Welcome to Phase 2 of the JBU! Live and Let Die kicks off the Moore era and I have to say, it’s better than I remember. I reviewed this film several years ago and called it a solid entry in the middle of the Bond pack but my esteem for it seems to increase upon successive viewings. It’s definitely not the best of Bond or even of Moore, but it’s a good introduction to the man who would play Bond in more (official) films than any other actor. I’d put in on par with Dr. No, of which the film is very reminiscent.
That’s not to say the film doesn’t have its issues. The first being I think it’s the worst introduction to a new Bond we have ever had. I get they didn’t want to replicate the cringe-worthy fourth wall breaking that tainted Lazenby’s intro but this was not the direction to go. The high school hijinks these government agents engage in to hide Bond’s newest conquest just don’t belong. We also don’t get to see Moore in the standard Bond scenes with M and Moneypenny as they show up at his place late in the evening and Q is missing entirely!
The film also has some tonal issues particularly with regard to the heavy blaxploitation elements that are peppered through the film. Why is Bond taking on American gangsters and heroin smugglers? The small stakes are a good respite as you can’t save the world in every film, but it seems below Bond’s attention. I do think these elements add a more gritty atmosphere. In lieu of exotic locales, Bond is steeped in urban decay (that shot of him being walked out of Mr. Big’s hideout in Harlem catches the eye).
The supporting cast after dipping in quality for the last film are also back on point. Kotto may not get a lot to do, but he works with what he gets well. Tee-Hee is a favorite henchmen of mine, not just because of the metal arm, but because Julius Harris plays the role with such relish. Baron Samedi is presented vague enough that you’re never quite sure if he’s an actual supernatural force. It is a shame they never used the character again, as they clearly left the door open for the possibility. Finally, Jane Seymour, only twenty-two at the time, is quite memorable as the virginal Solitaire who gets wrapped up in the plot’s machinations. She is absolutely gorgeous, and while not a character of great agency, she embodies a level of vulnerability that induces actual concern and not disdain for just another damsel in distress.
I will say I absolutely loved the score and feel that contributed greatly to any success the film has. Not only is the theme powerful and infectious, I was impressed with the way it was used throughout. Action scenes were largely absent music, with it only popping in at the climax (like the boat chase or crocodile stunt) whereas it was used to heighten tension into smaller scenes (such as Bond comforting Rosie or Kananga turning Bond into shark bait).
I’ve wavered back and forth on my rating. As I said, years ago I ranked this around a 5 but I’m going to raise that to a 6 here. I was tempted to go even high as 7 but feel that would be too generous. The film is solid but it also doesn’t elevate itself the way some of the other entries does. I do think it gets lost amongst the better Moore entries and the laughable ones and by default is considered weak, but I was entertained throughout and I think that low expectation is what helps elevate it upon successive viewings.
1) On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
2) From Russia with Love
5) Dr. No
6) Live and Let Die
7) You Only Live Twice
8) Diamonds are Forever