LIVE AND LET DIE1973 director: Guy Hamilton; starring: Roger Moore, Yaphet Kotto, Jane Seymour, Gloria Hendry, Geoffrey Holder, Julius Harris
For the better part of a decade the James Bond films set the standard for action and adventure films. Based on Ian Fleming’s popular books, the film franchise launched in 1962 with DR. NO, and nothing was ever the same. With each new film the Bond series grew in popularity, while spawning countless imitators. The role of James Bond turned Sean Connery into an international superstar, and after appearing in the first five films, he turned his back on playing 007 in ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE. He returned to the series for DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER in 1971, but by that time the Bond films were a bit tired and worn out.
There was a time when the James Bond films were what other movies strived to be. But by the end of the 1960s and into the 1970s, films like BONNIE & CLYDE, THE WILD BUNCH, and THE FRENCH CONNECTION had changed the way violence and action were portrayed on the screen. Suddenly, the Bond films, were a bit behind the times. It wasn’t until 1973, when Roger Moore replaced Sean Connery in LIVE AND LET DIE that it would become clear how the Bond films had gone from the trend-setters to copying whatever was popular at the time.
When LIVE AND LET DIE came out, the blaxploitation movement was in full swing. Two years earlier SHAFT helped usher in the both the genre and era of blaxploitation in a film that took many of its cues from the Bond films. Private detective John Shaft was a hardboiled asskicker who, like Bond, had a way with the ladies, a knack for getting out of the toughest scrapes unscathed, and operated by his own unique set of rules. In fact, SHAFT had been pretty much marketed as a Bond-like film. The superior sequels, SHAFT’S BIG SCORE and SHAFT IN AFRICA, with their revved up action sequences and, in the case SHAFT IN AFRICA, international locales, were even more like James Bond films.
LIVE AND LET DIE was the James Bond franchise’s official entry into the blaxploitation genre (making it arguably the biggest budgeted blaxploitation film of the time). Some people are likely to argue that the film is not a blaxploitation flick, but all you have to do is look at the rest of the cast, and it’s pretty obvious. There are more black actors in LIVE AND LET DIE than there are in SLAUGHTER and SLAUGHTER’S BIG RIP-OFF combined.
The plot revolves around Bond initially tangling with Mr. Big, a deadly crime kingpin with a vast empire, as he investigates the death of another double-o agent. In one of the film’s most memorable moments, Bond heads “uptown” into Harlem, where it appears every person above 110th Street is part of Big’s criminal network. In reality Mr. Big is Kananga (Kotto), the ruler of tiny island nation in the Caribbean, with a devious plot that involves heroin trafficking. Like all Bond villains, Kananga has his deadly henchmen, who include Tee Hee (Harris), who has a mechanical claw for a hand, and the supernatural Baron Samedi (Holder), a voodoo priest with a thing for snakes. Kananga has also got himself a tasty piece of pale tail, Solitaire (Seymour), who happens to be a virgin with psychic powers. But once Bond gets his hands on her, she’s a virgin no more, which only pisses off the nefarious villain even more.
Compared to all the other non-Connery Bond films, LIVE AND LET DIE isn’t all that bad, especially when you look at some of the crap Roger Moore would later star in. But the biggest problem with the film is Moore himself. Connery was a barrel-chested badass who could slug it out with Robert Shaw’s Red Grant in FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE, arguably the most formidable of all Bond villains or henchman. By comparison, Moore was nothing more than a scrawny excuse of a man who looked like he could be knocked over by a strong breeze. Watching him duke it out with Yaphet Kotto, who ranks as one of the most physically menacing of all Bond villains, it’s almost laughable.
As an entry in the blaxploitation genre, LIVE AND LET DIE ranks well above so many of the other films of that era. And while the lack of a black hero causes many to not consider the film part of the genre, those people are just plain wrong (I am, after all, the motherfuckin’ Man when it comes to all things blaxploitation, and my word is gospel). At the same time, I’m more likely to judge this film as a Bond movie than as a blaxploitation flick, although in either regard they come about the same – good, but not great.
LIVE AND LET DIE marked a new era for the Bond series, but also a sadly missed opportunity. The producers, who were so eager to cash in on the popularity of the blaxploitation genre, should have gone that extra mile and cast Calvin Lockhart (left) as 007. It would have been the perfect time for something like that to happen, and Lockhart would have been the perfect choice to play Bond. Instead we got Moore, which was so much less.
In addition to Kotto, Holder and Harris, LIVE AND LET DIE starred quite a few other black actors, most notably Gloria Hendry, who co-stars as duplicitous CIA agent Rosie Carver. The film also utilized the talents of some of the best known black stuntment of the day, including Eddie Smith and Tony Brubaker.