LIVE AND LET DIE
Review by Ed Nguyen
Stars: Roger Moore, Jane
Seymour, Yaphet Kotto, Geoffrey Holder, Clifton James
Director: Guy Hamilton
Audio: English monaural or DTS 5.1, Spanish monaural, French 5.1
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Video: Color, 1.85:1 widescreen, 1080p high-definition
Features: Three commentaries, Bond 1973 documentary, Roger Moore as James Bond TV skit, Inside Live and Let Die featurette, On Set with Roger Moore featurettes, image database, trailers, TV and radio spots
Length: 122 minutes
Release Date: October 21, 2008
“At any cost, any, Bond must die!”
Film *** ½
Following the release of the film Diamonds are Forever, star Sean Connery announced that he would never again portray the iconic secret agent James Bond. Without Connery in the lead role, fears abounded that the franchise, seven-film strong at the time, would soon fall in decline. Even worse, Diamonds are Forever had not been a particularly strong entry in the series, and the familiar formula of James Bond-vs.-SPECTRE was becoming worn from over-use.
For the eighth film in the series, producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman decided to move away from SPECTRE villains. They chose to adapt Live and Let Die, Ian Fleming’s controversial second Bond novel that focused on the illegal drug trade and featured black villains. Perhaps this risky move was a sign of the times, when civil unrest, racial tensions, and drug use were at their heights. The film would also capitalize on the blaxploitation trend in filmmaking at the time, too.
Returning for the third time as director was Guy Hamilton, who had previously helmed Goldfinger and Diamonds are Forever. The new script for Live and Let Die was written by Tom Mankiewicz, who had previously done the script for Diamonds are Forever. But of course, the biggest question was - who would be the new James Bond?
One possibility was Timothy Dalton, who felt that he was too young at the time for the role. American contenders included Robert Wagner and Burt Reynolds, believe it or not. Fortunately, the producers decided that James Bond should be portrayed by a British actor, so they eventually chose an actor they had considered in the past for Dr. No and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. That actor, Roger Moore, was already known to British audiences from his role as Simon Templar on TV’s The Saint, and his debonair and suave mannerisms were generally in keeping with Ian Fleming’s original concept of James Bond as a David Niven-type.
So, with new James Bond in hand, Live and Let Die (1973) opens with a trio of murders as three British agents are killed within a 24-hour period. These deaths, in New York, New Orleans, and the Caribbean island of San Monique, are all somehow linked to a certain Dr. Kananga (Yaphet Kotto), a seemingly dull U.N. diplomat. James Bond is sent to investigate further.
As Bond soon discovers, Dr. Kananga is not a benign character. Kananga’s inner circle is comprised of a number of nefarious characters - Harlem drug lord Mr. Big and his hook-clawed henchman Tee Hee, for instance. And then there’s the mysterious Baron Samedi (Geoffrey Holder), who many on San Monique believe to be an immortal voodoo king of the dead. The ace up Kananga’s sleeve, however, is Solitaire (gorgeous Jane Seymour), a tarot card fortune-teller with pinpoint powers of prophecy. She follows all of Bond’s activities, and Kananga uses her uncanny powers of perception to foil Bond at every turn.
Bond’s allies are a mixed bag. The ever-reliable Felix Leiter of the CIA is on-hand, as is Quarrel (actually, Quarrel Junior, since the original Quarrel was killed off in Dr. No). On the other hand, Bond has to make do with the timid and too-easily frightened Rosie (Gloria Hendry), a very useless CIA agent; she is quite easily the worst Bond girl to date, even worse than Diamonds are Forever’s shrill, wisecracking Jill St. John. And most memorably, love him or hate him, backwater hick Sheriff G.W. Pepper (Clifton James) makes the first of two comic relief slapstick appearances. In Live and Let Die, Pepper gets a lot of screen time regrettably during the film’s best action sequence, a thrilling boat chase; Clifton James is actually quite funny and steals his scenes, but his broad redneck humor simply doesn’t belong in a Bond film.
Indeed, Live and Let Die marks the beginning of several trends for subsequent Bond films. This film is only a loose adaptation of the source novel, and later Bond films would have even less in common with anything actually written by Ian Fleming. The new film Bond character is softened up from Sean Connery’s brutal take; in keeping with Roger Moore’s own lighter style, the new Bond expresses more British wit and dry humor. SPECTRE is phased out of the series, replaced by random megalomaniacs. Sci-fi (or in this case, supernatural) elements appear more frequently. And there is also a sad trend towards increasingly unmemorable or downright mediocre leading ladies, most of them American (Tanya Roberts or Denise Richards, to name a couple of disasters). There should be an unwritten rule that only British or European actresses be allowed to portray Bond girls ever again.
Still, for a James Bond film, Live and Let Die is well-paced, solid entertainment. The film is played fairly straight with the gadgets kept to a minimum (and no Q!). The storyline offers a balanced blend of actual spying, action, romance, and humor without going too overboard as would later James Bond films of the 1970’s. For his initial outing as the famous secret agent, Roger Moore acquits himself nicely and is not quite the clown (Octopussy, *cough*) that he would become by his final Bond films.
Live and Let Die was a big success at the box office and restored confidence in the survival of the franchise. Roger Moore, of course, would star in seven total James Bond films, the most to date of any actor. And while for some folks, Sean Connery is the only James Bond, we cannot deny the longevity and popularity of Roger Moore’s own take on the secret agent.
BONUS TRIVIA: The imposing and deep-voiced Geoffrey Holder choreographed the film’s voodoo dance sequences. He is also well-known for his various “Uncola” 7-Up commercials.
The film is presented on a 50GB, dual-layer disc in 1080p high-definition. The video has been restored and looks better than ever in Blu-ray. Images are crisp, very detailed, and exceptionally clear; Live and Let Die appears almost pristine.
Audio is available in the original English monaural or a new DTS 5.1 lossless audio re-mix, Spanish monaural, and French 5.1. I recommend the new DTS track; it’s quite good. Plus, what better way to listen to the Wings’ theme song, one of the best of the 007 movie themes?
Several of the supplemental features on this Blu-ray disc will be familiar to owners of previously released DVDs of Live and Let Die.
There are three audio commentaries. We have a choice of listening to Roger Moore himself, director Guy Hamilton (with cast members), or screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz, among others. Quite a few of these anecdotes are gleamed from archival interviews and have been moderated or edited for these audio commentaries.
Bond 1973: The Lost Documentary (22 min.) is a vintage documentary about the casting of the new James Bond. Some rare behind-the-scene footage is revealed, as are a few plot elements.
In one of the disc’s highlights, a 1964 TV skit (8 min.) showcases a young Roger Moore as (surprise!) James Bond. In this comedy skit, a vacationing Bond meets a vacationing female Russian agent. Neither trusts the other, and so, priceless humor ensues!
Inside Live and Let Die (28 min.) is a featurette that looks at the casting of a new James Bond, his co-stars, and the stunts in the new film. The most intriguing behind-the-scene footage here reveals secrets behind the film’s exciting boat chase and the famous crocodile-walking sequence.
There are two quick On Set featurettes with Roger Moore, one about the film’s opening funeral march (2 min.) and the other focusing on preparations for the film’s brief hang-glider sequence (4 min.).
The image database contains around 144 entries sub-divided into sections for the new 007 Roger Moore, cast and crew portraits, and marketing, among other smaller categories.
Lastly, there are two vintage trailers, three TV ads, and two radio spots. There is also a very quick Conceptual Art segment (1½ min.) featuring art for the film.
Roger Moore’s initial outing as James Bond in Live and Let Die is an entertaining film that laid rest to any fears that the Bond franchise would die with Sean Connery’s departure.