I love James Bond. Books, movies, games, you name it. Bond is one of my all-time favorite fictional characters. Recently I’ve been watching the Roger Moore Bond films that were released in the 70’s and 80’s. Moore made seven Bond films from 1973 to 1985, the most of any Bond actor. Technically Sean Connery also made seven, but his last one, 1983’s Never Say Never Again, was produced by a different studio and is not considered an official entry in the Bond series, so it doesn’t count.
Why am I writing about the Moore films instead of going to back to where it all began with Connery? I dunno. Because I’ve been watching the Moore movies lately for whatever reason. I’ll get to Connery eventually. Moore is probably not many people’s favorite 007, but since he played Bond seven times there had to have been at least a couple good movies in there somewhere, right?
Well, yes. But his first one was not one of them. 1973’s Live and Let Die is a dreadful movie that has not aged well at all. It draws from the Blaxploitation films that were popular at the time, and its attitudes towards race and sexuality are uncomfortable at best, and at times deeply problematic. Live and Let Die was the eighth Bond film, and was loosely based on Ian Fleming’s novel of the same name, which was published in 1954. It was Fleming’s second Bond novel, following Casino Royale which had been published in 1953.
I haven’t read the book in quite some time, but I remember liking it quite a bit. The movie, however, is flat-out terrible. Moore was in his mid-40’s when he made the movie (he was born in 1927), and he certainly looks the part. Bond is tasked with investigating the deaths of three British agents, one who was killed in New York, one in New Orleans and one in the fictional Caribbean nation of San Monique, which is run by a dictator named Dr. Kananga. Live and Let Die is unique among Bond films in that it takes place mostly in America, although as we shall see that is not necessarily a good thing.
Bond’s investigation leads him to a ruthless gangster named Mr. Big, who runs a chain of restaurants called Fillet of Soul throughout the United States. Bond ends up in Harlem, and is conspicuously the only white person there. When his cab driver, who is black, warns Bond that they’re headed to Harlem, Bond offers him an extra twenty dollars to continue on their current path. “Hey man,” the driver responds, “for twenty bucks I’d take you to a Ku Klux Klan cookout!”
Bond soon encounters Mr. Big, played by Yaphet Kotto, and his assistant Solitaire, played by the transcendently beautiful Jane Seymour. Seymour was 22 when this movie came out, literally half Roger Moore’s age, and the age gap between the two of them will become extremely problematic later on, but we’ll get to that in a bit. Solitaire is a tarot card reader who Mr. Big uses to predict the future. Big promptly orders his men to kill Bond, first proclaiming when Bond tries to introduce himself that “Names is for tombstones, baby!” before instructing his henchmen to “take this honky out and waste him.”
Bond escapes said wasting and travels to San Monique, since there appears to be a connection between Mr. Big and Dr. Kananga, the island’s dictator. There, he discovers expansive poppy fields, and also encounters Solitaire again. It should come as no surprise that Bond and Solitaire end up in bed, but the method Bond uses to seduce her is…troubling.
He sneaks into her house on the island and somehow replaces every card in her tarot deck with The Lovers card, so when he tells her to draw a card from the deck, she inevitably draws The Lovers card which convinces her that she and Bond are meant to, you know, be together. Aside from the fact that this doesn’t make sense logistically (how did Bond find like 50 of these cards?), this is one of the skeeviest things Bond has ever done. Basically it amounts to a man in his mid-forties tricking a naïve young woman half his age into sleeping with him.
I don’t need to explain the problems with this. Just…ick. Let’s move on.
Once Bond and Solitaire have, you know, hooked up, Solitaire loses her ability to “see,” and is worried that Kananga will kill her. They escape to New Orleans and are promptly captured by Mr. Big, where it is revealed that Mr. Big and Dr. Kananga are, to no one’s great surprise, one and the same. The movie seems to think that this is a brilliant twist but it doesn’t make much difference in the overall scheme of things. Like seriously, who cares?
Big/Kananga’s plan is to produce heroin from the poppy fields on San Monique and basically get rich off it and create a bunch of addicts. It’s one of the more low-key Bond villain schemes, honestly. No world domination here. Kananga hands Bond off to his henchman whose name is Tee Hee, who sports a metallic prosthetic arm with a pincer on the end. Tee Hee takes Bond to an alligator farm in the backwoods of Louisiana and leaves him to be consumed by the gators. Bond escapes and the most interminable boat chase in cinematic history begins. Seriously, the boat sequence feels like it goes on forever, and is one of the most boring action scenes I’ve ever seen. It’s just a bunch of boats driving around endlessly.
But it’s made excruciating by the addition of one of the most appallingly horrendous characters in cinematic history.
Say hello to Sheriff J.W. Pepper.
This guy is a tobacco-spittin’, word-slurrin’, stubborn, racist, redneck sumbitch.
He. Is. The. WORST.
When he encounters one of Kananga’s henchmen (who is black), he calls him “boy” and implies that his car is stolen and that it’s not the first time the henchmen has been arrested. Again, I don’t need to explain the problems with this. It’s not funny, like, AT ALL, and it goes on for WAY too long, making the endless boat chase even more interminable. The inclusion of this wretched character is absolutely inexplicable. I try to avoid using this kind of language in my blog posts, but in this case it can’t be helped:
Fuck J.W. Pepper.
Anyway, Bond eventually (finally!) escapes and heads back to San Monique to destroy Kananga’s poppy fields and, um, rescue Solitaire from a voodoo ritual. I forgot to mention that there’s a voodoo aspect to this movie. Kananga basically uses voodoo to scare the locals away from his poppy fields, in a move that can only be described as being worthy of a Scooby-Doo villain. The whole voodoo ritual scene is just painful to watch.
Kananga captures Bond and Solitaire (again) and, in a classic Bond villain move, is about to lower them into a shark tank but Bond escapes (again) and kills Kananga with what Wikipedia describes as “a compressed-gas pellet used in shark guns,” which causes Kananga to inflate like a balloon and fly into the ceiling before exploding. When Solitaire asks what happened to Kananga, Bond replies “He always did have an inflated opinion of himself,” which I have to admit is a pretty decent one-liner.
God, this is an awful movie. Its pacing is glacially slow, there’s very little action, the racial and sexual aspects of it are highly problematic, and it has one of the worst characters in cinematic history. But its greatest sin as a piece of entertainment is that it’s BORING. By my estimation, it takes an hour and four minutes into this two-hour movie before Bond even throws a punch. I remember renting this movie from Hollywood Video many years ago and being bored to death by it. The racial and sexual stuff didn’t bother me much then but they sure do now.
Wow, what a stinker. The only good things about it are the ethereal beauty of Jane Seymour and Paul McCartney’s very catchy theme song, as well as a good performance from a very young-looking Roger Moore. The rest of it is borderline-unwatchable. This is a movie for Bond enthusiasts only, and now that I’ve watched it I never want to experience this abomination again. Maybe the racial and sexual stuff wasn’t that weird in 1973, but watching Live and Let Die in 2019 can best be described as a profoundly uncomfortable experience.
It’s really a shame because the book is one of Fleming’s best, but man does this movie suck. For my money it’s one of the worst Bond films. The Moore movies would eventually get better, but they didn’t get off to a good start. At all.
Well, I was originally planning to cover multiple movies in one post, and I may still do that, but this post ended up being quite a bit longer than I had anticipated so I’m going to end it here. Moore’s next Bond film was The Man with the Golden Gun. Was it better than the rancid pile of crap that was Live and Let Die? It would be hard to be worse!
And just because she’s so beautiful, here’s another picture of Jane Seymour.