ABOUT THE AUTHOR: An American living in London, Jennifer Upton is a freelance writer for International publishers Story Terrace and others. In addition, she has a blog where she frequently writes about horror and sci-fi called Womanycom.
Fans of James Bond all have their favorite era. Live and Let Die (1973) is the eighth Bond film in the franchise and the first to star Roger Moore. Having cut his teeth on the British TV shows The Saint and The Persuaders, Moore proved himself to be a perfect Bond and went on to play the character six more times.
Released at the apex of the blaxploitation era, the film features many African-American stars from films in that genre, some used to great affect and others not so much. Yaphet Kotto is great as Kananga/Mr. Big. The clever gangster who -through the use of an alter-ego- both produces and distributes heroin throughout the United States. Julius Harris plays the Henchman Tee Hee with snarling delight, using his sharp metallic hand to great effect.
As with most Bond films, Live and Let Die is filled with beautiful locations and beautiful people but has a terrible script. When several MI6 agents are killed while monitoring his activities, they send Bond in to investigate. It’s odd that crimes having nothing to do with the UK would interest them but it’s so entertaining that it suspends disbelief.
The female characters during this era were treated pretty badly as well.
Gloria Hendry plays Rosie Carter, a CIA double agent working for Kananga. Although the film’s Wiki proudly boasts her as being the first Africa-American to sleep with Bond in the series, the film wastes her talent. She’s given nothing to do other than look scared displays an astonishing level of ineptitude despite being a highly trained CIA operative. Frankly, it’s insulting. Not only to Miss Hendry, but to the audience. To see Gloria flexing her acting chops and her fists, watch Hell Up in Harlem (also 1973) or Black Belt Jones (1974). Films on which her salaries were likely smaller, but the material she had to work with was far better than what they gave her here.
Young Jane Seymour is perfect as the naive Solitaire, Kananga’s tarot-reading mystic ward whom Bond rescues from captivity (and virginity.) The film includes a lot of mixed references to occultism and Voodoo in a confused mash-up that services the study of neither. In the film’s big reveal, Bond discovers Kananga has been producing heroin and is protecting the poppy fields by exploiting the San Monique locals’ fear of Baron Samedi, but played here memorably by Geoffrey Holder but given greater depth of exposition in 1974’s Sugar Hill.
In the finale, Kananga strings Bond and Solitaire up over a pool filled with sharks (without frickin’ laser beams) and then expands into a comical balloon that floats up and explodes after a fight where James shoves a gas pellet into his throat. All accompanied by the best soundtrack of the entire series. Did I mention there’s a redneck sheriff? Yeah, it’s got that going for it, too. An over-the-top stereotype meant to amuse African-American and British audiences alike.
To sum up, the movie looks great and sounds great. The boat chase is still one of the best of the series and although Q does not make an appearance, his gadgets are still prominently featured. Pardon the pun, but the plot is literally a pale comparison of the actual Blaxploitation crime films it tries to imitate. An enjoyable way to kill time? Definitely. It’s ‘70s cinema junk food at its best.
Yes, and looks great on blu-ray if you were brought up on lousy pan-and-scan. There’s something interesting going on here from a racial point of view, obviously some of the film’s assumptions are out-of-date. But Bond often infiltrates a foreign culture, and the way he is juxtaposed with NYC is revealing here about how alien and exotic black culture was to mainstream audiences circa 1973. It’s junk food, for sure, but the taste is a little different from the usual fare.
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