1973: A year in an era that allowed a character to have pictures of naked women on the wall and still earn a PG rating. It really is a testament to what "R" meant back in the day.
DIRECTOR: Guy Hamilton
This is the first review I'm writing on our new home desktop. I feel so fancy. Most of my other reviews were written on a laptop that cut into my arms, so maybe my overall disposition will be far happier knowing that I'm not feeling physical pain while writing this. I meant to review this movie around the time of Sir Roger Moore's death, but my stupid obsession with doing things in order meant that I had to review Diamonds are Forever. I HAD to. This wasn't a choice. It's not like the entertainment I consume and critique is arbitrary and only fits with my weird personal neuroses. Anyway, this movie is something.
I always referred to this as the blaxploitation Bond. It is shamelessly capitalizing on the whole blaxspoitation era of cinema, but seems to put even more "exploitation" into the portmanteau. I'd like to thing that the rest of the movement was about making movies that the community found valuable and fun and it just happened that they were more appealing to a larger audience than was initially planned. Making Bond a blaxspoitation film is a bit cheap. The audience is still the same that it ever was. Perhaps a studio head wanted to get more of an African-American audience, but none of that was a matter of artistic integrity. This was about getting more people in the seats. In an era that is striving for wokefulness, it is a bit cringe worthy to see that the only way that the movie became a blaxsploitation movie is by making all of the bad guys members of the community. Yeah, there's a CIA agent named Strutter who has a very minor role and Quarrel's son, Quarrel Jr. *sigh*, shows up, but that is against a wave of African-Americans portrayed as criminals. Not exactly the balance that probably should be represented on screen. As a white male, I feel like a bad person for saying this, but it was the '70s. Taking cinema into context is a luxury that I enjoy, but I also know that it is somewhat important. It never forgives Birth of a Nation or other such atrocities, but I do always keep it in scope of what I'm watching. But the blaxspoitation aspect of Live and Let Die defines it. The odd thing is that this movie is directed by Guy Hamilton, the guy who did some of the most iconic Bond films of the Connery era. He made the format and the formula. Watching the early Connerys, there is such a repetition in style and Hamilton doesn't necessarily negate that by infusing the blaxspoitation elements. Really, the movie comes across as more of a hybrid rather than a whole new feel. I'd normally say that this shouldn't work. Infusing a different genre with a conflicting formula shouldn't work. There should be some graft v. host, but it kind of does work. I think that comes down to the inclusion of Roger Moore as James Bond. But I'll get to that in a second. Cementing blaxspoitation over Bond gives it kind of a new feel. Bond, like Doctor Who, has been around so long that it needs to have a foundation that maintains its voice, but also needs to grow and change over time. Live and Let Die might be the only real original Bond film until GoldenEye or Casino Royale in terms of risk. Yeah, Moonraker is a gutsy call, but it really is a traditional Bond movie until the final act, which is always bombastic in the other movies. Instead, Live and Let Die gives the movie a color palate (pun definitely not intended) and a funk to the soundtrack that makes this movie feel way less stuffy. Bond is never boring, but there's something a little fancy to Bond that is removed here.
Like I mentioned, a lot of this has to do with the adoption of Roger Moore in the role of Bond. After watching Becoming Bond, the choice to embrace Roger Moore does make an odd amount of sense. Lazenby had done a copy of Connery. The whole history is that You Only Live Twice marketed itself with the tagline, "Sean Connery IS James Bond" [sic]. Lazenby tried being Connery to a certain extent and looks like a Mann's Chinese Theater version of Connery. Roger Moore doesn't look like Connery whatsoever and this is what I think makes Bond work. Live and Let Die forced the filmmakers to decide what was quintessential to Bond. Roger Moore could never be Sean Connery like Lazenby tried to be. The film acknowledges that he had to be classy and that he had to be an action hero womanizer. But a lot of the other moments are up to Roger Moore. Sean Connery interacted with his world very quickly. He acts and reacts, but Roger Moore lives in the moment. Connery never really tried to be cool; he just was. This seems like an attack on Moore, but it isn't. Moore really plays up the cool. He knows the phrase, "My name is Bond" sounds super awesome. He isn't introducing himself; he is marking his territory. He is forcing others to let their guards down. Similarly, there is a level of destruction that accompanies Roger Moore that makes the character almost intentionally comical. That really works for Roger Moore. There are times in the past where I really rolled my eyes thinking about Roger Moore's Bond. I always liked him, but that always somewhat felt cheap. Not really. I think I was wrong about the whole thing. Moore's Bond was just that. It was Moore's Bond. It is what the character had to become to survive and it works. It's the ebbs and flows of time. I find it funny in an era of gritty remakes that the Bond franchise somewhat predicts the whole movement. Moore's Bond is a response to Connery's dry wit. Moore's Bond isn't afraid to smile and be in on the joke versus the Connery Bond who was almost aware of how lucky he was to be in all of these romantic entanglements. So it's not Connery. Who cares?
I love Yaphet Kotto and mostly because of this movie. The past three Bond movies all had Blofeld as a villain and, by Diamonds are Forever, I kind of get tired of him. This is not to throw Blofeld under the bus because one of my favorite conventions is the Moriarty. But when super villains keep returning, they get less and less scary. Think of the the Borg on Star Trek: Voyager. (I'm sure all of you thought about that and this reference helps keep context. You. Are. Welcome.) Yaphet Kotto is a nearly perfect Bond villain because he is a gangster. His influence is over what he cares about. He's not trying to blow up the world in a volcano hanger. He's a guy who has a secret basement under a Filet of Soul restaurant. Okay, he is a dictator of a private island, but that's just so he can grow his drugs. This movie is about stopping a drug cartel, but it is still funny! Like, there are such charming moments and all I can think about that this is just like Blow or Traffic. (Or Licence to Kill...) If Bond fails to stop Mr. Big, that just means that he makes more money and he isn't put out of business. It is almost bizarre that Bond is even chasing after him. Honestly, if Mr. Big hadn't gone after all of the agents keeping an eye on him, Bond wouldn't have even been involved. It seems so small fry and that is the perfect antidote to just a stream of blockbusters that need to get bigger and bigger. But the great part is that the scope of the film is tightened with Mr. Big, what Hamilton does within that smaller swimming pool is all the more impressive. The action sequences in this film are fantastic. The boat chase in Louisiana is still one of my favorite moments in Bond and the compound that with the double decker bus chase.
That's not to say that everything in this movie really works. This movie tries doing a bit too much at times. The most famous henchmen are Oddjob from Goldfinger and Jaws from Moonraker and The Spy Who Loved Me. This movie has an upsetting number of gimmicky bad guys. TeeHee, Whisper, and Baron Samedi all fight for attention. The odd part is that Baron Samedi is the iconic villain in this one, but he makes the least amount of sense. Whisper is a joke and Tee Hee actually should be the main henchman, but Samedi is just there. This is also a commentary on what the movie is actually trying to do. It kind of messes with the world of Bond a bit too much. This is the only Bond movie that acknowledges that the supernatural exists. The question was raised in the first Bond movie, Dr. No, with the inclusion of a dragon. Like how Scooby Doo completely undid their mission statement on the supernatural, this movie just establishes that magic and voodoo are possible. Never does this come up again in the series and it is odd to have Bond fight against an unkillable villain. Some people might argue about the fact that Baron Samedi was a trick put on by Kananga, but the end of that movie firmly establishes that Samedi is a member of the dead. Also, the whole Solitaire bit is straight up supporting that the supernatural is possible. (Bee tee dubs, I've seen this movie so many times and I've never thought of someone using religion and belief to sexually decieve someone as a problem before. It's...uncomfortable.) I know that I was preaching growth in a franchise only a few paragraphs before, but I wish that there was a grounded reason for all of the weird behind the scenes things. It's just too much in this movie. That said, I can also argue against myself and much of the movie would fall apart without this goofy element included.
The movie is fun. Secretly, it might be one of my favorite Bond movies and that makes me a bad person. I like Roger Moore and I'm excited to get through his series, although I do acknowledge that many of those movies will be troublesome. I guess I should just jump ahead to Octopussy and A View to a Kill because that's the next real jump in tone. Anyway, I enjoy this one and I'm not going to apologize for it anymore.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.