Live and Let Die (1973) – Film Review
Director: Guy Hamilton
Cast: Roger Moore, Jane Seymour, Yaphet Kotto
by @Roger Crow
It was my fifth birthday in the summer of 1973 when my folks took me to my first 007 movie. Weaned on Disney films and random capers like The Thief Who Came To Dinner, and What’s Up Doc? at the local fleapit, this was a step into the big leagues of movies, and one of those days I never forgot.
With Sean Connery retired as Bond, at least for a decade, Roger Moore finally took on the role of 007 after years of being courted for the role. (Adam West and Burt Reynolds were considered, along with plenty of others). Moore is such a natural fit, there’s little wonder he would return to the role time and again for the next dozen years.
Following the deaths of assorted secret agents in the pre-credits scene, that Paul McCartney and Wings theme kicks in, and it’s like audio adrenaline. If a speedboat chase were condensed into a pop song, it would be that track. Mixed with a score by George Martin, the soundtrack is superb considering John Barry was off doing other things.
“Sense of menace”
We’re introduced to Roger Moore’s 007 in a scene which wouldn’t be out of place in a West End farce. He’s bedded ’beautiful girl’ Madeline Smith, and M (Bernard Lee) pops over to his house with Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell) to brief Bond, while he acts like a teenager trying to hide his girlfriend from his parents.
Part of the reason of the first act’s success is the tried and tested fish-out-of-water formula. Dapper Bond in the rough end of New York is a tough sell, and there’s a genuine sense of menace as our hero encounters all manner of hoodlums. In case there was any doubt, this was the blaxploitation era, and it’s a wonder 007 didn’t bump shoulders with John Shaft on the way to meet heroin dealer Mr Big. Bearing in mind I’m five years old, the idea of a latex mask was an alien concept to me, so when Yaphet Kotto rips his ‘skin’ off, I can still recall the impact.
Providing glamour and plenty of join-the-dots exposition is Solitaire (Jane Seymour), the psychic trophy girlfriend whose gift relies on her purity. (Diana Ross was originally considered for the role, as was Catherine Deneuve). When Bond beds her, obviously, she loses the gift of foresight.
Psychics are often just lazy plot devices for screenwriters to tease what will pay off on the third act, so it’s a credit to Ms Seymour that she sells it so well. I’d never noticed until a friend pointed it out that the tarot cards used have a subtle 007 logo on the back. Ah those props folks eh? Easter eggs before they were a thing.
“Symphony of chaos”
Anyway, long story short. James is taken to a croc farm, because the bad guys like to leave secret agents on tiny islands for food while they’re off doing other things, but Bond escapes by using an ‘alligator bridge’. Another of those moments that blew my mind in August ’73, thanks to a genuine stunt by croc expert Ross Kananga.
And then begins one of the most elaborate and overlong boat chases ever committed to celluloid. I’m guessing it takes up one sixth of the film, but talk about value for money. Some have claimed Roger Moore was a softer Bond, but the scene when he throws petrol in a villain’s face and then leaves him to burn is one of the most shocking things I’ve seen in a cinema. Yes I was five, but having no concept of how films were made, my brain went into overdrive at that guy’s fate.
What follows is a symphony of chaos, interspersed with comedy thanks to Clifton James’s tobacco-chewing copper, Sheriff JW Pepper. Clifton proved so successful he reprised the role in the next 007 movie, and in all but name for Superman II.
Oh, and just when I thought Live And Let Die couldn’t be any more terrifying, there’s Baron Samedi, the voodoo high priest responsible for terrifying five-year-old kids on holiday. Cheers Geoffrey Holder, though to be fair, he is superb in the role, as is Julius Harris as steel-clawed bad guy Tee Hee. In fact there’s barely a weak link in the acting chain.
Former model Gloria Hendry as sacrificial CIA pawn Rosie Carver is okay with an under written role. She deserved more than just being a glorified scream queen.
“Scary and unforgettable”
One thing you notice watching the 007 movies in order are the nods to past characters that before made no impact. In this case Quarrel, the son of the poor guy killed in Dr No 11 years earlier. And Felix Leiter is back, this time in the form of David Hedison, a role he would reprise in 1989’s Licence to Kill.
With a great script by Tom Mankiewicz, fine effects by Captain Scarlet veteran Derek Meddings, and excellent cinematography by series veteran Ted Moore, this is almost as visceral, scary and unforgettable as the first time I saw it.
It’s also refreshing that with this movie and the next 007, it doesn’t feature hundreds of troops storming the bad guy’s lair. It’s far more focused than that. Less really is, er, Moore.
Watching it again after years away, it’s a nostalgia trip, a welcome break from the real world, and a reminder of how great casting can create movie icons.
Roger Moore was forever putting himself down as an actor, but he was far better than he ever gave himself credit for. A terrific action hero; a brilliant comedian, and away from the role, an inspiration Bond himself would have admired.