After the death of three agents, James is sent to investigate the murders, and eventually stumbles upon a wide-world of heroin, gangsters, and voodoo.
Bond, James Bond:
After the very brief return of Sean Connery, United Artists was back to trying to cast their lead character. After trying to sign an American to play Bond (terrible idea), the company eventually found 46-year-old Roger Moore (who sadly passed away earlier this year). After a six-season run of The Saint, Moore had four years of occasional films and another short-lived television series, Moore won the role of the famous British spy and would continue to play the character for a staggering 12 years and 7 films, both of which represented the longest-tenured Bond until Daniel Craig took over 12 years to make 5 films (with Bond 25 coming in 2019). Moore represents a bit of a divisive Bond, with some loving his goofier, less-serious films, and others seeing that as an affront to the previously serious franchise.
Here, in his first film, I can see either argument. Connery had his share of puns, but Moore seems to be delivering even more, with mixed results. After a hook-handed henchperson slips when trying to remove Bond’s watch, Moore quips “butter hook,” which is a flat-out goofy joke, but it’s wonderful. When the same henchperson has his arm ripped off at the end of the film, and James tells his love interest that he was just “being disarming, darling,” I felt a small bit of rage. It’s a weird mix, but I don’t think any of it is Moore’s fault. He works well with what he is given, and what he is given here, is actually pretty fun.
But, this movie also finds James a bit closer to the trash bag that he was during Goldfinger and Thunderball. He takes advantage of two women in very different ways in order to sleep with them. The first a terrible CIA agent, whose fear of voodoo he utilizes in order to have sex with her, even when knowing he would probably need to kill her for double-crossing him. The second troubled me even more deeply. A part of the voodoo plot of this film includes a tarot card reader, who I will discuss a bit more below. Upon their first meeting, James picks the “Lovers” card out of her deck, and she immediately feels concerned by what this means for their future. Later in the film, he breaks into the villain’s base and uses a deck filled with Lovers cards in order to get her to realize that they are meant to have sex. Not only that, but we learn that after she loses her virginity, she loses her mystical ability to read tarot cards and the future in general. On top of all that, he then tells her that her actions will leave her marked to be killed by her employer. At the end of it all, she seems (inexplicably) okay with how everything unfolded, and even seems excited to bed James again, but that doesn’t remove the gross taste out of my mouth. This is, generally, a pretty fun movie, but the way James gets women to have sex with him is a tremendous downer.
What isn’t a downer, though, is this song. Paul McCartney and George Martin (of Beatles production fame) were recruited to do the theme song and score to this film. With the help of his band, Wings, and his wife, Linda, McCartney creates not only one of the best James Bond songs of all time, but just one of the coolest songs of all time. From it’s quiet introduction to its loud chords after each recitation of the song’s title, to the chaos that fills every instrumental portion of this song, this is a staggering piece of music that probably blew people away during the opening credits. After a series of jazzy numbers, to have something rock this hard had to be so surprising. Even with the weird reggae section (which I believe is credited to Linda McCartney), the song has stood the test of time. It’s the only theme song that still plays on the radio today, and the idea of having this song melt my face is realistically the main reason I would really love to see McCartney live. This ranks very high on my list of best theme songs in this franchise, and the more I listen to it, the more I realize I may need to reconsult my list in general.
Yaphet Kotto (Alien and The Running Man) is the actor chosen to play Dr. Kananga, the dictator of the fictional Caribbean nation of San Monique. Kotto does very well with this character. There are times when it seems like he is outright having the time of his life as a villain, and other times when he is actually downright threatening. When he is challenging Solitaire to see if she still has her psychic abilities, I genuinely felt fear for both she and for James. I admittedly get a bit lost when it comes to his drug plan that is at the heart of his plot, just because it isn’t nearly as interesting to me as the voodoo stuff that is going on in this movie, but Kotto is a genuine joy to watch.
Now, Kananga’s alter ego Mr. Big is an interesting thing. He is just so obviously fake looking, that it makes me wonder why the film even went this route. I guess having the alter ego makes it more logical why a leader of a small nation would be in New York and New Orleans restaurants that are also heroin dens, but it just looks so fake. When he finally peeled his other face in a “surprising” reveal, I was mosty just excited I didn’t have to look at his goofy makeup anymore.
Finally, and I think this is the first time I am going to pay specific mention to the villain’s death, but oh my god is it silly. I think on paper it could conceivably work. James places a shark bullet into Kananga’s mouth, which causes him to inflate and eventually explode. It sounds silly, but if it is executed correctly, it could work. It would take a strong practical effect, confident filming and the punchline here is none of this works and we instead get this nonsense (I’m keeping this whole clip because Moore and Kotto both seem to be having fun as they fight, even as slow and silly as it looks, especially without a score).
Two films removed from my absolute favorite Bond girl, and one film removed from two of the worst, I’m really not sure what to expect from this franchise when it comes to its female love interests. This movie gives us a bit of both.
First, the terrible character. Gloria Gendry plays Rosie Carver, an undercover CIA agent, who probably never should have been a CIA agent. She’s absolutely terrified of snakes and buys into voodoo to a level that probably would have come up at some point during her training. She also just comes off as quite unintelligent. While on a boat with James, she wants to find a place to change into her bikini. The boat’s captain doesn’t seem to understand her request of “where can I change my clothes,” so she shouts at him “Me. Clothes off. Where?” and it’s probably more Gendry’s delivery here than it is the dialogue, but nothing makes her seem competent enough to be a CIA agent. There have been worse portrayals of women in these movies, but this one is pretty rough.
On the more positive side is Solitaire, played by a young Jane Seymour in one of her first performances. Solitaire, as discussed above, is a psychic who has the genuine ability to read the future. For a realistic(ish) franchise like James Bond, having a character like this is genuinely kind of surprising, and could feel out of place, but with the writing and Seymour’s quite strong performance, it mostly works. As I discussed above, her losing her powers is a legitimate bummer of a moment, and the fact that basically all she does for the rest of the movie is want to have sex with James doesn’t help, but for the first portion of the movie, her otherworldly abilities, confidence in front of James, and then the impressive dissonance she shows when she draws the lover card makes this a very compelling performance and character.
First, I’ll talk about our returning characters, especially since they do not get a lot to do in this. Bernard Lee and Lois Maxwell return as M and Moneypenny for the very first scene after the opening credits, as the visit Bond in his home. Here, M gives James his mission and Moneypenny sees the agent that Bond has bedded walking around in her underwear. It’s a small and odd scene, and the fact that Desmond Llewellyn isn’t present as Q makes it feel even stranger. I enjoy seeing these two people play these two characters, and maybe this is just here to let us know that, despite the new Bond, we still have the same companions, but it just doesn’t seem to fit.
Just as Sean Connery got to act alongside Quarrel in his first film, Moore gets to interact with Quarrel Jr. Jr. does not leave the same impact as his father, and it’s all kind of strange, because Quarrel Jr. looks like he might have been older than his father had his father survived the action of Dr. No (in reality, this film’s Roy Stewart was only 12 years younger than the first film’s John Kitzmiller). Outside of that, not a lot worth noting on this character or performance.
This film has a trio of actually interesting henchpeople: Tee Hee (Julius Harris), Whisper (Earl Jolly Brown) and Baron Samedi (Geoffrey Holder).
Tee Hee is probably the most noteworthy, as he is always by Kananga’s side, he has a hook (which is very obviously an attachment that the actor is holding, but whatever), and he actually survives beyond his boss to fight James on a train. He’s a fun character, that while not iconic like Oddjob, or downright weird like Wint and Kidd, leaves a strong enough impression that I remember him fondly.
As for Whisper and Samedi, they don’t get a whole lot to do. Whisper just kind of walks around and, appropriately enough, whispers all his dialogue. He’s the first of Kananga’s henchmen that James indirectly meets (Whisper kills James’ driver) and gets dispatched by being kicked into a random rocket prop. He presumably survives, but that’s the last we see of him. Samedi is interesting, because he might actually be a supernatural creature. So, in voodoo culture, Baron Samedi is a genuine spirit that they believe in and is known for his alcohol, smoking, and his top hat, while being the patron saint of death. We initially meet Holder’s version of the character at a performance, but the film seems to imply that he might be the genuine spirit. At the film’s end, despite being killed on two separate occasions, he is riding the front of the train that James and Solitare are utilizing. It’s a very strange ending to the film, but it’s one I actually kind of love.
As a lack of Q may suggest, this movie is fairly gadget light. When we first see James, he goes into his kitchen and the movie seems weirdly focused on his coffee maker, as if we are about to see it do something truly mind-blowing. When all it does is brew a drink for M, he quips “is that all it does?” and that allowed me to realize that I would much rather see movies where M is utterly cold to all of his agents. That would probably be better than Thunderball.
Outside of a few quick trick gadgets, including a window dart and a car lighter which acts as a speaker for Felix Leiter to speak out of (the “genuine Felix lighter” joke is actually quite entertaining), the only other gadgets in this movie include a magnetic watch which is probably used more frequently than any other gadget in a James Bond film. The other gadget is the aforementioned air bullet, that I guess is used on sharks. It basically just inflates whatever it hits. Or whoever it hits to intensely silly results.
It took me eight movies to figure out I can just include a section on the overall story of the movie. My bad, ya’ll. I’m learning.
As I mentioned in the section on Kananga, the drug section of this plot kind of loses me, which is unfortunate, because it is the crux of Kananga’s plan. I think, disguised as Mr. Big, Kananga wants to put a bunch of competitor heroin dealers out of business. I think the more interesting components of this film include how deep Mr. Big’s underworld is, as well as the voodoo. Neither is a particularly positive representation of black culture, as basically every black character we meet in New York works for the villain, and then the voodoo is intensely over the top, but I think the film is going for a blaxploitation feel (it falls in that era). The only other blaxploitation-type movie I have ever seen is more a loving parody of it (Black Dynamite) so I can’t really say how well this acts as this type of movie, and how much it crosses into outright offensiveness. It’s honestly probably a bit of both. But most of the New Orleans stuff is a lot of fun (the funeral that starts the film and reoccurs later stands out in a really positive way), and then how strong people believe in all the Baron Samedi/voodoo stuff works really well.
The New Orleans/Louisiana stuff that doesn’t work, however, is the extended police chase, especially when it focuses on Sheriff J.W. Pepper, played by Clifton James. He is just terribly racist (arrests a black man, calling him “boy” throughout), grossly overacted, and just an overall frustrating character that long overstays his welcome. If it weren’t all played for laughs, I think it would settle better with me, but he is clearly intended to be humorous, but it just never works. The fact that I know he returns in the next film makes it all the worse.
Miscellaneous Spy Business:
-“Get me a make on white pimpmobile.” An actual line of dialogue in this movie.
-One of the guys in Mr. Big’s organization is driving a cab, and tells James that for an extra $20 on his tip, “[he’d] take [James] to a Ku Klux Klan cookout.” Which is a weird exaggeration to make.
-The Fillet O Soul restaurants that Mr. Big operates out of include some really fun traps, including a revolving booth and an elevator floor that takes James’ table down to a secret level.
-After introducing himself to Mr. Big, the disguised villain responds with “Names is for tombstones, baby.” which is something that I want on my tombstone.
-James after-shave flamethrowers a snake at one point, which feels like a good way to burn your house down.
-Teehee lost his hand to a crocodile, which reminds me of Chubbs from Happy Gilmore. Which reminds me that I want a poster of ghost Chubbs, crocodile and Abe Lincoln waving from the sky.
I’m admittedly a bit wary about the Roger Moore era in general. I know it’s divisive, and I like the general feel of a serious James Bond, so the idea of it swerving into goofy worries me. This at least is a pleasant start, and one I actually prefer to the slow pace of Dr. No. I would probably rate this like a 006.8? I don’t know. Ratings are stupid. I hate them. But I’m committing.
TJ Hizer Will Return With: The Man with the Golden Gun
References Live and Let Die Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Live_and_Let_Die_(film) Roger Moore Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roger_Moore Roy Stewart Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roy_Stewart John Kitzmiller Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Kitzmiller Baron Samedi Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baron_Samedi Images Cover Photo https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/3/36/Live_and_Let_Die-_UK_cinema_poster.jpg Moore as Bond http://thejamesbondsocialmediaproject.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/LaLD_Moore1.png Kananga https://vignette3.wikia.nocookie.net/jamesbond/images/1/13/Live_and_Let_Die_-_Kananga_threatens_Bond_with_his_own_weapon.png/revision/latest?cb=20130902154208 Mr Big https://puzzledpagan.files.wordpress.com/2015/06/mr_big.jpg Solitaire http://assets.nydailynews.com/polopoly_fs/1.1175407.1417792786!/img/httpImage/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/gallery_1200/jane-seymore-solitaire-live-die-1973.jpg Baron Samedi https://i.ytimg.com/vi/0KDgkZ891z4/maxresdefault.jpg Kananga Balloon https://tjatthemovies.files.wordpress.com/2017/12/fb7b0-title06_204550319.jpg Happy Gilmore http://forums.previously.tv/applications/core/interface/imageproxy/imageproxy.php?img=https%3A%2F%2Fs-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com%2F736x%2Fd3%2F9c%2Fc4%2Fd39cc40e03f14887a72088b4aad0346c.jpg&key=cbc5e5d187e4bf19eb07fb39bdeb93e505bbaaf47b6511c0ad3b2625735df9f5
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