Thursday, May 28, 2015

Live and Let Die (1973) | Bond

Actors and Allies



Surprisingly, Live and Let Die makes no fuss over the introduction of Roger Moore as Bond. On Her Majesty's Secret Service teased out George Lazenby's first appearance and Diamonds Are Forever delayed the reveal of Sean Connery's face, but you'd never know that Live and Let Die is Moore's first Bond movie.

I didn't talk about Moore's hiring yesterday, but it's a weird, remarkable story. Even though Connery clearly didn't want to play Bond anymore and had done a horrible job of it the last two times, Saltzman and Broccoli tried to get him back. Sleep-acting or not, audiences wanted him. Diamonds Are Forever was it for him though. "Never again."

To replace him, United Artists really wanted an American. They considered John Gavin again and names like Clint Eastwood, Burt Reynolds, Paul Newman, and Robert Redford were also tossed around. But Saltzman and Broccoli insisted on a British actor. They seriously considered Michael Billington from the TV show UFO, but ultimately went back to Roger Moore, one of the people they'd looked at for Dr. No (Moore is actually three years older than Connery). In the ten years since Dr. No, Moore had been busy on TV, most notably playing Simon Templar on The Saint.

Moore's TV characters were dashing heroes who relied on charm and wit more than their fists. Because of that, Live and Let Die screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz adjusted Bond to play to Moore's strengths. Moore looks entirely comfortable in the role. He's as irreverent about his job as Connery's version was, but it works even better for him. He's less rugged and macho; more cultured. He feels like a man who's led a privileged life and has never really had to take anything seriously. I think that makes Connery's the more interesting version, but there's no denying that Moore is cool and suave. At least for the most part.

There are times in Live and Let Die when Bond is decidedly not cool. He's very serious and square when compared to '70s Black culture, for instance. That's not a complaint. The movie wins points with me for letting Bond not be the coolest guy in the room.

Another uncool thing about Moore's Bond though is an issue and that's how he treats women. Bond's never been a feminist, but his attitude towards CIA agent Rosie Caver and then Solitaire is shameful. He creepily hits on Carver while she's freaked out about a snake and later, when she's been revealed as a double agent, he threatens to kill her and then mocks her for letting him screw her first. As for Solitaire, he famously tricks her into sleeping with him, negating her value to Kananga and essentially forcing her to become an ally.

With Moore as a less violent Bond, Live and Let Die drops the brutal fights that Connery's Bond was known for and turns instead to stunts. A friend pointed out to me on Google+ that we got the first car stunt in Diamonds Are Forever when Bond puts a car on two wheels to get it down a narrow alley. Live and Let Die continues that trend with four vehicle set pieces. Right after arriving in New York, Bond has to drive from the backseat when his chauffeur is killed, then there are extended chases featuring a double-decker bus, an airplane that never leaves the ground, and of course the famous speedboats. And outside of the vehicles, Bond escapes a tiny island surrounded by alligators by running across their backs to dry land. That alligator stunt is my favorite part of the whole movie. The scene builds the tension well and Bond tries using a gadget to escape before resorting to the more complicated route. I'm not happy with a lot of things about Moore's Bond, but adding a lot of stunts to the series is an undeniable benefit of his run.

As for Bond's allies, M is still grumpy with him as he has been in the last few movies. Q doesn't even appear in Live and Let Die (though he is mentioned) and I wonder if that's because he and M are essentially sharing a personality at this point. As much as I like Q, it's refreshing not to have him and M double-team Bond in their disdain for his flippant attitude.

After Moneypenny's painful mooning in Diamonds Are Forever, she's refreshingly good-natured in Live and Let Die about Bond's having a female agent in his apartment. She even helps hide the fact from M. I know I've said this a lot, but I love it when she and Bond are mutually flirty friends instead of his being her unrequited crush.

Felix Leiter shows up again, but he doesn't have much more to do here than he did in Goldfinger or Diamonds Are Forever. He's just the face of the American government. But David Hedison is a charismatic actor, so his Felix is fun to watch anyway. I can see why they brought him back to play the same role in Licence to Kill, and it's cool that he gets to do more with it in that movie.

A fun surprise is Lon Satton as CIA agent Harold Strutter. As he tails Bond into Harlem, the movie lets you think that he's another of Mr. Big's men until he reveals his true allegiance. He doesn't have a lot to do, but he comes across as a smart, competent agent and I'm sorry not to get more of him.

Finally, there's Quarrel Jr. In the novels, Live and Let Die comes before Dr. No, so Quarrel is introduced in one and killed in the other. With the order of the movies being switched, the Quarrel of Live and Let Die has to be the son of the man who was killed in Dr. No. It's a nice bit of continuity that ties Moore's Bond into Connery's and Roy Stewart is a worthy heir to the role.

Best Quip



"No sense in going off half-cocked," in response to Solitaire's request that they delay their mission for more sex.

Worst Quip



"Butterhook," when Tee Hee has trouble removing Bond's watch.

Gadgets



The gadgets are understated in Live and Let Die. The fanciest is Bond's magnetic watch and I like that he uses it more than once during the adventure. The saw-blade function comes out of nowhere though and feels like cheating.

Other than that, Bond has a fancy shaving kit with what look like multiple gadgets. The only one he uses though is a brush with some kind of Morse code signaler built in. And then there's the gun that shoots compressed gas pellets. That's another out-of-left-field gadget that saves Bond's bacon at the end. He gives some kind of lame explanation for having it, but it and the saw are some deus ex gadgeta I could do without.

Top Ten Gadgets

1. Aston Martin DB V (Goldfinger and Thunderball)
2. Jet pack (Thunderball)
3. Little Nellie (You Only Live Twice)
4. Rocket cigarettes (You Only Live Twice)
5. Magnetic buzzsaw watch (Live and Let Die)
6. Attaché case (From Russia With Love)
7. Propeller SCUBA tank with built-in spearguns (Thunderball)
8. Rebreather (Thunderball)
9. Camera-tape recorder; mostly because it reminds me of a camera my dad used to use (From Russia With Love)
10. Seagull SCUBA hat (Goldfinger)

Bond's Best Outfit



Black turtleneck with a shoulder holster. Classic spywear; the iconic secret agent look.

Bond's Worst Outfit



For the '70s, Bond doesn't do too badly in Live and Let Die, but I'm not sure he pulls off the skimpy, white tank top under a powder blue leisure jacket.

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