James Bond Retrospective: Live And Let Die (1973)

Our Bond retrospective series continues with Sean Connery hanging up his tuxedo for good after Diamonds Are Forever leaving the producers looking to British television to find a worthy replacement.

To mark the 50th Anniversary of one of the most successful movie franchises of all time and as James Bond prepares for his 23rd official outing in Skyfall later this year, I have been tasked with taking a retrospective look at the films that turned author Ian Fleming€™s creation into one of the most recognised and iconic characters in film history. Following Sean Connery€™s return to the role for Diamonds Are Forever, producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman had hoped they had done enough to encourage the star to remain in the role for at least one more film. Connery, however had other ideas and was certain that the previous film would be his last as Bond and went so far as to say he would never play the role again. As the producers set to work on the eighth Bond film, Live And Let Die, they began looking for a new Bond knowing they would have to make the right choice this time particularly with the disappointing results of the casting of George Lazenby only four years before still fresh in their minds. While Lazenby had proved to be a decent Bond his ego got the better of him and he had left the role after one film despite the offer of a seven film contract. United Artists had stipulated that they wanted an American Bond so for a time a number of high-profile stars of the time were in the frame for the lead role. Clint Eastwood, Burt Reynolds, Paul Newman and Robert Redford were all considered however Broccoli insisted that Bond should be British and as a result their search shifted focus to British television. Among those considered were Julian Glover, Jeremy Brett, Simon Oates and for a time it was looking likely that star of UFO and The Onedin Line, Michael Billington would take the role however there was one name from the casting sessions for both Dr. No and On Her Majesty€™s Secret Service that the producers felt would be perfect for the part, Roger Moore. James Bond Having spent the previous 12 years starring in cult favourites The Saint and The Persuaders on television, Roger Moore was deemed to be the ideal replacement for Connery. Rather than simply aping Connery€™s style as Lazenby had during his single outing in the role, it was expected that Moore would put his own stamp on the part with a new interpretation of the character and with the producers€™ insistence, many of the key elements that had defined Connery€™s Bond were removed from the script. He drinks bourbon whiskey rather than vodka martini, he smokes cigars rather than cigarettes and he favours suits with neckties over the tuxedo and bowtie. Where Connery was a rugged, even ruthless Bond, Moore would bring an assured suavity to the role making him more of an English gentleman with a sophisticated wit and charm. Assisted by screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz, who actually tailored the script to suit Moore€™s approach to the character. Moore did not require any time to find his feet, unlike his predecessors he hits the ground running seizing the role as his own establishing a legacy that would last for the next 12 years. For Moore€™s introduction to the audience lessons had obviously been learned after George Lazenby€™s ego boosting opening culminating in his sly nod to the camera. Not appearing until after the opening credits, Moore€™s Bond is first shown in a humorous scene featuring M and Miss Moneypenny as they interrupt him entertaining a beautiful Italian agent in his apartment. The scene plays perfectly to Moore€™s strengths and sets a tone that would continue throughout his Bond career.

Classic Line

(Bond activates the magnet in his watch attracting M€™s teaspoon from across the room)

M: Good God!

James Bond: You see, sir. By pulling out this button, it turns the watch into a hyper-intensified magnetic field. Powerful enough to even deflect the path of a bullet €“ at long range, or so Q claims...

M: I feel tempted to test that theory right now!

Pre-Credits & Theme Song Rather unusually for the pre-credits scene Bond is not featured at all, instead making his first appearance in the film after the opening titles. The pre-credits scene is used to set-up the main plot of the film showing the deaths of three British agents killed in three separate locations, New York, New Orleans and San Monique within 24 hours of each other. The first agent is killed in the UN when his translator€™s signal is interrupted by a high-pitched tone making him collapse. The second agent in New Orleans is murdered in broad daylight while watching a funeral procession on the main street only to be stabbed and carried away in the procession's coffin after which the funeral becomes more of a carnival. The final agent is killed in on the island of San Monique during a voodoo ritual involving a venomous snake.

Classic Line

(Agent Hamilton watches a funeral procession pass by on a New Orleans street)

Hamilton: Whose funeral is this?

Assassin: Yours.

(The assassin stabs Hamilton as the coffin bearers place the coffin over his body and carry him away)

The opening scenes perfectly set the tone, offering a glimpse of the three main locations and introduces the themes used throughout the film. The fact that Bond does not appear only makes his opening scenes stronger and gives the audience time to settle into Moore€™s approach to the role. Regular Bond composer John Barry was unavailable for scoring duties for Live And Let Die so the producers were left looking for a suitable replacement. Former Beatle, Paul McCartney had already been hired to write and perform the theme song with his band Wings and after hearing the orchestration on the demo recording, provided by The Beatles producer George Martin, Saltzman offered Martin the opportunity to score the film. Martin€™s score, while noticeably different to any of Barry€™s, still maintains the Bond sound so well established in the previous films. The score perfectly captures the time period and echoes the occult and blaxploitation themes of the movie. McCartney€™s theme song is recalled throughout the film and even features in a nightclub scene performed by soul singer B.J. Arnau. The Movie After the mysterious deaths of three MI6 agents within 24 hours of each other, British secret service agent James Bond is sent to New York to investigate a possible link between Mr. Big, a Harlem drug dealer and Dr. Kananga, the dictator of small Caribbean island San Monique. It soon transpires that the two men are one and the same with Kananga planning to distribute two tonnes of heroin free of charge in a bid to increase the number of addicts simultaneously cultivating huge drug dependency and bankrupting his competitors. With the assistance of his opposite number in the CIA, Felix Leiter, Bond attempts to put a stop Kananga€™s plans. The early 1970s heralded the birth of the blaxploitation genre with films such as Shaft, Superfly and Sweet Sweetback€™s Baadasssss Song confronting issues of race and ethnicity with raw, ghetto set crime films. Taking influence from Fleming€™s original novel, itself featuring Harlem and the Black Power movement, screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz embraced the iconography and archetypes of the genre, breaking boundaries including Bond€™s first interracial love scene with Rosie Carver and bringing blaxploitation into the mainstream. Live And Let Die follows the formula set by Goldfinger, not entirely surprising with that film€™s director Guy Hamilton on board for his third Bond film. Many of the characters and situations have close similarities with Hamilton€™s debut Bond film such as its American-centric plot and setting as well as a villain whose plans are more relevant in the real world than the world domination plots that had defined the Blofeld years. The film features some of the biggest and best action set-pieces of the series€™ so far. The action seems to be on a much larger scale than before and there is less reliance on rear projected cutaways and an emphasis on physical stunt work. An early scene where Bond finds himself having to steer an out of control car from the backseat is convincingly shot with the car weaving its way through a busy New York freeway. A later scene featuring a double-decker bus avoiding the pursuing police cars by going under a low bridge stripping the bus of its top deck is also really well shot with a former London bus driver doubling for Bond but with Jane Seymour as a passenger on the lower deck. The film€™s pièce de résistance has to be the boat chase through the Louisiana Bayou. Beginning with Bond escaping Kananga€™s crocodile farm by using four crocodiles as stepping stones to safety he escapes in a high powered speedboat closely pursued byKananga€™s heavies. The chase features a number of high speed jumps one of which actually broke the Guinness World Record at the time with a jump of 110 feet. After Norman Burton€™s cantankerous turn as Felix Leiter in Diamonds Are Forever the character is played yet again by a different actor, on this occasion David Hedison, who would go on to play the role one more time in 1989€™s Licence To Kill. Hedison€™s interpretation of the character is much more likeable than Burton€™s and a return to the comrade in arms of the character€™s previous incarnations. A welcome addition to the series is the character of Sheriff J.W. Pepper played by Clifton James, adding some broad humour to the film. The character would mark the humorous direction that Moore€™s Bond films would take and he proved popular enough to warrant an extended cameo in the next film The Man With The Golden Gun.

Classic Line

Sheriff J.W. Pepper: What are you? Some kind of doomsday machine boy?

Live And Let Die is a solid entry in the series and an impressive debut from Roger Moore. It is significantly different from Connery€™s entries and Moore does more than try to emulate the Scotsman, he forges his own take on the character making him his own over the course of just one film. After initial worries that Bond would not survive beyond Connery, all fears could be put to rest with the character in Moore€™s capable hands. The Bond Villain With the previous three films focussing on Bond€™s arch enemy Blofeld the producers made a conscious decision to move away from SPECTRE for Moore€™s debut. The main villain in Live And Let Die would be more grounded in reality with an overall plan more relevant to the times than the usual world domination plot. Dr. Kananga, named after the owner of the crocodile farm used in the film, provides a decent alternative to Blofeld and in his disguise as Mr. Big he is not only the dictator of San Monique but also the ruler of the slums of Harlem, New York. Surrounding himself with heavies and henchmen he is a quintessential Bond villain from the same mould as Goldfinger, Kananga€™s plan is basically the same as Auric Goldfinger€™s with gold substituted by heroin. After appearing in a number of popular US TV shows ranging from Bonanza to Hawaii 5-0, New York born actor Yaphet Kotto was filming Across 110th Street for United Artists when he was offered the role of Kananga propelling him to mainstream stardom. Kotto gives a good performance, clearly enjoying the bad guy part. The dual role of Mr. Big andKananga is reasonably well handled but is slightly marred by poor make-up design making the reveal more obvious than surprising. It is a shame that his death at the hands of Bond after he is forced to swallow an explosive gas pellet proves to be one of the most ridiculous of the series enhanced by the sound effect of a deflating balloon before exploding.

Classic Line

Kananga: Tee-Hee, on the first wrong answer from Miss Solitaire, you will snip the little finger of Mr. Bond€™s right hand. Starting with the second wrong answer, you will proceed to the more€vital€areas.

Kananga€™s main henchman Tee-Hee, played by Julius Harris, who with his mechanical hook for a hand provides the film with one of the more memorable henchmen of the whole Bond series. He recalls the likes of Odd Job from Goldfinger as well as Robert Shaw€™s Red Grant in From Russia With Love with whom he shares his demise on board a train following a fight with Bond. The idea of henchmen with strange appendages is something that is developed further during the Roger Moore years. The 6ft 6in Trinidadian actor Geoffrey Holder brings massive screen presence to Baron Samedi, the voodoo chief who has a hold over the people of Katanga€™s San Monique. The character practices the occult and despite his death after falling into a coffin full of snakes is seen to be resurrected just before the end credits riding on the front of the train carrying Bond and Solitaire to safety in a bizarre but fitting end to the film. The Bond Girl Much like Pussy Galore in Goldfinger, the main Bond girl is initially on the side of the villain and over time is seduced by Bond. Originally, in keeping with the themes and casting of the film, it was expected that the character of Solitaire, Kananga€™s psychic tarot card reader, would be played by a black actress. Mankiewicz wrote the part with singer Diana Ross in mind however it was decided to stick with Fleming€™s description of the character. British actress Jane Seymour, who had found fame on television on The Onedin Line, was cast in the role and provides the beauty and elegance synonymous with Bond girls. Her on-screen chemistry with Moore is certainly a match for Honor Blackman€™s with Connery and Seymour evokes the requisite virginal qualities for the role without coming across as weak and powerless. She is a pawn in Kananga€™s plans and proves to be strong willed and able when she needs to be rather than relying on Bond to have to save her.

Classic Line

James Bond: Allow me to introduce myself. Bond. James Bond.

Solitaire: I know who you are, what you are, and why you€™ve come. You have made a mistake. You will not succeed.

Rosie Carver, played by Blaxploitation star Gloria Hendry, a CIA agent assigned by Felix Leiter to assist Bond in his investigation on the island of San Monique. Her role is minimal and she resists Bond at first but as we have seen countless times before she ends up falling for his charms. Hendry holds the honour of being the first African American to bed Bond however her love scene with Bond was cut from South African prints of the film as they contravened the laws of the then Apartheid government, thankfully times have changed and this is no longer the case. When we first meet Moore€™s Bond, he is in bed with Italian agent Miss Caruso, played by Madeline Smith who had previously worked with Moore on an episode of The Persuaders. Although she is only in the film for one scene she leaves a lasting impression as the girl who has her blue dress unzipped by Bond€™s magnetic watch, a complicated shot that required special effects director Derek Meddings to lie by her feet pulling on the zip by a string while other members of the crew held onto the dress and the other end of the zip ensuring it would unfasten correctly.

Classic Line

(As Bond unzips Miss Caruso€™s dress with the magnet in his watch)

Miss Caruso: Such a delicate touch.

James Bond: Sheer magnetism darling.

Gadgets Live And Let Die is the first film not to feature Desmond Llewelyn€™s Q since From Russia With Love. He had been written out of the film to accommodate his appearance in the TV series Follyfoot. As a result the film is light on gadgets however the few that do appear include Bond€™s magnetic watch that also includes a mini-buzz saw for cutting through rope. His only other gadget is the special gun for firing explosive compressed air pellets. Both are used to great effect in the finale of the film which sees Bond escape from his shackles above a shark infested pool and Kananga€™s forced ingestion of a gas pellet. James Bond Will Return€.. Released in the summer of 1973 the film went on to smash the box-office takings of the previous two films with a final gross of $161 million from a $7 million budget. The film also still holds the record for the most viewed broadcast film on British television when it premiered on ITV in 1980 to an audience of 23.5 million viewers and in an age of satellite, cable TV and home entertainment this record is unlikely to ever be broken. Moore had proven beyond a doubt that there was life after Connery and that Bond was still very much relevant to the 1970s audiences but if the filmmakers were to continue with this level of success they would need to strike gold once again for Bond€™s ninth adventure€.. To catch up on previous installments of the James Bond Retrospective click here: Dr. No, From Russia With Love, Goldfinger, Thunderball, You Only Live Twice, On Her Majesty€™s Secret Service, Diamonds Are Forever
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