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Saturday, June 10, 2017

Live and Let Die

With the passing of Roger Moore last month, there was a bit of a debate on who was the best James Bond. Many came out for Moore, mostly it was admitted, because that was the Bond they grew up with. It seems that along with pop music and Saturday Night Live casts, your favorite is when you were about 13.

If that follows, Moore should have been my favorite Bond, as I dutifully saw and enjoyed most of his seven Bond films. But I've always been an old soul, and I still prefer Sean Connery. Moore brought a different dimension to Bond--a more lighthearted, dapper, cheerful fellow. Unlike Connery, or especially Daniel Craig, you knew that Moore would never get hurt; he'd hardly muss his suit. Moore's Bond probably never had a negative thought in his life.

His first Bond film was Live and Let Die, from 1973. Moore had been originally tapped to play Bond back in the beginning, but supposedly his role on television, The Saint, created scheduling problems. After Sean Connery quit, and the one-and-out George Lazenby, Connery came back to play Bond in Diamonds Are Forever (my first Bond film). Then Moore was hired, after names like Adam West and Burt Reynolds were offered the part (both supposedly passed, because they thought the role should stay with someone British, a huge mistake for the recently departed West).

Live and Let Die was directed by Guy Hamilton, and was his third Bond film, but the series took a more comic and ludicrous tone. This one leaps on the trend of blaxploitation films of the era, with black gangsters, pimpmobiles, and other cliches and stereotypes, most prevalently voodoo. What are we to make of a scene where Bond heads to Harlem, the only white face in a sea of black people, as if he were strolling through Hyde Park, and almost every black person around him is working for the bad guys (even the taxi driver)?

We also get the trope, which had been used somewhat in the earlier Bond films but especially in the Batman TV series, of the villains setting up Bond to die and then leaving him to his own devices. Here we have him left with a pond full of crocodiles, or dangled above a pool full of sharks. At some point a viewer wonders, why just not shoot him in the head?

Live and Let Die does not hold up well. The big action scene is a speedboat chase through the waters of Louisiana. Not only are there many black stereotypes, but a white one is added--Clifton Davis as a redneck sheriff (Davis also died recently). Smokey and the Bandit was still four years off, but I have to believe Jackie Gleason's Buford T. Justice was an homage to Davis, and to whole redneck sheriff image.

The film was notable for acknowledging that black people existed, and Bond had his first black girl--Gloria Hendry, as a bumbling CIA agent turned traitor. She played the Bond girl that gets killed, of course. The main one is Jane Seymour, in her first role, as Solitaire, a psychic who loses her powers after Bond sleeps with her. Talk about complicated sexual politics!

The villain is Yaphet Kotto, as a diplomat from a small Caribbean country who is trying to corner the heroin market. He's pretty good, taking the role seriously. He does die in the usual bizarre way that Bond villains die, though, being forced to swallow a capsule of compressed gas that inflates him until he bursts. "He always did have an inflated opinion of himself," Moore as Bond drolly states.

I'm going to take a look at Moore's Bond films over the summer, and I hope I'm more impressed. The only really good thing about this one is Paul McCartney's theme song, which I'd put right up there with "Goldfinger" as the best in the series. It was the first time a rock artist got the gig.

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