Friday, June 15, 2012

Bond Meets Blaxploitation

Live and Let Die(1973)
Director: Guy Hamilton
Cast: Roger Moore, Jane Seymour, Yaphet Kotto

Roger Moore's first entry in the James Bond series is an enjoyable, if flawed film, that remains very much a product of it's time. The Bond series was going through a transition, having a false renewal in 1969 with the classic, On Her Majesty's Secret Service, the franchise quickly lost new Bond, George Lazenby. Sean Connery returned for one more Bond film, Diamonds Are Forever, in 1971 and the search was on for a new Bond. Moore was actually considered for the role as early as the 60s, but thought himself too young. By 1973, the 45(!) year old actor was considered perfect for the part.
Live and Let Die is not a bad debut for Moore, and quickly establishes him as a next generation's 007. However, it's also overlong and clearly trying too hard to capitalize on the blaxploitation genr, along with several other 70s staples, including the southern "good ol' boy" film and Dirty Harry style flicks, as Bond packs a 44. magnum towards the conclusion for no apparent reason.

The film begins with a funeral procession through New Orleans, where a CIA agent is murdered and placed into a coffin, during the procession-turned parade. For one of the few times in the series, 007 is seen at home, smooching with a hot Italian agent(Madeline Smith, the busty babe from The Vampire Lovers(1970), that Ingrid Pitt nibbles on throughout) and M(Bernard Lee) arrives to give Bond his mission. He is to find a "Mr. Big", who is a major heroin dealer. I have no clue why this would concern the agencies of MI6, but okay. Soon, Bond is involved in some shenanigans in Harlem and runs across both Mr. Big and a hilarious(at least to me) henchman, called "Tee-Hee"(Julius Harris) who has a nasty hook hand, which he uses to twist the barrel of Bond's Walther PPK.
We are also introduced to Solitaire(Jane Seymour), a smoking hot clairvoyant, who works for big bad guy, Kananga(Yaphet Kotto). She is safe, unless she is deflowered. Of course, being a babe in a Bond film, that surely won't last long.

Eventually it is discovered that Mr. Big is actually Kananga in disguise(a terrible one at that, since he kind of looks like Mr. Hyde) and that he plans on selling heroin to the world! Why don't the CIA interfere, you ask? Well, they are there, all right, but don't do much. Plus, they have lousy intelligence, considering they hire a double agent, Rosie(Gloria Hendry, who becomes the first African-American Bond girl) and can't seem to stop Kananga, since he is head of (a fictional) state. Bond tries to get to him and does so through Solitaire and beds her in the process. She is thus, marked for death, and Bond must go to the rescue, bringing a 44 magnum(the same model as Dirty Harry packed) and battles various baddies, including the flamboyantly manic, Baron Samedi(Geoffrey Holder, a potentially better fit for lead villain) and tussles with Kananga, using  a gas propelled bullet to stop him. He places the bullet in his mouth and he bites it, which, in a truly ludicrous scene, causes him to grow to giant proportions and explode.
Solitaire and Bond escape and are about to make out on a train, when Tee-Hee arrives to tuck them in. Bond fights him and is able to cut the wires that work his hook arm, and proceeds to toss him out of the window.

Live and Let Die is a fairly ridiculous movie, which is really saying something, when you look at this series' history. The plot is vague and there's far too little of it to justify the over two hour running time. There are some great moments, including Bond's race across the heads of a few alligators and a particularly over the top boat chase(complete with hammy southern sheriff, Clifton James, who would reprise the same character in The Man With The Golden Gun(1974), but overall, while entertaining, there's not too much to remember here.
Moore makes a great Bond, and one that is decidedly different than the one Connery portrayed. He's less cunning and ruthless, and more charming and sophisticated, more of a ladies man, than a killer. He usually gets knocked for his lighter approach, but he's actually quite likable and more capable in the action scenes than he is given credit for.
Jane Seymour is gorgeous in the film, but has very little to work with(character-wise), though she has become one of the most beloved of all the Bond-girls. She certainly looks great throughout and has an innocent, sensual quality that makes her desirable, but she lacks the dimensions of Moore's best Bond-girl, Barbara Bach in The Spy Who Loved Me(1976).
Madeline Smith is seen far too little in this film, a shame considering  her beauty. She was used extensively in advertising, probably because she was an incredibly sexy babe. Gloria Hendry comes across as a duntz as the CIA agent, but looks good in a bikini, though her character is certainly reflective of the passive misogyny of the period(though, it's not like anyone was actually taking this seriously.)
The villains are half-decent. Yaphet Kotto is good, but not memorable or as flamboyant a villain as needed for a Bond film. His main goal is just not captivating, and it takes alot of punch out of the picture. I had an idea where Baron Samedi, as played by Geoffrey Holder, plans to conquer the world by introducing a potion(the same kind that creates zombies) into the nation's water supplies to create a race of slaves. This would have actually been a job for 007! Instead, the villain's goal feels more Superfly, than James Bond.
Tee-Hee is not a bad henchman, and is fairly imposing, and i'm digging the hook hand! There's another henchman, named "Whisper", because he never speaks up. He's played by corpulent actor, Earl Jolly Brown. He does not leave much of an impression, but may spark a few unintentional laughs.
Live And Let Die is not a great Bond movie. It runs too long and the characters are not as developed, nor is the plot as engaging as in other series' entries. It's entertaining and harmless fun, though, and that's all that one  can really ask about a Bond film, I guess.
Oh, and lest I forget, this contains the most memorable Bond song of them all. The Oscar-nominated, Live and Let Die by Paul McCartney and The Wings, remains one of the great rock songs of the early 70s and one of the best songs created for a movie.

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