Ladies and gentlemen, Mr Roger Moore. Not, however, that he was the first choice. The producers initially approached Clint Eastwood, hot off ‘Dirty Harry’ (its sequel ‘Magnum Force’ was released the same year as ‘Live and Let Die’), who politely declined on the grounds that Bond should be played by a British actor. Clint Eastwood – respect! Julian Glover and Jeremy Brett were considered – and the mind boggles at the idea of the guy who would later essay the definitive Sherlock Holmes (despite what it cost him) playing Bond – before they settled on Roger Moore.
When ‘Live and Let Die’ was shot in 1973, Moore was already in his mid-forties. He’d play the character for another twelve years, ending his tenure as a paunchy and vaguely ridiculous Bond, pushing sixty, in ‘A View to a Kill’. During those dozen years, the franchise would become increasingly bloated, parodic and self-indulgent, with ‘For Your Eyes Only’ (excepting its cringingly embarrassing final scene) representing a back-to-basics for the 007 aesthetic.
Still, ‘Live and Let Die’ – directed by Guy Hamilton; the third of his four Bonds – is a solid first outing for Moore, and a decent action movie to boot. It has its flaws, particularly in its tapestry of ethnically stereotyped villains, but it’s a more cohesive work than ‘Diamonds Are Forever’ and, with one exception, doesn’t go haring off into the realms of the stupid as gleefully as the next few productions would.
M turns up at Bond’s apartment (predictably he has female company), gives him a terse brief – Bernard Lee was ill during filming, which perhaps accounts for how succinct the scene is – and it’s off to Harlem for 007 to probe the dealings of a local Mr Big (named, uh, Mr Big) and try to determine the connection with San Monique and Kanaga. Let me mention again that the film was made in 1973. Albert Broccoli was nothing if not a canny popularist and it hadn’t escaped his attention that blaxploitation movies were cleaning up with mainstream audiences. Hence the first third, where Bond gets into it with pimps and pushers against a backdrop of urban decay. ‘Live and Let Die’ gives us some of the least glamorous moments in 007’s entire career. In fact, you’d probably have to fast-forward to Bond’s capture and incarceration at the start of ‘Die Another Day’ to get any grungier. Ladies and gentlemen: Bondsploitation.
So: we have Roger Moore acquitting himself well, Yaphet Kotto giving us one of the great Bond villains (he manages to be suave, infectiously enthusiastic in his villainy, and completely ruthless – often all at the same time), and some very well staged action scenes. We also have a sympathetic and likeable Bond girl in the enigmatic but vulnerable Solitaire (Jane Seymour), not to mention top-notch supporting villains in Tee Hee (Julius Harris) and the batshit crazy Baron Samedi (Geoffrey Holder). The voodoo aspects of the plot, although revealed as (at least partially) a knowing exploitation by Kanaga and co. of local superstitions, add something different to the formula.
While it’s by no means as egregious a moment as some of the later instalments would trade in, it nevertheless points to what the Moore Bonds would become. And it wouldn’t take them long to dig towards that nadir. The rot started setting in on the very next film.