'Live and Let Die' Review: Names Is For Tombstones Baby!
For my second film of January, Bond January, I was assigned the 1973 feature Live and Let Die, directed by Guy Hamilton and starring Roger Moore as the iconic secret agent. While officially a part of the Bond series, the creative minds behind the film actively made Roger Moore as a different kind of Bond. He smokes cigars instead of cigarettes, drinks whiskey instead of vodka, and never wears a hat. These facts give some credence to the "Bond is multiple agents over time" fan theory that many people use to make the ever changing cast list make narrative sense.
Live and Let Die follows the titular secret agent as he observes the cunningly deceptive criminal grouping of Mr. Big, Doctor Kananga, and Baron Samdei. The investigation begins due to the sudden murder of multiple agents, and is spurred by multiple failed attempts on Bond's life. He goes through the same standard, yet entertaining steps as he thrills the ladies and murders half of the cast.
There are many aspects of the film that are interesting to watch. Live and Let Die has some of the more ingenious mook British agent eliminations of the series. A funeral procession through the streets of New Orleans carries an casket with an opening bottom. They stab the agents, use the coffin to pick up their bodies, and then continue the funeral as if nothing happened. A bar owned by the big bad has multiple secret passages and compartments that take unsuspecting agents to their doom.
A particular scene in which Bond is unaware of the fact that a snake is in his bathroom, his room service waiter is an agent of evil, and someone calling herself Mrs. Bond has changed his room assignment make for an extremely tense moment. It's also worth mentioning that the scene has been parodied in multiple shows and films. Live and Let Die is the second Bond flick in a row that I've reviewed in which the villain tries to feed Bond to sharks, though to no avail.
The feature is also the only Bond film to have a supernatural theme, with Baron Samdei returning to life after Bond leaves the island base, and the woman that reads tarot cards being correct and extremely specific about her predictions to the point of guaranteeing some sort of spiritual world within the series. It is interesting to think about the world of the franchise under the new light that perhaps there are gods, demons, spirits, and ghosts capable of effecting and controlling Bond's otherwise orderly and controlled lifestyle outside of espionage.
Of course, there are problems with the movie. Bond is vulnerable to an easy death on multiple occasions, but the villain, Dr. Kananga, lets him live and proceeds to be frustrated about the agent's escape. A particular scene in which a lackey, Tee-hee teaches Bond some interesting facts about alligators and crocodiles before trying to feed the agent to such animals, is resolved by having Bond literally run across the backs of multiple fake crocodiles.
It is interesting to watch Bond his him as a human window opening lever and then throwing him out of a moving train. My final complaint is that, while Paul McCartney wrote and composed the opening credit theme, and while it is iconic outside of the Bond films, its popularity make's it an odd accompaniment for the movie itself. Slow orchestral renditions of the tune seem totally disparate from the events unfolding on screen.
Live and Let Die is also one of the few Bond films with any sizable African American cast, and while there are undoubtedly racist stereotypes and images, this is Bond in the early 70s after all, with such a large number of black characters, the feature does manage to include one or two that are not. It's also interesting to note the tendency of both henchmen and bosses alike to behave around Bond as the fools with poor annunciation that were often the stereotypes of African Americans, but when speaking in private and to each other they use a better spoken pronunciation and posture, suggesting that the villains are simply preying upon the misconceptions of 007 in order to deceive him. On the other hand, the later half of the film depicts white citizens of Louisiana, the cops specifically, as so incompetent, inbred, and aggressively racist that they almost seem to be compensating for misrepresented African Americans to preempt possible criticism.
Women maintain their standard place in the franchise, desperately clinging to Bond as if nothing else matters to them, so enraptured by his presence that they would risk life and limb to please him. One of the notable females in the film treats him like a fool, but when Bond flips over a tarot card depicting the lovers and gives her a smile, she knows from that point forward that there's no escaping his charms. She gives him her virginity and loses her power to read the cards, giving him everything. The other starts off totally aware of Bond's womanizing, but begs him to stay with her anyway after discovering a hat in her bed. Of course, she turns out to be a villain, so it's all good.
All things considered, the Bond flick Live and Let Die is an entertaining example of the franchise, and while the villain's plot is mildly uninteresting, the feature's unique qualities of containing large numbers of black performers and also possessing a supernatural element make it well worth checking out if you like the franchise.