Live and Let Die (1973) Director: Guy Hamilton
Live and Let Die is the eighth Eon James Bond film, and the first to feature Roger Moore in the lead role (after Sean Connery refused to reprise the role, though Connery later returned in the non-canonical Bond film entitled Never Say Never Again. The title was a playful reference to the fact that Connery vowed “never” to play James Bond again). Both Adam West and Burt Reynolds were approached for the role of James Bond, but the producers were not eager to approach another cinematic outsider after the controversies surrounding George Lazenby so Roger Moore was a nice fit in their eyes. At the time, Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman were barely on speaking terms so they divided producer credit for Bond films -Broccoli was given lead credit for Diamonds Are Forever and Saltzman would be listed as producer for Live and Let Die.
The plot for Live and Let Die is based on Ian Fleming’s novel of the same name. It is something of an odd movie in the James Bond saga as it contains numerous “blaxploitation” references throughout showcasing black drug lords, pimpmobiles, strange voodoo cults, and so on. Also unlike other Bond films which tend to focus on megalomaniacal super villains bent on destroying the world, Live and Let Die is about Caribbean drug traffickers. After three agents are found dead, Bond finds himself trailing an infamous drug lord known as “Mr. Big” who turns out to be Dr. Kanaga (named because of the crew’s scouting for set locations in Jamaica and stumbling upon a Crocodile Farm owned by a man named Ross Kanaga). In the film, Dr. Kanaga is a corrupt Caribbean political leader. There is a pretty remarkable boat chase scene, and in the end, Bond disrupts the planned heroin drug trade. He kills one of the primary henchmen by throwing him into a coffin filled with snakes, he kills Dr. Kanaga by using a small inflatable gadget which causes Kanaga to expand and explode, and Bond rescues Solitaire, a tarot-reading girl, just before she is on display to be ritually sacrificed. While they escape on a train (perhaps a nod to From Russia With Love) Bond is attacked by the last remaining henchman from the cult. He kills the man by throwing him out a window (Solitaire remains closed in a fold-up bed, unaware of the whole situation unfolding). The film ends with Samedi, one of the voodoo occultists who Bond had thrown into a coffin filled with poisonous snakes, laughing on the train as it speeds off.
Live and Let Die is a clear departure for the James Bond franchise, though it is certainly not the worst of the Roger Moore era. It is an uncomfortable film at times, with its many racial cliches, but there are worse Bond films and some scenes of New Orleans are actually quite impressive. The production crew apparently ran into considerable racism in Louisiana, particularly for their black actors. Live and Let Die is the first Bond film to also feature a black Bond girl -an American agent- though UA refused to allow a black actress in the lead supporting role. At best, Live and Let Die is an entertaining movie and in the end, what more can you really ask for with a James Bond picture? At least, the Paul McCartney & Wings theme song is terrific and memorable! The notable Bond composer John Barry was forced to sit this one out for tax reasons so Beatles producer George Martin completed the score for Live and Let Die.