My Bond with… Bond: Live and Let Die (1973)

By Christian DiMartino

I’m not sure if I’ve ever discussed this on this page, but for the last 15 years, I have been a big fan of the James Bond series. I started watching them as a nine year old and even though some aren’t so great, they are usually at least pretty entertaining. I remember how proud I was of myself when I memorized each of the movies in chronological order… again, I’m a dork. So with the arrival of Bond’s next outing, No Time to Die, finally hitting theatres next month (as a Bond-aholic, November is a more fitting month, but it’s whatever), it seemed like an ample time to stroll down memory lane.

So now we shift our attention to the Roger Moore era of Bond. After going from the legendary Sean Connery to the short-lived George Lazenby to… Sean Connery again, Live and Let Die served as the introduction of Moore’s Bond. Everyone seems to have an opinion on Moore, who died a few years ago, and I get the sense that the opinion isn’t a good one. His movies get a little goofy and campy after a while (or, well, maybe they were the whole time). But… I have a soft spot for him, and his movies. Goofy and campy as they may be, we can’t sit here and say that the previous Bond films were necessarily grounded in reality. They also could be silly, and that’s just all part of the fun. Moore’s Bond has a different feel, but I dig it. And honestly, to those infuriated by his movies, well, when you were young and your heart was an open book… you used to say live and let live.

Moore’s first Bond outing, Live and Let Die, is a movie that you either go for, or you don’t. I always have, not just because the title song by Paul McCartney and Wings is utterly awesome (though that certainly helps) but also because the movie has sort of a weird, quirky spirit. It feels and sounds unusual, at least for a Bond movie. The stakes aren’t very high, the villains are weird and colorful. Yet there’s something sort of small-scale about it that I dig. There are no Goldfingers or Blofelds, no plots to destroy the earth, no gigantic explosions… and yet the action is still cool, and it still has rhythm, and the movie itself is one I’ve always gone for because it seems to be among the more daring outings.

The film opens Bond-less, saving him for after the title song. I do love this opening though- it’s got its goofy aspects, but it kinda sets the tone for the sort of nuttiness you’re in store for. First we’re in New York, at a U.N. meeting. We see that someone is tampering with the audio of the headphones, and he turns the volume on full blast for a representative from the U.K. This… kills him? Anyways, next we cut to New Orleans, where an agent is standing to the side of the street, witnessing a funeral service. A stranger comes up next to him, and when the agent asks him whose funeral it is, the stranger replies with, “Yours!” And then sticks a knife into his stomach. He falls into the street, and the casket is placed over top of him, picking up his body. I’ve always wondered how this worked. Does the casket have a hatch that is able to pick people up? I digress. Then we cut to a Jamaican island called San Monique, where a group of people are doing some sorta bizarre voodoo dance chant thing, as we witness another agent is tied up, about to be sacrificed via snake bite. The snake gets him, and it does look fake af, but shoot, wait until the visual effect used in the finale. It’s a hoot.

I know it sounds like I’m poking fun, but the stuff I love about Live and Let Die, I love. Which leads me to the opening song. In a landslide victory, I’ll just say it, this is the greatest of all of the Bond themes. It’s an unusual song, sometimes sounding ominous and dark, other times sounding frightening, other times sounding upbeat, just to transform into the latter again… and it’s just awesome. That, it really does impact that movie around it. There are variations of it in the score and it just works wonders. I tend to skip certain title sequences when I watch this one, but McCartney’s is one that is unskippable.

So then we’re introduced to the man of the hour, this time played by Moore. He’s introduced through the obligatory scene in which M (Bernard Lee) and Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell, an underrated aspect of these movies) give him the briefing of his mission and introduce him to his gadgets (Desmond Llewelyn’s Q is sitting this one out). They inform him of the killing of the three agents, and Bond must travel to New York, New Orleans, and San Monique in search of one Kananga (the late Yaphet Kotto), who is growing his own poppy fields for heroin.

Kananga isn’t the most memorable of Bond villains, yet it’s the combination of him and his crew that stand out. Couldn’t tell you any of their names, but they’re still interesting in terms of appearance. I can tell you though that one is named Whisper, because he… whispers (sounds like a villain out of Dick Tracy). One has a flute and face paint, and another has an arm with metal pinchers. It’s silly, but you remember them. Also on Team Kananga is the film’s Bond girl, named Solitaire (the acting debut of the always gorgeous Jane Seymour), who is essentially Kananga’s right hand woman and is able to predict the future through tarot cards. She even predicts that she will fall in love, and I’ll just leave you to assume who with.

Revisiting Live and Let Die (and mind you, I’ve seen it countless times), I was left impressed this time by the amount of inclusion present here. Sure, every African American cast in the film is basically a villain, and sure, maybe this was the studio’s attempt at meshing Bond with Blaxploitation. Yet you can’t deny that for a movie from this time period… this film was pretty risky. The cast is about 75% African American, and considering this was 1973, I just thought it was kind of cool that a Bond movie, which is usually as white as can be, decided to go for it.

I was also left impressed by how the film feels smaller than other Bond films, and yet just as Bond-y. There are plenty of action sequences, such as one in which Bond’s driver is shot in New York City and his car spirals out of control, or a boat chase through the bayou. It’s really well made and thrilling, and yet not in the ways you’d expect from a Bond movie. This is a Bond film without a giant laser or nuclear warheads or big, flashy attempts to rob Fort Knox. This is, quite simply, Bond going against evil, but not evil of the most maniacally maniacal. I was also left shocked when I discovered that Roger Moore was 45 at the time this film was released. Holy hell! Sure, he did this role a long time and by the end of his stint, he looks old… but I never made that connection, and it’s even kind of weirder to think his love interest is 22… but eh, they’re both hot, who cares?

This Bond film stands out to me for a number of reasons, and yet that’s not to say everyone will feel the same way. I like how different Live and Let Die feels from something like, say, Diamonds are Forever. Bond going up against tarot card readers and voodoo priests? It sounds absolutely nutty, and, well, it is. Yet this is always one I’ve found really entertaining, and when it attempts to be funny, pretty funny. It’s not one of the more hated ones, but it is one of the more underappreciated ones. It leads to a final battle between Bond and Kananga, and for as much as I enjoy this movie, I gotta say: the visual effect used in this fight is… one of the most unintentionally hilarious images I have ever seen. Mind you, considering a man literally swallows an inflatable bullet, I don’t think it could’ve looked better for 1973. Like a lot of aspects of Live and Let Die, they had an idea and they friggin’ ran with it, which is why it’s among my favorites.

James Bond, and I, will return in The Man with the Golden Gun.

One thought on “My Bond with… Bond: Live and Let Die (1973)

  1. Watching Live and Let Die and Roger Moore for the first time as Bond, I can say that while he’s not bad, he doesn’t have the coolness and memorability that Sean Connery had as Bond. Moore feels very plain to me in his acting. But I still found this to be enjoyable especially with the boat chase and even if some of the racial aspects don’t exactly hold up today, you’re right that it’s interesting to see a Bond movie that has more racial diversity in the cast even if it’s capitalizing on the ’70s blaxploitation trend. And of course the Paul McCartney & Wings theme is fun and in terms of Bond themes is the one I’ve been familiar with the most growing up being a Beatles/Paul McCartney fan. At his shows, McCartney uses pyrotechnics during this song when the orchestra hits which is always cool. Though knowing this movie has a blaxploitation theme, I find it weird at how the film people didn’t get the great blaxploitation soundtrack artists of the time like Isaac Hayes and Curtis Mayfield to perform the theme as I mention in my review of the song.

    Liked by 1 person

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