We have finally reached the Roger Moore era of James Bond and to ease the actor into the role the producers took the safe route with a wholesome plot that lacks any controversy.
Nah, just kidding. They went full Blaxploitation.
Live and Let Die is littered with black stereotypes from ghetto hoods to Voodoo priests that it has to own. Films like these really did no favours for the black community.
Not that it is much of an excuse, but I am sure the racism came from a place of ignorance and a desire to cash on the popularity of blaxploitation films like Shaft or Super Fly. The white folk who made Live and Let Die nearly 50 years ago probably thought they were being progressive by having a cast that was mostly black actors.
Sure, the leads are white. Moore as Bond and Jane Seymore as the Bond Girl, Solitaire. But the main villain, Dr. Kananga played by Yophet Kotto, the heavy (Julius W. Harris as Tee Hee Johnson), another bond girl (Gloria Hendry as Rosie Carver), the ally (Roy Stewart as Quarrel Jr.), and many other roles are portrayed by black actors.
Regardless, a diverse cast (who admittedly are mostly playing bad guys) probably doesn’t forgive the films… let’s say lack of foresight. But at least it is not as blatantly racist as You Only Live Twice was to East Asians. Thankfully Roger Moore doesn’t attempt to “become black” while sporting some black face.
With the full understanding that Live and Let Die doesn’t fully make up for this shortcoming, the sum of its other parts does make for one good Bond film. Well, despite a plot that is bat shit crazy at times.
Live And Let Die opens with three MI6 agents murdered within 24 hours while monitoring the operations of Dr. Kananga, the dictator of the small Caribbean island named San Monique. Dr. Kananga is being investigated for heroin smuggling from his island into the USA. “M” (Bernard Lee) sends Bond to New York to find out what has happened to his agents. Bond traces the heroin to the Harlem mob boss known as “Mr. Big” who runs a chain of restaurants throughout the United States.
During Bond’s first run in with Mr. Big, he meets the mob boss’ advisor, the beautiful Solitaire. Both she and Mr. Big believe in her powers to predict the future by reading tarot cards, an ability she will continue to have as long as she remains a virgin.
After narrowly escaping Mr. Big’s first attempt to have him killed, Bond next heads to San Monique to investigate Kananga himself. There, he runs into Solitarie again, but this time he brings a stacked deck to fool her into giving away her virginity to him. Now, believing that she will be no use to her employer, she agrees to help Bond take down the herion ring as a double agent. Like I said, bat shit crazy.
I think this is one of the most divisive Bond films ever made. People seem to either love it or hate it. And I admit, my over simplification of the plot is a little facetious to help me make my point, but Live and Let Die is more grounded in reality than most Bond films. As long as you are able to buy into eccentric Bond villains doing an eccentric thing like putting a lot of faith into tarot cards.
Roger Moore’s take on the Bond character also greatly helps to set the tone. His slight tongue-in-cheek approach to every scene makes the film’s more absurd moments palatable. Bond hopping on a neatly lined up row of crocodiles to escape a trap would come off as even more unbelievable with Connery’s more serious take.
But, as Roger Ebert once pointed out, a James Bond film is only as good as its villain and I really like Yaphet Kotto. The film did not give him much to work with as Dr. Kananga is oddly motivated, has a bizarre relationship with Solitaire, and an outright insane plan. But, bad guys need to have it all and stuff. His henchmen range from a legit threat like Tee Hee Johnson to a complete buffoon like Whisper (Earl Jolly Brown). Still, Kotto delivers like a complete badass.
With this being a Guy Hamilton film (Goldfinger, Diamonds Are Forever), there is plenty of action and humour to makes Live and Let Die fun. There is a solid speed boat chase in the shallow water bayous of Louisiana with boats hopping over small chunks of land and ramming into police cars. It is amazing to see how much action scenes in films had improved within a short window of time. While the ski sequence in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service or even simple car chases from previous Bond films heavily relied on green-screen effects, Live And Let Die uses that crutch a total of zero times.
The speed boat chase also introduces the character of the Louisiana Sheriff, J.W. Pepper played by Clifton James. Again, the Bond series seems to have set a trend. This time with an uncouth southern sheriff who has an irrational desire to catch the film’s hero. I think Jackie Gleason’s Sheriff Buford T. Justice from the “Smokey and The Bandit” films and James Best’s Sherrif Rosco P. Coltrane from the TV program The Dukes of Hazzard owe him some royalties.
Now, for the continuing competition with my wife Sarah to correctly guess how long it would take Bond to first get laid during each of these films. Since Bond in Diamonds Are Forever and took an unheard of 42 minutes to bed a lady, Sarah went with a radical strategy of picking 35 minutes. For myself, Roger Moore is my guy. I had a strong sense he would not waste any time and went with 15 minutes. I began to sweat a bit after seeing Moore’s first scene open to him already in bed with a lady. It was questionable if this counted because it was after the fact. But all controversy was erased after he sealed the deal for a 2nd round at the 12 minute and 42 second mark. A comeback for The Mars Man is still questionable, but we can say for certain that he will not be shutout for this competition:
Sarah – 5
Mars – 1
I grew up with Roger Moore as my Bond. I didn’t know who Sean Connery was until The Untouchables came out and my Mom told me that they old guy was the original Bond. I then hadn’t seen any of his Bond movies until the ’90s during a marathon on TBS. Connery then became my new favourite. Watching the series this time around, I think I’m heading back to camp Roger.
Eon Productions apparently really wanted him for the role the first time Connery left the series, but he was tied up with a commitment to the TV program The Saint. I can see why. His style is better suited for the character’s campiness. The result is, Live and Let Die‘s glaring problems aside, this is the most fun I have had with a Bond film since Goldfinger.