Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Bondage, Pt. 8: Live and Let Die

With Live and Let Die, Roger Moore finally took the screen as Bond. He'd been considered before - even on the first go-round (he's older than Connery) but his commitment to the television show The Saint and, later, The Persuaders, kept him from claiming the 007 crown. But in Live and Let Die, he got it, and he'd hold onto it longer than any other actor to play Bond.

Moore fared a little better than Lazenby, probably because he was already known (to TV audiences, at least) long before he played Bond. But he wasn't the first choice for the part. We've looked at some of the other Bond hopefuls in previous posts; many of those same guys were considered again on this go-round, along with some Americans (shockingly, these include Clint Eastwood, Burt Reynolds, and Robert Redford, all of whom politely declined to pursue the part). More appropriate hopefuls included Julian Glover (who'd later play a Bond villain), William Gaunt, and Simon Oates. The producers actually offered Connery $5.5 million - a staggering sum (I don't know how much that is in 2011 dollars, but in the last post we learned that $1.2 million then is about $15 million now, so they desperately wanted Connery). From there, they decided they wanted Michael Billington (who has auditioned for Bond more than any other actor) until they realized Moore was available. Moore didn't want to be compared to Connery, so at his instigation they changed up a few things. He injected more comedy into the films, and smoked a cigar instead of cigarettes (he also never ordered a martini shaken-not-stirred, although others ordered them or made them for him).

Synopsis: Mr. Big, a Harlem drug dealer, wants to distribute a bunch of free heroin to get everyone hooked and drive all other drug lords out of business. He's actually Dr. Kananga, a Caribbean dictator, in disguise (he rules a fictional island called San Monique). Bond runs into him because he is investigating the death of three other British agents. But Bond is soon embroiled in "gangsters and voodoo" before he can stop Kananga's dastardly scheme. This is the first (but not last) time 007's enemy is a drug dealer.

The Villain: The aforementioned Dr. Kananga, played by Yaphet Kotto (he might be the only black Bond villain, but I haven't yet seen two of the Pierce Brosnan movies, so I'm not sure). He often visits America in disguise as Mr. Big, which is how Bond first meets him. Kotto is actually the son of the former crown prince of Cameroon, and he definitely brings that combination of street-smarts and sort of a cool royal vibe to the role. Kananga, unlike a lot of other Bond villains, believes in voodoo, and at least partially makes his plans based on tarot readings. Like any good villain, he has a penchant for feeding Bond and others to snakes and crocodiles and whatnot.

The Henchman: There are actually several in this movie, including Whisper (a guy who only whispers) and Tee Hee, who, in classic form, has a pincer for a hand. But the one who steals the show is the flamboyant Baron Samedi, played by 7-Up pitchman Geoffrey Holder. Samedi is one of my favorite Bond henchmen, because he doesn't seem totally under Kananga's control; he also uses magic or occult-like acts to kill his enemies, and you don't see that much in Bond movies. Samedi seemingly dies at least twice, but then appears laughing just before the credits roll - so either he survived naturally, through luck, or it's inferred that he might actually be the voodoo god he claims to be.

The Bond Girl: Oh. My. God. Jane Seymour is my favorite Bond girl because, in my opinion, she is the most beautiful (I'm also partial to her performance in Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger). Her character, Solitaire, is sort of a private fortune-teller to Kananga, and is adept in the use of the Tarot to tell the future, a task Kananga constantly demands of her. Unfortunately, she must remain a virgin in order to use her powers. But - OF COURSE - she manages to lose her virgin status, with none other than Mr. James Bond, 007 (surprise, surprise). But it was fated, perhaps - when she first meets Bond she draws the card The Lovers though she lies and says it's Death. Kananga is a little annoyed with her when Bond fails to die. Unlike almost all other Bond girls, Seymour went on to have a long career in movies and television.

The Sidekick: Felix Leiter is back, this time played by David Hedison - one of only two actors to have played Felix twice (he's also in License to Kill, much later). Quarrel Jr. - the son of the sidekick boatman Quarrel from Dr. No - also appears, and helps Bond destroy Kananga's poppy fields at the end of the movie. Rosie Carver, the first black lady Bond ever sleeps with on film, is supposedly an ally but it turns out she's working for Kananga. She later falls for James and tries to switch sides, but is killed by her employer.

Gadgets: Quite a few in this one, and not only used by Bond. Bond has a watch that can deflect bullets with magnetism and a little rotating saw. Bond is also given, by the CIA, a cutely named "Felix Lighter," a communications device disguised as a car cigarette lighter. Bond also has a clothing brush that allows him to send Morse code messages. The bad guys have some gadgets, too, including a robo-Baron Samedi, voodoo figurines that shoot poison darts, a flute that doubles as a communicator, and a souped-up El Dorado that fires poison darts from its side-view mirror.

Music: Obviously, the theme song is the best thing about this movie. Most were written by John Barry, who scored most of the films, and given to a pop singer to perform. In this case, Barry wasn't available. The producers contacted Paul & Linda McCartney (Linda is credited as a co-author) and their band, Wings, contributed what is, in my opinion, the absolute best Bond theme song ever. It was a huge commercial hit as well, and to this day it forms the centerpiece of McCartney's live show. It was nominated for an Academy Award for best song, but lost to the theme for "The Way We Were."

The Director: Guy Hamilton, who directed Goldfinger and Diamonds Are Forever. He'd come back to do one more, The Man With the Golden Gun.

Fun Facts: During the filming of Diamonds Are Forever, the producers decided to do Live & Let Die next, because the novel contains African-American bad guys. The producers thought it would be daring to have black bad guys in the movie, because the Black Panthers movement was in the news a lot at that time. It's also worth noting that the theme song Live & Let Die is the first real rock'n'roll song to ever be used in a Bond film. Also, George Martin wrote the score for the movie, at McCartney's suggestion. Martin, of course, was the producer of almost all the Beatles albums. Another interesting fact is that 17 speedboats were destroyed during the filming of a chase scene. Finally, this movie is the first of two to feature Sheriff Pepper, a pot-bellied Louisiana officer who tries, unsuccessfully, to catch Bond in a high-speed chase "Smokey & the Bandit" style.

Favorite Lines: Frankly, there aren't a lot of great ones, but I kinda like this one (after Kananga has been exploded by a compressed air pellet)
Solitaire: Where's Kananga?
James Bond:
He always did have an over-inflated opinion of himself.

Other: This Bond movie stands apart from others in many ways - not only does it have a slightly supernatural tone, it is so clearly influenced by the Blaxploitation films of the early 1970s that it sometimes appears to be one. This is one of those Bond movies that seems to have all the ingredients - awesome theme song, compelling villain and henchman, drop-dead gorgeous heroine...but somehow it falls a bit flat.

Next up - The Man With the Golden Gun.

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