Friday, July 20, 2012

007 James Bond Marathon: Live and Let Die

Based on Ian Fleming’s novel, Live and Let Die is the story of James Bond uncovering the deaths of three agents in the hands of a dictator who also poses as a drug lord in a small Caribbean Island. Directed by Guy Hamilton and screenplay by Tom Mankiewicz, the film marks the first of seven features to star Roger Moore as James Bond where Moore brings a bit of humor to the famed character. Also starring Yaphet Kotto, Jane Seymour, David Hedison, Lois Maxwell, Clifton James, Gloria Hendry, and Bernard Lee as M. Live and Let Die is a stylish yet thoroughly entertaining film from Guy Hamilton.

After the death of three different agents at the United Nations building, New Orleans, and the Caribbean island of San Monique, M asks James Bond to uncover the mysteries of these death as he and Bond believe the deaths are all connected to San Monique dictator Dr. Kananga (Yaphet Kotto). Bond travels to New York City where he encounters some strange occurrences in Harlem involving voodoo after his driver was assassinated. With his CIA friend Felix Leiter (David Hedison) and another agent named Strutter (Lon Satton), Bond learns about a heroin distributor named Mr. Big as he meets a mysterious tarot card expert named Solitaire (Jane Seymour) who is considered Dr. Kananga’s most treasured possession.

Traveling to San Monique, Bond meets CIA agent Rosie Carver (Gloria Hendry) to uncover what happened to the death of an agent in San Monique with the help of Quarrel Jr. (Roy Stewart) as Bond sneaks up to Solitaire’s home to find more answers. After tricking her with her tarot cards, Bond and Solitaire discover a field of poppy fields near Kananga’s home as Bond believes Kananga is in cahoots with Mr. Big. After he takes Solitaire to safety, Bond is stopped by Big’s henchmen where he eventually discovers who Mr. Big is. Realizing what Big is planning to do with the heroin, Bond realizes what he must do to stop Big as well as save Solitaire who has lost her powers as a tarot card expert.

The film is essentially the story of James Bond going to different places like New York, New Orleans, and the Caribbean to uncover the deaths of three agents that is connected to a dictator in a fictional Caribbean island. There, he encounters voodoo, heroin smuggling, and a beautiful tarot card expert who might be the key to helping him figure out what is going on. It’s a simple plot for a James Bond film but Tom Mankiewicz’s screenplay does manage to do what is expected but with a different approach to the Bond film schematics. Notably as the film bends a few genres such as 70s blaxploitation and the American Southern films to put Bond in new worlds that he previously hadn’t been in.

In these new worlds, Bond faces up against a dictator who also masquerades as a drug distributor named Kananga who is just an ambitious man that is planning to make a profit in giving away heroin to those that want it. While he isn’t as ambitious as other villains, he is certainly cunning while he treasures Solitaire more than anything as she is the one person who could reveal his fate. The character of Solitaire is just as interesting as she is the tarot card reader with a special gift yet her encounter with Bond would bring conflict as she is also a virgin. In Bond taking away her virginity, he would unknowingly take away her powers which she despairs at in an amazing monologue about her gift where she would have to use her faded powers in a crucial scene for Bond’s freedom as the aftermath is a heartbreaking one. While the script also includes some comical moments that involves a redneck state trooper in J.W. Pepper (Clifton James), the screenplay succeeds in playing out the suspense and adventure of what is expected in a Bond film.

Guy Hamilton’s direction is definitely marvelous for the way he opens the film with the three different deaths of the three agents in different locations to establish everything Bond is about to face. With some amazing shots of the locations in New York City’s Harlem district, New Orleans, and Jamaica for the scenes of San Monique. Hamilton creates a film that is very worldly while bringing a new energy that is needed for a new James Bond. Filled with dazzling chase scenes on cars and speedboats, the action is always engaging and crucial to what Bond needs to do.

The action is balanced by Bond exploring these new places where he’s in where he’s a fish out of water where a white man is in the world where the black man rule. It’s essentially Bond trying to integrate with a new world where 70s cinema is changing as Bond manages to make himself to be a worthy opponent for a man like Kananga. While the humor ranges from being low-key to more comical in the scenes involving J.W. Pepper, it works to display Bond in action and how he tries to handle the situation. Overall, Guy Hamilton succeeds in creating a Bond film that is truly enjoyable to watch from start to finish.

Cinematographer Ted Moore does wonderful work with the film‘s photography from the beautiful Jamaican locations to the interiors set in Harlem and New Orleans to establish the world Bond is encountering. Editors Bert Bates, Raymond Poulton, and John Shirley do excellent work with the editing by utilizing a lot of straightforward cutting to play up the film‘s suspense and action along with some of the film‘s comical manners. Art director Syd Cain does brilliant work with the set pieces such as the voodoo ceremony and the secret meeting rooms Kananga does his business at.

Costume designer Julie Harris does superb work with the costumes such as the elaborate clothes that Solitaire wears during her tarot reading. The special effects work of Rick Baker and Derek Meddings is very good for some of the moments that involves the shark bullet Bond uses for the film‘s climatic meeting with Kananga. Sound recorders Ken Barker and John W. Mitchell do terrific work with the sound to capture the atmosphere of the club Bond and Felix Leiter encounter as well as the voodoo ceremony filled with a big crowd of people. The film’s music by George Martin is certainly fun to listen to with its mix of bombastic orchestral flourishes mixed in with a bit of funk. The title sung by Paul and Linda McCartney for their band Wings is definitely one of the best songs of the Bond film franchises thanks to its sprawling orchestral and horn arrangements mixed in with rock bombast.

The casting of Weston Drury Jr. is incredible for the ensemble that is created as it includes some notable small roles from Lon Satton as CIA agent Strutter, Arnold Williams as one of Kananga’s henchmen in a corrupt cab driver, Roy Stewart as Quarrel Jr., and Madeline Smith as the Italian agent Miss Caruso that Bond romances early in the film.  Other notable small roles include Lois Maxwell as the always funny Miss Moneypenny, Bernard Lee as the always stern M, Gloria Hendry as the fearful CIA agent Rosie Carver, David Hedison as the resourceful Felix Leiter, and Clifton James as the hilarious idiotic redneck state trooper J.W. Pepper.

In the roles of Kananga’s henchmen, there’s standout performances from Tommy Lane as the brutish Adam, Julius Harris as the robotic-armed Tee Hee Johnson, Earl Jolly Brown as the raspy big man Whisper, and Geoffrey Holder as the voodoo priest Baron Samedi whose laugh is one of the most memorable. In her film debut, Jane Seymour is great as the conflicted Solitaire who falls for James Bond while dealing with her loyalty towards Kananga. Yaphet Kotto is excellent as the villainous Dr. Kananga whose ambition to run the heroin market has Kotto proving to be very dastardly while getting the chance to be upset when things don’t go his way as it’s one of Kotto’s great performances.

Finally, there’s Roger Moore in his first of seven outings as Agent 007 James Bond. While he may not have the toughness of Sean Connery, Moore is able to put his own spin into Bond by making Bond tough but also resourceful in whatever objects he can use to get out of a bad situation. There’s also a laid-back sense of charm in Moore in the way he deals with women or how he confronts a villain. Moore’s approach to the humor is also more laid-back in the way he delivers the funny one-liners as Moore definitely makes Bond his own to standout from the more iconic figure from Sean Connery.

Live and Let Die is a thrilling yet fun film from Guy Hamilton featuring Roger Moore in a phenomenal performance as James Bond. The film is definitely proof that Bond can survive without Sean Connery with Moore being the right guy to play the legendary Agent 007. With a top-notch supporting cast that includes Yaphet Kotto and Jane Seymour, it’s a film that is truly adventurous and funny while doing what James Bond films do best. In the end, Live and Let Die is a glorious film from Guy Hamilton.

© thevoid99 2012

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