Live & Let Die
directed by Guy Hamilton
(United Artists/MGM, 1973)

We get to witness three assassinations (one involving an extremely fake-looking snake) and the opening credits (featuring one of my favorite Bond themes, Paul McCartney's "Live & Let Die") before we see the new James Bond in action. Appropriately enough, he makes his first appearance in bed, with an Italian agent, before being interrupted by an early-morning visit by M (Bernard Lee) and Miss Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell) with his new assignment.

Roger Moore, supposedly Ian Fleming's original choice to portray Bond, had large shoes to fill when he stepped in to replace Sean Connery. And, while he wasn't bad in the role, neither was he equal to Connery's unmatchable interpretation of the character. He suits the role of the British gentleman and he carries the whimsy quite well -- although, at times, his take on subtle humor is a trifle heavy-handed -- but he seems less comfortable with rough-and-tumble action. Neither does his Bond seem as competent and resourceful as Connery's.

Perhaps he'd have fared better if he'd had a better starting point in the series. But, good theme songs aside, Live & Let Die is the weakest Bond film to date. The villain, a petty island dictator named Kananga, a.k.a. the gangster "Mr. Big" (Yaphet Kotto), is unimposing and hard to take seriously after the likes of Blofeld, Dr. No and Goldfinger. Gloria Hendry is never believable as Rosie Carver, the inexperienced CIA agent aiding Bond, and her betrayal is neither surprising nor convincing. Q (Desmond Llewelyn) does not appear in this film, and the gadgets Bond uses on this mission are fairly uninteresting.

Jane Seymour is a pleasant touch as Solitaire, Kananga's tarot reader whom Bond seduces, taking her virginity and causing her to lose faith in her abilities and switch sides. Clifton James is funny as Louisiana sheriff J.W. Pepper, but comic relief isn't really needed in a movie already lacking many serious elements.

The henchmen -- Baron Samedi (Geoffrey Holder), Whisper (Earl Jolly Brown) and Tee Hee (Julius Harris) -- are boring, and only Tee Hee provides Bond with a climactic fight of any note. Even Kananga's explosive end is anticlimactic.

For many Bond fans, Moore never fully replaced Connery in the role. This poor start to his tenure as the superspy probably had a lot to do with it.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

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