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Published on October 20th, 2015 | by Vyctoria Hart

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Live And Let Die: Bond Goes Blaxploitation

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1973 saw Roger Moore’s first outing as everyones favourite secret agent in Live and Let Die, the eighth movie in the James Bond series.

The Story

The film begins with the murders of three MI6 agents who were assigned to investigate the dictator of a Caribbean island called San Monique- Dr Kananga. After an assassination attempt on Bond it is revealed that Kananga is also a gangster known as Mr Big who is using a chain of soul food restaurants to smuggle drugs into the United States. Kananga has the usual Bond Villain retinue of unique henchmen including a huge guy with a prosthetic hand. However Kananga’s secret weapon is Solitaire (Jane Seymour) who predicts the future using the powers of tarot reading and virginity. After a second failed attempt on Bond’s life the secret agent travels to San Monique where he “seduces” Solitaire, destroying her ability to read the future. Bond then flees with her back to New Orleans where they’re captured by Kananga and he helpfully explains his plan to take over the U.S. heroin trade by giving it away for free to generate dependancy. He’s be growing his own poppies on San Monique using fear of voodoo spirits to control the local population. Since Solitaire is now useless to him he plans to have her sacrificed in a voodoo ritual, whilst Bond is left to be eaten by crocodiles. Of course Bond escapes (crocodiles aren’t actually that fast) and sets light to Kananga’s U.S. drug lab. There then follows a long chase sequence involving several speedboat and a selection of local bumpkin police officers as well as Kananga’s men. Back on San Monique Solitaire is about to sacrificed to the sinister Baron Samedi – who has one of the best villain introductions in the whole Bond series – only for Bond to save the day at the last minute. There’s a final confrontation with Dr Kananga, who is finally defeated in a ridiculous fashion. Bond and Solitaire try to enjoy a relaxing sleeper train ride out of the country, only to have it interrupted by Kananga’s one-armed henchman. A struggle ensues and the bad guy goes out the window, having been trapped by his own prosthetic hand. As the inexplicable couple settle in for the rest of the journey the film ends with the reveal of the laughing Baron Samedi perched on the front of the train.

The Title Sequence And Bond Theme

Now I’ve always held this to by my very favourite Bond theme tune (it was even in our wedding playlist) and then every time I watch this movie I’m surprised. Because I inevitably erase the existence of the original Wings version from my memory to be replaced with the Guns N’ Roses cover. Sorry but the slide whistle bridge is just too weird for me. The title sequence however is one of the best in the series, packed with flaming skulls and voodoo dancers it really sets the tone for the “Bond Does Blaxploitation” movie that follows. Whilst there have always been naked silhouetted women in the Bond title sequences, the way these particular women have been lit leads to a lot more obvious nudity than is noticeable in the other films I watched for this project.

LiveAndLetDieSamedi

The Villain And Their Plan

Dr Kananga’s plan and it’s intended execution is relatively mundane for a Bond villain of this era, a fact that was complained about in reviews at the time. He’s not intending to Take Over The World, steal nuclear weapons, gold or spacecraft. Just like Sanchez in 1989’s Licence to Kill (they’re both based on the same Ian Fleming novel) he only wants to rule his little dictatorship and make an obscene amount of money selling hardcore drugs. In this case there’s no over the top technological process for Bond to subvert with a well timed bit of button mashing. Just a very poor country with a lot of camouflage netting, some cultural/religious control and a well organised network that needs to be exposed. And he’d have gotten away with it too if it weren’t for that meddling MI6 agent.

The Locations

Given the genre of this movie neither New York or New Orleans is shown at their most glamorous, but they still come off as harshly exotic and a thrillingly dangerous, which is what this film needed. The lush Louisiana countryside provides a great backdrop for one of the silliest chase sequences to ever grace a Bond film. Whilst the Caribbean island of San Monique is fictional the production team have stitched it together from a selection of lovely tropical locations. And a genuine crocodile farm. Even the oddest elements in a movie can actually be factual!

The Gadgets

Live and Let Die is blessedly free of the direct interference of Q branch, though Bond does have a magnetic watch for deflecting bullets and undressing ladies that also has saw function that can cut through restraints. Most of the other gadgets are either hidden communication or surveillance devices, or else they’re hidden doors or compartments in other things. Kananga uses a system that amplifies sound to kill an agent at the UN at the start of the film, but it doesn’t appear again and seems to be the most sophisticated gadget in his arsenal, other than an unexplained robotic Baron Samedi. Even M complains about the lack of gadgets, questioning why Bond’s coffee maker only has one function.

Most Inappropriate/Politically Incorrect Moment

Where can we even begin with this paragon of racial, sexual and religious sensitivity? Blaxploitation as a genre can be problematic enough on its own without throwing in a supercilious British secret agent. Similarly the portrayal of voodoo and cartomancy are pretty much par for the course for the time period- even now its hard to find either being treated with much respect in cinema. However on terms of single specific moments it’s Bond’s treatment of the female characters that really stands out. First he sleeps with a CIA agent even though he knows she’s a double agent, admitting that he would have no problem killing her once he’d actually had sex with her. Then he uses Solitaire’s deeply ingrained trust in her fortune telling abilities to trick her into sleeping with him, rendering her powerless for the rest of the film. Even though it’s clear that he considers her psychic abilities to be make-believe its still a really skeevy manipulation and betrayal of trust. She willingly gives up the entire foundation of her identity and nearly gets killed multiple times as a result. Moore is often sited as the more charming of the Bonds but in scenes like that one he just makes my skin crawl.

LiveandletdieSolitaire

Weirdest Moment

The cavalcade of villains and comic relief that pursuits Bond through the Louisiana bayou is one of the oddest things I’ve seen outside of purely comical film. Sadly this sequence worthy the The Blues Brothers is overshadowed by the hilariously awful death of Kananga. Having been force fed a shark gun pellet he inflates like Violet Beauregard, then literally floats a cave around before exploding. The effects are pretty shonky and I can’t imagine any time when that death scene wouldn’t have been completely ludicrous. It rather set the mood for Moore’s run as James Bond.

Best One Liner

Following Kananga’s ignominious death Bond quips – “He always did have an inflated opinion of himself.” It’s stupid but the timing on Moore’s delivery makes it.

How Good Is It Really?

Despite it’s many, many issues Live and Let Die is still a good Bond film, though opinions are divided amongst fans on exactly how good. Like it’s original source material and much of the cinema of it’s time Live and Let Die is still a lot of fun despite it’s faults. The lack of any jarringly over the top technology helps the villain to still seem like a recognisable threat to modern audiences. It’s very dated in it’s style, language and handling of racial issues. But although it isn’t really helped by its intentional slant towards the Blaxploitation genre, that does at least place it in a wider cinematic tradition that can assist in putting it into context with its era. There are some brilliant little sequences, like the New Orlean’s jazz funeral and the voodoo rituals that keep up the pace and the sense of Bond being out of his comfort zone. It’s no True Detective but it still manages to give the sense of New Orleans being like no other place in the world. As terrible as the overblown bumpkin sheriff character is for the flow of the film he’s balanced out by the awesome sinisterness of the apparently immortal skull-faced Baron Samedi. It’s not a film for those evenings when you want a thrilling tale of espionage, but Live and Let Die is the perfect Bond film for watching on a Bank Holiday afternoon with your brain firmly disengaged. Just relax, appreciate the stunt piloting and set design, and let the puns and 70’s slang wash over you.

 

Vyctoria Hart

Vyctoria Hart

Steampunk illustrator, disabled cosplayer, cat wrangler, maker of terrible puns. I draw under the name of Phantoms Siren.
Vyctoria Hart

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