Live and Let Die (1973)
Ever watch a movie in it’s entirety and as the credits roll you think to yourself “what the f— was that?” This is how I felt about Live and Let Die.
Welcome Sir Roger Moore – to the world of James Bond. To think that the introduction of the second most recognizable man as Bond would be a crazy, blaxpoitation, voodoo spoof, is well, crazy! In Live and Let Die you have voodoo priests, black Harlemites sticking it to the man and redneck, racist policemen chewing tobacco. There are references to the Ku Klux Klan, the word “Honky” Is used several times in reference to James and many utterances of boy are used to describe grown men. At one point, I think I heard one man call another a Spade. It felt like a bizarro version of my beloved James Bond series where the Disco Godfather Rudy Ray Moore got melded with the secret agent world of James Bond. Although the movie shares the name with Ian Fleming’s second book, the similarities start with Bond traveling to the United States to help Felix Leiter (David Hedison) but it also ends there, choosing to take on a different plot.
Where the book had leanings towards harsh depictions of black people and pretty liberal usage of the N-word (it was written in the 50’s so go figure), the movie takes an angle that is somewhat similar but not as insulting. The main Boss Katanga (Yaphet Kotto) is an educated, well-spoken man but his major flaw in relying on a fortune teller for business decisions is ridiculous. His sidekick Tee Hee (Julius Harris), reminded me of Michael Clarke Duncan as he is a big happy-go-lucky type of fellow who has a dangerous edge to him. Tee Hee is missing his right arm and has replaced it with a metallic, scissor-like, robotic version. The other henchman is the allegedly invincible voodoo priest: Baron Samedi (Geoffrey Holder), a man who holds rituals of poisonous snakes, death and exotic dance… the baron does shake his ass quite a bit, yes he does. Needless to say, if you have a strong intolerance for light, exploitive, race-othering movies, you may want to stay clear of Live and Let Die. If you have a sense of humor and 2.5 hrs of time to spare then give it a chance.
To take this one seriously would be a bad idea since the level of absurd is pretty high In Live and Let Die you have the entire city of New Orleans controlled by a pimp/drug lord named Mr. Big. This includes cab drivers, restaurant patrons and bands on the street. The same man runs the island of San Monique, an isle where the primitive people fear idols with painted on skull faces, there are green snakes that can kill you with one bite to the face and James Bond is able to skip over a lake of 1,000 alligators using their backs as a bridge (I kid you not). There is a scene where the enemy tries to kill James Bond by slipping a snake into his bathroom but doesn’t follow the act up with any other threats outside of planting an extremely beautiful black woman named Rosie Carver (Gloria Hendry). This woman posing as an incompetent US agent bumbles her double crossing after James gets tipped off, yet manages to give him a bit of riverside jungle sex before dying. Oh how do you do it 007?
One of the more disappointing things for me dealt with the logic in the chaste, innocent and drop dead gorgeous Solitaire (Jane Seymour) allowing Bond to deflower her on a whim and a cheesy card trick. Isn’t a woman’s virginity a special thing? James doesn’t even try very hard to get her in bed, yet somehow he gets “it” and she goes from a life of ease and privilege into fugitive mode as James Bond’s damsel in distress. I felt as if this was meant to be a spoof of a James Bond movie versus the genuine article. The intro song by Paul McCartney is one of the better Bond songs and the soundtrack throughout was not too bad. Aside from my negativity, I will say that the best part of Live and Let Die has got to be the long boat chase near the end. It is a scene like many where you don’t recall exactly why they are chasing Bond but you enjoy the action nonetheless. This is the sequence where they enter Louisiana and a host of stereotypical backwoods, racist, inter-related cops comes into play. The main cop J.W. Pepper (Clifton James) chews tobacco, speaks in a deep southern drawl and is fat and incompetent. The only things missing were a few nooses, an inbred kid playing a banjo, some anal rape and maybe a box of donuts.
If there is anything, I can say that introducing Moore like this prepares the Bond viewer for the rest of his movies. There is only room for improvement after this one and outside of Yaphet Kotto’s excellent portrayal of Katanga/Mr. Big, there isn’t much to see in this, the oddest James Bond movie ever created.
Bond-o-meter Score (ranges from 1-10)
James Bond (7): Roger Moore is new, he has the swagger and the poise. He smokes a cigar and he deflowers virgins without a second thought. Yup he’s James Bond alright.
Story (4): Black fetishism, voodoo and jive all in one and James takes on a Heroine dealer and redneck cops. Who wrote this and what in the hell were they smoking when they did?
Bond Girl (6) – Solitaire: I Know that I keep using the word innocent but what a sweetheart. Her only friends are her tarot cards and she does anything they tell her to do. Unfortunately they told her to lose her virginity to a whoring British agent to piss off her master. Poor, dumb girl, I felt sorry for her.
The Villains (7): Katanga is the ultimate black boss stereotype, he has power, runs a nation yet still finds time to hustle, mull over innocent white girls and clasp on to ancient religions. Mr. Tee Hee is the only saving grace, he has a fake arm yet finds time to smile at the slightest things.
Spicy Rating (3): Moneypenny helps Bond to hide a nice Italian piece of tail from M when he storms into 007’s room early in the morning to give him a mission. This just doesn’t happen, plus Bond having jungle sex with the treacherous “black jezebel” prior to taking the virginity of a young girl just bothers me. Where is the chivalrous Bond of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service? Is this what Roger Moore has to offer? A bullet for the men and a mouthful of d— for the women? Ridiculous, I really disliked this movie.