Bullet Points: Live and Let Die
Action films of the early 70’s, were required to have gritty, realistic action, drugs, or police corruption, and preferably take place in New York City. Movies like Shaft, The French Connection, Death Wish, and Across 110th Street come to mind. The early 70s was also a time for a proliferation of Blaxploitation films, also preferably in New York City. Movies like Shaft, Hell Up in Harlem, Cotton Comes to Harlem and Super Fly come to mind. The producers of the Bond series know what the public likes and decided to combine these timely elements and portions of the Ian Flemming novel of the same name to create 1973’s Live and Let Die.
Roger Moore, up to that point, most famous for TV’s The Saint, took over the role of James Bond and brought his sly sense of humor to help soften the edges.
After British agents have been murdered it is up to 007 to find out the who and the why. He travels to the Big Apple to track the mysterious heroine producer Mr. Big, responsible for the deaths, falling deep into the voodoo worlds of New Orleans and the fictional San Monique on his way. Live and Let Die features all of the requirements of a good Bond film, villainous villains, exotic locales, cool gadgets, crazy action stunts, and beautiful Bond Girls, but if this ever changing world in which we’re living makes you give in and cry… say live and let die!
- Villainous Villains: Yaphet Kotto, whom you might remember from Eye of the Tiger or the previously mention Across 110th Street, plays the main villains. That is not a typo, Yaphet Kotto uses his acting prowess to play suave and sophisticated Kananga and the brash fast talking Mr. Big. During the course of the movie it is revealed that they are the same person, with Kananga donning a mask most likely applied with spirit gum, but the makeup and Kotto are so convincing that the reveal is a total surprise. Kotto was the first, and to this point, only black main villain in a James Bond film. Mr. Big/Kananga both have henchman that are very memorable, from Julius Harris playing the maniacal mechanical Tee Hee with claw for a hand, to Earl Jolly Brown’s Whisper, who is as quiet as he is large. There is also a bevy of Harlemites dressed to the nines with their pimp cars, including the unique Corvorado which was a Corvette with Cadillace Eldorado panels done by the famous Les Dunham. The urban setting gave us some words and phrases never heard before in James Bond films, but popular in Blaxploitation films, especially honky.
- Never Had It, Never Will: When Bond delves into the world of voodoo, he encounters another Kananga underling, Baron Samedi, that is Saturday for those who speak French, played by Geoffrey Holder, who is most famous for his 7Up commercials and distinctive laugh. Baron Samedi is the voodoo god of cemeteries and chief of the legion of the dead, the man who cannot die. After he is seemingly killed by Bond, the film ends with the haunting image of a laughing Samedi unsafely sitting on the front of the same train transporting Bond.
- The Law: There is one character that is not truly of villain, but he does spend his time trying to chase down Bond. Sheriff J.W. Pepper (Clifton James) is the portly bigoted parish sheriff in Louisiana with loud mouth that is usually filled with chew. He is involved in one of the great car/boat chases in film history through the bayous of Louisana. Sheriff Pepper was popular enough to appear in the next Bond film, The Man with the Golden Gun getting involved in another car chase, this time as Bond’s passenger.
- Exotic Locales: Two of the main locations are not exotic on their face, but where Bond travels in the locales is not the norm, especially for an Englishman. In New York City, Bond tracks Kananga’s men deep into Harlem, and when he walks in to a bar everyone stops and looks because he sticks out, as said in the movie, like a cue ball. James also visits one of the fronts for Mr. Big, the cleverly named Oh Cult Voodoo Shop. In New Orleans, Bond visits a crocodile farm, but gets a little too close for his comfort, and tours the bayou by speed boat but does not have time to enjoy the scenery.
- Voodoo Central: The final locale is San Monique, described only as a Caribbean island, which is the home of Kananga and his poppy fields. Voodoo has a heavy influence on the island, and Bond is witness to some of the rituals and ceremonies. Kananga’s has a secret lair, like all good villains should, which is the base of his heroin smuggling that also has a shark tank ideal for slow elaborate deaths that usually backfire and end up killing the main villain.
- Cool Gadgets: Q does not appear in Live and Let Die, but this does not mean there aren’t any gadgets, and Q does get credit by name for some of the gadgets. Bond gets a watch from Q that is magnetic, which is strong enough to deflect a bullet from long range and delicate enough to disrobe a beautiful woman. The watch also has a spinning face that acts as a saw which Bond uses to cut through rope when tied up. After he checks into his hotel room, Bond uses a device to check for bugs, the electronic monitoring kind, not insects, although that would be helpful because you can’t trust those hotel rooms. On the weapon side, Bond has a shark gun that has compressed gas pellets which leads to an explosive end for Kananga and inflated ego.
- Crazy Action Stunts: While the gadgets are minimized in Live and Let Die, the actions stunts are crazier with several memorable scenes, and specifically chases. Bond is involved in different chases involving cars, a bus, motorcycles, planes and speedboats. On San Monique, Bond commandeers a double decker bus and chased around the island – watch out for that low bridge, James. Uh oh, there goes the top half of the bus. In New Orleans, Bond hijacks a Cessna 140, similar looking to Doug Masters Cessna A150M in Iron Eagle, and is chased by cars around an airport while never leaving the ground – watch out for those closing hangar door, James. Uh oh, there go both of the plane’s wings.
- Pitfall: When trapped at a crocodile farm that doubles as a heroin factory, Bond famously escapes by running across the back of the crocodiles. The stunt was actually done with live crocodiles by the real life owner of the crocodile farm, Ross Kananga, whose name was used for the main villain. After he destroys the drug factory, Bond escapes on a speedboat for a prolonged boat chase in and out of the bayou while avoiding other boats, cars, a floating blockade, a swimming pool and a wedding cake. After stopping Kananga and getting the girl, Bond is rudely interrupted on his train ride home by Tee Hee with a fight to the death ensuing. The producers most have enjoyed seeing a half mechanical man fighting Bond on a train because they had Bond fight Jaws, the man with a mechanical mouth, in The Spy Who Loved Me.
- Beautiful Bond Girls: Live and Let Die is the most mystical of all the Bond films, and Solitaire, Jane Seymour in one of her first major roles, fits right into the theme as she is tarot card reading psychic. She comes from a long line of female mystics that Kananga has in his control, using the powers for his own benefit. The only problem is that the powers are only viable as long as the seer is still a virgin. Bond uses this to his advantage to get to Kananga by stacking the tarot deck forcing “The Lover” to be in the cards. Solitaire sleeps with Bond and loses her power, but gains her freedom from Kananga.
- Jungle Fever: Live and Let Die was also the most progressive Bond film up to that point. While there had been African American Bond Girls before, Live and Let Die had the first romantic relation, if you know what I mean, with Bond. Rosie Carver (Gloria Hendry) plays a CIA double agent who is actually working for Kananga. Bond doesn’t trust Carver, and after their relations he tries to get answers, but she is shot dead by Kananga’s forces before she can provide and information. Special recognition to Miss Caruso (Madeline Smith) an Italian agent that Bond is able to use his watch to magnetically unzip the back of her dress, and Miss Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell) who ,even though she is not a Bond Girl, always provides some playful banter with Bond.