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Live and Let Die (1973) is the eighth spy film in the James Bond series, and the first to star Roger Moore as the fictional MI6marker agent James Bond. The film was produced by Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman. Although the producers had wanted Sean Connery to return after his role in the previous Bond film Diamonds Are Forever, he declined, sparking a search for a new actor to play James Bond. Roger Moore was signed for the lead role.

The film is adapted from the novel of the same name by Ian Fleming. In the film, a Harlem drug lord known as Mr. Big plans to distribute two tons of heroin free so as to put rival drug barons out of business. Mr. Big, however, is revealed to be the disguised alter ego of Dr. Kananga, a corrupt Caribbeanmarker dictator, who rules San Monique, the fictional island where the heroin poppies are secretly farmed. Bond is investigating the death of three British agents, leading him to Kananga, where he is soon trapped in a world of gangsters and voodoo as he fights to put a stop to the drug baron's scheme.

Live and Let Die was released during the height of the blaxploitation era, and many blaxploitation archetypes and cliché are depicted such as afro hairstyles, derogatory racial epithets ("honky"), black gangsters, and "pimpmobiles". It departs from the former plots of the James Bond films about megalomaniac super-villains, and instead focuses on drug trafficking, depicted primarily in blaxploitation films. It was considered by fans as an "Exploitation Bond film" in contrast to the other films. Moreover, it is set in African American cultural centres such as Harlemmarker, New Orleansmarker, and the Caribbean Islandsmarker. It was also the first James Bond film featuring an African American Bond girl to be romantically involved with 007, Rosie Carver, who was played by Gloria Hendry. Despite mixed reviews due to the racial overtones, the film was a box office success.

Plot

Three British MI6marker agents, including one "on loan" to the American government, are killed under mysterious circumstances within 24 hours while monitoring the operations of Dr. Kananga, the dictator of a small Caribbean island called San Monique. James Bond is sent to New Yorkmarker, where the first agent was killed and where Kananga is currently visiting the UN, to investigate. As soon as Bond arrives in New York, his driver is killed while taking him to meet Felix Leiter of the CIA and Bond is nearly killed in the ensuing car crash.
Glastron speedboats in the Louisiana boat chase.
The driver's killer leads Bond to Mr. Big, a gangster who runs a chain of Fillet of Soul restaurants throughout the United Statesmarker. It is during his confrontation with Mr. Big that Bond first meets Solitaire, a beautiful virgin tarot expert who has the uncanny ability to see both the future and remote events in the present. In disguise as Mr. Big, Kananga demands that his henchman kill Bond, who manages to escape unscathed. Bond follows Kananga back to San Monique, where he subsequently meets Rosie Carver, a CIA double agent, who is subsequently murdered on the island by Kanaga's scarecrow men after Bond suspects her of working for Kananga. Later he meets the boatman Quarrel, Jr. who takes him to Solitaire's home. Using a stacked tarot deck of only cards showing "The Lovers", Bond tricks her into thinking that seduction is in her future and then seduces her. Solitaire loses her ability to foretell the future when she loses her virginity to Bond and is forced into cooperating with Bond to bring down Kananga.

It transpires that Kananga is producing two tons of heroin and is protecting the poppy fields by exploiting locals' fear of voodoo and the occult. Through his alter ego, Mr. Big, Kananga plans to distribute the heroin free of charge at his Fillet of Soul restaraunts, which will increase the number of addicts. Kananga also believes that other drug dealers, namely the Mafia, cannot compete with his giveaway, to which Kananga can later charge high prices for the heroin after he has simultaneously cultivated huge drug dependency and bankrupted his competitors. Kananga's men capture Bond and Solitaire at the New Orleans airport. Bond does not identify Mr. Big, as the latter is wearing a plastic gangster mask. Kananga rips off his mask and asks a disgusted Bond if he slept with Solitaire, using Bond to test her abilities. Kananga turns Solitaire over to Baron Samedi to be sacrificed after he discovers that her ability to read tarot cards is gone. Kananga leaves Bond with his one-armed henchman, Tee Hee Johnson, who takes Bond to a crocodile farm community in the Louisiana backwoods. Bond escapes being eaten by the crocodiles by running along the animals' backs to safety. He sets the farm on fire and steals a speedboat, engaging in a chase with Kananga's men, local sheriff J.W. Pepper (Clifton James) and the Louisiana state police. Later, back in San Monique, Bond throws Samedi into a coffin of snakes and rescues Solitaire from the voodoo sacrifice. Bond and Solitaire escape below ground into Kananga's lair. Kananga captures them both and proceeds to lower them into a shark tank. Bond escapes and forces a shark gun pellet in Kananga's mouth, causing him to literally blow up like a balloon, float to the top of the cave, and explode. After the job is done, Felix leaves Bond and Solitaire on a train out of the country.

Tee Hee Johnson follows Bond and Solitaire onto a train and tries to kill them both, but loses his prosthetic arm in a fight with Bond and is flung out the window. A very much alive Samedi is seen perched on the front of the speeding train in which Bond and Solitaire are travelling, laughing in his voodoo outfit, before the film ends.

Cast



Production

While filming Diamonds Are Forever, Live and Let Die was chosen as the next Ian Fleming novel to be adapted because screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz thought it would be daring to use black villains, as the Black Panthers and other racial movements were active at this time. Guy Hamilton was again chosen to direct, and since he was a jazz fan, decided to film in New Orleans. Hamilton didn't want to use Mardi Gras since Thunderball featured Junkanoo, a similar festivity, so, following suggestions of a friend and searching for locations in helicopters, he decided to use two well-known features of the city, the jazz funerals and the canals.

While searching for locations in Jamaica, the crew discovered a crocodile farm owned by Ross Kananga, after passing a sign warning that "trespassers will be eaten." The farm was put into the script and also inspired Mankiewicz to name the film's villain after Kananga.

Casting

Broccoli and Saltzman tried to convince Sean Connery to return as 007, but he declined. Among the actors to test for the part of Bond were Julian Glover, John Gavin , Jeremy Brett, Simon Oates , John Ronane , and Michael McStay. The main frontrunner for the role was Michael Billington. United Artists wanted an American to play Bond: Burt Reynolds, Paul Newman and Robert Redford were all considered. Producer Albert R. Broccoli, however, insisted that the part should be played by a Briton and put forward Roger Moore. After Moore was chosen, Billington remained on the top of the list in the event that Moore would decline to come back for the next film. Billington ultimately played a brief villainous role in the pre-credit sequence of The Spy Who Loved Me (1977). Roger Moore, who had been considered by the producers before both Dr. No and On Her Majesty's Secret Service, was ultimately cast. Moore tried not to imitate either Sean Connery or his performance as Simon Templar in The Saint, and Mankiewicz fitted the screenplay into Moore's persona by giving more comedy scenes and a light-hearted approach to Bond.

Mankiewicz had thought of turning Solitaire into a black woman, with Diana Ross as his primary choice. However Broccoli and Saltzman decided to stick to Fleming's Caucasian description, and Jane Seymour, who was in the TV series The Onedin Line, was cast for the role. Yaphet Kotto was cast while doing another movie for United Artists, Across 110th Street.

Live and Let Die is the first of two films featuring Louisianamarker Sheriff J.W. Pepper portrayed by Clifton James, who appeared again in The Man with the Golden Gun. It is also the first of two films featuring David Hedison as Felix Leiter, who reprised the role in Licence to Kill, despite it being a tradition of a different actor for each film Leiter appeared in. Hedison had said "I was sure that would be my first and last", before being cast again.

Madeline Smith, who played the Italianmarker agent Miss Caruso sharing Bond's bed in the film's opening, was recommended for the part by Roger Moore after he had appeared with her on TV. Smith said that Moore was extremely polite to work with, but she felt very uncomfortable being clad in only blue bikini panties while Moore's wife was on set overseeing the scene.

This was the only Bond film until 2002 not to feature 'Q', played at this stage by Desmond Llewellyn. Llewellyn was currently appearing in the TV series Follyfoot, but was written out of three episodes to appear in the film. The producers however had already decided not to include the character, much to Llewellyn's annoyance.

Filming

Production began in 1972, with filming in Pinewood Studiosmarker, along with location shooting in New York Citymarker, New Orleans, Louisianamarker and Jamaicamarker doubling for the fictional San Monique. The producers were reportedly required to pay protection money to a local Harlemmarker gang to ensure the crew's safety. When the cash ran out, they were "encouraged" to leave.

Ross Kananga suggested the jump on crocodiles, and was enlisted by the producers to do the stunt. The scene took five takes to be completed, including one in which the last crocodile snapped at Kananga's heel, tearing his trousers. The production also had trouble with snakes. The script supervisor was so afraid that she refused to be on set with them; an actor fainted while filming a scene where he is killed by a snake; Jane Seymour became terrified as a reptile got closer, and Geoffrey Holder only agreed to fall into the snake-filled casket because Princess Alexandra was visiting the set.

The boat chase was filmed on the Louisiana bayou, with some interruption caused by flooding. 26 boats were built by the Glastron boat company for the film. Seventeen were destroyed during rehearsals. Thespeedboat jump scene over the bayou, filmed with assistance with a specially-constructed ramp, unintentionally set a Guinness World Record at the time with cleared. Unfortunately, the waves created by the impact caused the following boat to flip over.

The chase involving the double-decker bus was filmed with a second-hand London bus adapted by having a top section removed and then replaced so that it ran on ball bearings and so would slide off on impact.

Music



Taking a temporary hiatus from scoring Bond films, John Barry was replaced by George Martin for the film.

For the theme song, Martin teamed with former Beatle Paul McCartney, who had previously been considered for Diamonds Are Forever in 1971. This was the first time the pair had worked together since Abbey Road in 1969. The theme was written by Paul and his wife Linda McCartney and performed by Paul and his group, Wings. The tune, the first true rock and roll song used to open a Bond film, was a major success in the U.S.marker (#2 for three weeks) and the UKmarker (#9), McCartney's best showings in over a year.

"Live and Let Die" remains arguably one of the most well-known piece of Bond-related music other than the series theme. For many years the song was a highlight of McCartney's live shows, complete with fireworks and lasers, and in 2005, it was performed live by McCartney during the halftime show at Super Bowl XXXIX also in New Orleans. In 1991 the song was covered by the American rock band Guns N' Roses.

The Olympia Brass Band has a notable part in "Live and Let Die", where they lead a funeral march for an assassination victim. Trumpeter Alvin Alcorn plays the killer. The piece of music the band plays at the beginning of the funeral march is "Just a Closer Walk with Thee".

Release and reception

The world premiere of the film was at Odeon Leicester Squaremarker in Londonmarker on 6 July 1973, followed by a general release in the United Kingdom on 12 July 1973. It was released earlier however, in the United States, on 27 June 1973. From a budget estimated to be around $7 million, the film grossed $126.4 million worldwide including $35.4 million from the United Statesmarker.

The film holds the record for the most viewed broadcast film on television in the United Kingdom by attracting 23.5 million viewers when premiered on ITV on 20 January 1980.

Despite poor reaction to the racial overtones, reviews were mostly positive, with praise to the action scenes, and Rotten Tomatoes gave the film a 63% "fresh" rating, although this covers ratings from various reviewers since 2000, which gives a more modern perception of the film. Universal Exports gave the film a 004 out of a 007.

Roger Ebert of Chicago Sun-Times stated that Moore "has the superficial attributes for the job: The urbanity, the quizzically raised eyebrow, the calm under fire and in bed". He felt though that Moore wasn't satisfactory in living up to the legacy left by Sean Connery in the preceding films. He rated the villains "a little banal" , adding that the film "doesn't have a Bond villain worthy of the Goldfingers, Dr. Nos and Oddjobs of the past." Chris Nashawaty similarly argues that Dr. Kananga/Mr. Big is the worst villain of the Roger Moore James Bond films. BBC Films reviewer William Mager praised the use of locations, but said that the plot was "convoluted". He stated that "Connery and Lazenby had an air of concealed thuggishness, clenched fists at the ready, but in Moore's case a sardonic quip and a raised eyebrow are his deadliest weapons" Movie reviewer Leonard Maltin reviewed the film with two and a half stars out of four stating the film was "barely memorable, overlong James Bond movie seems merely an excuse to film wild chase sequences". Danny Peary noted that Jane Seymour portrays “one of the Bond series’s most beautiful heroines” but had little praise for Moore, whom he described as making “an unimpressive debut as James Bond in Tom Mankiewicz’s unimaginative adaptation of Ian Fleming’s second novel…The movie stumbles along most of the way. It’s hard to remember Moore is playing Bond at times – in fact, if he and Seymour were black, the picture could pass as one of the black exploitation films of the day. There are few interesting action sequences – a motorboat chase is trite enough to begin with, but the filmmakers make it worse by throwing in some stupid Louisiana cops, including pot-bellied Sheriff Pepper.”

IGN ranked Solitaire as 10th in a Top 10 Bond Babes list. In November 2006, Entertainment Weekly listed Live and Let Die as the third best Bond film. MSN chose it as the thirteenth best Bond film and IGN listed it as twelfth best.

Year Result Award Recipients
1974 Nominated Academy Award for Best Original Song Paul & Linda McCartney
1974 Nominated Grammy Award for Best Song Written for a Motion Picture Paul & Linda McCartney
1975 Won Evening Standard Best Picture Guy Hamilton


References

  1. James Bond 007 :: MI6 - The Home Of James Bond
  2. Desmond Llewellyn's final interview with reference to Live and Let Die and Follyfoot
  3. The Seattle Times: Outdoors: Big, gaudy and Bond-like, Seattle Boat Show exhibit cuts to the chase
  4. Chris Nashawaty, "Moore...And Sometimes Less: A look at the most--and least--memorable bad guys, babes, and Bonds in Roger Moore's 007 oeuvre," Entertainment Wekly 1025 (December 12, 2008): 37.
  5. Danny Peary, Guide for the Film Fanatic (Simon & Schuster, 1986) p.244
  6. IGN: Top 10 Bond Babes


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