Live and Let Die Review

For more of our Live and Let Die thoughts, check out this week’s That Bond Show (with special guests Cameron Abbott and Frank Bozzani)

So many of the best Bond movies have a sense of ease to them. A feeling of joy and adventure that just takes over and carries you away. It is one of the elements that Sean Connery so nailed as James Bond, that aura and cocktail of coolness, sophistication, and raw power. In Live and Let Die Roger Moore takes the feeling of coolness and fun but does it in a different and new way. 

Live and Let Die is brilliant, let’s get that out of the way right now. Easily one of my favorite Bond movies, with such a fun and brisk pace, characters, and scenes. Roger Moore delivers a Bond both very much removed from what Sean Connery created and yet also one that still feels of the same blood and spirit, a key aspect that Lazenby never nailed in his turn as 007. 

The best James Bond movies have key aspects that they nail; whether it be the music, villains, henchmen, locales, story, Bond girls, or James himself, they all mostly triumph across the varied ingredients of a 007 story. The lineage of the series’ best from Goldfinger through to the modern day with Skyfall has shown this. Live and Let Die joins that group by succeeding at so much of what it sets out to do. 

Indeed Moore is great here in his first outing as Bond, giving a performance different from those before him while striking a great balance between the serious and more comedic sides of James. I’ve spoken before about how the long tenure of Roger Moore as James Bond can, in many ways, be broken down into 3 distinct mini-eras and it’s here in Live and Let Die and its immediate follow up that I think his take on the character veers its most serious. The version and image of Moore as a silly over the top Bond with his tongue firmly planted in his cheek isn’t fully realized here and I actually think it fits perfectly with the tone of this film. 

Another key aspect of Moore in this film is just how damn good he looks. I feel like for many, the image of Roger Moore as Bond tends to drift to his later films where he is clearly struggling to keep pace in the action scenes and just looks laughable in love scenes with his co-stars. Here in Live and Let Die though, Moore is at his physical prime looking fantastic and easily in my favorite suits and outfits of his entire run. The early 70’s fashion scene makes Moore look so effortlessly cool and fashionable while still managing to carry this air of not caring. It will never not be mad to me that he is four years older than Sean Connery was in Diamonds are Forever, he just looks so good. 

With Moore delivering one of his best performances in the series, the film is lifted even further by the fact that so much of the rest of the cast are similarly standout. Tee Hee is a classic Bond henchman of the era: quiet and physically imposing, and Whisper is just the right level of weird and quirky to fit the 70’s era Bond. Easily for me though, the highlight is Baron Samedi who, from the second I first saw him as a kid, produced such a conflicting mixture of emotions. I’ve always loved the ability in his varied scenes to make me laugh, be creeped out and unnerved by him, and to never really know what to expect next from him. All of which is further aided by Baron Samedi, and really Live and Let Die as a whole, being the only Bond film in the series that dabbles in the supernatural and mystical. Geoffrey Holder is great as Samedi and the entire crew of henchmen elevate the film and help strengthen the otherwise respectable, but not entirely standout, main villain of the movie in Kananga. 

Live and Let Die also succeeds with its significantly more scaled back plot and consequences compared to the immediate films before it. You’d have to go back to at least Goldfinger to find a Bond movie without the threat of either nuclear war or WW3 breaking out. After so many outlandish and global threats, it’s refreshing to bring the stakes down and have a mission that, in the end, is about the drug trade and not the end of the world.  

Really the movie’s biggest misstep is Solitaire as a character. More a one dimensional character and plot device than anything else, the movie at times plays around with her conflicting loyalties but once she and Bond sleep together the movie doesn’t seem to know what to do with her and thus she muddles through the rest of the film, at times veering a little too close to Kate Capshaw as Willie Scott in Temple of Doom territory.  There’s simply too much Honey Ryder or Tanya in her character and thus no real area for her to grow or go to.

The only other place where the movie stumbles somewhat is in its pacing towards the last act where we get treated to a long car/plane chase that is followed up very quickly by an even longer boat chase sequence. Having one in the film would have been fine but the two basically back to back, particularly the boat chase that is more than a little long in the tooth, does hamper the otherwise great momentum and pacing the movie had up until then. It’s not a huge misstep but it’s one of those fine details that come into play when picking the best Bond movies.

Guy Hamilton absolutely had a return to form in the director’s chair here and captures so much of the spirit and sense of fun that made Goldfinger such a magical and classic film. While Live and Let Die doesn’t quite hit those heights it is an unquestioned highnote for the series and a refreshing new step for 007.

Roger Moore breathes new life into Bond and begins what will ultimately become the longest run with the character that helped to define who Bond was to arguably two different generations. The cast largely works and the main theme by Paul McCartney and Wings easily stands as one of the very best songs ever produced in the series. A triumphant and great start to this new era of Bond.

Best Moments – 

I mean the Croc Farm sequence is still pretty surreal. The fact they had an actual person run across multiple crocs over water for this movie never fails to blow me away. The whole final sequence in San Monique is pretty great, the Baron Samedi stuff always works for me and Kananga and Bond play well off each other. Outside of that, the train scene between Bond and Tee Hee is a cool callback to the Red Grant fight in From Russia with Love.

The Villain – 

Kananaga/Mr. Big is sort of a weird one and in some ways is a good foreshadow of the largely fine villains who are overshadowed by their henchmen we will get from the Roger Moore area of Bond. I think he’s better and more memorable than a lot of what comes from the next few movies, even if he’s not as iconic as some of the baddies from the Connery era. He is a Far Cry style baddie as Trevor would say, who pops in sporadically,  but it mostly works for me and I like the henchmen so I’ll give it a 8/10.

Felix Watch – 

Sad times as we turn to the last Felix watch section we will have for seven movies, but what a great one to end on. David Hedison is for me right up there with Jack Lord as the image in my head of who Felix Leiter is. In some ways it’s a shame this is the only Roger Moore movie with Felix in it, because I actually think the two play off each other really well and help flesh out the more comedic and personal sides of each other. As it is, Hedison is great as Felix going along on missions and being with James at different stages through the entire film. I give him a 9/10

Toys – 

The injustice of not including the late great Desmond Llewlyn as Q in this movie is only somewhat softened by the fan outcry that ensued, ensuring he would appear in every Bond movie made during the rest of his life. 

The absence of Q plus the fact that at the end of the day the movie’s only gadget is a watch makes this a dud for the toys section. I mean it’s a cool watch but still. 4/10

The Music – 

Easily a 10/10 and my personal favorite Bond theme we’ve had so far. Literally a dream combo of Paul McCartney and James Bond working together. It slaps. It’s an awesome rock song on it’s own merits and fits the new vibe and energy of the Moore era wonderfully. Perfect. 

Final Review – 
Live and Let Die is fun. It’s honestly that simple. Almost from the opening seconds of the film it manages to have this quick-paced, fluid- sense of fun that manages to capture me every time. I stand by that it’s Roger Moore’s best Bond movie. Really, I think it’s one of the best Bond movies period. Guy Hamilton movies in the series have a pretty up and down record, but when he is on, like here or in Goldfinger, there’s scarcely anything better. While failing to hit the highest of highs like Goldfinger, Live and Let Die remains a fantastic opening for the Moore era of Bond and one of my favorite films in the series. 9/10

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