“LIVE AND LET DIE” (1973) Review
Between 1967 and 1972, EON Productions spent a chaotic five years trying to find one man to portray James Bond following Sean Connery’s decision to retire from the role. Nineteen sixty-eight found Australian model, George Lazenby in the role. But after one movie, the excellent “ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE”, Lazenby decided that he did not want to continue the role. Connery came back for one last movie – “DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER”, but did not bother to stick around.
Then in 1972, Broccoli and Saltzman hired Roger Moore (famous for the TV series, “THE SAINT”) to portray the British agent. And Moore went on to play the role for the next 12 years. But he had to start somewhere and he did with 1973’s “LIVE AND LET DIE”, an adaptation of Ian Fleming’s 1954 novel. This was the very first Bond movie I had ever seen. Although I have a great sentimental attachment to the movie, I do not really consider it to be among the finest in the franchise. Nor is it a personal favorite of mine.
Following the murders of three MI-6 agents (in New York, New Orleans and the fictional island of San Monique), Bond is assigned by “M” to investigate their deaths. His investigations in New York leads him to a Harlem gangster named Mr. Big. But as it turns out, Mr. Big is also San Monique’s foreign minister, Dr. Kanaga. Bond eventually learns that Kanaga/Mr. Big plans to use the heroin grown in the San Monique opium fields to flood the current heroin market and gain complete control of the U.S. drug market (very similar to the schemes of Harlem gangster, Frank Lucas). He ordered the three British agents killed, because apparently they were in danger of stumbling upon his scheme.
I am going to be frank. As much as I like “LIVE AND LET DIE”, I have never been impressed by the screenplay written by Tom Mankiewicz. It never made any sense to me that the British government would be interested in the activities of a diplomat from an island that had obviously been a former French colony, or an American gangster. If the three agents and Bond had been French, I could see them working with CIA agent Felix Leiter on this case. But there you have it. And Bond’s San Monique showdown with Kanaga had always struck me as being rather disappointing. Another aspect of the movie I found disappointing was the leading lady – namely Jane Seymour as Kanaga’s Tarot card seer, Solitaire. I have nothing against Seymour’s performance. She seemed to be her usual, competent self. But other than predicting Bond’s arrival in New York and later, at Kanaga’s San Monique estate; and warning Bond about Rosie Carver (via a Tarot card), I found nothing impressive about Solitaire’s role in the story. Especially since she eventually became nothing more than a moaning damsel-in-distress. And Geoffrey Holder as Baron Semedi did not really do much for me, but his ghostly appearance at the end of the movie was memorable.
Fortunately, “LIVE AN LET DIE” had its virtues. Roger Moore’s long experience with action roles in television (“MAVERICK”, “THE SAINT”, and “THE PERSUADERS”) allowed him to segued into the Bond role with great ease. He already seemed very comfortable in the role. And without any problems, Moore managed to establish his own style. Unfortunately, very few people appreciated this at the time. And Yaphet Kotto created an impressive villain in an interesting duel role as the smooth and intelligent Kanaga/the bombastic Mr. Big. To this day, Julius Harris’ TeeHee remains one of my favorite Bond henchmen of all time. All I can say was that the man was perfect – humorous, yet very menacing. David Hedison’s friendship with Moore proved to be very effective in his first outing as CIA agent, Felix Leiter. The warmth and easy manner between Leiter and Bond seemed more apparent than in any other Bond film. And I rather enjoyed Gloria Hendry’s performance as the amusingly clumsy, yet treacherous Rosie Carver. And let us not forget the hilarious and unforgettable Clifton James as the long-suffering Southern lawman, Sheriff J.W. Pepper. James’ peformance was so impressive that the producers brought him back to reprise his role in 1974’s “THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN”.
Also among the movie’s virtues was its smooth direction by Guy Hamilton, which included a rather fun boat chase through the Louisiana bayou, fine performances and the rich atmosphere of New York’s Harlem and New Orleans. Cinematographer Ted Moore did much to contribute to the film’s atmosphere. But it is the movie’s score by George Martin and theme song by Paul McCartnery and Wings that seemed to be the movie’s most impressive virtue . . . other than Moore, Kotto, Harris and James’ performances. Although the story for “LIVE AND LET DIE” struck me as unimpressive, I still find the movie to be very entertaining.