Following the serious and grounded take on James Bond in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (Peter Hunt, 1969) and the much campier turn in Diamonds Are Forever (Guy Hamilton, 1971), Live and Let Die (Guy Hamilton, 1973) takes its influence from the latter and finds Roger Moore as the third actor playing Bond in as many films. This was one of the first Bond movies I ever saw, mostly because my parents had told me this was the first they could remember having seen themselves (my guess is that the hit theme song by Paul McCartney and Wings was a factor). I instantly felt that Live and Let Die was one of the best entries in the series and continue to feel this way.
Going into this rewatch, I wasn’t sure how my girlfriend would respond to seeing Roger Moore in the role. Sure, I’ve known that a lot of people prefer his interpretation over Sean Connery’s, but I didn’t know if her dislike for Connery was just due to Connery’s portrayal or to the general style of the older Bond films. Fortunately, she found Moore to be a huge improvement over Connery and thought he was even better than Lazenby, whom she had quite liked in the role. I’ve always appreciated what every actor has brought to the role of James Bond (my favorite remains Daniel Craig), and I’ve always particularly liked how Moore is able to play Bond as simultaneously threatening and gentlemanly.
Live and Let Die proves to be an ideal vehicle by which to explore Moore’s take on Bond. The film has a simple plot – in which Bond must investigate the murder of people connected to the British government in New York, New Orleans, and the fictional Caribbean island of San Monique – and a wealth of interesting supporting characters and action set-pieces. For the first time in the series, Bond travels to more than two non-England locations, which allows for a greater variety of sequences. In New York, we have an exciting scene in which Bond must control a taxi whose driver has been killed mid-journey; in New Orleans, Bond embarks on an overlong (but still fun) boat chase with a bumbling Southern sheriff named D.W. Pepper (Clifton James, who would reprise the role in The Man with the Golden Gun [Guy Hamilton, 1974] and would play a similar character in Superman II [Richard Lester/Richard Donner, 1980]); and in San Monique, Bond battles a voodoo cult leader and a diplomat in an underground lair complete with a monorail and a slow-moving dipping mechanism into a shark tank.
It should also be pointed out the lengths to which this film goes to distinguish itself from those of Sean Connery. Perhaps fearing a repeat of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’s commercial disappointment (which had used props from the old films to emphasize that Lazenby’s planned films would not deviate much from Connery’s), Live and Let Die dispenses with several series elements. Not only does the standard mission briefing take place in Bond’s flat rather than M’s office, but Q doesn’t appear at all. This is a curious omission considering that the film still features Q-branch-issued gadgets. Also, longtime series composer John Barry sat this movie out, presumably because new composer and Beatles album producer George Martin already had an established relationship with McCartney. This actually ranks as one of my favorite scores in the franchise.
While Live and Let Die may represent a departure in some respects with series tradition, it remains a thoroughly enjoyable and fun Bond movie. I highly recommend it.
This blog will return with… The Man with the Golden Gun.