Movie review: ‘Live and Let Die’

Of course, everyone knows that the “James Bond” character became more obviously snarky and tossed out the sexual double entendre at a faster rate when Roger Moore took over from Sean Connery with “Live and Let Die” in 1973. But, few remember that Clint Eastwood turned down the chance to play Bond! With “Live and Let Die,” it shows that a franchise can change gears without changing its entertainment value. Connery did real spycraft with some high-tech gadgets of the time thrown in, while Moore took over at a time of the explosion of our fascination with electronics and other gizmos. “Live and Let Die” is everything you want in a Bond film: flashy, shallow, decadent and, ultimately, fun to watch. It has some of the best boat-chase action you can find in film and it totally outclasses the remake of “The Italian Job” and that film’s use of Venice’s canals. Well, 007 is on the bayou, not an iconic Venetian canal, but you get my drift. Enjoy!

‘Live and Let Die’
(1973; 121 minutes; rated PG; directed by Guy Hamilton and starring Roger Moore, Yaphet Kotto and Jane Seymour)

IT’S ON THE TURN OF A CARD

(NOTE: I expanded this review with additional trivia and opinion as well as updating links on Oct. 15, 2018.)

You know what you’re going to get with a “James Bond” film: Exotic locales, beautiful women and world-threatening intrigue and espionage. “Live and Let Die,” which was the eighth “007” effort (click here for Wiki’s list) is no exception … well maybe except that the tropical island this time is not Jamaica the “Dr. No”) and is fictional and the other key location is New Orleans and the bayous of Louisiana. Oh, and BTW, this is my 200th movie review since I began this blog in May 2014.

(CLICK HERE FOR ALL MY MOVIE REVIEWS)
(CLICK HERE FOR MY LOOK AT THE 007 FRANCHISE)

OK, so it’s not Bond’s more familiar stomping grounds in Asia (“The Man with the Golden Gun” – click here for my review – or “You Only Live Twice”) or even the Middle East (“The Spy Who Loved Me” – click here for my review), but it does give you New York, London and the best bond boat chase in the franchise – it’s even better than the one in “Moonraker,” when “Jaws” goes over the falls.

Live and Let Die” is also the first Bond film to feature a black master villain and gang and “007” has his first on-screen romance with a black woman. No one would even blink today, but in 1973 it was a major statement from a studio production.

In “Live and Let Die,” Moore kicks off headlining in his first of seven Bond films that ended 12 years later in 1985 with “A View to a Kill.” He’s called in to find out what’s happened to three agents who are killed within 24 hours while investigating “Dr. Kananga” (played by Yaphet Kotto), who is the dictator of an island in the Caribbean. During his investigation, Moore comes into contact with a gangster called “Mr. Big” and his organization. Moore finds out that “Dr. Kananga” and “Mr. Big” are one in the same and that the whole thing is a plot to import heroin from the island to the U.S. and a subsequent take-over of organized crime in the U.S.

Through the investigation, Moore becomes enamored with Jane Seymour, who plays “Solitare,” and she’s Kotto’s psychic and intended to be his mistress one day. The action moves from New York to the Caribbean to New Orleans and then to the ultimate boat chase through the bayous (but only after a nifty chase at an airport where Moore out-maneuvers everyone while taxiing an airplane and escaping an alligator farm by skipping on the backs of floating reptiles). The film winds up back on Kotto’s island where everything is wrapped up … until the last scene and who’s on the front of a locomotive!

Of course, everything’s over the top here and each scene is chock full of energy and speeds past as if it cannot wait to reach the next.

Here’s a quick rundown of the actors and their work:

  • Moore comes out of the gate as “Bond” with his suave, sophisticated and purposeful best. Filmmakers didn’t choose Moore for his physical nature (you know, like Daniel Craig and his physique … but Craig can’t act and his only expression is like he’s having a continual bowel movement), but made the perfect choice to be the new face as the Brit spy who is better than everyone else. You know Moore and you know his work, but, sadly, he turned out two stinkbombs of “action” films: “ffolkes” (click here for my review) and “The Wild Geese” with Richard Burton (click here for my review). He was much better in the light comedy “The Cannonball Run” (click here for my review), where he spoofs the Bond character. However, he will forever be best remembered as the second-best 007 behind Sean Connery – and that’s saying something. Moore died at 89 in 2017 of cancer.
  • A Primetime Emmy nominee, Kotto is excellent as the dictator “Dr. Kananga.” Maybe it’s the makeup he has to wear to look like “Mr. Big” that makes his criminal character something less than the island ruler, but overall this is a winner from Kotto. He knows how to be forceful and commanding in any scene and never disappoints once in this one. He was also in “Alien” and “The Running Man” with Arnold Schwarzenegger (click here for my review) and was nominated for TV’s “Raid on Entebbe,” where he played Ugandan dictator Idi Amin.
  • A two-time Golden Globe winner and five-time nominee (not for this one), Seymour was a smashingly beautiful 22 during the filming of “Live and Let Die,” but she was already in her fourth film. She couldn’t bring the raw sex appeal of the previous Bond love interest (Jill St. John in “Diamonds are Forever” – click here for my review) or over one to come (Barbara Bach in “The Spy Who Loved Me”), but she elevates interest in tarot cards with her work here. Seymour got better work and did better in “Head Office” (click here for my review) and “Wedding Crashers” and is most recognized as TV’s “ Quinn, Medicine Woman,” for which she won one of her Globes and received three nominations. Her other win was for TV’s “East of Eden” in 1981.
  • Clifton James plays “Sheriff J.W. Pepper” and is the blustering, racist, bubba-backwoods cop who becomes part of the boat chase and you’re sorry when his time on screen ends. He’s raucous, over-the-top and would return and do just as good as the same character in the next Bond film (“The Man with the Golden Gun” – click here for my review). There’s really not much more to say about him! James was also dramas such as the iconic “Cool Hand Luke” as well as “Eight Men Out” and even a kids flick called “Kidco.” James died at 96 in 2017 from complications from diabetes.
  • David Hedison plays longtime Bond character “Felix Leiter,” who is 007’s liaison with the CIA. Hedison does a smooth turn here and is the fifth actor to play the character (Jack Lord, who would go on to fame with TV’s “Hawaii Five-O,” was the first). He reprised the character when Timothy Dalton became 007 in “License to Kill.” Hedison was also in the original “The Fly” and also TV’s “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.” Best of all, Hedison did seven episodes of that great kitschy TV series “The Love Boat” (click here for my look at it).
  • Gloria Hendry plays treacherous CIA agent “Rosie Carver” and becomes Bond’s lover until her death. Hendry does a good job but, like so many women of that day, has to do some screaming in terror as part of her job and there wasn’t much chance for her to show her acting chops. Hendry was also in “Black Caesar” and “Black Belt Jones.”
  • The tall (6-foot-6) Jeffrey Holder plays “Baron Samedi” and is used by Kotto to keep islanders scared through voodoo. Holder is another actor who gives a very smooth and memorable turn here. He was also in 1982’s version of “Annie” and was the narrator in “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” Holder died in 2014 of complications from pneumonia at the age of 84.
  • Another of Kotto’s goons is “Tee-Hee” played with gleeful abandon by Julius Harris. He does a wonderful job here as the henchman with a mechanical claw for the hand he lost to an alligator. Harris was also in 1976’s “King Kong” and “Super Fly.” He died in 2004 of heart failure at the age of 81.

Of course, there are Bond team-players here, too, such as the ever-in-love-with-James “Miss Moneypenny,” but I’m not going to check them out here.

It’s no surprise that “Live and Let Die” was nominated for an Oscar … for its theme song by Paul and Linda McCartney (it was the first Bond film to use a pop song as its theme). The song was also nominated for a Grammy.

Live and Let Die” was the eighth ranked film at the U.S. box office in 1973 with $35.3 million in ticket sales, according to Wiki. The No. 1 film was “The Sting” with Robert Redford and Paul Newman with $156 million, while the No. 2 film was “The Exorcist” with $128 million.” Clint Eastwood’s follow-up to “Dirty Harry” (click here for my review) was “Magnum Force” that year and it was No. 6 with $39.7 million (click here for my review). Here are the other films from 1973 that I’ve reviewed:

The Seven-Ups” (cop thriller) – click here for my review

Assorted cast and film notes (via IMDb.com):

  • Instead of Bond’s favorite vodka martini (“shaken, not stirred”), Moore orders bourbon here (although Connery did enjoy a mint julep – which has bourbon – on the Kentucky horse farm in “Goldfinger”).
  • Moore’s full name was Roger George Moore and he was no Hollywood shortie – unlike many 5-foot-nothing stars, Roger was 6-foot-1.
  • Seymour’s full name is Joyce Penelope Wilhelmina Frankenberg.
  • The romantic scenes between Moore and Hendry were edited out of the film version released in South Africa – that country’s former government of apartheid prohibited such scenes.
  • In one of his “James Bond” novels, Ian Fleming stated that when Bond reaches age forty-five, he will be “automatically taken off the ’00’ list and given a staff job at Headquarters.” Sir Roger Moore was forty-five when he was in this one.
  • Although both died in 2017, both Moore and James have movies coming out that are in production or post-production as the writing of the update of this review. Moore will be the narrator in one film and James had his scene (or scenes) shot for the film that is listed as in pre-production. Huh. Hooray for Hollywood, I guess.
  • Directly from IMDb.com: “The producers offered Clint Eastwood the role of James Bond, fresh from his success with Dirty Harry (1971). He was flattered, but declined, saying that Bond should be played by an English actor. Notably Bond uses a Smith and Wesson 44 Magnum in this film, the gun made hugely popular by the Dirty Harry movies.”
  • Click here to read IMDb.com’s extensive trivia page about “Live and Let Die.”

© Chuck Curry and A Gator in Naples, 2014, 2018.
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without
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