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Live and Let Die


‘…From the nudes-in-hell credits to the interrupted voodoo ritual of the climax, Live and Let Die attests to the influence of Fleming’s friend Dennis Wheatley…’

One of the unwritten rules of this website is NO BOND; it’s not like I’m not au fait with the exploits of Ian Fleming’s super-spy franchise, having read the books and seen the films as a teenager, but I don’t see much point in writing about movies already covered in exhaustive detail elsewhere. But  I was driving a good friend to a concert a couple of weeks ago, and when two British men are left alone together for a certain amount of time, the topic of the best Bond film inevitably comes up in an Alan Partridge way. True to my contrarian roots, I’ve shifted my selection from Peter Hunt’s reboot On Her Majesty’s Secret Service to Guy Hamilton’s reboot Live and Let Die, and don’t see anyone else selling quite the same angle.

I first saw Live and Let Die on its terrestrial tv premiere back in January 1980; 23 million other Brits were glued to the box that night in an orgy of mass film consumption. Of course, in the UK, the James Bond film are a secret code that are embraced by many and rejected by a few; Fleming’s stories were written in a different era, post WWII entertainments with a formula for a brutish hero tangling with despicable foreigners and winning; no Union Jack parachutes, just post WWII attitude. Bond has since been criticised as violent, sadistic, sexist and more, but his innate racism is an accusation that sticks, and flags up that a reboot is required, with this elephant in the room largely missing from recent cinematic entries despite his racial superiority being inherent to the original Bond character. Much as You Only Live Twice picks up on interest in the Far East, Diamonds Are Forever in Vegas, oil and space, and The Man With The Golden Gun in Japan and kung-fu, incorporating the latest cinematic fads was always a Bond trademark, and with the Shaft and Blaxploitation movies hitting big in the 70’s, Live and Let Die imagines James Bond in New York for a vicious, protracted fight against voodoo gangsters and a corrupt Caribbean dictator Katanga (the great Yaphet Kotto).

Live and Let Die marks a downbeat course correction for Bond; no giant villain’s lair for the climax, fewer silly gadgets, no Q. Instead, Tom Mankiewicz’s script positions itself on cultural fault lines. We open with an act of sabotage by a black hand of an unseen assailant at the United Nations, before watching New Orleans street-funeral turn into a party at the murder of a British agent. Sent to investigate is Bond (Moore) who we first see in his swanko house, unzipping a woman’s dress with his magnetic watch. A saucier than usual credits sequence features burning skulls and Paul McCartney’s series high theme song, then we head for NYC, specifically ‘uptown to Harlem’ and the Oh Cult voodoo shop. From Dr No onwards, it’s been a tradition for Bond to infiltrate a foreign culture and discover the false precepts by which the baddies keep the proles in thrall, but in this case, that doesn’t happen at all and Bond is swiftly run out of town. He soon falls into the arms of Mrs Bond (Gloria Hendry), Bond’s first black lover in these films; the movie wants to clearly mark Bond’s credentials as firmly anti-crime rather than racially motivated. The more alien the environment, the more it shows off Bond’s training, athleticism, stamina and general superiority, so Bond heads ‘where the real action is’, which means catch-and-chase routines in the Deep South then blowing up Katanga’s San Monique headquarters, complete with many tonnes of opium, while also stealing his Tarot-reading girl Solitaire (Jane Seymour).

Live and Let Die is a welcome low-key Bond, an ordinary who gets taxis from the airport, and whose big heroic moment involves him ripping a man’s prosthetic arm off with some sadistic glee. Untypically for this franchise, Solitaire’s supernatural powers are treated seriously making Seymour an interesting Bond girl, and there’s also the best franchise action scene bar none as Bond evades some alligators and avoids all captors in a lengthy speed-boat pursuit that distils a several hour river chase into ten minutes of impressive action. From the nudes-in-hell credits to the interrupted voodoo ritual of the climax, Live and Let Die attests to the influence of Fleming’s friend Dennis Wheatley, whose actual writing, like Fleming’s, is now unfashionable to current tastes due to racial attitudes. But Live and Let Die is a good example of Bond’s brand of superiority; any modern Bond, and an electric young star like London’s Daniel Kaluuya would be ideal for the role, would do well to take the character back to basics for a proper thematic reboot and return to the edge-lord branding of cultural superiority than made Bond such an international sensation in the first place.


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  1. This is an interesting post. I gave up on Bond as a teenager when I realised that Fleming’s creation was essentially an outdated Imperialist warrior. I briefly returned for a couple of the Pierce Brosnan Bonds (which also had more interesting female stars like Sophie Marceau and Michelle Yeoh). He appeared to have modernised the character a tad but then I left for good. I have to agree though that I’ve never been able to take Roger Moore seriously, although now I recognise that Moore himself was said by many to be a genuinely good guy.

    • Thanks! I grew up with Moore more than Connery, but like you, was happy to move on when I, and the films, started to put quote marks round his adventures and see him as ‘an outdated Imperialist warrior’. A period Bond film has been discussed, which might be fun, but in terms of modernising him for today’s world, I’m recently inclined to feel that tackling the race aspect head on would be the way to go. We’re less inclined to sweep these things under the carpet now, and a Bond tortured by his own conflict and shame about what is done in the name of the Empire would be a twist. I had a meeting with the Warhead people in LA circa 1998, but their period Bond was more nostalgic in tone. Making Bond relevant in today’s world is what interests me, and Kaluuya taking on a drug cartel would work for me.

    • Give it another go! The actual story is fine here, it’s not the usual Bond rubbish. And surely remaking with with Kaluuya instead of Moore would bring it up to date?

      • Nope. Sorry, in the 1964 book version of You Only Live Twice, his mother was revealed to be Swiss and his father was Scottish: a Highlander from near Glencoe, so changing either the gender or ethnicity of Bond would not be true to Flemings books. If you want a Bond movie type person who is not caucasion or male, write a movie for them using their own backgrounds and experiences as a back story. Even Idris said a similar thing when interviewed – he’d be a fab choice for his own action/spy movie.

        • I bow to your superior knowledge of the detail of how Fleming set out Bond’s ethnicity, but none of the movies have for followed this accurately; maybe a period Bond would. But if a movie was to carry on the Fleming tradition of a British agent who is a worldbeater, having a black actor would be fine. Idris is way too old, needs to be a young guy.

  2. I really didn’t enjoy Moore as Bond. He came across as too smarmy for me and not nearly manly enough, despite his sexual exploits. Macho, that’s the word I don’t think of when seeing Moore as Bond. You can be debonair AND still be macho but Moore couldn’t seem to pull that off.

    How many times have you broken your No Bond rule? Because I seem to remember a few Bond reviews here over the years…

    • Like what? This is the first of the Bond franchise films I’ve reviewed. Fact!

      Thanks for the personal compliment, I do think of myself as debonair and macho, I’ll put your quote on my wall!

      • Hmmmmm, is it really the only Bond film you’ve reviewed? I’ll have to go investigate. maybe I’m getting you mixed up with a certain syrup covered Canadian. You movie people are all alike to me after all.

      • And apparently my blocking program won’t let me access your site or search it. I’m guessing it is because of that bleeping demon car baby 😉

        So if you DID ever review any previous bond movies, I can’t prove it. You’re safe. For now…

          • I seriously thought you had reviewed other Bond movies. That is so weird. Well, I’ll take your word as a scotsman for it. But it will cost you a nickel…

            • Actually, you’re right, I did give a negative review to No Time To Die. But I haven’t done the catalogue, they’re all too similar and fans have covered them all in detail. I have done unofficial Bonds like the 67 Casino Royale and 83’s never Say Never Again.

  3. Nice write-up, but it’s still one of my least favourite Bonds. Just didn’t come together. The stuff that was different didn’t stick for a reason. And the way they killed the bad guy at the end was laughable.

    • So this isn’t perfect for sure, but isn’t that why films should be remade? This is edgy with a white Bond, but would be much better with black Bond, right? And I guess we could find a better special effect for the end rather than that farty,google-eyed balloon….

      • I’d have nothing against a Black Bond. Didn’t they suggest Idris Elba a while back? Were they thinking of remaking this? I wouldn’t mind a female Bond either. But it would have to be a good movie and I don’t know if the franchise has anything in it but spectacle now. It’s all the same product as Fast and Furious and Mission: Impossible and John Wick now.

        • I think the MI movies will be done after the next one. Mainly because of Cruise’s ego. I don’t see him letting another actor take front and center.

          As for Wick, not having seen how 4 ends, any more sequels I’m guessing will be spinoffs and thus not have the real weight of the “Wick” name behind them. Kind of like those Creed movies that are supposedly sequels to the Rocky franchise…

        • Agreed, but the lesson of Barbenheimer is that people will turn out in droves for something new, even if both these stories are familiar. I think identifying the spirit that made Bond a worldbeater in his day is the key to getting the flavour back into this particular franchise, making it different from the All American franchises you describe, while adding some personal conflict for Bond himself. It can’t be tokenism, or just making Craig Bobds with a black lead. The whole thing has to be modernised…

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