First, we’re going to replace the tried and true Sean Connery with relative unknown Roger Moore for Bond. Then we’re going to give him the first African American Bond girl. Then we’re going to give him the first African American Bond Villain. Then we’re going to base the story in Harlem, urban Louisiana and a fictional island nation. Finally, we’re going to throw in supernatural elements like legitimate fortune telling and voodoo. To say that Live And Let Die was a RISKY proposition would be an understatement. Though its most thought of as “Bond versus The Black People”, Albert Broccoli’s can take solace in the fact that they brought 007 into a world he’d never gone before.
The culture shock to the franchise was no accident. Blaxploitation was big at the time and the studio looked to jump on that bandwagon. And financially, it payed off. Though, with such a departure from the normal Bond fair, the film itself feels like its a rushed, poorly constructed amalgamation. Director Guy Hamilton has directed four of the most iconic Bond films of all time. Live And Let Die is easily his weakest outing.
When Sean Connery dropped out as Bond, the studio wanted to cast an American actor. Everyone from Burt Reynolds to Clint Eastwood were considered. Thankfully, they went with the star of The Saint tv series Roger Moore. Moore is infamous for playing Bond with a lighter tone than any other actor in the part. But while Live And Let Die has painfully slapstick moments in it, Moore plays Bond mostly straight compared to his later films. He wasn’t as good as Connery but audiences could now buy him as Bond.
Rosie Carver, played by Gloria Hendry is the first African American Bond girl. And that is about as fascinating as she gets. If you thought Agent Goodnight was a vapid character, Rosie makes her look like Beatrix friggin’ Kiddo. Again, this era of cinema was replete with shallow, one-dimensional female characters. But even for that time, Rosie is way more femme than fatale. Her counterpart in the film, Solitaire, doesn’t fair much better in that regard. However, she is at least an interesting character. Would be conquerors using soothsayers to guide them stretches as far back as Macbeth and as recent as that 300 and Immortals. Jane Seymore, famous for Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman and selling strange jewelry, does a decent job of making Solitaire stand out as a character. Unfortunately, her storyline is underutilized and abandoned as most of the more interesting characters in this film are.
Kananga…oh boy…Kananga. Overconfidence is usually the undoing of most Bond villains and film villains in general. But no more so than Kananga. There are at least five times he has Bond dead to rights. Not only does he not kill him, he makes a point to explain master plan and show off supposedly secret facility. Dr. Evil would even raise an eyebrow to this. The phrase, “Let me show you exactly how it works Mr. Bond” should never be uttered by a Bond villain. Its much better to see Bond figure it out himself and save himself rather than relying on dumb luck and dumb villains. As a character, the only positive I could say about Kananga is that he has style and charm on par with Bond. However, he is incredibly small potatoes for MI6 to deal with. His plan? From the way the film started, I thought Kananga had a beef with MI6 and was systematically taking them out. Sadly, that is not it. I’ll have to wait until Friday to get that storyline. Kananga, however, plans to get the country addicted to heroin so he can become the world’s biggest drug dealer. Yes, really. As the first African American Bond villain, the stereotypical corner he’s painted into is nothing short of laughable. This was a job for the DEA or Shaft or Kojak. Not a British secret agent. It just feels like a waste of 007’s time. Kananga’s henchman Baron Samedi is memorable but again, completely squandered. His showdown with Bond lasts about as long as it takes James to order a martini. You set up a character that apparently can never die and just shuffle him away.
Live And Let Die is a bit too discombobulated and drab for a Bond film. It’s only real accomplishment is the successful launch of Roger Moore into the role of Bond and an Oscar nominated title song. A song that ranks in my top 3 of best Bond songs of all time. Sing it along with Paul…hop in your “pimpmobile”…yes…there is a “pimpmobile” in it…go see…then tell me I’m wrong.