Live And Let Die
For a studio having one of the most profitable and successful film franchises in history can be a two sword. Time after time audiences flock to the next film of the series. Over that time there are certain standards that come to be expected. The studios are placed in the difficult position to keep the films fresh while maintaining all the elements that fans will demand. When a franchise goes on for a significant number of years the studio has to learn to adapt to necessary changes. This was the position that United Artists found themselves in back in 1973. At this point the role of James Bond was synonymous with actor Sean Connery. He started in the first five films of the series leaving for the lamentable ‘On Her Majesty's Secret Service’ only to return in1971 for ‘Diamonds are Forever’. That would be his last appearance as Bond for over a decade and his last in what is considered by most fans as part of the franchise’s canon. The studio had to scramble to find a suitable replacement that would be acceptable to the fan base. Ultimately the part went to veteran British actor Roger Moore. He was no stranger to spy roles having made a name for himself as Simon Templar, otherwise known as ‘The Saint’. This did give him a chance to develop the suave and debonair persona that is required for James Bond. Unfortunately, many fans of the spy genre so greatly identified Moore as The Saint that it made the transition to Bond an up hill climb. It was only natural that Connery wanted to move on. As one of the most talented actors around he didn’t want to get type cast and explore different roles. As it turned out Moore would be the longest lasting Bond to date. His initial foray into the world of 007 was ‘Live and Let Die’. This film has been out on DVD with several releases but now MGM/UA has what they are calling the ultimate edition of the film. This is part of a six film release set in both DVD and Blu-ray. You do have the option of getting the film on its own or as part of a three film set. Either way this is the best the film has been seen and heard.
The script for this film was provided by Tom Mankiewicz. He had written the screenplay for the previous member of the series and would go on to one more Bond film. He also did work on the first two of the old Superman films as well as the fantasy flick ‘Lady Hawk’ and the ‘Dragnet’ comedy movie. Some adjustments had to be made to make room for the new actor. They wanted to give Moore an opportunity to make a roll well established by another actor his own. There were little things like changing the preferred drink from a vodka martini, shaken not stirred to bourbon. Bond’s perchance for cigarettes was replaced by little cigars. Much of this did result in more discrepancies with the novels but that ship had begun to sail a long time before this. One major change in this story was the villain. Normally Bond would be sent to save the entire world from an evil group of global terrorist headed up by an over the top criminal mastermind. Here the goal is to keep a drug dealer from flooding the market and taking over he drub lord business. It may seem like a bad choice for a plot but it did what this film was supposed to do; be different enough from the Connery Bond that Moore could ease into the role.
Directing this film was Guy Hamilton. He helmed ‘Goldfinger’ and the previous Bond flick ‘Diamonds are Forever’. He would also go on to direct the next film; ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’. He also directed the very funny spoof of spy flicks ‘The Adventures of Remo Williams’. Hamilton had a style that was conducive to the campier direction the Bond movies were headed. He had the ability to keep things light hearted between the mandatory battle sequences. Hamilton also managed to employ the gadgets better than many of the men who would take on the Bond directorial challenge. Still, this film is not up to the previous ones. You have to cut Hamilton a break though since a lot was in the state of flux here. The franchise would recover and do better than ever. There are some other splits from the Bond traditions such as setting the plot in a fictional country and having Bond perform an assassination of a sitting head of state. All of this was quite a bit for the fans to take in 1973 but this film did chart a new course for the franchise that would continue for years.
In the small Caribbean country of San Monique three British agents are murdered. One was technically on loan to the Americans and killed in New York City but the home office was still upset. Their assignment was to monitor the activities of the country’s dictator, Dr. Kananga (Yaphet Kotto). It was believed that he was doing double duty as Mr. Big, the head of a major drug syndicate. Bond is dispatched to New York to investigate the murder there and check in on Kananga who was in town to address the United Nations. Bond is also reunited with his CIA contact Felix Leiter (David Hedison). Bond follows the trail to a famous Soul Food restaurant which is owned by Mr. Big. There he comes across the beautiful Solitaire (Jane Seymour). Yes, ‘Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman’ was at one time a Bond girl. Here she has the ability to see the future but must remain a virgin to do so. That is not a condition that goes well with the hypersexual Bond. She rigs the deck, literally stacking the tarot cards, and convinces the lovely Solitaire that they are meant to be lovers. She loses her powers and has to side with Bond against Mr. Big. The big picture plan that Kananga is behind is to infuse into the drug market two metric tons of heroin. This would drive the prices down and put all of his competitors out of business. Unlike most of the world domination schemes that Bond faces this is an economic ploy that would actually stand a chance of working.
This film does move away from the usual themes of the cloak and dagger world of spies. It takes place in the more occult world of voodoo and mysticism. This does initially puts Bond off his game. He was used to dodging bullets and other spies but curses and hit men dressed like scarecrows are a bit out of the norm even for him. This change of pace is reflected even in the soundtrack. The usual Bond composer John Barry was replaced by former Beatle producer George Martin. Consistent with this the title song was performed by Paul McCartney and his wife Linda backed by Wings. This was the closest to a rock song used in the series and became a popular top forty hit.
As with the other films in this release set MGM/UA does an excellent job surpassing their previous releases by a wide margin. As mentioned you can select either DVD or Blu-ray in an individual release or part of a three pack. The Blu-ray edition features 1080p video and both the original mono soundtrack and the re-mixed DTS HD audio. As is the case with the other five films of this set there are plenty of extras. While not the best Bond flick of all time it is solid entertainment and does have its historical value.