So, the reason that I felt like talking about crazy 70’s Marvel characters yesterday was because I had 70’s exploitation films on the mind. I always have stupid Marvel facts rattling around there; it usually takes something special to get me thinking about exploitation. Last night I went to my local Alamo Drafthouse (which is like my favorite place in the world) because they’ve been doing a film series of a bunch of James Bond movies. And I love James Bond. To a ridiculous degree. There was a period of my life, pretty much all of high school, where I was completely obsessed with him. I tried writing a terrible Bond rip-off, and for some reason was so convinced that it was going to work that I came up with ideas for plots and villains for like, twenty more stories. I’ve read every novel, even the weird John Gardner ones. I own all the movies, even Never Say Never Again, and have seen them countless times. I’ve played the terrible video games. I’m a hundred per cent sure I could list all the movies in order, and I’m pretty confident I could list the years they came out. There’s no way I could do that with US presidents, which, while not integral information, is probably more useful than knowing the years that Bond movies happened. He’s definitely a problematic character to love. I think Judy Dench’s M said it best in Goldeneye, he’s a sexist, misogynistic dinosaur, a relic of the Cold War. Yeah, that’s probably pretty accurate. And I feel like every Bond fan has to come to grips with the fact that the guy is super misogynistic, and the books and movies are often shockingly sexist, racist, and even homophobic. But there’s just something about the stories that let me keep everything in a historical context, something that just lets me enjoy the stories, keeping in mind that they’re very problematic. So of course, when I heard that the Drafthouse was going to be playing Bond flicks on the big screen, I made it my goal to see as many as I could.
I could probably do a whole post on how important I feel it is to watch movies on big screens, but to keep it short, it’s magical. There’s just something amazing about seeing a movie, even one that you’ve seen dozens of times, up on the big screen for the first time. So of course I wanted to see all the Bond movies I could in a real movie theater. And this weekend, the movie I got to see was 1973’s Live and Let Die. And oh boy, it’s a doozey.
Roger Moore has never been my favorite Bond. Growing up, I considered him the absolute worse, the bottom of the barrel. They were just too campy and silly for my taste. It probably didn’t help that I got my Bond love from my dad, who couldn’t stand him either. When I was first learning about him, I loved the Sean Connery ones he showed me, and the Pierce Brosnan ones that were coming out in theaters, so I asked him if there was more, and he sheepishly would tell me there was another guy, but he wasn’t very good. Lazenby and Dalton never even came up until I saw their movies on Spike back when they ran them like crazy; I think my dad flat out forgot about them. But much like my feelings on Adam West Batman, I’ve grown fond of Roger Moore. I still prefer my Bond hard and dangerous, but there’s something more amusing about silly old Roger Moore and his crazy movies. They’re very watchable. And Live and Let Die is definitely the most watchable and fun of his movies.
It’s a very interesting and strange movie. Not only did we have a new Bond, but we were missing Q and a John Barry score. The score is ridiculous and funky. Plus, much like Luke Cage, it’s so influenced by the blaxploitation movies that were so popular at the time. Which is an insane idea. They made a blaxloitation Bond movie. It’s so bizarre to watch black guys in straight up pimp suits calling James Bond a honky, while referring to Cadillac’s as Pimpmobiles. That’s nuts.
I don’t even know where to start with this movie. It’s so enjoyable and weird. We open with a montage of three killings that end up getting Bond on the case, including the crazy New Orleans fake jazz funeral/murder. That sentence makes no sense, but it barely does in the movie. Then we get the amazing Paul McCartney song. I mean, c’mon, except for the weird reggae breakdown, that song is perfect. Definitely up there as one of the best Bond songs. Then we get straight to the point, no messing around in the MI6 offices like usual, right to M showing up at James’ flat and getting him on a plane to go take care of things. James is sent to New York to help one of the many Felix Leiter’s track down the suspicious dictator of a fictitious Caribbean island, Dr. Kananga, played by the always awesome Yaphet Kotto. And right away we get a great scene where Bond’s taxi driver is shot and killed, and he has to try and steer the car from the back seat while crashing into cars on the highway. Which is the first of many great stunt scenes that use actual real vehicles. I don’t like to be one of those guys who gripes about CGI constantly…but really, it’s not as good as practical effects. Seeing a real car smashing into stuff on a highway is so much more appealing that seeing a fake car fly through the sky and blow things up. At least in my opinion.
Bond then uses some real detective work to track the killers car to their secret base in a soul food restaurant called Fillet of Soul, where Bond sits in a booth and gets spun around into a secret chamber like he’s in a haunted house. There he meets the Bond girl of the movie, Jane Seymour’s psychic tarot card reading Solitaire. Holy crap. Possibly the most attractive Bond girl of them all. I had completely forgotten how captivating she was.
We also meet one of Kananga’s crazy henchmen, Tee Hee, a guy with a crazy prosthetic arm with a powerful claw.Then we see Mr. Big, the crime lord who James thinks is working for Kananga. I don’t really care about spoiler here, Mr. Big is actually Kananga. We find that out later, but it’s so ridiculous I don’t really want to deal with it. I feel like the Mr. Big stuff was completely superfluous. But we do get some amazing lines from Mr. Big, the best probably being “Names is for tombstones, baby.” I really need to use that line more in my day to day life.
Bond gets away and ends up in San Monique, the fake country Kananga rules, and meets Rosie, a CIA agent who Bond of course sleeps with. We also got to see Roger Moore sit in a tub and shave while a poisonous snake tries to bite him. This movie is nuts. Rosie also could have been cut out. She’s there for like ten minutes, convinces Bond she’s legit, then reveals she’s not, and is shot. Bye Rosie, you were a shockingly incompetent double agent. Bond then goes straight to Solitaire’s house where he tricks her into sex, which makes her lose her psychic powers, because once again, this movie is ridiculous.
They then find out that Kananga is secretly growing a crazy amount of poppies for heroin, so Bond and Solitaire head to New Orleans to meet up with Felix and bring down Kananga down. But almost immediately they’re caught by Kananga’s men, and after Kananga reveals he’s really Mr. Big and yells at Bond for sleeping with Solitaire and stealing her magic powers, he explains his plan. He’s growing a lot of poppies, and is giving heroin away across the country for free, in the hopes to double the amount of addicted people in the county. He’ll then have a monopoly and start charging crazy amounts for his heroin, and become super rich. It’s actually not a bad plan. Especially considering the book this was based on revolved around smuggling Soviet pirate gold. Those may seem like random words I typed, but that’s actually what that book is about. Heroin makes more sense than Soviet pirate gold. The Bond movies have a reputation for having impossible villains plan, and this is one of the most grounded. This could actually happen. Good work Dr. Kananga, you kept it simple, no diamond powered space lasers, if it wasn’t for Bond, you could have become the king of heroin. Anyway, Bond is brought to a crocodile farm to get killed. One of the most circuitous ways to kill a guy, and one of the most egregious examples of times the bad guys should have just simply stood around and waited until Bond was killed. But we did get to see Bond escape by running on top of crocodiles heads! Which was a real stunt that a real man did! And you know the craziest part? That wasn’t the only take! There’s footage of the failed attempts where the dude almost gets eaten!
Anyway, Bond burns down their weird crocodile farm/heroin refinery, and begins the boat chase. Dear God the boat chase. I always remember that there’s a long speed boat chase in this movie, but I forget that it’s approximately 10 hours long. There’s some great stunts in the scene, but it’s way too long. Plus we get that crazy racist Sheriff. Not a fan of that guy. I could talk a lot about that terrible character and how uncomfortable his racist cop shtick was, but the less said about him the better.
Seriously, this guy is the worstWe then enter the end of the movie, where things quickly get bat-shit crazy. Bond storms back to San Monique to bring down Kananga and save Solitaire. He has his friend Quarrel Jr plant a bunch of C4 in the poppy fields to destroy Kananga’s plans while he goes to get Solitaire back, who was getting ready to be killed by Kananga’s other crazy henchman, Baron Samedi, a crazy dude who has tricked most of the people of San Monique into thinking he’s some sort of voodoo deity. They have Solitaire tied up to posts like she’s about to be sacrificed to King Kong, but Bond shows up, shoots a bunch of guys, and throws Samedi into a coffin full of poisonous snakes. Solitaire and Bond then use a secret elevator in a grave to get down to Kananga’s lair and finally confront him. Kananga brags about how ingenious his plan had been, and gets ready to dump Solitaire and Bond into a shark pool, but Bond uses his deus ex machina watch to get out of the trap, and he fights Kananga in the pool which ends with Bond sticking some crazy compressed air cartridge in Kananga’s mouth, causing him to blow up like a balloon and pop.
Then, like a lot of Bond movies, just because the villain is dead, doesn’t mean the henchmen won’t show back up, so as Bond and Solitaire ride away on a train, Tee Hee shows back up, and after a brief fight, Bond throws him out of the window to his death. We then cut to the front of the train, where Baron Samedi is sitting laughing, because he’s apparently alive? And actually magic? Who knows, the theme song comes on, we thank the “Black Stuntmen Association of America” and learn James Bond will be back in the Man with the Golden Gun.
Live and Let Die is crazy. That’s really the only word for it. It was a strange experiment to inject a hot new genre into the tried and true formula of Bond movies. Roger Moore is still young and campy, he delivers the ridiculous one-liners with ease, and really turns in a fun performance. But it’s also so stuck in it’s own time. The music is crazy and funky, the clothing is as 70’s as you can get, and the blaxploitation stuff is nuts. All the voodoo stuff really felt like the screenwriters barely researched anything and just went with crazy racist stereotypes. But overall, it’s fun. Yaphet Kotto is great as Dr. Kananga, super suave and menacing, and with a grounded scheme, he’s honestly one of my favorite Bond Villains. Jane Seymour is gorgeous, and you really do believe her in the movie. It’s genuinely funny and exciting, and a worthwhile watch. I feel like I’ll end up doing articles about all of the Bond movies eventually, and Live and Let Die may seem like a weird place to start, but after seeing it up on the big screen in all of it’s insane glory, I just had to ramble about it.
Live and Let Die was made by EON Productions and United Artists.