What’s it About?
007 is sent to stop a diabolically brilliant heroin magnate armed with a complex organization and a reliable psychic tarot card reader.
“Live and Let Die”
Directed by Guy Hamilton
7 out of 10
“What are you? Some kinda doomsday machine, boy?” – Sheriff J.W. Pepper
“Let and Let Die” is Roger Moore’s debut film as the iconic spy James Bond. It is actually the 8th Bond over all with Lazenby and Connery having hung up their gadgets. It’s directed by Guy Hamilton who brought us the classic Connery entry Goldfinger and Remo Williams. I really don’t know what happened but the gears changed somewhat and Hamilton (maybe not solely) not only introduces us to the capable Roger Moore but incorporates a comedic and rather campy approach to the Bond movies.
The film is based on the Fleming novel of the same name and was written by Tom Mankiewicz (Superman, Ladyhawke). Unfortunately upon it’s release america was being subjected to films starring mostly African American actors and actresses. Mostly “Blaxploitation” movies. The filmmakers, I feel, in including stereotypes and ethnic cliches doom the film to some mediocrity and causes the movie to feel dated. But the film being dated is not the only thing that makes LALD a “just ok” Bond movie.
It isn’t really Roger Moore’s fault. The culprit is the story, cheesy acting and campy dialog that would cause me to cringe a bit. “Just being dis-arming, darling” 25 years ago while having some beers with my cousin, we would have a blast at the film’s expense. We loved it. Only back then though. Now? Well, I don’t think I love it as much. Not after some other much tighter, interesting and diverse entries, even by Moore himself.
So how does Moore fare, here? Is he great? No. Does he suck? No, not really. To some, Moore may not be as rougish, macho or appealing as Connery in his hey-dey. Moore’s approach is more sauve, smooth, sometimes, slippery and sarcastic. At times somewhat being a parody but never too over the top (That came much later). In his defense though, Connery’s Diamonds are Forever can be blamed for being a bit off the wall, too. When Moore really wants to, though, he can show us that Bond is in his blood. In LALD it happens infrequently though.
Moore’s intro is quite amusing and well done. He is interrupted by none other than “M” played by the incredibly talented Bernard Lee and Miss Moneypenny (Lois Maxell) at his home of all places. He tries his best to hide a girl he’s been fooling with but Moneypenny being the curious woman she is catches the young girl scantily dressed and feeling ashamed. I thought as an intro it was unique and gives us a clear cut picture of Moore’s Bond being just as flirtatious as Connery’s once was. A playboy who just happens to be a spy.
Bond (Moore) is sent to investigate the deaths of three of his colleagues (during a parade in New Orleans is one) and is sent to NYC to find out the connection between their deaths and an underworld mob boss called Kananga AKA Mr Big played by the always awesome Yaphet Kotto. While in NYC Bond is thrust into another world of secret clubs, (There’s a revolving restaurant table, even!) Voo Doo and drugs. Seem like Mr Big wants to move some of the happy H around for free to put other rival gangs out of business. He also runs a fictional island called San Monique where the heroin is farmed.
It is while investigating in NYC that he runs into Felix Leiter after having his driver shot and almost getting killed in a crash. Bond then moves on to the previously mentioned restaurant named Fillet of Soul. It’s here that Bond meets the beautiful Tarot Card reader Solitaire. (The beautiful Jane Seymour) She works for Mr Big but is not his concubine. She needs to be a virgin in order for her to “see” using the tarot cards. Or something like that. I just know Mr Big freaks out after he finds out that Bond eventually sleeps with her.
I want to keep the rest spoiler free or this review will turn into a long recap of the movie. By now many have seen it anyway and those who have not could be surprised and entertained while watching the movie. Suffice it to say the film then follows the typical formula of most Bond films. Or just refer to any of the Austin Powers movies and there you go.
Bond continues his globetrotting and in San Monique he hooks up with Rosie Carver, a very nervous CIA agent played by Gloria Hendry. While there Moore’s act beefs up a bit when he discovers that Kananga is farming Heroin. Moore looks very damn cool in that slick glider of his. So, what follows all of this that works? We get Tee Hee played by Julius Harris who is a deadly foe with a pincer for a hand. He a bit charming too. He is quite menacing especially during some close calls with Bond. The climatic ending with Harris is great! Harris remains above the material though and gives the production some class.
Seymour is impressive as Solitaire here as well. She is very pretty, capable and alluring. She plays very well off Moore and handles the material without a hitch. Kotto works here too. He is bad ass, hip, educated and deadly. He knows how to dispatch secret agents and when he resorts to the tried and true method of using sharks (It’s always sharks isn’t it?) he gets this twinkle in his eye that is a gem. The 7-Up dude, Geoffrey Holder as Baron Semedi, the VooDoo priest that is controlled by Kananga is creepy and has that killer laugh that chills to the bone. He hangs out with the bad dudes but he seems like he just doesn’t care what side he’s on. The actors and the performances for the most part bode well in this 007 production.
Now, when we get back to Louisiana, the movie takes a funky turn. It becomes some weird “Smokey and the Bandit” meets “James Bond” hybrid. We get the incredible and inflated Clifton James (Superman 2) as Sheriff JW Pepper. Pepper is loud, boozy looking, rude and is the redneck stereotype in this movie. I have no idea, other than to supply comedy like a hammer to the head, why the Louisiana boat chase with Pepper was done like it was. The action is breezy and well staged with the boat stunts being exciting and dangerous. Clifton James is lovingly over the top and plays the stereotype with laser precision.
He even says that they have themselves some “Black Russians” and I don’t mean the drink! I don’t know what to make of it all. I mean it is a Bond movie, no? Not an episode of Dukes of Hazard. Funny though, these scenes are truly funny and insane to watch if you just let the movie take you for a ride. It’s good for a giggle but in the end it really serves to make LALD a farcical type of film. Hamilton’s direction is curiously tight here though with great cinematography by Ted Moore (Goldfinger). The art direction by Oscar winner Peter Lamont (Titanic) is slick and service-able. The movie is clean and great to look at.
To sum it all up the film is still fun but a bit dated in parts. It is in no way a serious Bond picture and it will take a few more Moore entries to get that. Moore is likable and very believable even though at times he doesn’t sell being in any real trouble very well. He transitions neatly I must say in his defense. I even love those huge cigars 007 sucks on too. It takes me back to some really fun times watching it with my cousins in NYC on a late Saturday night. LALD is appealing but none too smart and that’s ok just sit back and let Paul McCartney’s killer tunage reel you in. Enjoy.