Here’s a movie that deserves to be ripped a new asshole. Let me just pause for a moment to crack my knuckles before I get started…
Okay. This movie is shit. Ironically, the one good thing about it (aside from the theme song) is Roger Moore, who played it relatively straight and low-key here before graduating from the acting school of “left eyebrow raised, right eyebrow raised, follow up with groan-inducing double entendre.”
Maybe I should start with my opinion of the third James Bond. In fairness, he had his moments — and that is what makes it all the more frustrating, because when you see those instances where he really does come across as a good dramatic actor, you see what a great Bond in a more serious mold he really could have been. But many of his films are too campy, silly and gimmicky.
Is this his fault? Not necessarily. An actor can only work with the material he is given — a theme I’ll be getting back to when we get to the Pierce Brosnan films down the road. But I suspect Moore could have resisted the silliness more strongly than he apparently did.
Keep in mind that it was largely just Cubby Broccoli calling the shots during this Bond era, not Babs and Michael, and from what I have read, Cubby and Roger apparently were pretty good chums. Since Moore lasted 12 years as Bond — well past his sell-by date — it seems he must have had a certain amount of influence with the Broccolis. If he disliked the campy approach, would he have stayed in the part so long?
Anyway, getting back to his debut movie, this is one of two Bond films I can think of where the title song is actually better than the movie. (The other one being, of course, “A View to a Kill”.) Kudos to Paul McCartney.
But shame on Guy Hamilton, the director. Can you believe this is the same man who gave us “Goldfinger?” What happened?
I suspect some of the blame goes to screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz, who had scribe duties on three Bond films — the other two being “Diamonds Are Forever” and “The Man with the Golden Gun.” This film, though, is his weakest and poorest effort, by far. Really, the “story” is nothing more than a series of chases and escapes linked together from start to finish. And at times the tone of the film shifts into areas it just should not.
There’s the whole Sheriff J.W. Pepper character. Now, the Bond films have often been guilty of trying to exploit trends popular in other movies of the time in which they were made. “Moonraker” tried to cash in on the success of “Star Wars,” and “Golden Gun” had martial arts action of the kind that “Enter the Dragon” had made popular not long before.
Here, you’ve got a bigoted sheriff who makes the movie seem like a “Smokey and the Bandit” outtake, plus the movie also tries to cash in on the “blaxploitation” film trend that also was going on during the 1970s.
The movie has been called racist. Well, for one thing, the dumbass sheriff certainly does not help, especially when he has a line of dialogue where he basically engages in racial profiling after he has pulled over a black character during the Louisiana car/boat chase sequence.
But, in a broader sense, the fact that you have a white protagonist and a story that uses black people mainly just as villains (there are two black characters who are on the side of good with Bond, but they get relatively little screen time or development) does not really do much for the movie’s defense. I can’t say with certainty how “Live and Let Die” was received by audiences at the time of its release, but in retrospect, it certainly can be seen as very offensive today.
And how about the fact that “Live and Let Die” is pretty much a copy of “Dr. No” in so many respects? Both films have a big segment set in Jamaica, both have a sidekick named Quarrel who teams up with Bond, both are the only films to show us Bond’s residence, both involve Felix Leiter, both see Bond get pulled into his mission after a colleague or colleagues get murdered. I guess they figured that what worked to launch Connery would work for Moore, but this film is almost a remake more than a subsequent chapter.
Frankly, the best part of the movie is the scene at the crocodile farm. It’s a tense and cringe-inducing sequence, even today, as the crocs close in on Bond and he skips across their backs to escape. I also like the character of Tee Hee, who lost one of his arms to the crocs and now has a hook for a hand. It would have been more interesting to make him the main villain rather than the bland Yaphet Kotto, who has done great work in other movies like “Alien” but whose presence just is not really put to good use here.
Kotto is not the only misused cast member. Jane Seymour — gorgeous woman, forgettable character whose naivete results in her being manipulated and basically tricked into going to bed with Bond. And there is the character of Rosie Carver, who behaves so stupidly in the movie as to be laughable. Overall, women are not served very well in this film.
What else? The gadgets are lame — in fact, there is no Q in the movie at all! The villain has one of the stupidest deaths in the whole Bond series, if not THE stupidest. But David Hedison is one of the better Felix Leiters, though in fact this would be Leiter’s only appearance in the Moore movies. (Hedison would return in Timothy Dalton’s “Licence to Kill.”)
Overall rating: 3 out of 10. (The crocs go a long way.)