Live and Let Die is a 1973 spy film and the eighth film in the James Bond series produced by Eon Productions and the first to star Roger Moore as the fictional MI6 agent James Bond. It was directed by Guy Hamilton and produced by Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman. Although the producers had wanted Sean Connery to return after his role in the previous Bond film Diamonds Are Forever, he declined, sparking a search for a new actor to play Bond; Moore was signed for the lead role.
The film is based on Ian Fleming's 1954 novel of the same name. The storyline involves a Harlem drug lord known as Mr. Big who plans to distribute two tons of heroin for free to put rival drug barons out of business and then become a monopoly supplier. Mr. Big is revealed to be the alter ego of Dr. Kananga, a corrupt Caribbean dictator, who rules San Monique, a fictional island where opium poppies are secretly farmed. Bond is investigating the deaths of three British agents, leading him to Kananga, and he is soon trapped in a world of gangsters and voodoo as he fights to put a stop to the drug baron's scheme.
Live and Let Die was released during the height of the blaxploitation era, and many blaxploitation archetypes and clichés are depicted in the film, including derogatory racial epithets ("honky"), black gangsters, and pimpmobiles. It departs from the former plots of the James Bond films about megalomaniac super-villains, and instead focuses on drug trafficking, a common theme of blaxploitation films of the period. It is set in African-American cultural centres such as Harlem and New Orleans, as well as the Caribbean Islands. It was also the first James Bond film featuring an African-American Bond girl romantically involved with 007, Rosie Carver, who was played by Gloria Hendry. The film was a box office success and received generally positive reviews from critics. It was also nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song for "Live and Let Die", written by Paul and Linda McCartney and performed by their band Wings.
Plot[edit | edit source]
Three MI6 agents are killed under mysterious circumstances within 24 hours in the United Nations headquarters in New York City, New Orleans and the Caribbean nation of San Monique, while monitoring the operations of the island's dictator, Dr. Kananga. James Bond, Agent 007, is sent to New York to investigate. Kananga is also in New York, visiting the United Nations. Just after Bond arrives, his driver is shot dead by Whisper, one of Kananga's men, while taking Bond to meet Felix Leiter of the CIA. Bond is nearly killed in the ensuing car crash.
A trace on the killer's licence plate eventually leads Bond to Mr. Big, a ruthless gangster who runs a chain of restaurants throughout the United States. It is here that Bond first meets Solitaire, a beautiful tarot reader who has the power of the Obeah and can see both the future and remote events in the present. Mr. Big demands that his henchmen kill Bond, but Bond overpowers them and escapes with the help of CIA agent Strutter. Bond flies to San Monique, where he meets Rosie Carver, a CIA double agent. They meet up with Bond's friend, Quarrel Jr., who takes them by boat near Solitaire's home. Bond suspects Rosie of working for Kananga and she is killed by Kananga to stop her confessing the truth to Bond. Inside Solitaire's house, Bond uses a stacked deck of tarot cards that show only "The Lovers" to trick her into thinking that fate is meant for them; Bond then seduces her. Solitaire loses her ability to foretell the future when she loses her virginity to Bond, and she decides to cooperate with Bond, based both upon her attraction to him as well as her having grown tired of being controlled by Kananga.
Bond and Solitaire escape by boat and fly to New Orleans. There, Bond is captured by Mr. Big, who removes his prosthetic face and is revealed to be Kananga. He has been producing heroin and is protecting the poppy fields by exploiting the San Monique locals' fear of voodoo priest Baron Samedi, as well as the occult. Through his alter ego Mr. Big, Kananga plans to distribute the heroin free of charge at his restaurants, which will increase the number of addicts. He intends to bankrupt other drug dealers with his giveaway, then charge high prices for his heroin later in order to capitalise on the huge drug dependencies he has cultivated.
Angry at her for having sex with Bond and that her ability to read tarot cards is now gone, Kananga turns Solitaire over to Baron Samedi to be sacrificed. Meanwhile, Kananga's henchmen, one-armed Tee Hee and tweed-jacketed Adam, leave Bond to be eaten by crocodilians at a farm in the Deep South backwoods. Bond escapes by running along the animals' backs to safety. After setting a drug laboratory on fire, he steals a speedboat and escapes, pursued by Kananga's men under Adam's order, as well as Sheriff J.W. Pepper and the Louisiana State Police. Most pursuers get wrecked or left behind, and Adam does not survive Bond's strike.
Bond travels to San Monique and sets timed explosives throughout the poppy fields. He rescues Solitaire from the voodoo sacrifice and throws Samedi into a coffin of venomous snakes. Bond and Solitaire escape below ground into Kananga's lair. Kananga captures them both and proceeds to lower them into a shark tank. However, Bond escapes and forces Kananga to swallow a compressed-gas pellet used in shark guns, causing his body to inflate and explode.
Leiter puts Bond and Solitaire on a train leaving the country. Tee Hee sneaks aboard and attempts to kill Bond, but Bond cuts the wires of his prosthetic arm and throws him out the window. As the film ends, a laughing Samedi is revealed to be perched on the front of the speeding train.
Cast[edit | edit source]
- Roger Moore as MI6 agent James Bond 007: A British agent who is sent on a mission to investigate the murder of three fellow agents.
- Yaphet Kotto as Dr. Kananga/"Mr. Big": A corrupt Caribbean Prime Minister who doubles as a drug lord.
- Jane Seymour as Solitaire: Kananga's psychic and Bond's love interest.
- Julius Harris as Tee Hee Johnson: Kananga's primary henchman who has a pincer for a hand.
- David Hedison as Felix Leiter: Bond's CIA colleague who is also investigating Mr. Big.
- Gloria Hendry as Rosie Carver: A junior CIA agent in San Monique.
- Geoffrey Holder as Baron Samedi: Kananga's henchman who has ties to the Voodoo occult.
- Bernard Lee as M: The Head of the Secret Intelligence Service
- Roy Stewart as Quarrel Jr.: Bond's ally in San Monique and son of Quarrel from Dr. No.
- Earl Jolly Brown as Whisper: Kananga's henchman who only whispers.
- Tommy Lane as Adam: One of Dr. Kananga's henchmen who pursues 007 through the Louisiana Bayou.
- Lois Maxwell as Miss Moneypenny: M's secretary.
- Lon Satton as Harry Strutter: A CIA agent who assists Bond in New York.
- Madeline Smith as Miss Caruso: An Italian agent whom Bond briefly romances at the beginning of the film.
- Michael Ebbin as Dambala: One of Kananga's henchmen in San Monique and a voodoo priest who terrifies and kills his victims with a snake.
- Clifton James as Sheriff J.W. Pepper: An uncouth Louisiana sheriff.
- B. J. Arnau as the cabaret singer.
Production[edit | edit source]
Writing[edit | edit source]
While filming Diamonds Are Forever, Live and Let Die was chosen as the next Ian Fleming novel to be adapted because screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz thought it would be daring to use black villains, as the Black Panthers and other racial movements were active at this time.
Guy Hamilton was again chosen to direct and, since he was a jazz fan, Mankiewicz suggested he film in New Orleans. Hamilton did not want to use Mardi Gras since Thunderball featured Junkanoo, a similar festivity, so after more discussions with the writer and location scouting with helicopters, he decided to use two well-known features of the city, the jazz funerals and the canals.
To develop a better feel of how Voodoo was practised, Saltzman and Broccoli escorted Hamilton, Mankiewicz and production designer Syd Cain to scout New Orleans further and then the islands of the West Indies. Haiti was an important destination of the tour and not only did Fleming connect it with the religion, there were many practitioners available to witness. Despite viewing actual demonstrations, due to political unrest in the country at the time it was decided not to film in Haiti.
While searching for locations in Jamaica, the crew discovered a crocodile farm owned by Ross Kananga, after passing a sign warning that "trespassers will be eaten". The farm was put into the script and also inspired Mankiewicz to name the film's villain after Kananga.
Richard Maibaum later claimed he was asked to write the film, but declined, because he was too busy. He disliked the final film, saying, "to process drugs in the middle of the jungle is not a Bond caper."
Casting[edit | edit source]
Broccoli and Saltzman tried to convince Sean Connery to return as James Bond, but he declined. At the same time United Artists approached actors Adam West and Burt Reynolds. Reynolds told the studios that Bond should be played by a British actor and turned the offer down. Among the actors to test for the part of Bond were Julian Glover, John Gavin, Jeremy Brett, Simon Oates, John Ronane, and William Gaunt. The main frontrunner for the role was Michael Billington. United Artists was still pushing to cast an American to play Bond, but producer Albert R. Broccoli insisted that the part should be played by a British actor and put forward Roger Moore. After Moore was chosen, Billington remained on the top of the list in the event that Moore declined to come back for the next film. Billington ultimately played a brief role in the pre-credit sequence of The Spy Who Loved Me (1977). Moore, who had been considered by the producers before both Dr. No and On Her Majesty's Secret Service, was ultimately cast. He tried not to imitate either Connery's or his own prior performance as Simon Templar in The Saint, and Mankiewicz fitted the screenplay into Moore's persona by giving more comedic scenes and a light-hearted approach to Bond.
Mankiewicz had thought of turning Solitaire into a black woman, and Diana Ross was his first choice. Broccoli and Saltzman decided to stick to Fleming's description of a white woman and, after considering Catherine Deneuve, cast Jane Seymour, who was in the TV series The Onedin Line. Yaphet Kotto was cast while doing another movie for United Artists, Across 110th Street. Kotto reported one of the things he liked in the role was Kananga's interest in the occult, "feeling like he can control past, present and future".
Mankiewicz created Sheriff J.W. Pepper to add comic relief. Portrayed by Clifton James, Pepper appeared again in The Man with the Golden Gun. Live and Let Die is also the first of two films featuring David Hedison as Felix Leiter, who reprised the role in Licence to Kill. Hedison had said "I was sure that would be my first and last", before being cast again.
Madeline Smith, who played Miss Caruso, sharing Bond's bed in the film's opening, was recommended for the part by Roger Moore after he had appeared with her on television. Smith said that Moore was extremely polite to work with, but she felt very uncomfortable being clad in only blue bikini panties while Moore's wife was on set overseeing the scene.
Live and Let Die was the only Bond film until Casino Royale (2006) not to feature "Q", played at this stage by Desmond Llewelyn. He was then appearing in the television series Follyfoot, but was written out of three episodes to appear in the film. By then, Saltzman and Broccoli decided not to include the character, feeling that "too much was being made of the films' gadgets", and decided to downplay this aspect of the series, much to Llewelyn's annoyance.
Lois Maxwell had only been included in Diamonds Are Forever during filming as a late addition, as she had asked for a pay increase. For Live and Let Die, she returned for the same fee, but due to a technical error, the filming of her scenes in Bond's home at the start of the movie extended to two days, costing the production more than if they had paid the increase she requested. Moore later wrote that Maxwell celebrated the double-pay-day by purchasing a fur coat.
Filming[edit | edit source]
Principal photography began in October 1972, in Louisiana. For a while, only the second unit was shooting after Moore was diagnosed with kidney stones. In November production moved to Jamaica, which represented the fictional San Monique. In December, production was divided between interiors in Pinewood Studios and location shooting in Harlem. The producers were reportedly required to pay protection money to a local Harlem gang to ensure the crew's safety. When the money ran out, they were forced to leave. Some exteriors were in fact shot in Manhattan's Upper East Side as a result of the difficulties of using real Harlem locations.
Yaphet Kotto later stated "There were so many problems with that script ... I was too afraid of coming off like Mantan Moreland ... I had to dig deep in my soul and brain and come up with a level of reality that would offset the sea of stereotype crap that Tom Mankiewicz wrote that had nothing to do with the Black experience or culture." Kotto said he did this by drawing "on a real life situation I was going through and that saved me ... but the way Kananga dies was a joke ... The entire experience was not as rewarding as I wanted it to be."
Ross Kananga suggested the stunt of Bond jumping on crocodiles, and was enlisted by the producers to perform it. The scene took five takes to be completed, including one in which the last crocodile snapped at Kananga's heel, tearing his trousers. The production also had trouble with snakes. The script supervisor was so afraid that she refused to be on set with them, an actor fainted while filming a scene where he is killed by a snake, Jane Seymour became terrified as a reptile got closer, and Geoffrey Holder only agreed to fall into the snake-filled casket because Princess Alexandra was visiting the set.
The boat chase was filmed in Louisiana around the Irish Bayou area, with some interruption caused by flooding. 26 boats were built by the Glastron boat company for the film. 17 were destroyed during rehearsals. The speedboat jump scene over the bayou, filmed with the assistance of a specially-constructed ramp, unintentionally set a Guinness World Record at the time with 110 feet (34 m) cleared. The waves created by the impact caused the following boat to flip over.
The chase involving the double-decker bus was filmed with a former London bus adapted by having a top section removed, and then placed back in situ running on ball bearings to allow it to slide off on impact. The stunts involving the bus were performed by Maurice Patchett, a London Transport bus driving instructor.
Music[edit | edit source]
John Barry, who had worked on the previous five films and orchestrated the "James Bond Theme", was unavailable during production. Broccoli and Saltzman instead asked Paul McCartney to write the theme song. Saltzman, mindful of his decision not to produce A Hard Day's Night was especially eager to work with McCartney. Since McCartney's salary was high and another composer could not be hired with the remainder of the music budget, George Martin, who had been McCartney's producer while with The Beatles, was chosen to write the score for the film. "Live and Let Die", written by McCartney along with his wife Linda and performed by their group Wings, was the first true rock and roll song used to open a Bond film, and became a major success in the United Kingdom (where it reached number nine in the charts) and the US (where it reached number 2, for three weeks). It was nominated for an Academy Award, but lost to "The Way We Were". Producers hired B. J. Arnau to record and perform the title song, not realising McCartney intended to perform it. Arnau's version was featured in the film, when the singer performs it in a night club that Bond visits.
The Olympia Brass Band has a notable part in "Live and Let Die", where they lead a funeral march for a soon-to-be assassination victim. Trumpeter Alvin Alcorn plays the killer. The piece of music the band plays at the beginning of the funeral march is "Just a Closer Walk with Thee". After the agent is stabbed, the band starts playing the more lively "Joe Avery's Piece", a.k.a. "New Second Line".
Release and reception[edit | edit source]
The film was released in the United States on 27 June 1973. The world premiere was at Odeon Leicester Square in London on 6 July 1973, with general release in the United Kingdom on the same day. From a budget of around $7 million, ($40 million in 2019 dollars) the film grossed $161.8 million ($932 million in 2019 dollars) worldwide.
The film holds the record for the most viewed broadcast film on television in the United Kingdom by attracting 23.5 million viewers when premiered on ITV on 20 January 1980.
Contemporary reviews[edit | edit source]
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times stated that Moore "has the superficial attributes for the job: The urbanity, the quizzically raised eyebrow, the calm under fire and in bed". However, he felt that Moore wasn't satisfactory in living up to the legacy left by Sean Connery in the preceding films. He rated the villains "a little banal", adding that the film "doesn't have a Bond villain worthy of the Goldfingers, Dr. Nos and Oddjobs of the past." Richard Schickel, reviewing for Time, described the film as "the most vulgar addition to a series that has long since outlived its brief historical moment — if not, alas, its profitability." He also criticized the action sequences as excessive, but noted that "aside an allright speedboat spectacular over land and water, the film is both perfunctory and predictable—leaving the mind free to wander into the question of its overall taste. Or lack of it." Roger Greenspun of The New York Times praised Moore as "a handsome, suave, somewhat phlegmatic James Bond—with a tendency to throw away his throwaway quips as the minor embarrassments that, alas, they usually are." He was further critical of Jane Seymour and Yaphet Kotto, the latter of whom he felt "does not project evil." In conclusion, he remarked the film was "especially well photographed and edited, and it makes clever and extensive use of its good title song, by Paul and Linda McCartney."
Charles Champlin of the Los Angeles Times likened Moore as "a handsome and smoothly likable successor to Sean Connery as James Bond." He further noted that the script "uses only the bare bones of Fleming's story about evil doings which link Harlem with a mysterious Caribbean island. The level of invention is high, but now and again you do sense the strain of always having to try harder because you're No. 1. If one menacing viper is good, three or a coffinful full are not inevitably better. But the action never slumps, and the series never seemed more like a real cartoon." Variety wrote that Moore was "an okay replacement for Sean Connery. The Tom Mankiewicz script, faced with a real-world crisis in the villain sector, reveals that plot lines have descended further to the level of the old Saturday afternoon serial, and the treatment is more than ever like a cartoon. Unchanged are the always-dubious moral values and the action set pieces. Guy Hamilton's direction is good."
Retrospective reviews[edit | edit source]
Chris Nashawaty, reviewing for BBC, similarly argues that Dr. Kananga/Mr. Big is the worst villain of the Roger Moore James Bond films. Also from BBC, William Mager praised the use of locations, but said that the plot was "convoluted". He stated that "Connery and Lazenby had an air of concealed thuggishness, clenched fists at the ready, but in Moore's case a sardonic quip and a raised eyebrow are his deadliest weapons". Danny Peary, in his book Guide for the Film Fanatic, noted that Jane Seymour portrays "one of the Bond series's most beautiful heroines", but had little praise for Moore, whom he described as making "an unimpressive debut as James Bond in Tom Mankiewicz's unimaginative adaptation of Ian Fleming's second novel ... The movie stumbles along most of the way. It's hard to remember Moore is playing Bond at times — in fact, if he and Seymour were black, the picture could pass as one of the black exploitation films of the day. There are few interesting action sequences — a motorboat chase is trite enough to begin with, but the filmmakers make it worse by throwing in some stupid Louisiana cops, including pot-bellied Sheriff Pepper."
Ian Nathan of Empire wrote "This is good quality Bond, managing to reinterpret the classic moves — action, deduction, seduction — for a more modern idiom without breaking the mould. On one side we get the use of alligators as stepping stones and the pompous pitbull of rootin' tootin' Sheriff Pepper caught up in the thrilling boat chase. On the other, the genuine aura of threat through weird voodoo henchman Tee Hee and the leaning toward — what's this? — realism in Mr Big's plot to take over the drug trade from the Mafia." He concluded that "Moore had got his feet under the table." IGN ranked Solitaire as 10th in a Top 10 Bond Babes list. In November 2006, Entertainment Weekly listed Live and Let Die as the third-best Bond film. MSN chose it as the thirteenth best Bond film and IGN listed it as twelfth-best. On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 66% from 47 reviews based on 5.76/10. The website's critical consensus reads: "While not one of the highest-rated Bond films, Live and Let Die finds Roger Moore adding his stamp to the series with flashes of style and an improved sense of humor."
In 2004, the American Film Institute nominated the song "Live and Let Die" from the film for AFI's 100 Years...100 Songs.