Live and Let Die (Guy Hamilton, 1973)

Live and Let Die

Another great one. There’s more lively, confident dialogue from Tom Mankiewicz, while this was Guy Hamilton’s third Bond as director (all at least partly set in the US, incidentally). Together, these two men have taken a laughably racist novel and turned it into a hip, Blaxploitation-tinged, thoroughly entertaining action thriller. But there’s also a menace below the quips and stunts: the iconography of voodoo, the occult and death – coffins, funeral, skulls, gravestones – runs through the movie. It’s very visually striking generally, in fact: costumes, sets and lighting are always interesting and conveying story information. Nine tarot cards out of 10.

Bond: He’s now played by Roger Moore, who if you believe the contemporary hype was wanted by the producers for both Dr No and On Her Majesty’s (Moore denies this, I think). When we first see him, he’s in bed with a buxom beauty, and he later cons a naive virgin into sleeping with him. But this is a different take on the character from before – smoother, more arch, less brutal. If Connery represented the 1960s, provincial, working-class man-done-good, Roger Moore is all 1970s, old-money, soft-focus glamour – I bet he flew on Concorde a lot, drank Campari and soda, and smelt of Old Spice.

Villains: Yaphet Kotto appears as both villain Dr Kanaga and his New York gangster alter ego, Mr Big (“Names is for tombstones, baby!”). Is it seriously meant to be a plot twist that they’re the same person? His henchmen include Tee Hee and his mechanical arm, the bonkers Baron Samedi (who seemingly returns from the dead), and the almost inaudible giant Whisper.

Girls: Bond’s opening-scene squeeze, Miss Caruso, is a cute Italian agent who hides in his wardrobe then has her dress unzipped by a magnet. The main Bond girl is played by Jane Seymour, who gives a very plain performance as Solitaire – the blandest female lead since Honey Ryder. However, she can lay claim to the first to (inadvertently) show her breast. I honestly can’t believe I’d never spotted this before this viewing: For the middle section of the movie, Bond teams up with Rosie Carver, seemingly a sweetly inept CIA agent who’s actually working for Kanaga.

Regulars: Oddly, Q is absent. He is mentioned, though, and the gadget quota is very high: we get Bond’s magnetic watch, a car phone hidden in a cigarette lighter, a bug detector and a Morse-code machine disguised as a coat brush. M comes to Bond’s flat, as does Moneypenny, at 5.48am to brief him for his mission. It’s a great scene, full of withering looks from M and farce-like diversions as Bond tries to hide the Italian totty he’s had over for the night. For the fifth time in five films, we have a new Felix Leiter – and finally they get it right. David Hedison has an easy-going likeability in a thankless role. We also meet Sheriff JW Pepper, an over-the-top, larger-than-life, tobacco-chewing cartoon character who’ll be in the next movie too.

Action: Bond’s driver gets shot while on the freeway, leading to a short burst of carnage. Bond goes hang gliding. Fleeing Kanaga’s men in a battered old double-decker bus, he drives under a low bridge with iconic results. To escape a croc-infested island, Bond runs across the backs of three crocodiles – this stunt is the start of a 13-minute action run that features fire, explosions, speedboats, cars, bayous, jumps, crashes, cops, and boats crossing lawns, landing in swimming pools and cutting through weddings. The film’s final scene has the series’s second train-carriage punch-up (Bond besting Tee Hee).

Comedy: The bad guys like companies with punning names (Fillet of Soul, Oh Cult Voodoo Shop). In a Harlem bar, Bond specifies no ice in his drink. “That’s extra, man,” he’s told. A sequence where Bond commandeers a small aircraft that contains a learner pilot, then drives it round the airport being chased by bad guys and getting its wings knocked off, is rather silly. (“Holy shit,” the trainee says: our first proper swearing.) An even bigger harbinger of where the series is heading is JW Pepper.

Music: A New Orleans jazz funeral is featured a couple of times. The theme song by Paul and Linda McCartney is rightly thought by many to be one of the series’s very best (and even gets a diegetic performance in a bar). Paul’s old pal George Martin wrote the incidental music (John Barry took a film off because of tax reasons, I think). It’s funky and spiky and great fun, but is strangely short – there are huge chunks of action that go unscored.

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