March 13, 2013

Live And Let Die (Bond #08) [Bond 50 BluRay Set]

1973's aggressively 70s Live And Let Die is the 8th "official" James Bond movie produced by EON Productions.

The big news in this one is, of course, Roger Moore's debut as Bond, and it's surprising to me how easily he appears to slide right into the character. Perhaps it could have something to do with the fact that I'm used to him seeing him in the role from basically growing up with him as Bond, but nevertheless he successfully avoids the awkward adjustment period that George Lazenby had when he assumed the role in On Her Majesty's Secret Service in this, his maiden voyage.

As with Connery, you get the sense that Moore's Bond is shrewdly considering all the angles and is ready to snap into action at any given moment. One key difference in Moore's performance, however, is that his reactions are much more broad and muggy. When a suspicious bit of information was passed to Connery, a subtle flit in his eyes would tell you that he smelled a rat. Moore makes a much bigger deal out of similar moments, letting his eyes shift wildly and taking big William Shatner style pauses before proceeding. Same deal whenever sexual innuendo is thrown his way… much more goofier reactions: Moore goes right up to the fourth wall without quite breaking it.

In this one, Bond investigates the mysterious murders of three agents in New York City, New Orleans, and the fictional island nation of San Monique, and eventually uncovers a nonsensical plot by the evil Dr. Kananga (aka "Mr. Big") to put all the United States' heroin dealers out of business by distributing 2 tons of it to the public for free. Once he's the only player left (and there will be so many more addicts around), he'll have the monopoly. The movie and its plot feels a little more streamlined than Diamonds Are Forever did, but was still a fairly entertaining ride for me… much more interesting than some of the earlier, more complicated pictures like Thunderball, to be sure.

Although as my friend JC pointed out in my observations on Diamonds, the book of Live And Let Die (written in the 1955) had the same setting and featured several heavies of African descent, I can't help but see this picture as a take-off on the very popular blaxploitation sub-genera that was highly profitable at the time. The original Shaft hit in 1971 and Across 110th Street in 1972 (the latter of which starred Dr. Kananga himself, Yaphett Koto). The early scenes in particular where Bond is in Harlem especially reek of this influence, with George Martin's funk'd up recordings of the Bond theme playing, and multiple references to Bond as a "honkey" by the flamboyantly dressed denizens of the neighborhood.

The movie spends a good chunk of time on San Monique, where Bond successfully nails a clairvoyant Tarot Card reader named "Solitaire," (played by Jane Seymour, future Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman) thus robbing her of her power. Both Connery's and Moore's (and Lazenby's) Bonds are hopeless sex addicts, but Moore's seems to bang more women per movie than his predecessors did. This may not be accurate.

And then there's the debut appearance of Clifton James' racist southern sheriff character, J.W. Pepper. I was enjoying the movie just fine, but when Pepper shows up around the 85 minute mark, the movie grinds to a screeching halt, turning into what is essentially a dry run for Smokey And The Bandit, which would come 4 years later. I'm talking about the big-ass speed-boat chase. I didn't like the sequence, and my main problem with it is the fact that Bond is virtually absent from the whole thing. We go back to a close up of him every once in a while to show that he's still driving the boat to some unclear destination, but most of the main action follows Sheriff Pepper and the bad guys, and it's all weirdly not engaging.

Memorable sequences, however, include Bond's escape from the crocodile farm (just before the boat chase), and a chase around a small private airport that results in mucho property damage. I also really liked the two scenes in New Orleans where a traveling funeral procession winds up being an exceptionally large assassination squad. The scene at the end where Bond interrupts the ritual would-be sacrifice of Solitaire is strange, not only because Bond kills 5 or 6 people completely unprovoked, but also because it's the only scene in the Bond franchise that I'm aware of where something supernatural appears to happen.

Felix Leiter is back and has been recast for the fifth time, this time with David Hedison. He gets a lot to do in this one… The character would sit the next six movies out before appearing again in 1987, in Timothy Dalton's first Bond The Living Daylights. But THEN in 1989's License To Kill, Hedison is back in the part again! WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON?!?!?!?

I guess the producers were really trying to distinguish Moore's Bond from Connery's, so he mostly orders bourbon whenever there's a drink to be had (never a Martini or champaign, although he would again in future installments), and he smokes ridiculous cigars ala Hannibal Smith from "The A-Team."

Kananga has what I believe is the most preposterous death scene of all the Bond villains. And this is the third picture in a row where after the main climax has happened, Bond is off with a girl only to have one of the secondary baddies show up and make one last bit of trouble before the end credits roll. In OHMSS, it's Blofeld and Nurse Bunt who drive by and assassinate Bond's new wife. In Diamonds Are Forever, Bond is enjoying a cruise with Tiffany Case when Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd show up again for one last attempt to kill him, only to have Bond savagely murder them both. In this one, the bionic-armed thug known as "Tee-Hee" shows up on the train where Bond plans to pork Solitaire for "sixteen hours," and starts some shit.

I can't remember, but I think the next movie, The Man With The Golden Gun, has a scene at the end where HervĂ© Villechaize's diminutively named "Nick-Nack" comes back too… but I'll have to wait until next movie to find out!

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