At a meeting of the United Nations in New York City, a man is killed mysteriously by a strange noise emitting through his ear-piece translator. In New Orleans, a man is stabbed and tossed into the middle of a funeral parade that just happens to be for him. In the Caribbean, a man tied up by locals is tied up and bitten by a poisonous snake during a ritual. Three men dead, and all three agents of British spy organization MI6.
Enter James Bond (Roger Moore, in his first outing as the franchise spy). MI6 head M (Bernard Lee) and his assistant Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell) appear at Bonds doorstep to address the issue of agents dropping like flies. The scene is a comedic game of hide and seek, as Bond steers M away from discovering the naked woman in Bond’s bed. This, and the clever use of a magnetic watch, makes the entrance of Moore as Bond light and fun.
Bond is sent to New York to investigate the murder that occurred there. As he comes into the city, his driver is shot dead by a man in an adjacent vehicle, and the car spins out of control, culminating in a great stunt crash (for the time).
Live and Let Die is essentially a blaxploitation spy film. Set primarily in Harlem and New Orleans, Bond is tracking a drug trafficker and corrupt prime minister Dr. Kanaga (Yaphet Kotto). In these settings, the racial element is played on heavily. Gangsters drive “pimpmobiles.” A black taxi driver helping Bond tail a potential source of information says, when offered extra money for the danger of his service, says that he will take Bond to a KKK meeting for that kind of money. Bond is addressed multiple times as “honky.”
This genre blend removes the grandiose scale that earlier Bond iterations have. Global takeover or widespread destruction is not the goal of the villain. There is no over-the-top plot or scheme. Sure, the villains have their quirks: a henchman with a metal-clawed hand, another that only speaks in whispers. But the stripped down scale makes the first half of the film feel less like a spy film and more like a crime drama.
This could be overlooked, but the Bond side of the good-vs-evil dynamic isn’t the usual, either. Moore doesn’t make a splash as the new Bond. Connery had a full embodiment of the super spy. Moore goes through the motions fine. He has the unflappability and the humor. But the overall essence is lacking.
Live and Let Die marks the first time that we get a black Bond girl, Rosie Carver (Gloria Hendry). However, her character is utterly helpless from the moment she is introduced, which is all the more baffling by the fact that she is a CIA agent.
The other Bond girl, Solitaire (Jane Seymour, in a star-making performance) is also a strange depiction. A virgin psychic, she loses her supernatural abilities upon sleeping with Bond, an act that only occurs when Bond tricks her using tarot cards. Thus is the evil, misogynistic power of James Bond, I guess.
Aside from this lacking cast of characters, the film does offer quality action sequences. Car chase stunt work is some of the best in a Bond film up to this point, and the comical element underlying each chase–such as a chase between cars and a grounded, Bond-driven plane–works to great effect.
Overall, this non-traditional Bond film doesn’t prove to be a landmark debut for Roger Moore. The action scenes are marvelous to behold (watch the extended motorboat chase, if nothing else). But the performances are lacking and premise seems more conducive to a gritty crime drama than a spy thriller.
Live and Let Die: C+
As always, thanks for reading!
Live and Let Die is currently available to rent/buy on Amazon Video here.
Have you seen Live and Let Die? How do you feel about Roger Moore’s inauguration into Bond? Let me know in the comments!
- Live and Let Die: C+
- Diamonds Are Forever: C-
- On Her Majesty’s Secret Service: B+
- Casino Royale (1967): D+
- You Only Live Twice: C+
- Thunderball: C-
- Goldfinger: A-
- From Russia With Love: A-
- Dr. No: B
—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)