstances, James Bond is predictably sent to investigate because all the other 00 agent must be overwhelmingly lame. Starting in New York (specifically Harlem), Bond encounters crime boss Mr Big, a gangster that’s managed to pull together large amounts of black muscle to gain a stranglehold in that area of the city thanks to his relationship with corrupt Caribbean diplomat Dr. Kananga. Tracing Mr Big’s drug flow to Kananga, Bond trots off first to New Orleans and then to the island of San Monique where he’s swept up in a world of drug trafficking, subterfuge, tarot cards and nine foot tall voodoo priests (not exactly the usual kind of crap Bond deals with). Predictably zeroing in on Solitaire – Kananga’s virginal tarot card reader who allegedly can tell the future (just go with it) – because it’s apparently perfectly fine to use your dick to decide how to proceed on a mission, Bond starts to figure out how Kananga’s operation works, including the suprising, true connection between the villain and Mr Big.
But can Bond, a man famously known for having too feet firmly on the ground, hope to persevere against a foe who claims to be able to harness the power of voodoo?
In the cannon of Bondage (and by god THAT’S a phrase I’ll never say again) Live And Let Die is a personal favorite of mine and a relative high point in the frequently silly Roger Moore era and it’s secret is the bizarre choice of telling the usual Bond plot through the jive talkin’, pimp mobile driving prism of 1970’s blaxploitation movie. It’s a choice that literally doesn’t make a lick of sense – who the hell is it supposed to be for anyway; are the fans of Shaft and Superfly really supposed to rally behind a movie where a white guy is killing all the black drug dealers? And yet against the odds LALD proves to be a massive hoot. The weirdness of Bond wandering around lost in a completely different genre proves to be immensely entertaining with standard James Bond moments being flipped on their head by nonplussed villains. “The name’s…” James starts, about to launch into his iconic introduction, only to be cut off by a “Names are for tombstones, Baby!” by a seriously unimpressed Mr Big.
Roger Moore’s premiere outing as the (I’m assuming) STI laden super spy proves to be the kick in the butt the producers where looking for (his 7 movie streak is still a record) and although Moore proves to be even more of a cartoon character than the latter Connery outings, he waltzes through the caper looking extremely pleased with himself while usually puffing on an abnormally long cigar. Chewing on his one liners like a gloriously expensive steak, there’s not a single thing here that’s even approaching a stretch for the actor, but luckily Moore has some legitimately amazing stuntman to hide behind. When Bond’s not audasiously bounding across the backs of actual crocodiles like he’s some sort of upper-class Super Mario he’s indulging in a truly stunning extended speedboat chase that to date has barely been equaled despite the loud drawling of racist Smokey And The Bandit throwback Sheriff J.W. Pepper.
The film benefits from some kickass villains too, with Yaphet Koto’s Kananga proving to be a fascinating antagonist who seems to genuinely be having a blast with the supervillain trip he’s on despite merely being a vastly more creative drug dealer than a wrong ‘un who wants to hold the entire world to ransom. He’s got some memorable backup too, with chuckling, pincer-armed henchman Tee-Hee and the flamboyant Baron Samadi proving to be incredibly memorable henchmen and Doctor Quinn herself, Jane Seymore as the ridiculously innocent Bond girl.
Such a strange mix of movie genres is inevitably going to turn up some problems (one of the only two black good guys is dead by the halfway point) but compared to the other two subsequent Bond’s based on other movies (The Man With The Golden Gun has strong Kung Fu elements and Moonraker rips off space operas) Live And Let Die mostly works on multiple levels with so many elements coming together against the odds – Hell, even Paul McCartney pulls a blinder with Wings’ robust Bond theme.
A genuine oddity that truly benefits from the things that make it unlike any other Bond before or since, Live And Let Die adds an much needed original spin to a time worn template. Doubt it? Then watch Bond go do, the voodoo, that you do, so well…
All bonds are good and entertaining with only hair-splitting differences. Haven’t found one yet that isn’t worth its theater admission price.