Wednesday, May 27, 2015
Live and Let Die (1973) | Story
Bond investigates Dr. Kananga, the prime minister of the Caribbean island of San Monique who's killed every other British agent that's gotten close to him.
Diamonds Are Forever may not have been an artistic success, but it was a financial one. That reinforced the producers' and studio's ideas that audiences wanted a) Sean Connery and b) American locations. Connery wasn't an option for the next movie, but there was still another Fleming novel that took place in the Western hemisphere.
The filmmakers had long considered Live and Let Die to be one of Fleming's stronger novels, but didn't feel that the middle of the Civil Rights movement was the right time to make a movie about a vast criminal network made up entirely of Black people. But by 1973, we had two Mr. Tibbs sequels, Shaft, Super Fly, Blacula, and a host of other blaxploitation films that completely changed the notion of what mass audiences would accept.
US screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz was brought back to do the script. He'd worked on Diamonds Are Forever, helping usual Bond screenwriter Richard Maibaum to give it an American feel, but this time he went solo. His script also included inspiration from the good-ol'-boy southsploitation films that had sprung up in the '60s and early '70s. Except for Deliverance (1971), though, it predates the most popular examples of that genre. Walking Tall came out the same year as Live and Let Die and Smokey and the Bandit wouldn't be for another four years after.
How Is the Book Different?
Fleming's novel has Bond tracking and closing down an operation run by Mr. Big that funds SMERSH out of a pirate's treasure horde. In keeping with the urban crime of blaxploitation films though, Live and Let Die changes that to drug trafficking and Mr. Big becomes an alias for Kananga.
Like the novel, the movie opens in New York and ends on a Caribbean island (the fictional San Monique instead of Jamaica), but adds a huge section in New Orleans and rural Louisiana. Bond actually solves his case on San Monique an hour into the film, but keeps going to investigate New Orleans and wrap up loose ends.
Moment That's Most Like Fleming
There are a few moments right out of the book - or inspired by it - like the trick table in Big's restaurant or the scene where Tee Hee is going to break Bond's finger if Solitaire says the wrong thing. Both of those are heavily tweaked for the movie though.
The thing that the movie has most in common with Fleming is its focus on racism, especially in the Louisiana section. For example, the disgusted look that two state troopers give each other when they mistake a Black man for Sheriff Pepper's brother-in-law. It's arguable that the movie holds these attitudes up for ridicule, so I'm not going to judge it as harshly as I do Fleming.
Moment That's Least Like Fleming
Bond and the other good guys aren't the racists. Instead, new characters like Sheriff JW Pepper were created. I don't think I'm going to talk about Pepper in the Allies section tomorrow, because he's not really an ally, but I'll come back to him (and how his racism is portrayed) in The Man with the Golden Gun when he actually teams up with Bond.
I don't know if they were trying to be mysterious about the new Bond or what, but it's always bothered me that Bond doesn't even appear in the cold open for Live and Let Die. It's just three murders that we'll find out later are the catalyst for Bond's investigation of Kananga. They're weird and interesting assassinations, but not exciting. My least favorite cold open of the entire series.
Top 10 Cold Opens
2. On Her Majesty's Secret Service
4. From Russia With Love
5. Diamonds Are Forever
6. You Only Live Twice
7. Live and Let Die
Movie Series Continuity
There's very little continuity from previous films except for Quarrel Jr, whom we'll talk about tomorrow. It's almost like they're rebooting, but we'll talk more about that tomorrow, too.
A couple of meta things though: First, M comes to Bond's house (with Moneypenny!) to debrief him. Presumably because it's so early in the morning? I don't get it. It does continue a tradition of relocating the debriefing scene from M's office though. Maybe they felt it was more exciting to have that occur elsewhere, but it doesn't make logical sense and I miss the office setting.
The second thing is that Solitaire's tarot cards have 007 printed on the back of them. If we take that as more than just a cute Easter egg for sharp-eyed fans, it appears that Kananga knows that Bond will be assigned to the case (he does have people waiting to tail Bond from the airport) and had special cards made for Solitaire to use while tracking him. Maybe that gives her more power over Bond. If that's true, then it's another example of Bond's identity and code number being common knowledge among criminals. I think that's the first time we've seen that outside of SPECTRE, so it's a pretty significant revelation.