Wednesday, March 13, 2013

"50 Years of Bond" Retrospective - #8: Live and Let Die

After the disastrously disappointing Diamonds Are Forver, Harry Saltzman and Albert Broccoli looked to the future, targeting Ian Fleming’s Live and Let Die as their next entry in the series. With Connery finally retiring from playing the character, and going on to torment Alex Trebek in the future, they sought after new talent to fill his shoes. This was the era of Bond number three, Roger Moore. Moore was an English actor best known for his role in the long running TV series The Saint, and had his own history with Bond. He was reportedly one of the actors considered by the producers to play 007 in Dr. No, but Moore claims he wasn’t approached about it until this very film. Whichever the case, it appears they learned from their mistakes, for Live and Let Die is one of the more entertaining entries in the 007 saga.

Bond is sent on a mission to the States. He eventually finds out a plot planned by a Harlem kingpin, and also a corrupt Caribbean dictator, who plans to freely distribute tons of heroin to put his competition out of business. This leads Bond on a grand chase, coming across a group of worshippers of the occult, a jazzy parade in the streets of New Orleans, a lake full of hungry crocodiles, and into a romance with a tarot card reader, played by Jane Seymour, who I swear has made some otherworldly deal to remain youthful in beauty for eternity.

Okay, first of all, I have to address the flaws in this movie, but I thankfully won’t be addressing them too long. First and foremost lies with the racial overtones. I guess the thing that really sticks out like a sore thumb to me is the fact that, petty though it might be, each of the most prominent African-American actors are all somehow linked to the main antagonist one way or another. It’s kinda ridiculous, insensitive, and I think the look into voodoo clashes with Bond’s universe. One character near the end in particular, who seems like the much more evil half brother of Dr. Facilier from The Princess and the Frog.

But, when this movie gets it right, it REALLY gets it right. Setting the tone immediately is Paul McCartney’s fantastic title theme. The frequent switches in tempo might have threatened to upset the musical mood, but here, I’m fine with it. As for direction, this is the Guy Hamilton I wanted for Diamonds Are Forever. He’s still got a campy vibe, but it’s much more refined and fine tuned to the style of this film. The pacing’s great, and the action sequences are a whole lot of fun, although one speedboat chase feels like something right out of Smokey and the Bandit.

As for Roger Moore, he had some big shoes to fill for Connery, but he’s giving the role the kind of fresh life it desperately needed. The movie was apparently tailored and made more light-hearted to fit his personality, and that was a risk that paid off. He’s got the charm, sense of humor, and the presence to pull it off. He never gets the movie quite up to Goldfinger status, but he gets it about as close as he can.

All in all, Live and Let Die was a fun and exciting, albeit occasionally insensitive, start to a promising new era for 007. There would be a time later in the future where Moore’s time as Bond would end up crashing and burning, but that’s a story that we won’t get into yet. For what this is, it’s very enjoyable. Just don’t take much of anything they’re doing seriously.

**** / *****

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