“Live and Let Die”
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–”
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?