It was forty years ago this week that Roger Moore made his debut as Ian Fleming's James Bond 007 in the eighth "official" installment of the film series, Live and Let Die (1973).
Moore, having been best known as television's "The Saint" in 1962-69, would usher in an interesting period for the Bonds, as comedy would be emphasized over suspense (or even coherent plot development).
(Click here to reserve a copy of the film from us.)
The film opens with the murders of three British Secret Service Agents in, respectively, New York City, New Orleans, and "San Monique" (a fictional Caribbean island nation). All three were working with the CIA in investigating the activities of San Monique's head of state Dr. Kananga (Yaphet Kotto). Bond is assigned to retrace his late colleagues' steps and find out what the connection is between Kananga and the murders.
While dodging various attempts on his life (my favorite is the one during Bond's ride into Manhattan), 007 finds out that Kananga is tied in with a local Harlem ganglord, "Mr. Big", and that San Monique's actual export product is heroin. Taking along Kananga's tarot card reading mistress Solitaire (Jane Seymour) with him, Bond uncovers the truth behind the deaths of his fellow agents and what the heroin's really going to be used for.
That's pretty much the plot for this film, which retains many of the characters and some of the situations from Fleming's original 1954 novel (reviewed by me here), but throws away Fleming's much better storyline. (Although at least the filmmakers don't take the patronizing tone towards African Americans that Fleming did; Mr. Big and his henchmen are smart, tough and a genuine physical threat to our hero.) The script's just an excuse for a number of wild chase sequences, culminating with a wild boat pursuit in Louisiana that introduces (for better or worse) Sheriff J.W. Pepper (a hammy but funny Clifton James).
There's some attempt at character development with Kananga after he discovers Solitaire's betrayal of him, but writer Tom Mankiewicz and director Guy Hamilton stress stunts, humorous double entendre dialogue and some misplaced comedy (Kananga's final fate has to be seen to be believed; it's like a Bugs Bunny cartoon) over actual characterization and suspense. Moore is engaging and gives his best, but unlike previous Bond Sean Connery, he just doesn't seem tough enough.
That said, the film is witty and exciting, and boasts some strong supporting performances from co-stars Kotto, David Hedison (as Bond's CIA pal Felix Leiter), Gloria Hendry, Tommy Lane, Julius Harris (as Mr. Big's and Kananga's chief henchman Tee Hee), and the hysterical Geoffrey Holder as Baron Samedi, who runs a voodoo cult on San Monique. Plus there's a rousing theme song by Paul McCarney and Wings that George Martin's not-bad music score refers back to throughout the film.
If you're okay with a lighter Bond entry with emphasis on comedy and stunts, you'll enjoy Live and Let Die.
(Follow me on Twitter.)