Friday, November 4, 2011

Live And Let Die

  Well with Sean Connery, George Lazenby and Sean Connery done and dusted as James Bond it came Roger Moore's turn at having the license to kill. Of course Moore had been previously considered for the role after Connery first retired after You Only Live Twice. But due to other commitments couldn't take the role which went to unknown Australian male model George Lazenby. The funny thing is that even after Connery's second retirement Moore wasn't initially considered as Bond.

 Of course Connery was urged to stay on. But with his final departure the search for a new Bond began. Believe it or not Albert Broccoli approached Clint Eastwood who was fresh off his Dirty Harry success. But although flattered Eastwood declined stating Bond should be played by an English actor. Oxymoronically after having asked American Eastwood Broccoli then refused United Artists desire to cast an American. Burt Reynolds, Paul Newman and Robert Redford were all considered. But Broccoli put forward Roger Moore instead. Without appearing anti-American it is fortunate the role has never been given to an American. I feel if it had been done so United Artists then would have put pressure on Broccoli and co to make the whole franchise more American in feel.

 But fortunately for posterity's sake the English actor Roger Moore was cast. With Moore on board the character changed direction. Not only did Moore himself not want to play Sean Connery's Bond, but he was also at odds not to imitate his television role of Simon Templar in  The Saint. Screenplay writer Tom Mankiewicz was to intentionally write in Moore's persona by giving more comedy and a light hearted approach to the role. Moore was in the unenviable position that George Lazenby was in in following on from Sean Connery. But with all due credit, whilst Live and Let Die isn't the best Bond film, it is superior to its predecessor Diamonds are Forever.

 But I have now lived through the transition of Bonds from Moore to Brosnan to Craig, and it is amazing how quickly you become used to the new actor. Even though very familiar with Live and Let Die after repeated viewings over the years, I found I settled into Moore as Bond very quickly. If nothing else Moore was noted as a fine actor and his professionalism is very obvious in this, his first Bond film. One of the criticisms of Moore as Bond in this was that the character lacked the hardness under the charming exterior. To a certain degree I agree. But in The Man With the Golden Gun onwards Moore really got into his stride, and in certain scenes he was definitely a cold, hard man when he needed to be.

 Now of course this is based on Ian Fleming's second Bond novel. It has certainly dated as many of his very earliest novels have done. But none the less it is one of his stronger early novels. But there is a major problem with it. It is extremely racist. Some critics on release of the film adaptation thought it too racist. But I dispute this as the producers made every effort to keep Fleming's racism, sexism, along with his many other unsavoury views out of the films. They were seen as family entertainment so any thing along those lines was ewell and truly toned down. I personally think the Bond films over the years have managed to keep things ' clean ' in regards to keeping much of Fleming's view points out.

 But it is a ' blaxploitation ' film no question. But whereas Fleming used racism to belittle Black culture, the film adaptation merely uses it as a story backdrop alone. If anything the decision to tackle the novel was a brave move considering the potential for racial mis-understandings. But all the same it was released at he height of blaxploitation so affros, black gangsters, ' pimp mobiles ' and honky abounds. It was also the first time a black was used as a Bond girl just to keep the waters smooth. All the same criticism was unavoidable but on the whole the film was generally well received.

 In fact Live and Let Die was chosen to be the next Bond film even as Diamonds are Forever was still in production. Screen play writer Tom Mankiewicz thought it would be daring to introduce a black villain considering the Black Panthers and other black movements were so active at the time. New Orleans came to be used as a filming location because of its vibrant black community. Hence we see the two black jazz funerals, along with the use of local canals for the boat chase. It was whilst in Jamaica searching for locations that the crew found a crocodile farm owned by a Ross Kanaga. Of course this inspired the crocodile farm scene in the film and gave the name to the film's villain.

Naughty James...taking Solitaire's virginity!!
 As usual the behind the scenes stuff is of interest...well I always think it is. So here are a few facts etc, I always add in for any die hard Bond fans who are reading!! In the novel Solitaire is Caucasian, and for a brief time it was considered turning her into a black woman for the film. But the idea was discarded in favour of Fleming's description. At first Catherine Deneuve was considered for the role before yummy Jane Seymour was cast  after her performances in television series The Onedine Line. Yophet Kotto was cast after he was seen in another United Artists film, Across 110th Street. He said one of the things that appealed about playing Kanaga was his interest in the occult and feeling he could control events through it.

 The character of buffoon like sheriff J. W. Pepper was created to give the film some comic relief. Portrayed by Clifton James he was to appear in the next Bond film The Man With the Golden Gun as well. At the time of writing James is still alive aged 90! This was also the first of two times David Hedison was to play Felix Leiter. He was to reprise the role in 1989's License to Kill even though it was a tradition up until then to cast a different actor for the role. Madeline Smith, who plays Italian bedmate to Bond in the films opening scenes, was cast on Moore's advice after she appeared with him in The Saint. Whilst acknowledging Moore's politeness on set she later confided she found it difficult to wear only bikini briefs whilst Moore's wife oversaw the scene. In his biography My Word is my Bond Moore goers further into his then wife's jealousies over him working with other woman. This was the major reason for their eventual divorce.

Mmm..Jane, can you spill out of that anymore?!!
 Amazingly enough this was the only film until 2002's Casino Royale that didn't feature Desmond Llewellyn as Q. At the time he was starring in television series Follyfoot. But even though written out of three episodes so he could film Live and Ket Die, the producers had previously decided not to include the character, much to Llewellyn's annoyance. Initial filming was held up because Moore was diagnosed with kidney stones. But once started principle filming took place in Louisiana. Then it moved to Jamaica  ( which doubled for the fictional San Monique ). The other scenes were divided between Harlem and the ubiquitous Pinewood Studios. Apparently whilst in Harlem the producers had to pay ' protection money ' to a local gang to ensure the crews safety. Suffice to say when the money ran out they were " encouraged " to leave!!!!

 The crocodile stunt was actually suggested by farm owner Ross Kananga. The producers liked the idea and enlisted him to help to do it. The scene took five takes to complete, including one where a crocodile snapped at Kanaga's trousers, tearing them. The snakes also caused a fuss among some crew members. The script supervisor was so afraid  she wouldn't appear on set with them. The actor who plays an agent in the films opening scenes fainted during filming! Jane Seymour was terrified if they got too close. And Geoffrey Holder only agreed to fall into the coffin full of snakes because Princess Alexandra was on set watching!! Ah the pitfalls of acting huh!!!

 Since the crew was filming in the deep south of the US the local canals offered up the opportunity for the films lengthy boat chase. It was filmed on the Louisiana bayou and was at one stage interrupted by flooding. 26 boats were built especially for the scene. 17 of which were destroyed during rehearsals alone! The scene where the speedboat jumps over the bayou ( pictured ) with the help of a ramp unintentionally created a then Guinness World Record with 34 cleared meters!! Unfortunately the waves it created in doing so made the following boat flip over! And finally the double-decker bus chase used a second hand London bus that had the top adapted. It ran on ball bearings so that it slid off when it passed under the low bridge. Suffice to say Roger Moore wasn't the driver, but an actual London Transport driving instructor was!

 Now where would a review be without a word about the title song! Of course it is the hard driving classic Live and Let Die ( funnily enough ) by Wings. It was the first true rock 'n' roll song to open a Bond film. It was a success that remained at #2 in the US charts for three weeks and reached #9 in the UK's. It has arguably remained one of the best and well known pieces of Bond music outside of the theme. When the film was released it was a box office success but met with a mixed reception from critics ( none the less the film won an Oscar for the title song of Wings! ).

 So what did critics make of Live and Let Die and Roger Moore in 1973? Well the racial themes were questioned but the action scenes were praised. Many felt Moore unable to live up to the legacy of Sean Connery. But that was said of George Lazenby as well, and yet On Her Majesty's Secret Service was a very strong Bond film. Any actor who takes on Bond will always have to suffer being compared to his immediate predecessor though. Some stated Moore's Bond didn't have the thuggisness that was under the surface of both Connery and Lazenby's Bonds. But this was to come out in the next few films Moore was to make. The role of Kanaga was considered banal compared to previous Bond villains Goldfinger and Dr. No. But Jane Seymour was praised as one of the franchises most beautiful Bond girls. And so it went on.

 For me I do like Live and Let Die even though I rate it as a middling effort Bond film. It must be remembered that this was Roger Moore's first outing in the famous role, and he was going to be minutely examined. I think he done a fine job. The film's failings are more a flat novel to film adaptation, and the script, rather than any from Moore. For me it is superior to its predecessor Diamonds are Forever. As an adaptation it does leave in enough of the novel, but mixes up the chronology somewhat. For instance at the end of the film, when Felix Leiter asks Bond and Solitaire what there is to do on a train for 6 hours, it is from their escape from Kanaga in New York, which is less than half way into the novel.

 The last scene although changed from the novel does nod towards it though. In the novel Kanaga intends to kill Bond and Solitaire by dragging them behind his smuggling boat over some coral. Hence attracting the sharks and barracudas to finish them off. Of course in the film Kanaga has several caged sharks, and purists of the novel will recognise the reference. One scene isn't used but was later in 1989's License to Kill. And that was where Felix Leiter is savaged by a shark at one of Kanaga's entry points of his smuggling operations. ( In the novel it is gold coins he is smuggling and not heroin ).

Mmmmmmm...Jane Seymour!!!!
 Over all though the novel is not one of Fleming's best and it has passed on to the film. As a Bond film it is possibly a bit too long, and whilst not bad isn't overly memorable. But for a first up 'new' Bond film it is solid enough. I always feel for such an iconic role it took an actor time to truly grow into it. This is something Timothy Dalton unfortunately never got. Whereas George Lazenby shot himself in the foot by walking away from the role. Like him or not Roger Moore is Bond.

 IMDB has it with 6.8/10 which is more than fair. For me there is enough to like but there are other Roger Moore outings I'd watch before this.
Click here for a synopsis and more:


  1. Roger Moore is my childhood Bond so that's probably who I relate with the most.

    I don't think I've ever seen his first foray into the role, sounds like it's very much a product of it's time.

    I know I've said it before but I love all the behind the scenes tidbit and information you provide on these reviews, just like honey to a bee for a fellow movie lover.

  2. I also grew up with Moore as Bond. The first one I saw was For Your Eyes Only in 1981. He isn't my sentimental favorite Bond but I relate to him the most as it was the Moore films that got me hooked on Bond.
    I'm glad someone is reading these posts! I know they are long but I find it so interesting especially in regards to the Bond films.