While Goldfinger delighted in having fun at Bond’s expense and Diamonds Are Forever has fun at the story’s expense, Live and Let Die has fun at the audience’s expense. Screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz and returning director Guy Hamilton craft a poor joke of a Bond film, one that is neither entertaining nor amusing, unable to be a serious spy thriller or a hilarious series of spy related gags.
James Bond (Roger Moore) is caught up in a web of crime, deceit and jazzing music when a spree of spy murders lead to New Orleans. Whether he’s dodging the latest attack from enemy lackeys or working his way with the woman, Bond find himself on the back foot, a step behind the enemy, flying by with his sleek gadgets and cool disposition.
This is part of the new Bond image. Roger Moore takes on the iconic film character in the first major shift between Bond performers. The most noticeable difference is he lacks the suave charm of Sean Connery. Instead, he replaces it with a more even kilter, professional and collected air. There’s still a playfulness to him, but in a dry British manner instead of the more gruff snarkiness of Connery.
While Moore is able to make Bond his own, it’s uncertain whether or not it’s an interesting Bond portrayal, partly because he is surrounded with abysmal material that does very little with his character. Granted, Bond is rarely a character of growth, but the best Bond films so far have been able to tease out the Bond character and there’s little to be milked amidst the never ending deluge of awfulness.
A massive part of the problem is the portrayal of Blacks in this film. No, it’s not making African Americans out to be inferior, but it does paint a lot of them as hardened criminals and suggested that they are somewhat uneducated. There is a good black cop that alleviates the general wave of negativity, but this is the first Bond film where every badguy is distinctly tied to one race, and that’s a bit problematic.
It doesn’t help that these are easily the most stupid Bond villains so far. Most of their traps seem miscalculated and leave massive room for error. Shooting the driver of Bond’s car makes little since when they could just shoot Bond. Also, unleashing a snake in his bathroom seems like a wild crapshoot. And when they do get a gun on Bond do they shot him? No. Instead, they enter exposition mode, gloating on their exploits in true bad Bond villain fashion.
There’s also an odd tie to voodoo to the black community in this film. While one might question what the intention in aligning the Black community with voodoo practices adds even more insult to injury, more than that, it’s comes off as extremely corny and campy. Some of this is due to over the top acting, but a lot of it has to do with idiotic production values. For some reason, the most fake looking rubber snake ever made was used instead of getting a live snake and it makes all the voodoo scenes hilariously bad.
Tarot reading also becomes a huge part of the plot as Solitaire (Jane Seymour) is a fortune teller for the badguys who becomes a bit flustered when she constantly predicts that she and Bond will be lovers. Her order is sworn to celibacy in order to maintain the purity of their vision of the future, but Bond doesn’t care about such things. It might be an inappropriately amusing gag, but it’s once again a chance for Bond to subdue and reform a woman through sex.
The other notable Bond girl, Rosie Carver (Golria Hendry), is played as a rookie agent. It’s a cool idea for a character as she’s the antithesis of Bond, a bundle of nerves, incompetent and constantly frightened, but the film squanders her character on a cheap twist and then ushers her out swiftly. It is worth noting that she’s the first African American woman Bond has a relationship with in the series, which makes it a bit daring and positive amidst the deluge of negativity surrounding African Americans in the film.
But African Americans are not the only group that becomes the brunt end of a bad joke in Live or Let Die. Through some turn of events, the film ends up in Louisiana where a boat chase on the bayou gives the film an opportunity to portray hillbillies as the biggest dumbasses of all times. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t painfully unfunny to watch and if it wasn’t forced into a rather interesting action setpiece.
Still, this film is responsible for one overwhelmingly and undeniably awesome element and that is the theme song. Paul McCartney and The Wings perform the fantastic opening title song of Live and Let Die. It’s a great song that lends to a number of great musical riffs throughout the film. It’s quite possibly the best Bond song of the series and it’s only a shame it had to end up in what is certainly one of the worst films.
A majority of Live and Let Die brings up that eternally fruitless question: What were they thinking? Voodoo and fortune telling in a Bond film? Sounds more like an episode of Scooby Doo. It might not be the most aggressively bad film in the Bond series so far, that is what easily makes it the worst as it simply flounders in a state of so bad it’s embarrassing to watch.
© 2011 James Blake Ewing