License to Review #8: Live and Let Die (1973)

James Bond will return to cinemas this November with his twenty-fifth adventure, No Time to Die. In preparation, David Alkhed will take a look at all the previous entries in the franchise and see which ones are deserving of praise and which ones aren’t.

 

After the disaster that was Diamonds Are Forever, Sean Connery was finally done with James Bond, saying “sayonara” to many millions of dollars I’m sure (at least, for another ten years at least, sigh), and Eon found themselves in the same precarious position they did after You Only Live Twice, and were faced with recasting their lead. Writing this I can only imagine the confusion audiences must’ve felt in these years, starting with Connery then being replaced by Lazenby only for the producers to bring Connery back and now he’s out of the picture again. Would they go with an American like Adam West or Burt Reynolds, or more of an unknown like British actor Michael Billington or Julian Groves (both of whom would later appear in some coming films). Ultimately, they chose Roger Moore, most famous for his starring role in the British tv show The Saint. For the next seven films, Moore would in many ways define the role for many, despite starring in what some would argue are the worst films in the franchise, but that’s further down the road.

 

Following the mysterious deaths of three MI6 agents all around the United States, from New York to New Orleans. What all of them had in common is that they were all surveilling Dr. Kananga, the dictator of the small island nation San Monique. James Bond, agent 007 is sent to investigate the matter.

 

Live and Let Die is one of those Bond titles I had heard of years before, and mostly thanks to the title song written by Paul and Linda McCartney and performed by Paul and The Wings. It’s a strange tune that feels like about five or six different songs in one, but it’s catchy and the chorus is catchy. So I was already very familiar with the title song before I saw the film. I must say, although I do think in the end Live and Let Die isn’t that great of a film, it’s still not a bad film and far from the worst in the franchise. And especially in comparison to some of the later installments starring Moore, it’s not too bad.

 

But let’s address the elephant in the room that is Roger Moore, and answer the question: is he a good James Bond? And my answer would be this: in this stage, no. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think Moore is too bad in the film and he certainly has got potential, but in Live and Let Die I felt there was something about Moore that just didn’t sit right with me, and I think in the end what occured to me is that Moore didn’t appear too comfortable on-screen yet in the role, as if he’s not quite used to this playing this part. I’m sure Moore will grow into his own, considering he had the longest run of any Bond actor in terms of the number of films he made, but it may have taken him a while to get used to the idea of the gentleman spy of James Bond.

 

Otherwise, the most interesting aspect of the film is the blaxploitation influence. The Bond franchise is always keen to jump on popular trends, but this is one of the most bizarre choices I can think of, because when I think of James Bond I sure don’t think about blaxploitation and voodoo cults. But it does make for some, perhaps unintentionally, hilarious moments throughout the film, such as every black person in Harlem apparently having a walkie-talkie because “them black people are connected so tight” or something. It’s one of those outdated stereotypes that one can’t really be mad at and just laugh at because of how stupid it is. And during the admittedly exciting boat chase, I just randomly started calling the main henchman facing off Bond at the end of it “Shaft” for no real reason, just started to call him that.

 

The boat chase does however lead to what is by far the worst aspect of the film, and that is the character of Sheriff J.W. Pepper. I have no idea if the writers included him because they thought he was funny or that audiences would find him hilariously lovable, but whatever their thought process was I can’t fathom how much I fucking hate this character. He’s vulgar, he’s stupid, he’s annoying and he’s also deeply racist, which made me root for the black henchmen much more (and especially in light of the BLM-movement I just makes the addition of J.W. so much worse). I struggle to believe even audiences in 1973 found him funny, so now it seems really outdated and borderline offensive even. But hey, at least he ain’t coming back for any of the sequels…right?

 

There isn’t much more to say about Live and Let Die. In summation it’s basically a mid-tier Bond film with an okay-ish but not really comfortable Roger Moore in it, some fun action scenes, a good title song and some very funny but also excruciating moments throughout it, but by far the funniest bit of the film was Yaphet Kotto’s death scene (spoilers).

 

James Bond will return in The Man With the Golden Gun. And if you disagree with me in these reviews, just remember to live and let live.

Published by davidalkhed

Co-creator, critic and columnist for A Fistful of Film.

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