James Bond: Classic, Cheese or Crap – “Live and Let Die”

“Live and Let Die”

1973

Bond: Roger Moore

Classic, Cheese or Crap: Cheese

This is one of a small handful of Bonds that don’t fit well into the classifcation system. “Live and Let Die” is one of the better Moore Bonds, but I didn’t feel it was good enough to be called classic. It’s got some cheese to it, but the “L’eau du Fromage” isn’t as strong as other films in the catergory.

But in the end, between the voodoo and the Tarot cards and the pimps… I had to go Cheese.

In 1971, United Artists and EON Productions released their final James Bond film starring Sean Connery, “Diamonds are Forever”. For years, Connery had been chaffing under the yoke of Bond, and despite being lured back to the series for “Diamonds” by a metric ton of money, he left the role for good.

Roger Moore era began.

United Artists reportedly wanted an American… Clint Eastwood, Burt Reynolds, Paul Newman, Robert Redford (Its rumored Eastwood was actually offered the role). But producer Albert R. Broccoli insisted on a british actor, and put forth Roger Moore.

Moore was 45. Older than Connery was during his final film, and Connery often cited his own advancing age as a reason he wanted to leave the role. His age isn’t an issue here, but seeing as he would continue on in the part for a decade, it would eventually rear its head.

Filmed at the height of the blaxploitation era, “Live and Let Die” sends Bond to Harlem in search of drug dealers. Ok, an international drug dealer who’s also the dictator of a Caribbean island, but a drug dealer nonetheless.

Yaphet Kotto was the first, and to this day only, black main Bond villain. His Kananga / Mr Big processes and distributes heroin from his tiny island of San Monique. Accompanied by an entire army of henchmen – Baron Samedi, Tee Hee and Whisper – Kananga keeps the locals in line with the fear of voodoo and the help of a tarot card reading psychic, the future Dr Quinn Medicine Woman, Jane Seymour, in her debut appearance.

The movie has numerous flaws, but chief amongst them has to be Clifton James’ Sheriff J.W. Pepper. This is the first of two appearances by Sherriff Pepper, the second being “The Man with the Golden Gun”, where he is similarly unwelcome. He’s supposed to be providing comedic relief, but what he really provides is a touch of racism. There’s simply no way to hear someone called “Boi” and not infer the speaker is a bigot. Sorry JW.

But the weaknesses are offset by the cheesy goodness of the blaxploitation flavoring, the cool henchmen, and a killer speedboat chase. The speedboat jump in the film’s premier set-piece went a distance of 110 feet, a Guiness Book of World Records record setter at the time. The entire sequence remains one of the premiere action sequences in the Bond canon, in my opinion. Even Sheriff Pepper can’t spoil it for me.

Finally, I would be completely remiss as a Bond fan if I didn’t note that “Live and Let Die” began the Golden Age of Bond Theme Songs. Apologies to “Goldfinger”, which is obviously a classic, but LaLD’s contribution from Sir Paul McCartney marks the first time a rock song was used, and kicked of a run of Bond themes by pop artists that would not only chart, but become memorable songs in their own right. It’s undeniably a strength of the Moore era Bonds, and it began here.

“When you were younnnng and your heart… was an open boo–“

Oh, sorry.

So. The pimpin’ wardrobes and the voodoo and the “Jungle Hunt” esque alligator scene, along with the Kananga balloon in the finale make this entry cheese, for me. But there are enough elements that I’d be willing to listen to any of the three classification arguments, honestly.

Where would you put it?

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28 thoughts on “James Bond: Classic, Cheese or Crap – “Live and Let Die”

  1. Definitely Cheese, but I would argue that it is of the high quality “stinky” sort. This is one of those Bond movies that I would never choose to watch, but if it is on TV or something I get sucked into it and watch the entire thing. It has some great stunts and the theme song is one of best. Also, I like the supernatural aspect that the voodoo brings to it.

  2. Cheese verging on crap. I have fond memories of this film. As a child I kinda loved the Moore era Bonds because they were so cheesy! But grown up me just cringes. Mostly because now I understand all the bad innuendos!

    You can’t deny the Bond theme here was awesome though…

  3. As the Comic Book Guy from the Simpsons would say: “Best. Theme. Song. EVER.” And some cool villains, but there is some MEGA cheese, bordering on crap, in the obvious racism, and also the America-centric plot which is way out of line for a Bond film. On the plus side Yaphet Kotto, Jane Seymore, and the 7up guy.

    On the ‘good cheese’ side of the scale: Alligators AND Snakes?! If only they’d added sharks they’d hit the trifecta! Wait… THEY DID IT! hee hee! Running over the ‘gators back to escape being eaten is pretty damn funny. And blowing up Mr. Big with a Shark pellet thingie is a true Laugh Out Loud moment.

    “… when you got a job to do you got to do it well…”

  4. Love this entry into the Bond series. I think it is easily Moore’s second best film. The first, of course, would be The Spy Who Loved Me. Yeah, it is cheesy, but it doesn’t get out of hand like some of the other films. I love the action scenes, the music, and the bad guys. Plus, that alligator scene is great. What’s not to love?

  5. Loaded with cheese! And that sheriff, I guess we didn’t know any better back then. But I find it hard to believe they brought him back for “The Man With The Golden Gun”.

    “…you got to give the other fellow hell”

    • LOL @ the “singing” catching on.

      That’s the way it is sometimes, this movie was certainly pre-political correctness.

      But its hard to watch nowadays. Sticks out like a racist thumb.

  6. The only Moore Bond film I would consider classic is “For Your Eyes Only”. I believe that was the only one of his films to make my best of the year list.

    • Yeah, unfortunately your son and I both agree that that one is one of our LEAST favorites. LOL as mentioned on this week’s (title pending) LOL.

      Way too slow for a bond film. I understand it was trying to get back to basics after “Moonraker”, but eeesh. ;)

  7. Well said, my friend….totally agree with the Cheese leaning toward Classic assessment. The way Kanaga dies = awesome. Loved the New Orleans backdrop too. Lots of good action too.

    Isn’t this the one where he walks across the gators on the pond?? Yeah, that’s enough to not put it above the Cheese classification.

    By the way, Guns N’ Roses rendition of the theme song…Classic.

  8. Agreed, some fine cheese here. Probably my favorite Moore Bond.

    And I’m a huge McCartney fan, but I cringe at the gramatical incorrectness of “this everchanging world in which we live in”. We don’t need the second “in”! For that reason alone, I agree that “Nobody Does It Better” is the superior Bond theme.

  9. Hmm…I understand why some would consider “Live and Let Die” cheese, but it’s always been my favorite Bond film. 3 of the 4 Guy Hamilton directed Bonds rank high for me…”Goldfinger,” “Diamonds are Forever,” and “Live and Let Die.”

    I love the atmosphere of the film…the over-the-top gimmicks (like running across the backs of the alligators and Kananga’s wonderfully ridiculous death). I agree the Clifton James scenes are a distraction, though.

    http://www.forgottenfilmcast.wordpress.com

    • Huh. I DID go cheese on this one, huh? LOL. Ok, ok. Yeah, the whole voodoo thing, the sherriff, the Mr Big balloon at the end of the flick.

      This may be one of those “In betweeners” actually. I definitely didnt want to call it crap, but I probably balked at calling it classic, so it wound up as cheese.

      And yeah, Sherriff Pepper’s not doing the movie any favors nowadays.

  10. I will not deny the racial insensitivity that everyone is picking up on here, that’s part of what created blaxploitation in the first place. I also do not care for Sheriff Pepper as a character in either of the films he appears in. A little context is needed however. He probably is a bigot, that’s one of the reasons that he works at all as the butt of some of the jokes, but he is a bigot in the Archie Bunker mode not the Bull Conner line. He is not malevolent, he is simply an ass. He is only five years removed from Rod Stieger in “In the Heat of the Night” (I hope the double “in” will not disqualify me from expressing some opinions here), and no one should be turned off of that movie because of it’s bigoted characters.

    The visual motif of the film is heavily influenced by the voodoo storyline, which is right out of the Fleming novel. The tarot cards are beautifully designed to fit the scene and the characters. They start building tension with the cards before Bond has even arrived in the U.S.. The poster for this movie is either the best or the second best of the whole series (Thunderball being it’s only competition), and the title track is the best Rock song used in any of the films, and the second best of all the Bond films (apologies to Carly Simon).

    Those are real gators that Bond walks over, that is one of the great stunts, done for both dramatic effect and a big laugh, ever attempted. There were better Bond girls than Solitaire, but none more beautiful and sexy. I don’t see any crap, and only the cheese that the film makers deliberately laid on it to make the sandwich better. I guess I’m with a lot of the respondents, it is somewhere in the lane between classic and cheese.

    I’m kind of a Bond freak so I have a post on this too if anyone cares:

    http://kirkhamclass.blogspot.com/2010/08/live-and-let-die.html

    • I dunno, I mean, I hear you (on Pepper) about the context and the time. It goes over like a fart in church nowadays though. That’s what “Timeless” means, no matter when something is viewed, people will see it and enjoy it for what it offers. This is like the opposite of that, people watch it now and go ugh. It needs to be called out.

      This was one of the ones in the series I had a real problem categorizing. I noted as much in the write up… I think the term “Classic” may have been too strong for it, but it certainly isn’t crap, either. I was left with Cheese, but you’re right, it doesnt fit all that well there either. I think its more a case of the classification system failing than anything else.

      And you better keep apologizing to Carly Simon, Richard, cause you KNOW the truth is that Nobody Does it Better. ;)

      I’ve been clicking through to check out your posts, too. Good to find a fellow Bond afficianado. Although, I dont read the books… not sure if that disqualifies me in your eyes or not.

  11. The Live and Let Die Post link above was actually written by my daughter not by me. Although she and I are of the same mind about most of it.

    • LOL. Outsourcing your blog posts, Richard? :D

      Tell her to sign in with her own ID and pay us a visit as well! Obviously she’s a Bond fan too, and a blog can never have enough of those in the house!! :D

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