Review: 'Live And Let Die' (1973) Dir. Guy Hamilton
Updated: Aug 20
Sean Connery handed over the Walther PPK to Roger Moore, starting out on a ground-breaking period of 007 history and a transition from espionage to all-out action...
After 3 MI6 agents are killed in America and the Caribbean whilst investigating the actions of one Dr.Kananga (Kotto), British agent James Bond (Moore) is tasked to find out the connection between the deaths. Travelling to America, 007 teams up with CIA agent Felix Leiter (Hedison).
Kananga poses as New Orleans drug baron Mr.Big, planning to flood America with cheap heroin, using naïve tarot-reading Solitaire (Seymour) and henchman Baron Samedi (Holder) to front a threat of black magic and voodoo to keep people away from his secret poppy fields.
Helping Solitaire break free from Kananga’s manipulative clutches, Bond faces a host of double-agents and tough heavies out to stop him from bringing down the drug baron, which takes him on land, sea and air in his most dangerous mission yet...
Distancing the series and leading man as far away from the established Sean Connery as possible, EON and United Artists brought in the charming and extremely suave British actor Roger Moore, fresh from stint as 1960s spy Simon Templar in TV’s ‘The Saint’, to don the Walther PPK. Moore has that trademark tongue-in-cheek delivery of his lines, mixed with the right amount of a cold-hearted agent doing his job as much as we saw Connery do. They establish a new 007 from the off – more humour, more family-friendly and Moore.
He’s confident, charming and dangerous and starts his 7 film run in a way that makes it difficult to imagine anyone else as a suave and sophisticated British secret agent from his good looks to his smooth voice.
What makes ‘Live And Let Die’ memorable, beside the head banging theme song by Paul McCartney & Wings to really shake up our new era of 007 films, is that it is probably the film out of all (soon to be) 24 that is firmly rooted in the time it was created. While decades and culture changes, you could, if you try, place any Bond film in any era if you try – nothing really roots it to a specific time if you use your imagination and take away the limitations and products in use.
‘Live And Let Die' firmly belongs in 1973 America, with the heavy Blaxploitation theme running through it from the off and refreshingly strong African-American cast, terminology, music, fashion and locations. A big, brave and bold move for a new Bond.
The funky, soulful and often dangerous sounding score by George Martin encapsulates the era whilst keeping it Bond-esque and also being unlike a score we've had yet.
The story is a little more grounded also, with no international criminal organisations or power-hungry criminal geniuses. Yaphet Kotto brings the super-villain back down to Earth with focus on a dastardly drug baron who uses voodoo and deception to cover for his evil plan; he’s clever, calculating and just the right side of crazy to go up against 007. In order to keep audiences grounded to accept Moore, the story is steady and never veers into the outrageous whilst we find our footing with him.
With other African-American co-stars populating our villains such as Julius Harris, Geoffrey Holder, Gloria Hendry and Earl Jolly Brown, we see action set in Harlem, New Orleans and the Caribbean and hear terms used such as ‘honkey’ and ‘spades’ amidst that funky jazz scene and pimpmobiles driving the streets with outrageous fashion on show in the seedy nightclubs. It’s very much a Bond film of its time, but it works – it does what it sets out to do, and allows the African-American culture (of the time) take the lead in a white dominated film series that is fresh and exciting to watch.
With a number of already-iconic stunts in a debut 007 film such as the speedboat jump, the double-decker bus laceration and alligator stepping stones, Roger Moore and the team know their audience and give them something wonderfully entertaining and comfortable, whilst just changing things enough to distance the actor from his beloved predecessor – it’s a new era for James Bond, with new threats, cultures and styles going into the 70s.
Moore has the gadgets, the girls – the beautiful and wonderfully sweet Jane Seymour – and the humour to make this 007 familiar yet different and to make the character his own with the same excitement and danger, but with a new twist.
A different Bond in a different world. The change of look and style made a potentially dangerous transition of Bond actor seem effortless, and Roger Moore proved he was nothing but a perfect 007 for a new era.
'Live And Let Die' is an EON Productions production