Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Film Review: Live And Let Die

Live And Let Die
  • Publisher: United Artists
  • Studio: Danjaq / EON Productions
  • Release: 27 June 1973
  • Genre: Action
  • Director: Guy Hamilton
  • Producers: Albert R. Broccoli, Harry Saltzman
  • Writer: Tom Mankiewicz

The Bond: Roger Moore, previously of the TV series The Saint. Two things that define this portrayal of Bond are 1) his encyclopedic knowledge, useful for giving extra exposition at a moment's notice, and 2) his tendency for scumbag actions.  Not the most endearing character traits.  3 out of 5.

The Girl: Solitaire (Jane Seymour), Dr. Kananga's private fortune-teller. Unusally for the reality-based 007 franchise, Solitaire's tarot-reading powers appear to be real until Bond beds her and she loses them. This may seem to many as a chauvinistic jerk move on Bond's part, but who knows, maybe Kananga was a lousy boss or even a lousy lover. 3 out of 5.

Other Allies: Felix Leiter (David Hedison), a CIA agent making his 5th appearance in the Bond films. 3 out of 5.

Harold Strutter (Lon Satton), an African-American CIA agent. Missing, presumed dead. 2 out of 5.

Rosie Carter (Gloria Hendry), another CIA agent really a double-agent for Kananga. Killed by Kananga to silence her. 4 out of 5.

Quarrel Junior (Roy Stewart), an identical son of Quarrel from Dr. No.  Despite the audience never having been introduced to him before, he's apparently really tight with Bond.  There's a reason for this, which I'll explain in the Novel section.  2 out of 5

The Villain: Dr. Kananga (Yaphet Kotto), prime minister of the Carribean nation of San Monique. Mr. Big, African-American crime boss, is really Kananga in disguise. A wonderful concept, and the man's got a wonderful plan, but it's a shame Mr. Big didn't get much of a chance to establish his character as opposed to Kananga.  Blown up with a compressed-air bullet by Bond.  5 out of 5.

Other Henchmen: Baron Samedi (Geoffrey Holder), supposed Voodoo god of death who always comes back after being "killed", but not nearly given enough to do given his potential. Trapped in a coffin full of snakes by Bond, but apparently survives.  4 out of 5.

Tee-Hee Johnson (Julius Harris), Mr. Big's henchman with a metal pincer for an arm. One of the more personable and enjoyable henchmen.  Thrown out of a train by Bond.  5 out of 5.

Sherrif J.W. Pepper (Clifton James), a Louisiana sheriff chasing after Bond and Big's men alike for traffic violations. 1 out of 5.

The Gadgets: A wristwatch with a magnet and a buzz-saw. Q is absent in this film, so Bond instead describes the magnet function of the watch to M. Yet he leaves out any mention of the buzz-saw which, out of nowhere, is used in the finale. Still, they did one thing I liked: at the alligator farm, Bond tries to use the watch to attract a metal canoe, but it's tethered, forcing him to escape another way. 2 out of 5.

The Locations: The United States (New York, Louisiana), and San Monique, a fictional island nation in the Caribbean (filmed in Jamaica). There's also a scene in Bond's home at the beginning. As for the use of New Orleans, I have to give the writers a tip of the hat for not involving Mardi Gras.

The Theme Song: Performed by Paul McCartney and Wings. Remember in Goldfinger when Bond said that drinking warm wine was "as bad as listening to the Beatles without earmuffs"? I bet he felt a little silly after this movie came out. Especially given that, with this being the first rock-genre Bond theme, it's got some decent bite. Fun Fact: George Martin, the Beatles' producer, composed the music for this movie. Second Fun Fact: He also produced Shirley Bassey's theme from Goldfinger5 out of 5.

The Opening Credits: Motifs include fire, skulls, and a whole bunch of black women. Visually unimpressive, maybe, but a cohesive theme that fits the film's subject matter. 3 out of 5.

The Novel: Live and Let Die shares its name with Ian Fleming's second James Bond novel, published in 1954. Solitaire is featured in a similar form and function, but Kananga does not exist, whist Mr. Big, the sole villain, is an agent of the Soviet SMERSH, selling pirate-era gold to finance his operations. Also, the final act takes place in the real Jamaica instead of a fictional island. This book marks the first appearance of Quarrel, Bond's Caribbean contact. Quarrel was killed off in Dr. No, which was made into a movie before LLD, so what did they do? Replace him with the identical Quarrel Junior. ...Should've thought of that ahead of time, guys. Fun fact: some scenes were used for later films, like For Your Eyes Only and Licence to Kill.

The Plot: The film starts with the murder of three British agents: one at the United Nations in New York City, one in New Orleans, and one in the island nation of San Monique. Cue opening credits. M drops by Bond's London flat to inform him of the situation, and dispatch him to New York. On the taxi ride out of the airport, Bond survives an assassination attempt by a passing pimpmobile. With Leiter's help, Bond traces the car to a restaurant in Harlem, the Fillet of Soul, where he gets tricked into meeting Mr. Big and tarot reader Solitaire. Mr. Big dismisses Bond and has some of his men kill him, but Bond overpowers them and is picked up by CIA agent Harold Strutter.

Bond then travels to San Monique to investigate Kananga, the island's prime minister. In his hotel room he meets Rosie Carter, who claims to be another CIA agent. On their way to Kananga's home, Bond deduces her to be a double agent and tries to make her talk, but she is silenced by Kananga's security system before leaking any info. Bond makes a second journey up to meet Solitaire and tricks her into sleeping with him. This causes Soltaire to lose her fortune-telling powers, but she agrees to work with Bond. In the morning they venture deeper into the island, discover some camouflaged poppy fields, and flee the place.

They end up in New Orleans, where Solitaire is retaken and Bond faces a skydiving session -- the hard way! -- but he gets away and reunites with Leiter. Together they investigate another Fillet of Soul restaurant in the French Quarter. Once again, a trapdoor leads Bond into the hands of Mr. Big, who reveals himself as Kananga in disguise, and together they work out his plan: Manufacture heroin from the poppy plantation Bond discovered, distribute it for free, drive out the competition, and extort his customers with a monopoly on drugs. He then gives Solitaire a test to see if her powers are still active; she appears to pass, and Bond is freed, only to be knocked out and drug off by Tee-Hee. It turns out she really did lose her powers, and is to be executed for the infraction she and Bond committed.

Meanwhile, Bond is taken to an alligator farm-stroke-heroin processing plant. Left stranded for the alligators, Bond escapes, disables the plant, and leaves via motorboat. A boat chase ensues. Once that's over with, Bond heads back to San Monique, blowing up the poppy fields, rescuing Solitaire, and dueling Baron Samedi. They end up in Kananga's underground base, where he ties them up as shark bait. Bond frees them and kills Kananga by force-feeding him a compressed-air bullet. With all said and done, Bond and Solitare take a train ride together, fending off one final assault by Tee-Hee. You are now free to turn off your TV.

One pattern we will be noticing with James Bond in the 1970s is that these films tended to latch onto a certain trend. In the case of Live and Let Die, that would be the blaxploitation genre. Despite the obvious cross-marketing and the tendencies toward slapstick gimmicks, it's nice to know that Live and Let Die has a decent plot holding it all up. It's a shame the next film could not maintain that same balance of style and substance. 5 out of 5.

The Call: 70% (C+)

IchigoRyu will return in
The Man With The Golden Gun

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