(0069X) Live and Let Die

Live and Let DieJuly 1, 1973 | 2 weeks at #1

Seen by Martin before? Yes

What did I expect? A cracking good Bond movie.

What did I get? With the transition from Sean Connery to Roger Moore, James Bond crossed that small but critical distance from “rogue” to “rake.” As close to a blaxploitation movie as you can come with a foppish British fancy-pants at its core, Live and Let Die is good on the local color but lazy in the plotting. The ratio of action to exposition approaches infinity; were they afraid of Moore’s ability to deliver dialogue? Less taciturn than epigrammatic, Bond seldom engages in conversation, unconsciously letting the audience in on the movie’s synthetic essence.

Moore is burdened with the curse of eternally representing Connery’s antimatter. Connery was organic; Moore inorganic. Connery blithely communicated menace and a backstory of scrapes won and lost; not so Moore. Moore had the requisite looks, diction, and athleticism for Bond but lacked Connery’s dutiful center and hints of thuggishness. With Connery you could believe he ranked the mission first, women and baccarat close behind; Moore often seems to regard the mission as an inconvenient distraction from bedplay and contrived ripostes.

Bond is a tricky role because the character is embroiled in adventures of the utmost urgency that must above all be fun and disposable. Connery was able to blend the two; Moore tilted it a hair too much to the breezy and inconsequential — ultimately into comedy, for which the diehards would never forgive him. The point is, it’s a tough balance to maintain. Moore’s reliably facetious manner perpetually undid the supposed gravity of the plots, twisting situations toward his “witty” and labored punchlines (in Live and Let Die, “Illuminating” and “Disarming” are the most eyeroll-inducing). Connery was obliged to utter those kinds of lines too, of course, but he growled them to better effect.

Bond is tricky in another way; like the job of hosting The Tonight Show, it’s a prestige gig from which you might be fired at any moment (for proof of this, read the bio of Michael Billington carefully). Nevertheless, there’s a reason Moore ended up doing seven Bond movies — and, when measured in years, had the longest incumbency of any Bond. A bit like Ronald Reagan’s presidency (with which it overlapped), Moore’s was the reigning Bond for the slackers born during the Vietnam War.

The blackest of Bond movies, Live and Let Die is hell-bent on vampirically absorbing the boisterous energy of blaxploitation corkers like Cotton Comes to Harlem. The entire villainous crew, save the obligatory Bond damsel Solitaire, is black; the locales are Jamaica and New Orleans and Harlem (about five times during Bond’s visit to Harlem is it mentioned that he’s the only white guy around for blocks). Nothing if not au courantLive and Let Die is careful to work in the terms “honky” and “pimpmobile.” For the first time, Bond takes on a black lover, in the form hapless CIA turncoat/cutie Rosie Carver. This may have represented a step forward in racial relations, but it smacks more of the Yankees’ acquisition of Ichiro than anything Jackie Robinson ever did.

Julius Harris and Geoffrey Holder are vivid and amusing as the two main henchmen; despite being saddled with the least convincing doppelgänger disguise in the history of motion pictures, Yaphet Kotto brings extraordinary verve to the role of Dr. Tananga. Dispensing with the decadent boredom of most Bond villains, Tananga is energized, angry, a trifle jealous, a source of true menace. He’s so exuberant and unpredictable that you even sort of buy it when he gleefully rigs up an elaborate gizmo to drop Bond into a shark tank. That said, his evil empire is, alas, underdeveloped. As a means of bringing America to its knees, heroin/voodoo cults are stimulating but unreliable.

What here smacks of 1973?  Plenty. Mainly the race stuff.

IMDB score: 6.8

My score: 5

Director: Guy Hamilton

Writer: Tom Mankiewicz

Starring: Roger Moore, Yaphet Kotto, Jane Seymour, Clifton James, Julius Harris, Geoffrey Holder, David Hedison, Gloria Hendry, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell

IMDB synopsis: Several British agents have been murdered and James Bond is sent to New York, to investigate these mysterious deaths. Mr. Big comes to his knowledge, who is self-producing heroin. Along his journeys he meets Tee Hee who has a claw for a hand, Baron Samedi the voodoo master and Solitaire and her tarot cards. Bond must travel deep inside New York, through marshy grass and on water as he completes his mission.

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