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Live and Let Die (1973)
Tonight's Feature Presentation


Starring: Roger Moore, Yaphet Kotto, Jane Seymour, Julius Harris, Geoffrey Holder, David Hedison

Written By: Tom Mankiewicz Directed By: Guy Hamilton

The Short Version

James Bond is Shaft!  Can you dig it?

Roger Moore’s debut as 007 is action-packed, fun, and exciting.

It’s also a major slice of early 70s pop culture.

Three words: “Introducing Jane Seymour.”

Live and Let Die is one of the most fun movies in the series.  Own it.

The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?


Yummy nibbles of cheese with little toothpicks stuck in them, like pins in a voodoo doll.

Pairs Well With...

COLT 45.

Take your time if you don’t get it, man.  It’ll come to you.

“Kinda obvious you weren’t coming out in front – not with that clever disguise you’re got there.  White face in Harlem.  Good thinkin’, Bond.”

On paper, Live and Let Die is a bizarre experiment that should never have worked.

In practice, Live and Let Die is one of the most entertaining films of the entire James Bond series.

If that’s not 1970s pop culture in a nutshell, I don’t know what is.

Let’s just put our cards on the table and see what they tell us, shall we?

The Magician.  As the film’s first and greatest risk personified, Roger Moore pulls the neatest trick of all: replacing Sean Connery as James Bond and being accepted by franchise fans at large.   Despite being older than Connery, Moore is able to bring new life and energy to the character that sets him firmly and properly into the brave new craziness of the 1970s… while still maintaining the British stiff upper lip.  His take on 007 is more relaxed than that of his illustrious predecessor, but even though he’s easier with the jokes, he also brings a strong professional presence that reminds people that James Bond is indeed the world’s greatest secret agent.  Moore’s performance honors the character’s traditions while carving out a clear niche for himself, and by the time the movie’s over, it’s hard to believe that this is his first run around the block.  Of course the majority of audiences accepted him; in Live and Let Die, he doesn’t give detractors any ammo to shoot his way.

The World.  The next experiment is just about as far out as it gets, baby.  Sure, the Bond films have always had the pulse of the times, but few could have predicted that Eon would try its hand at a blaxploitation flick.  And yet, that is exactly what they’ve done with Live and Let Die… and strangely enough, it works.  It’s about as un-British as one could possibly imagine, but the story is woven in such a way as to pass the suspension of disbelief test, and Roger Moore runs with the idea of James Bond being dropped into a situation that might otherwise seem better suited to Richard Roundtree’s John Shaft with aplomb.  007 in Harlem?  A duel with a near-naked voodoo priest in the Caribbean?  Sure thing, baby, and it’s dyn-o-mite.

The Tower.  It’s dyn-o-mite because the villains are decently written and well acted.  At first glance, a drug lord in the Americas may seem like small and odd potatoes for the British Secret Service to be dealing with, but as it’s written, the story makes sense.  What’s more, Yaphet Kotto (Alien) brings an outstanding presence to the villain’s role that makes Kanaga/Mr. Big feel like a proper match for 007, and a bon vivant’s glee that puts him at home with the more memorable villains of the franchise as a whole.  He’s surrounded by a cast of henchmen who – though clearly drawn from the most blatant stereotypes to be found in the blaxploitation film scene – all make sense as key members of his organization, and don’t play off as fools just waiting to be given their comeuppance by Bond, either.  Two particular standouts are Julius Harris (Super Fly) as the hook handed Tee Hee, who gives our hero a run for his shillings on more than one occasion, and Geoffrey Holder (Annie) as Baron Samedi, who puts the voodoo in the villainy.  (Holder is also responsible for the choreography of the voodoo dance sequences, and he does a damn fine job of it, too.)

The High Priestess.  And then, speaking of voodoo, we have our Bond girl, the tarot-reading Miss Solitaire, whose casting resulted in that most excellent credit sequence declaration: “Introducing Jane Seymour.”  While the part of Solitaire is not Seymour’s most demanding role by any stretch, there is never the less a hint of the greatness to come that can be seen here, if one chooses to look, and a screen presence that goes beyond the Bond girl standard of simply being gorgeous.  She takes the archetypes from which Solitaire is drawn and truly makes a character out of her: one to be very well remembered indeed, even four decades later.

The Wheel of Fortune.  So now that all of the people have assembled and the parameters of the world have been established, how does it all go down?  Like I said before, man: dyn-o-mite!  When it’s time for action, Bond gets down to what he does best and delivers the goods in outstanding fashion.  Of particular note here is a boat chase so awesome that it continues to set a standard by which all other boat chases are measured.  When our hero needs to be slick, he’s smooth like aftershave; indeed, at this part of the game, Mr. Moore might even be considered better than his predecessor.  And when Live and Let Die is funny, it’s often laugh out loud hilarious… even when maybe it shouldn’t be.  Except for…

The Fool.  I get the blaxploitation thing for what it is (a style of cinema that actually came about to give black filmmakers a voice, and which Live and Let Die does a remarkable job of respecting, all things considered), and I find the word “Honky” too utterly hilarious to be offended by it, even though it is directed at me.  But even with understanding and allowances, Live and Let Die does cross over to the wrong side of the taste line with the character of Sheriff J.W. Pepper (Clifton James, The Iceman Cometh).  The boisterous white racist stereotype to set against everything else, Pepper is just too loud and too much and just not funny.  That he was written in to the next film utterly vexes me; I have never met anyone who liked this character to begin with.  Oh well; can’t have perfection, right?

The Star.  Though some may beg to differ when it comes to the soundtrack, which is headed up by one of the single most popular James Bond themes ever recorded.  Some objected to the idea of letting Paul McCartney and Wings have a go at the theme, but it proves perfect not only for this film, but for standing the test of time.  The score that builds on it – courtesy of McCartney collaborator George Martin – also works damn well, especially whenever there’s a chase afoot… or afloat, as the case may be.

Judgement.  Bottom line, there are all sorts of reasons that the experiment shouldn’t have worked, but Roger Moore’s debut as 007 in a blaxploitation-themed flick is just all kinds of awesome.  Whenever I think about watching a random Bond movie, Live and Let Die is always under consideration, and easily stands as one of the most all-around entertaining films of the series.  If you’re into 007 at all, you need to own this flick, and that’s all there is to it.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, July, 2013

You can email Ziggy at ziggy@cinemaontherocks.com. You can also find us on Facebook.


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