Principal Cast : Roger Moore, Yaphett Koto, Jane Seymour, Clifton James, Julius W Harris, Geoffrey Holder, David Hedison, Gloria Hendry, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell, Tommy Lane, Earl Jolly Brown, Roy Stewart, Lon Satton, Madeline Smith, Ruth Kempf.
Synopsis: James Bond is sent to stop a diabolically brilliant heroin magnate armed with a complex organisation and a reliable psychic tarot card reader.


Bond on the bayou forms the centerpiece of this 007 franchise entry, with Roger Moore debuting in the role following the departure of Sean Connery. Moore, who had appeared on television in The Saint, had always been on the radar by the film’s producers, Cubby Broccoli, having lost out previously to both Connery and Aussie Bond George Lazenby in previous casting attempts, and he brings a far lighter tone to the popular spy series despite the film’s inherent awfulness. Screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz, basing his script off the Ian Fleming novel of the same name published in the mid-50’s, amps up the early 70’s “Blaxploitation” clichés here, riding the coattails of a then-popular form of American entertainment, with Bond and his MI6 buddies squaring off against a bunch of jive-talking black villains, notably Yaphett Koto’s eponymous Mr Big, as well as a handful of intimidating (yet absolutely useless) henchmen, such as the giant Tee Hee and the stoutly overweight Whisper. Live And Let Die’s best feature is the cracking title tune by Paul McCarney and Wings, and is featured a lot throughout the film in place of what would normally be Monty Norman’s iconic Bond themes, but even this overuse cannot salvage a film that has well and truly dated.

After three MI6 agents are killed in mysterious circumstances, secret agent James Bond (Roger Moore) is sent to find out why. He tracks the clues down to a Harlem restaurant chain, whereupon he meets the beautiful Solitaire (Jayne Seymour), a tarot card reader working (against her will) for the cruel Mr Big (Yaphett Koto). Bond also meets junior CIA Agent Rosie Carter (Gloria Hendry) who helps him in his mission, although Mr Big’s various henchmen always seem to be one step ahead. Tracking Mr Big to the small Caribbean island nation of San Monique, he discovers an enormous drug operation with plans to subvert the distribution networks of the Columbian cartels, making Mr Big a potentially enormously wealthy individual. After being pursued through New Orleans, and across the Louisiana bayou, and across oceans, Bond and Mr Big have a franchise-friendly showdown in the villain’s hidden underground lair.

Okay, first things first. In his debut as Bond, I thought Roger Moore acquitted himself quite well, despite the corny one-liners (which Moore seems to spit out rather than deliver with a hint of irony) and unsatisfying Bad Guy drug plot, and although nothing pre-Daniel Craig would hold a candle to the Connery-Shaw train fight in From Russia With Love, the actor makes a poor fist of the few physical action demands the script and director Guy Hamilton place on him. Moore’s a handsome man, and he’s paired with the truly gorgeous Jane Seymour for most of the film’s second half, but he seems more comfortable trading verbal barbs with henchmen and lackeys than he does jumping, leaping, and driving a boat, more’s the pity (pun intended). To his credit, Guy Hamilton (directing his third film in the franchise) seems to be having some fun with the loony-toons plot and locations, with some lovely location photography augmenting several key sequences including a protracted boat chase through the Louisiana bayou, as well as some gritty New York City sequences pulled right out of the William Friedkin playbook.

Seymour is fabulous as Solitaire, although her motivations and characterisation don’t come off as well in the film as they must have seemed in the script, which gives her far more backstory than a traditional “Bond girl” of this period. Secondary Bond chick Gloria Hendry is bootalicious as Rosie Carver, but again the script and tone of her comedic moments don’t match the darker undercurrent for the character late in her arc. You never get a sense of her as a real person, just a caricature going through some stuff. Yaphett Koto delivers some solid lines as the mysterious Dr Kananga, aka Mr Big, and the actor sports some truly creepy prosthetic makeup to add the now-cliched physical disfigurement to one of the roles, and I liked the dual-identity subtext involved even if it was never really discussed. As I wrote in my review of The Man With The Golden Gun, arguably the worst part of this film is the inclusion of Clifton Collins as the world’s least competent law enforcement officer, JW Pepper. Collins, chewing tobacco and drawling his way through a cringeworthy turn alongside a bunch of other cops ripped directly out of The Blues Brothers for sheer ineptitude, arrive as the bayou boat chase ramps up and my goodness they almost ruin it. “Comedy relief”… spare me – I’ve never been more relieved to see the back end of them in this film. Bit parts to Geoffrey Holder, Julius Harris and Earl Jolly Brown as some of Mr Big’s henchmen/associates add a variety of villains for Bond to scuttle before he takes on Big himself, and an extended series of cameos by David Hedison as Felix Leiter, Bond’s US-based ally, are great.

Of course, the one thing we can all agree on is that the Bond films typically set the benchmark for live-action stunt work, and while there’s plenty in Live and Let Die most of it just isn’t very good, and poorly shot. One thing’s for sure, Guy Hamilton seems to be trying to ape The French Connection but fumbles a lot of this badly, particularly the New York City-set sequences that open the film for their awkward, clunky framing and risible editing. The extended boat chase sequence isn’t bad, really, and has a number of great beats within it, but the rest of the film’s action is laughably clumsy – a moment in which Bond steps on a bunch of swamp alligators to escape imminent death might have sounded cool on the printed page, but the execution of it feels hamfisted and tired. Perhaps it’s the action editing, which almost sink this thing with cuts and shots that make no sense against the McCartney title-track replayed numerous times, that did it for me. Frankly, compared to some previous Bond films (and definitely the later ones) the action sequences are almost all terrible to watch. Hamilton tries hard, and must have had limitations with budget to film or take his time to get them right, but it’s painful to sit through at times.

Live And Let Die is an energetic yet thoroughly middling Bond entry, and retrospectively not the strongest Roger Moore instalment. The actor may have still been finding his feet in the role, given the size shoes he was trying to fill, and he’s saddled with a poorly aged, slightly racist screenplay and some largely bland villains, despite their unique looks and skillset. The central plot revolving around the drug trade never really feels like it belongs in a Bond movie, being more “torn from the headlines” serious in nature, and so this dour real-world scourge feels anathema to Bond’s typical end-of-civilization villain plots of yore. Accompanied by arguably the best Bond song (save perhaps for Skyfall) Live And Let Die is curiously scattered in tone, painful in editing and action, and only barely saved from complete ignominy by Moore, Seymour and that fun boat chase. For fans only, I would suggest.

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