Before we get into today’s movie itself, let me introduce to you a subgenre of movies that became quite popular in the 1970’s. Blaxploitation, a subgenre of exploitation films, came along with the rethinking of race relations at the time. They often featured black characters as the heroes, rather than sidekicks or victims of brutality. They often featured funk and/or soul-filled soundtracks. It became so popular for a time that it even spawned parodies, like Blackula and Dolemite (also known as Black Dynamite) and as recently as 2000, Leprechaun in the Hood. Shaft, one of the most noteworthy blaxploitation movies, was even remade in the early 2000’s, and another remake is said to be in the works.
Why am I talking about blaxploitation? Because Roger Moore’s first James Bond movie features a lot of the subgenre’s archetypes. It’s the first Bond movie to feature a black Bond girl, played by Gloria Hendry. The main villains are black gangsters who sell drugs and on occasion, use voodoo and fortune tellers. The theme song by Paul McCartney and Wings is unlike any James Bond theme song before or since. It’s a good song; it just doesn’t quite feel like it fits in a James Bond movie.
Producers Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman tried to convince Sean Connery to return for at least one more movie, but he declined. Considering Connery clearly didn’t care in his last Bond performance, that’s probably a good thing. MGM studios, who wanted an American to play Bond at this point in time, approached both Adam West and Burt Reynolds. Both declined, Reynolds saying that Bond should be played by an Englishman. A number of other actors tested for the role, but when Broccoli pushed forward Roger Moore (who had been considered for the role on multiple occasions before), the studio agreed.
Moore didn’t want to imitate either of his predecessors, and because Moore’s talents seemed to lean more towards comedy and charm, they decided to stop those up for his portrayal. At times, the Moore Bond movies were more comedy than they were action thriller. This is also interestingly enough, the only Bond movie between Dr. No and Casino Royale to not feature Q, the head of MI6’s research branch. Q actor Desmond Llewelyn was busy in the TV series Follyfoot at the time. He actually took three episodes off to be able to appear in the film, but by then, the character had already been written out of the film in an effort to reduce the franchise’s focus on gadgets. This annoyed Llewelyn.
Filming for Live and Let Die began in 1972, but at first they only shot for the second unit thanks to Moore being diagnosed with kidney stones. During filming on location in Harlem, they paid local gangs protection money to ensure the crew’s safety. When they ran out of protection money, they were “encouraged” to leave.
Other filming difficulties involved controlling the snakes that the gangsters used to assassinate or execute people, and one particular scene where Bond needed to run across the backs of crocodiles. They attempted the crocodile stunt five times. The last time, a crocodile actually snapped at the stuntman, ripping his pants. The script supervisor, afraid of snakes herself, refused to appear on set with them. And another actor fainted near a snake when his character died. Also, the boat chase filmed around the Irish Bayou area was delayed due to flooding, and during rehearsals, 17 of the 26 boats were destroyed. On the plus side, that same scene unintentionally set a Guinness World Record at the time for a 110 foot jump with a boat.
There’s more to talk about with the movie’s production history, but I think that’s enough for this post. The movie released in June of 1973 to mostly positive reception, with a 66% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Empire magazine’s review stated “This is a good quality Bond, managing to reinterpret the classic moves … for a more modern idiom without breaking the mold.” Roger Ebert wasn’t quite as positive, saying that Moore “has the superficial attributes for the job.” But he wasn’t satisfied with Moore’s overall portrayal, saying it didn’t live up to either of his predecessors. He also noted that the movie “doesn’t have a Bond villain worthy of the Goldfingers, Dr. Nos and Oddjobs.” Others say that Dr. Kanaga/Mr. Big is the weakest villain in the Roger Moore era.
As for myself, I’m a bit confused about how I feel about this movie. For the most part it’s kind of fun. There are moments that are kind of creepy, and others that are kind of funny. But at the same time it just doesn’t feel like a James Bond movie. Mr. Big (the main villain) has a very weird death at the end of the movie that feels like it belongs in a spoof or a b-movie, not a thriller franchise like this. There are other Roger Moore Bond movies that I like, but this is frankly a bizarre way to start an actor’s run on the franchise. It’s also got this really annoying cop character for a large chunk of the movie that feels completely out of place.
I’ll say this much though – Baron Samedi is kind of awesome. The music, while not quite fitting for a Bond movie, is pretty good. And as much as a lot of the characters don’t quite fit in the Bond franchise, the casting is strong all-round. Everyone plays their parts well. I also like that they tried to make the plot more down to earth, even if the Voodoo angle kind of ruins that.
Now for the fun part of this blog post – the kill counter.
Bond kills – 8
Other’s kills – 5
Total kill count – 13
Sean Connery’s total kill count – 72
George Lazenby’s total kill count – 5
Roger Moore’s total kill count – 8
Timothy Dalton’s total kill count – 23
That makes this the least deadly Bond movie since Dr. No, and that’s kind of a running theme in the Roger Moore years. By average, Roger Moore kills less people per movie than any other Bond actor. We’ll get more into that from a character development standpoint when we get to Man With The Golden Gun.
Speaking of which, next up is Man With The Golden Gun, followed by The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker. No Bond actor’s list of films goes up and down in quality more than Roger Moore’s, but by no means is that Moore’s fault.