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Live And Let Die

LIVE AND LET DIE (1954)

Written by: Ian Fleming

Once again, James Bond is on the case with Felix Leiter in tow. This time, MI6 has found a man in Harlem called Mr. Big (or The Big Man) who not only is a member of SMERSH (and is bumping off agents left and right), but uses Voodoo rituals to keep his minions in line. Everyone believes him to be the zombie of Baron Samedi, a powerful Voodoo priest. He seems to have found a certain treasure and is using it to fund Soviet spy rings. Bond rushes to New York City to check out the scene and finds Mr. Big. Or, moreover, Mr. Big finds him. He and Leiter are captured and slightly tortured to scare them off the trail.

The Big Man takes off for Florida and Bond chases after him. But not before seducing a young lady named Solitaire who Mr. Big uses for her sixth sense. She immediately senses that Bond is there to save her and she escapes with him to Florida. Unfortunately, Mr. Big’s men find her and Leiter. And, well, let’s just say that Leiter probably doesn’t show up in the rest of the series. (Funny, since he’s a fairly big part of the movies. Until License To Kill, that is…where they finally use this part of the story.)

Bond goes to Jamaica where Solitaire is being held, trains himself up with the help of a Jamaican agent named Quarrel and endures some pain given to him by a nasty barracuda. (There’s also a bit that I think was put into the movie of For Your Eyes Only. I’ll find out for sure when we get there.)

This book wasn’t quite as good as Casino Royale, but it still had plenty of action and intrigue going on. It was pretty hard to read with all of the caricatures of black men in it. Constantly calling them “Negroes” was bad enough, but they see Mr. Big as such a genius because he uses Voodoo. And Voodoo is so ingrained in the Negro mind that they just can’t not believe it.

Uh…wow.

Well, I guess at the time that was kind of true. Hell, even nearly 20 years later, Stevie Wonder was singing about that very fact. “When you believe in things that you don’t understand, then you suffer. Superstition ain’t the way.”

And there was also the bit about how it was only a matter of time before Negroes started to excel in all walks of life. “And the Negro races are just beginning to throw up geniuses in all the professions–scientists, doctors, writers. It’s bout time they turned out a great criminal.”

I know in the mid-50s that’s pretty forward thinking. It’s just strange to read that sort of thing now. It sounds more like someone from the South who has never heard of a black man doing anything great. People who never knew that people like George Washington Carver or Booker T. Washington ever existed.

And later it seems that all of the black men are on Mr. Big’s side (all but one porter on a train…who gets killed for his troubles) and pretty badly educated. And there are a lot of very animalistic descriptions of these guys. Especially Mr. Big, himself.

But, getting off of the nearly racist non-racism throughout the book, it’s a pretty well written book. The descriptions are pretty amazing and very detailed, just like you would want a spy to see. Solitaire is a pretty non-essential character…but they didn’t change that much for the movie. She was, as Vesper before her, window dressing. Someone for Bond to conquer in a sexual way. (Although, he never actually has sex with her during the course of the book.)

It’s also strange to read about Bond’s relationship with M. He respects and even loves M. In the films they have a mutual respect, but even in the early films there’s a bit of a push and pull to it. M is an authority figure to be bucked against.

Q is sort of introduced in this book. The division is, anyway. We haven’t met the man, yet. And any “gadgets” that were given to Bond were pretty basic. They are basically his swim gear and a harpoon. Not exactly a watch with a glass cutting laser feature.

GLOBE HOPPING: New York City; St. Petersburg, Florida; Jamaica

CONQUESTS: nearly 1 (Solitaire)

LIVE AND LET DIE (1973)

Directed by: Guy Hamilton
Written by: Tom Mankiewicz
Based on book by: Ian Fleming

A friend of mine once said that this movie and Diamonds Are Forever should have been switched. A lot of people give Moore shit because his Bond was a bit cheesier. He winked at the audience a bit more than Connery ever did…until Diamonds. Diamonds was full of enough cheese to feed Connery’s expensive tastes for years to come. (At least until Zardoz.)

But Live and Let Die was different from any of Moore’s later films. It had its moments of winking (Solitaire reading her tarot cards, saying “He’s coming” after we’ve just seen Bond roll over with a hot little number in his bedroom), but it’s a mostly serious film. Which actually makes it closer in tone to the book than any of his other films would be. Moore is certainly not the cold beast that Fleming’s Bond is (or Connery’s Bond, for that matter), but he’s more serious here. More deadly.

The plot is pretty close to the novel. The main exceptions are that Baron Samedi (Geoffrey Holder, Mr. Un-Cola himself, for us children of the 80s) is a separate person from Mr. Big (Yaphet Kotto). And, instead of smuggling gold, they’re smuggling heroin. No mention of SMERSH at all.

Bond (Roger Moore in his first outing as the super agent) follows Mr. Big and Samedi from New York to San Monique and finally meets Solitaire (Jane Seymour). She has the same sense as the book’s character…but this one loses her sight with a pop of the cherry. Bond is, of course, ever so willing to oblige in that area. He tricks her into sleeping with him by having her choose from a tarot deck full of Lovers.

Sneaky bastard.

Samedi is treated like a sideshow. If I thought that the book had some nearly racist undertones, the dance sequences in this would cause riots in today’s world. Samedi prances around like a minstrel dancer with skeletal white-face, the dancers around him writhing around like snakes on a hotplate. The dancers in the original King Kong are only slightly more offensive.

Leiter (David Hedison who will play Leiter for the second time in License To Kill–the first time one actor played him in two different films) and Quarrel (Roy Stewart) don’t show up nearly as often in the movie. And Quarrel is a Jr here because…well, the original character doesn’t make it through a later book that was already turned into a movie before this one.

And, of course, there’s Sheriff JW Pepper (Clifton James), a stereotypical southern sheriff, who is out to catch everybody. He almost says the second real profanity in a Bond movie. (He’s cut off just before he can say “fuck.”) The first was from an old lady in an airplane that Bond takes over. She says, “Oh, shit!”

Less action than we would get from later Moore movies (not even a stunt in the opening scene–hell, Bond doesn’t even show up until after the title sequence), but there’s a pretty good boat chase scene (with the world’s longest boat jump at the time) and Bond jumping from gator to gator to get out of an infested swamp. This stunt was performed by the owner of the alligator farm wearing Moore’s clothes…including alligator shoes. The man’s name was Ross Kananga. The producer’s liked him so much that they used his name as Mr. Big’s real name.

One thing that confuses me is that, instead of the dramatic scene with Bond and Solitaire being dragged through the coral with sharks and barracuda chasing after them and the boat blowing up at the last possible second (this would actually show up in a later movie), we get them hanging over a pool with blood slowly dripping into it…and lots of underwater shots of sharks. It’s a much slower and less exciting sequence that ends with a bang…literally. Q Branch gets them out of it with their watch. (There’s no actual Q this time. Desmond Llewellyn was let go just before this was filmed, but the fans demanded that he be back in the next film.)

Mr. Big’s buddy, Tee Hee (Julius Harris), stays alive a lot longer than he did in the book. And why not? It’s a great name for a bad guy, right? And he is dispatched in quite the spectacular fashion…although I’m not so sure that there was a need for it by the time it happened. Samedi shows up later, too, as he was supposed to make an appearance in a later film. I guess that didn’t work out so well.

Solitaire does nothing in this movie but look good. (And, boy, does she look good.) Jane Seymour has expressed a bit of dismay at the fact that she was the weakest of the Bond girls. But, oh well. Somebody had to be.

The title song is my personal favorite of the entire series…of course, that’s probably because it was by Paul McCartney & Wings. Nothing wrong with that at all. It’s a great song that, unfortunately, gets kind of a lame title sequence.

It’s actually a pretty decent movie. Not the best of the series by any means. Not even the best of the Moore Bonds. But it’s fun and dark in a really strange way (and, strangely, blaxploitation-ish) that the Bond movies really wouldn’t be again for a long time.

The special features on the new discs are pretty cool. One of my favorites is an episode of “Mainly Millicent” from 1964 where Roger Moore played James Bond. Yarp. Nine years before he took over the role (which he was supposed to be the first Bond, but he was stuck in a contract with “The Saint”), he was on this show as Bond on vacation. But Millicent Martin is a Russian spy also on holiday. Neither of them believe that the other is not being a spy at the moment. It’s pretty funny in a very 1964 sort of way and definitely worth checking out.

The lamest feature on these new discs is the “007 Mission Control.” Basically, they have seven categories (of course) that show you bits of the movie that fit in each one. Didn’t we just watch the movie? Couldn’t this have been something about the writing? Or the actors? Or the creation of the gadgets? THAT would have been cool. Instead, we just get parts of the movie that we just watched, just on a different disc. Way to make us pay for two discs, MGM.

The only one that’s cool is the “Exotic Locations” tab. Maude Adams narrates a clip show about the locations used, including some addresses!

The “Lost Documentary” is uneventful, but interesting just because it’s from the era…and not cleaned up at all. The picture quality is pretty awful with the color so faded at times that it’s now black and white. But that doesn’t matter. And, in fact, it makes it work better.

The new documentary, “Inside Live And Let Die” is quite good. And includes Roger doing a Connery impression! It talks a lot about how they tried to change Bond to fit Roger instead of making Roger fit Connery. More quips, no hat, no martinis, no cigarettes…and no eyebrow raises. That was a trademark of “The Saint,” and no one wanted people to think of Roger as Simon Templar anymore. (Leave that to Val Kilmer…BWAH-HA-HA-HA!!!!)

There are also a LOT of behind the scenes photos…many of which show why Jane Seymour was once one of the most beautiful women in the world. She’s still beautiful, but in the early 70s she was perfect. And not even James Bond could defile that.

GLOBE HOPPING: New York City; New Orleans; San Monique (fake country…might as well be Jamaica)

CONQUESTS: 3 The movie opens with him holding a naked girl!–Miss Caruso, an Italian agent; Rosie Carver, a black agent who may have been double crossing MI6 (the first black girl to be bedded by Bond); Solitaire