Posted December 1, 2010 by editor in Retrospectives
 
 

Live And Let Die


The sun is rising on a new age of Roger Moore as the ever-devilish James Bond, but all is not as it should be in 00-Land. Three British agents have died in ‘mysterious circumstances ’within 24 hours, and only one man alive is fit to take on the job of finding out who, when, where, what and why. The eighth instalment of Britain’s most beloved civil service export is moving with the times and embracing the psychedelic 70s to the max with a tribally inspired opening credit sequence accompanying Paul McCartney’s often imitated, never matched title song.

 

The introduction of the third James Bond leaves nothing to the imagination, and any fears Connery fans may have had about Roger Moore’s ability to do Bond justice were no doubt laid to rest; 007 is up to his old tricks, hiding ‘missing’ Italian agents in the wardrobe to avoid getting a smacked wrist from the incorrigibly stuffy M. Bond is quickly whisked away to New York to begin the mission, but there is more to this commonplace setting than it would seem: undertones of voodoo and the occult soon rise to the service and before long Bond is snooping around in dodgy neighbourhoods never before braved by upper class white males and for good reason, for he is quickly in all kinds of trouble with the sinister under-lord, Mr Big.

But James Bond, ever the opportunist, takes the wastes no time in attempting to seduce Solitaire (Jane Seymour), Mr Big’s personal tarot card reader cum beautiful, innocent ward. Inevitably, Bond ends up taking the girl’s virginity, thereby causing her to lose her soothsaying powers and forcing her to become Bond’s accomplice in overthrowing Mr Big who, as it turns out, is none other than the drug-dealing king pin Kananga…and breathe.

 

Yes, it’s one of ‘those’ plots where nothing really makes particular sense; but for its silliness, Live and Let Die is one of Bond’s most fun-filled adventures yet. Its exotic Bahamas/Bayou setting lends itself perfectly to mayhem and various forms of frolicking, but rarely has Bond had to deal inbred stupidity the likes of the Louisiana Police Department, namely one J. W. ‘Dubya’ Pepper (Clifton James) the district Sheriff, without a doubt one of the most memorable of Bond’s would-be aides. Despite his care and attention to observing law and keeping the peace, Pepper just can’t get anything right and following a failed attempt to halt an absurdly long speed boat chase between Bond and Kananga’s henchmen he learns that far from being a troublemaker, Bond is in fact “an English agent from London, England”, prompting the oft-quoted response “secret agent! On whose side?!” These moments that show Bond is able to have a little chuckle at his own expense, albeit indirectly, mark another key difference between Connery and Moore. For his comparably more dapper approach to Bond, Roger Moore is far more light-hearted and blasé secret agent, able to take even an incredibly unlikely escape from a crocodile farm as a mere trifle.

The characters of Live and Let Die are what make it stand out from the crowd of Bond films for their sheer bizarreness. Aside from the laughable Sheriff Pepper (perhaps a quiet reference to Sgt. Pepper of the Beatles fame?) the larger than life company includes additional Kananga henchmen Tee Hee ‘by-hook-or-by-crook’ Johnson, Whisper (the clue’s in the name) and the immortal Baron Samedi, the voodoo priest who just won’t give in. The cast is notable for its number of black actors alone and even more so for featuring the first ever black Bond Girl, Rosie Caver (Gloria Hendry), but the originality these characters bring to the film adds a real sense of danger which Bond has not yet encountered from his previous white, middle/upper class and glibly familiar foes.

 

But for its notable presences, Live and Let Die also stands out for a couple of significant losses, namely handy-man extraordinaire Q and in-house composer John Barry, replaced by the equally able George Martin. Bond manages to make up for Q’s absence by giving a brief show and tell of his super magnetic (and intuitively selective) Rolex at the beginning of the film, but the score composed by Martin is worlds away from the sophistication of John Barry. This proves to be far from a negative shake up; Martin’s score is classic 70s cheese but not without suspense and a strong sense of action and it only adds to Roger Moore’s new off-the-cuff, more fun-loving Bond. Live and Let Die being the first Bond film to use a rock song for its title number was no accident and it certainly makes a refreshing and insightful change from the norm.

 

But, I have really saved the best bit for last on this one; indisputably the most memorable moment from the film is Kananga/Mr Big’s ridiculous death from…erm…something similar to Willie Wonka’s blow up-bubblegum, although undoubtedly a highly technical Bond gadget. I never thought I’d say it, but the only disappointment about his demise is the lack of accompanying pun: surely a mention of ‘bursting his bubble’ wouldn’t have gone amiss during this incredibly high tension scene? Still, perhaps Bond had more on his mind; he never did get the opportunity to teach Solitaire the third Lovers’ Lesson to his usual high standard of education.

 

Many kudos must go to Live and Let Die for its originality, daringness and good, old fashioned sense of fun. James Bond was never exactly at risk of becoming stuffy, but it’s films like this which keep him alive and fighting fit in the billboard charts. Here’s hoping that for as long as there is a Queen and Country, there will be a Bond ready and willing to have a great deal of mischief and adventure at her expense.

 

Dani Singer


editor