Monday, June 20, 2016

Bond Watch: Live and Let Die (1973)

At the risk of sounding super creepy, what I really remembered from this movie was Jane Seymour.  I knew I hadn't seen this one during my Bond-sprint post 7th Grade because I was totally shocked to find out, in high school, that Paul McCartney and Wings had offered up a song for a Bond movie when Guns N' Roses covered the song on Use Your Illusion I.  While I'm certain I'd heard the Wings version, I don't think I'd ever quite put 2 and 2 together (because I could not have cared less about Wings until about that point).

When I was in college I lived in a dump of an apartment that happened to be (a) close to campus, (b) furnished and (c) featured cable.  And, in that year ('94-'95), TBS started showing Bond movies on an infinite loop, and it was then that I finally saw Live and Let Die (1973).  And, as a 19 year-old, it was kinda hard to ignore Jane Seymour, who I was mostly familiar with from Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman and Somewhere in Time.

"It shall be I and Yaphet Kotto that you will remember from this movie, for very different reasons!"

But, as they say, I showed up for the Jane Seymour, I stayed for the bat-shit plotting and boat chases.

It's Roger Moore's first outing as Bond, and it's kind of remarkable how much Moore is on target for how he'd approach Bond for more than the next decade.  I say all this as someone who has never seen The Saint, so I don't actually know if that's what he just does - but he was my first Bond, and it's hard for me not to just like Roger Moore.  I mean, you can appreciate much about the other Bonds and still like a good cackle at a good Roger Moore Bond quip, too.

If you've read the novel of Live and Let Die, this book borrows a few elements and then does it's own thing.  Scripted by Tom Mankiewicz (who also did a couple of other Bond films, Superman I and II final drafts and Ladyhawke), and directed by Guy Hamilton (weirdly a director whom I've seen a disproportionate amount of his work despite not thinking about him, ever), it does recognize ideas from the book without ever really explaining them all that well.  Like, Mr. Big can operate nearly open basically because he remains within the black community, which, in the U.S., because racism.  It's sort of there in the movie, but never mentioned or explained, nor is how he has such a huge network explained.  He's just a Bond villain, so of course he has a giant network.  Nor are the voodoo ties very well explained, instead we just get voodoo scenes sort of for spookiness sake and to include Geoffrey Holder being Geoffrey Holder.

The movie is full of unlikely secret passages, unnecessarily complex schemes, an iffy arch-criminal plot, and a scene that might have inspired the Atari 2600 classic, Pitfall.

The movie is obviously not the second movie, although it was the second Bond novel, and they ditch any connections to SPECTRE/ SMERSH, you don't really miss it.  It is filmed in the 1970's, and it seems a bit of raiding of Blaxploitation film casting has taken place.  But, man, Yaphet Kotto is much better in this movie than he needs to be as Kananga/ Mr. Big.  Really, we all need more Yaphet Kotto.

Ignoring the racial component is ignoring the elephant in the room.  Some of what got dropped from the novel was the superstitious fear Mr. Big held over the black population across the U.S. and abroad, but it also dropped the respect given Mr. Big in the book as Bond thinks to himself "of course, if there's a first black legislator, first black pilot, etc... there will be a first black super criminal".  All of that's in the background here if you stop to think about it, I guess, but instead you get a movie where it's lily-white James Bond vs. a whole lotta black people.  Decisions are made here and there which can leave you cringing a bit, such as the near-sacrifice of Jane Seymour in a virginal white dress in a voodoo ceremony, which makes sense within the bat-shit plotting but...  yeah.  Not that different from the concerns you might feel just thinking about Roger Moore giddily dispatching lots of black people without anyone blinking, even if we know Bond is always shooting anyone, regardless of race or country of origin.  (That's kinda his deal.)  I don't really know how to think of the movie except in the context of the 1970's, and there are any number of readings someone could apply, both positive and negative.

Now, I can't really explain what the deal is with the diversion to New Orleans/ the airport wackiness/ the alligator farm/ the 20 minute speed boat chase that presages Smokey and the Bandit, Superman II's run in with Sheriff JW Pepper actor Clifton James, and Cannonball Run.  But there you have it.  And, the whole section tragically lacks Jane Seymour.  But, yeah, people loved this sort of thing in the 1970's in their movies, and that's what we get.

The sexual politics are on their lowest ebb at this point, with Solitaire's chastity held up as a mystical plot device and if she has any agency at all in the movie, it's the most secret agent of all.  And, Rosie - the African American double-agent - is played up as near clownish.  It's odd to find oneself waiting for the assertiveness of Grace Jones to show up in A View to a Kill (all this passive female 1-dimensional character stuff gets dull, people), but there you are.

This is far from my favorite Bond movie, but it's at least a deeply memorable one.


Stuart said...

"...and if she has any agency at all in the movie, it's the most secret agent of all."

:slow clap:

The League said...

Sometimes you type something and don't realize it worked until much, much later.