By Marc S. Sanders
I dunno. For me, the suave sophistication with the tongue in cheek persona of James Bond doesn’t mix well with the ‘70s cinematic themes of Blaxploitation and island voodoo rituals with snake bite human sacrifice. Live And Let Die was never a favorite of mine in the series. Still, it has some merits; even pioneering moments that set the standard for the next 20-25 years of 007. The gadgets are getting cooler (like a handy Rolex watch with a super magnet and buzz saw) and better, more natural looking action.
Harry Saltzman & Albert Broccoli present a film where the action scenes are the most authentic yet. A car chase with a double decker bus doesn’t feature the background film scroll seen in the rear window of an automobile, like prior films.
There’s a particularly long sequence featuring a boat chase through the Louisiana bayou. Great stunts and well edited footage here, although it features one of the most annoying characters in the whole series, redneck Sheriff GW Pepper (Clifton James, who always played the same role like in Superman II and even The A Team). This scene is an absolute blast of fun as Bond commands a speed boat while trying to evade a handful of bad guys in pursuit. Cars are wrecked. Boats are wrecked, and a bride to be wails aloud as her wedding is ruined. It’s just fun.
Roger Moore slips comfortably into the role of the Britain’s most celebrated secret agent. He’s handsome, for one thing, and his humor is dry enough that even in the face of death a pun is well delivered.
Yaphet Kotto plays Kananga, a far cry from the Cold War villains of Blofeld and Goldfinger. Turns out this guy just uses a couple of bars as a front for his heroin dealing enterprise while he dons a neighborhood crime boss image of “Mr. Big,” looking more like a villain of Shaft. He’s nevertheless good. Though he starts out the role quite subdued, he gleefully comes alive in the second half of the film when Bond intrudes on his secret lair.
Tom Mankiwietz’ script is lacking though. The pre title sequence gets me curious why three agents are inventively killed, but then the story mires itself in Kananga relying on Tarot card reading from the first virginal Bond girl, the High Priestess known as Solitaire. (Jane Seymour’s first screen role.) This offers no suspense or substance. We wait for cards to literally be turned over. Not exactly nail biting. Seymour is beautiful, but the intelligence and sex appeal of the character is flat.
There are also scarecrows and Caribbean island voodoo that are hardly threatening and belong in a horror film, not a Cold War era Bond adventure.
All of this weird material was twisting the series a little too far off course.
Live And Let Die does add a great henchman to 007’s rogue gallery; that of the imposing Tee Hee with enormous height and his steel lobster claw arm. He’s a fun bad guy that happily deserts Bond in a hungry alligator swamp.
Director Guy Hamilton’s third Bond film is not a total bust. It’s well cast in villains and Roger Moore is a perfect successor. Location shots of New Orleans and Jamaica (subbing for Kananga’s Caribbean island) are cool to see. The Harlem, New York footage really doesn’t belong here, though. It also has one of the best, most often played songs in the whole series, compliments of Paul McCartney & Wings. Again, it suffers however from a short sighted script.
Bond will be better served in missions yet to come.