Sunday, April 26, 2009

Saturday Is Bond Day #8: Live and Let Die

This week, the hope was to move the standard movie time to Friday evening -- since it's now generally nice and warm and sunny on Saturday afternoons, so spending them indoors in a darkened room isn't the best idea -- but Thing 2's baseball game put the kibosh on that. And then we spent all day Saturday in NYC, hitting the Central Park Zoo (which the boys thought was fun, but were slightly disappointed in the way it differed from Madagascar), wandering through the park, and eventually having a late lunch at Patsy's (hat tip to Colleen Lindsay for introducing me to Patsy's through their Village outpost, so I was able to promise two food-shy and hungry boys that they'd really like the pizza...and they did).

So Bond Day shifted to Sunday -- Sunday evening, in fact. And The Wife made a rare guest appearance as well, sitting in and telling Thing 1 every few minutes not to repeat just about every single line of dialogue from that stereotyped redneck sheriff.

When you talk about Live and Let Die, you'll inevitably talk about stereotypes -- not just that very broad good ol' boy, but the voodoo-tinged black villains. (They are genuinely threatening, not played for laughs, so they stay awfully '70s and blaxploitation-influenced, but don't fatally harm the movie.) Yaphet Kotto has a dual role (for about the first half) as the two main villians: the Harlem drug lord "Mr. Big," and Kananga, minister of something-or-other for a fictional Caribbean island. He has several major henchmen, at least two of which -- Geoffrey Holder as Baron Samedi and Julius Harris as Tee Hee -- have real menace. But there are so many named henchmen, so many would-be Oddjobs, that the film can palm one to hold in reserve -- if the viewer hasn't been paying close attention.

Live and Let Die was a retrenchment film -- it's the first movie with Roger Moore as Bond, and at the time, there must have been a question about whether he'd continue or pull a Lazenby and disappear after one movie. And Diamonds Are Forever was studiedly over-the-top (in a slightly lower-budget-looking way than the best of the Connery Bonds) in a way that Live and Let Die extends but deals with more naturally -- it fits the Moore Bond much better than Connery's.

And so there's a series of set-pieces that feels like a Bond "Greatest Hits" package -- fight in a train sleeping car from From Russia With Love, a speedboat race/fight also from Russia, sharks from Thunderball, Quarrel (Junior) from Dr. No, and so on. On the other side, since the most successful Bond movie -- Goldfinger -- was set largely in the US, both this and Diamonds were set primarily in the States, and this time in very unlikely bits of it for Bond -- rural Louisiana and Harlem.

I'm generally a Connery partisan, but, watching these movies in order, I have to admit that Moore here looks better than Connery did in Diamonds. He's not the same Bond -- he doesn't have the physicality that Connery did, for the biggest and most damaging difference -- but he wants to be Bond in a way that Connery didn't in his last movie, and he's given material that he can work with. (Including Jane Seymour as the obligatory girl, Solitaire.)

Live and Let Die has, hands down, the best title song -- though it does say something about the Bond series that the most rocking song they managed was from Paul McCartney -- a plot that generally makes sense, a villain who's nasty enough without wringing his hands, and an excellent Bond girl. It's not the best in the series -- it's not even one of the top two Moore Bonds -- but it steadied the ship when that was needed and is a nice thick slice of early-70s action cinema.

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