Welcome to your briefing 007. Your mission: Live and Let Die. There have been a strange sting of murders and we think some evil doing is yet to come. Your mission, 007, is to find these criminals and bring them to justice.
The pre-title sequence in this film is unlike any other I can remember in the series, and I kind of mean that in a bad way. First of all, there is no James Bond to be found in this opening sequence, which seems odd, especially given the fact that Roger Moore has now stepped onto the set at Pinewood Studios to fill Sean Connery’s shoes in the lead role. I would have thought there would have been a cool reveal for the actor, like there was for George Lazenby in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Instead we are whisked away to three locations and three murders, all of which are fairly suspicious, though there is no dialogue as of yet to indicate really what to make of this mess.
The title sequence on the other hand is one of the best so far in the series, but that is all because of the theme song. The sequence itself is mediocre and quite frankly I am beginning to feel like the title sequence in all of these films are basically the same. The only difference is a bit of theme and some are better than others. But I must say that “Live and Let Die” is easily my favorite Bond theme song in the series to this point. Paul McCartney & Wings treat us to a great pop song that still has that unmistakable Bond feel which I am incapable of describing. You can just tell it is a Bond theme song.
New York, New Orleans, San Monique (an island in the Caribbean)
Felix Leiter, Bond’s CIA contact is such a fun character, but I can’t help but feel like he is always underused. Also, I cannot understand why they have to keep changing the actor who plays him. To this point there has not been a repeat Leiter. This time David Hedison gets a shot at the character who helps Bond get what he needs while stateside trying to figure out this triple murder. Again, other than some really minor things, Leiter doesn’t serve much of a purpose except to just be another character.
Remember Quarrel from Dr. No? Well apparently this is his son, there to help Bond like his father did before him. Much like Quarrel, he is a boatsman who helps transport Bond to the Caribbean destination of his choice. But unlike his father, he does not help much past that.
Dr. Kananga is actually a dual character because he also plays the evil Mr. Big. Kananga is a businessman who is using his legitimate businesses as a front for his evil plan, which is to flood the market with heroin and get lots of addicts so that his crop would be in much higher demand with so many addicts. Oooo, so evil!
TeeHee is the typical Bond villain’s henchman. He is big and tall, menacing looking; and he kind of just stands there with a big grin on his face looking stupid. And he also has a claw for an arm because he has lost it to a crocodile. TeeHee is not much of a character because he just does what he is told and shows up only in the scenes which require him to smash something with his claw.
Whisper is a far more interesting character than TeeHee if not just because he is unconventional. He is overweight and the first time we see him, he is driving a pimp mobile. Much like TeeHee, however, he doesn’t have much to say, doesn’t have much of a personality and only appears when needed.
Again we have a lack of Q. At least in Diamonds are Forever Desmond Llewelyn makes an appearance, but here is nowhere to be seen, which is disappointing because Q is always one of my favorite characters. However, we do see Bond utilizing a magnetic watch to undress a woman, among other things, as well as a bug detector for his hotel room. But again, Bond mostly uses his wit, strength and hand gun in this film to fend off those feisty foes.
Solitaire, played by the lovely, very young, Jane Seymour (I only knew her from “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman” before this), is one of the more fascinating Bond girls to date in my opinion. It is her unique ability and her connection with the story that make it so. She is basically made a slave by Kanaga as a Tarot reader, like her mother was. It is revealed that her mother lost her power to see when she lost her virginity, thereby begetting Solitaire, so Solitaire is fresh meat for the womanizing Bond. This aspect is also more unique because it is, like I said, basically slavery, and the denial of not only her normal freedom, but also her sexual freedom. Plus she has a superpower, which is kind of awesome.
Rosie is the ally/enemy/double agent in this film. She checks into Bond’s hotel, posing as Mrs. Bond and claiming to be a CIA agent sent by Leiter to aid Bond. However, she is extremely inexperienced and quite ditsy. But, she is unique and worth noting in the Bond series for being the first Bond girl of color that I can remember. There was Thumper in Diamonds are Forever, but she was not the sexual attraction of Bond like Rosie is here. It turns out she is a turncoat, working for Kanaga and in the end her character is not only dumb, but also a bit worthless really. But she does show that the series is trying to break new ground, even if it is still with the same male chauvinism.
The Car & the Chase
Again we have multiple chases in this film and again we don’t really have much of a really cool car to talk about. The first chase actually takes place in a double decker bus, which is quite interesting, especially when the top gets chopped off and fells on top of a speeding car. The novelty of the bus alone makes this scene interesting. The next chase is a plane chase. The catch? The plane never takes off. This scene is very similar to the chase scene from Diamonds are Forever, with some really dumb circling back type of getaway from Bond with his slow flight student. The third chase scene, however, is the one that makes the film noteworthy for its chases. The third scene is a boat chase and in fact, one of the better boat chases I’ve seen, though I have not seen many. There are some really cool stunts performed and the scene lasts plenty long to be plenty enjoyable.
It had been since my freshman year in college since I had done this marathon and seen all of these films. That means it has been five years since I saw Live and Let Die. I have mentioned before that the Bond series is one of the major reasons why I got so into movies when I was younger. It did not become an obsession until later, later, in fact, than my freshman year of college, which means I perhaps have a much different eye going into these films than I had before. Before starting this particular run through the Bond series, I knew I would come to reevaluate some of the films, but I also knew that despite the flaws I would find, I would still love the series and would always cite it as a major impact on my movie watching. The last couple films in the marathon, however, have a me a little bit worried. I still love the series, but I am beginning to think that I am starting to fail to see enough fun in it to make it valid. I hope that we are just in a lull in the series, as I have never watched the films with a critical eye.
The major reason why I write with such harsh words has to be the screenwriting. We are in the middle of the “Tom Mankiewicz Trilogy” with this film. One of the major detractions for me in Diamonds are Forever was the script and I can say the same thing here. It is just unimaginative to me. Apart from some of the bigger ideas in the film, like using voodoo and the strange culture aspects of the Caribbean and New Orleans, Tarot and other things, Mankiewicz, and along with him director Guy Hamilton, seem incapable of making a compelling villain or evil plot to carry the film like some of the past installments. For instance, the evil plot is not revealed until well into the film it seems, and when it does come all it is is flooding the market with heroin (which is a good choice given the release of the film, I will give them that) so that there are more addicts and they can make more money from their drug business. I thought Diamonds are Forever was too big in its villainy, and now I am going to say that this is too small.
Some of the evilness of the film was laughable as well. An evil underground lair, with a shark tank? Really? Maybe Austin Powers has ruined this for me, but I also think a little bit of my own maturity, both in the real world and the movie world, has ruined some it for me. Sure, it is good for a laugh or two now looking back at it, and this is a series that is supposed to be fun. But I never thought of it as a series that would have stupid stuff like inflating darts. Kanaga dies because he gets blown up with air? And how bad were the special effects again? I really do blame the writer and director in this situation because this is the second time. And this time there were slow moving scenes with too little dialogue to clearly set out what was happening. And we are treated with a fairly abrupt ending, which threw me off a little bit.
Another problem I thought the film had was too many characters. There are a couple henchmen, a couple CIA contacts, a couple villains too, albeit they turn out to be one and the same. And they throw Quarrel back in there. I was confused as to why the filmmakers thought so many characters were necessary. Having lots of characters is fine if you utilize them, but here there were too many that had little to nothing interesting or important to do in the film. There also seemed to be way too many caricatures. I know it was the 70s, but some of the African-American characters seemed ridiculous to me, and the language they used was so stereotypical. And Sheriff Pepper, don’t even get me started on him. He was funny for the first minute, then just extremely annoying because he was way too cartoonish for my liking. I did like Solitaire and in fact Jane Seymour. For some strange reason too because really her character was kind of wooden, which went with her name. She was solitaire in her love life and personality as well as the obvious tie in with her card tricks. Rosie on the other hand annoyed me.
So now I suppose I should comment on Roger Moore, the new Bond. Honestly, I liked him here. He brings something different to the table than Connery ever had. He is a bit more prissy, and perhaps a little less tough, but he is prettier, and he still has the same ability of Connery in delivery those classic one liners. I look forward to seeing the rest of his films in the series and being able to compare him to Connery and the Bonds that come after him. Right now I definitely still have Lazenby and Connery ahead of Moore, but I didn’t find anything wrong with him, other than the fact that they didn’t seem to indicate that he was new and were unable to capitalize on what could have been a neat scene like they did with Lazenby.
I did not enjoy this film as much as Diamonds are Forever, probably because there wasn’t as much fun here. I really felt like it got bogged down way too many times in its pacing and plotting and did not allow for enough fun like DAF. That being said, this is still a Bond film and it still has great fun in it. The chases were noteworthy and Solitaire was, for some reason, a really interesting Bond girl to me. I did find myself checking to runtime more often than I would have liked, but there are memorable scenes and characters here, even if the plot and villain are not. And if nothing else, it has one of the best theme songs ever written in the series, netting the franchise its first Academy Award nomination for Best Song.
James Bond will return in…
The Man with the Golden Gun