Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Film Review: Live And Let Die

"Live And Let Die" *** (out of ****)

Last year marked the 50th anniversary of the James Bond franchise. I reviewed the latest Bond film, "Skyfall" (2012) in honor of the event but also meant to take a look back and review some of the classic, older Bond films. I never quite got around to it. Unit now.

I've only reviewed two Bond films. The two most current films which have starred Daniel Craig; "Skyfall" and "The Quantum of Solace" (2008). Craig is not my favorite Bond. I haven't been much of a fan of his Bond films. So I wanted to write about my favorite Bond, Roger Moore. "Live And Let Die" (1973) marked Moore's first appearance as secret agent 007.

By the time "Live And Let Die" was released the public was already used to Sean Connery playing Bond. He had left his indelible stamp on the character. No matter who played the part next the ghost of Connery would loom largely over them and comparisons would be made. The majority of movie goers believe Connery is the best Bond.

Connery had walked away from the role after the release of "You Only Live Twice" (1967) and in 1969 George Lazenby played the part in "On Her Majesty's Secret Service". The initial reaction was mixed. Most people however didn't accept Lazenby in the role. Many felt he didn't look muscular. It was the only Bond movie Lazenby acted in as once again Connery was brought back to play the role in "Diamonds Are Forever" (1971). After this movie Connery walked away from the franchise again. The next actor slated to play Bond was Roger Moore.

When "Live And Let Die" was released in 1973 the stack was decidedly set against Moore. Would he turn out to be another one hit wonder like Lazenby? Could the public accept anyone else in the role of James Bond besides Sean Connery?

In his original review for the movie, Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert wrote a negative review. He wasn't terribly impressed by Moore. Ebert felt Moore played the part too serious. At the end of his review he even suggested the franchise may be washed up.

Oddly enough, Ebert's view of Moore is now in the minority. Most people feel Moore's interpretation was a little too comical.

However watching "Live And Let Die" again, I have no clue what the nay-sayers are talking about. Moore walks a terrific balance here displaying a comical nature when the script calls for it and playing an action hero when scenes demand it.

We first see Bond at his home in bed with a beautiful woman, whom we find out is an Italian agent Bond worked with on a previous case. In the middle of the night "M" (Bernard Lee) arrives at Bond's home to inform him of his next mission. Three secret agents have been killed. One at the U.N., one in New Orleans and one in New York. There may be a connection. The main suspect is Kananga (Yaphet Kotto), a politician from a small Caribbean island.

As "M" is in Bond's home, Bond must hide the woman. Here we get an example of the playful interpretation of Moore's Bond. The sequence becomes one of those bedroom farces where the husband hides his mistress in the closet when his wife walks in. It sets up quite the introduction to Roger Moore as Bond. And from that moment on the movie picks up and comes to life whenever Bond is on-screen.

Without giving too much away Bond discovers Kananga is involved in the occult. He uses a tarot card reader as a sort of advisor, Solitaire (Jane Seymour, making her film debut) is her name. We also learn Kananga is planning to distribute heroine for free in an attempt to create more addicts. By giving it away from free, he eliminates his competition. Once people are hooked on his product he can charge them whatever he wants, since he will be the only supplier.

It may not sound as sexy as other Bond villain's plans of world domination but "Live And Let Die" works. It establishes many exciting action sequences. One involves Bond's driver being assassinated while driving. His foot pushes down on the gas peddle while Bond tries to drive the car from the back seat, swirling out of the way of other cars. Another sequence has Bond left to die by a group of hungry crocodiles.

For the first hour of "Live And Let Die" I was there with Bond every step of the way. Roger Moore slips into the Bond role comfortably and offers the promise of some great adventures to come. The movie had a particular sly wit we've come to expect from James Bond movies and had some good action sequences. But after the first hour the movie starts to drift. It hit a low point for me when there is a speed boat chase sequence which feels extraordinarily out of place in a James Bond movie. It might have worked better in a "Cannon Ball Run" movie but not James Bond. The sequence goes on way too long and gives way too much screen time to Clifton James as a redneck sheriff who doesn't know what is going on and who he is chasing after.

Still though I have to admit much of "Live And Let Die" works. If I could transport myself back in time to 1973, I would say Moore was a great replacement for Connery. You might feel his interpretation of the character is different but so what! This is Roger Moore playing the character. He is entitled to play it how he feels is correct. And I find that it works. After seeing this I would be looking forward to future Bond films with him in it. Luckily he played the role six more times. Making him, as of this date, the actor who played him in the most movies.

The movie was directed by Guy Hamilton. Hamilton directed one of the greatest Bond films, "Goldfinger" (1964) with Sean Connery and directed another Connery Bond movie, "Diamonds Are Forever". After "Live And Let Die" Hamilton would direct one more Bond movie, the follow-up to this movie, "The Man with the Golden Gun" (1974).

The script was written by Tom Mankiewicz, Joseph Mankiewicz's son. He also wrote "Diamonds Are Forever" and "The Man with the Golden Gun". Outside of James Bond movies Mankiewicz wrote "Mother, Jugs and Speed" (1976) and the awful film adaptation of "Dragnet" (1987).

If there is one other thing about "Live And Let Die" I don't like, it is the the film's theme song and title sequence. The song starts off okay but by the bridge I didn't like it. It was performed by Paul McCarthy and Wings. It received an Academy Award nomination for best song.

"Live And Let Die" may not be the best Bond movie Roger Moore was in, many would suggest that honor belongs to "The Spy Who Loved Me" (1977). But "Live And Let Die" has its own pleasures. Moore sets the stamp for the direction he will take this character in with his dry sense of humor. Effective Bond film.