Live and Let Die (Ultimate Edition) Review
Stories concerning the small Caribbean island of San Monique make their way to MI6, who place several British agents in positions across the world to monitor it and the activities of its dictator, Dr Kananga (Yaphet Kotto). And yet, they all come to an unfortunate end, one in the UN Building in New York, another in New Orleans and one poisoned by the bite of a deadly snake in a voodoo ceremony on the island itself. M decides, upon the death of the third agent, to assign a 00-operative to San Monique and, given Bond's recent return alongside a glamourous Italian agent, Miss Caruso (Madeline Smith), visits his house early one morning to with tickets to New York, the current whereabouts of Kananga.
Picked up at the airport and contacted by Felix Leiter (David Hedison), who has men tailing Kananga, Bond doesn't even make it in from the airport before he comes under attack. His driver killed, Bond finds that the trail leads to a Mr Big, the owner of a chain of restaurants, a known drug dealer and a kingpin of Harlem. Visiting one of these restaurants, a Fillet of Soul, Bond meets this Mr Big as well as his associates, the beautiful Solitaire (Jane Seymour), Tee Hee (Julius Harris), Whisper (Earl Jolly Brown) and the sinister Baron Samedi (Geoffrey Holder) but little leads him to Kananga. Warned to get out of Harlem, Bond leaves Mr Big and follows Kananga to San Monique, where he learns of Kananga's plans for the vast quantities of opium that grow on the island. With Solitaire predicting death and both Mr Big and Kananga after him, the drums of voodoo beat ever louder...
Oh, he's very good looking, Roger Moore. Less rugged than Sean Connery but with more acting experience by the time he came to Bond, Moore was nonetheless a favourite as far back as Dr No, was considered again for Casino Royale, was alongside Lazenby in the running for On Her Majesty's Secret Service and would have starred in Diamonds Are Forver were it not for his role in The Persuaders. Lois Maxwell remembered him well from RADA, where they were in the class, saying, "...he was gorgeous...covered in puppy fat but he was funny and witty and charming and utterly delightful." Michael Caine would remember his good looks and how Moore did so many print ads for sweaters that they took to calling him The Big Knit. But that puppy fat would also be a problem for Broccoli who said to Moore that The Persuaders had left him too fat for Bond - the real champagne that Moore and Tony Curtis drank on the set didn't help - and asked that Moore lose weight and get his hair cut before playing Bond. As Moore would later say, "I thought 'Why didn't they get a thin man who was bald to play the part?'" But Harry Saltzman wanted an English actor and few could think of anyone better suited to the role than Roger Moore, one-time star of The Saint and well-known to a British audience awaiting the announcement of the next James Bond.
His hair cut and weight lost, Moore took to Bond but ensured that there would be differences between his and Connery's interpretation of the role. Gradually these would return but in Live And Let Die, Moore's Bond smokes cigars, drinks bourbon and prefers a necktie to a tuxedo. It may be due to a familiarity with Moore, given that his films have been shown as regularly as Connery's over the last thirty years, but he's a natural fit for Bond, his lightness in the role better suited to the path that the series took with Diamonds Are Forever. His novel use of a magnetic watch was something that Connery might have gotten away with but, as is more likely, probably not.
Certainly, though, Live And Let Die needed Moore's sense of humour, and the popularity of blaxploitation, to bring one of Ian Fleming's more controversial novels to the screen. Fleming, who titled the fifth chapter in his book Nigger Heaven, had an exclusively black set of villains whilst justice was represented by the white faces of Solitaire, Felix Leiter and James Bond. But blaxploitation had given black cinema a voice and with Moore's ability to play the material for laughs, the film is less social commentary than comic strip. Indeed, the filmmakers used Live And Let Die to turns one's expectations around, showing the black villains as well-spoken, educated and graceful when compared to the tobacco-chewing, southern redneck sheriff, JW Pepper (Clifton James). With an interracial love scene between James Bond and Rosie Carver (Gloria Hendry, who had appeared in blaxploitation classic Black Ceasar and its sequel, Hell Up in Harlem), which was presented without fuss or fanfare - except for South Africa, where the apartheid government cut it - Live And Let Die, whatever its other faults, can not be accused of racism.
But it can be accused of opportunism and of the unwelcome intrusion of contemporary fashions. What had begun with Diamonds Are Forever, where the tuxedoed Bond looks out of place amongst the casually-dressed gamblers at a Las Vegas casino, Bond's Savile Row suits look as out of place in Harlem and in the Fillet Of Soul restaurants as would Keith Harris and Orville. To their credit, the filmmakers do make note of this but they're woefully out of touch when Bond calls a halt to the shipping of heroin into the US - "So who's supplying it now?" asked Michael J Weldon in The Psychotronic Encyclopaedia of Film - and in the sideshow attractions of Baron Samedi and of voodoo. Worst of all, though, are their attempts at understanding the language and fashions of the time, with the use of 'honky', pimpmobiles and huge Afros dating this film more than had M and Bond greeted one another with, "Wassup!" in Die Another Day.
That said, there's a certain charm to Live And Let Die in that it often acknowledges how ridiculous it is, being much more of a comedy than any Bond film before it. Bond's bedding of Solitaire puts paid to her fortune-telling for good whilst the villains, Tee Hee in particular, would tide us over until the appearance of Jaws a couple of films down the line. The speedboat chase is an outstanding section of the film, as is the bus/bridge collision on San Monique, and few Bond films have as memorable a stunt as 007 running to safety over the backs of hungry crocodiles. And, of course, it has a cracking theme song, which, were it not for Louis Armsrong's All The Time In The World from On Her Majesty's Secret Service, may have been the best of the lot. Should you ever hear anyone foolish enough to claim John Lennon as the sole talent in The Beatles, direct them towards Live And Let Die and inform them that there's a good deal more sense in, "When you've got a job to do / You've got to do it well!" than in all of the moon-eyed dreaming of Imagine.
Brighter in the nighttime scenes and darker during daylight, this Ultimate Edition of Live And Let Die is slightly more impressive but, in my opinion, not one that's worth picking up a second time. As I've mentioned throughout these reviews, the Connery films have benefited the most and though Live And Let Die has aged through the fashions and decor, the actual quality of the print used on the Special Edition wasn't really that bad. Certainly, that release never looked particularly bad but this, like many of the films in the series from this point on, is only a slight improvement.
MGM Special Edition (Above) / Sony Ultimate Edition (Below)
MGM Special Edition (Above) / Sony Ultimate Edition (Below)
Again, like the quality of the picture, the two audio remixes into DD5.1 and DTS are a little more impressive - and certainly there's a good deal more bass in the mix than there was previously - but some of the audio effects sound clumsy where they didn't on the Special Edition. The speedboat chase, for example, actually sounds much better on the Special Edition than it does here with this having a tendency to let the sound wander about the channels rather than remaining focussed on the action.
There has been a third commentary recorded for this DVD release to add to the two that have been brought over from the MGM Special Edition. The first commentary sees the return of John Cork from the Ian Fleming Foundation to introduce and bring structure to contributions from director Guy Hamilton and various members of the cast and crew. On a par with earlier commentaries in this series, maybe even slightly better given the amount of times Guy Hamilton is featured, this aims for being scene-specific but tends to meander around the story for long periods.
The second commentary by screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz is a good one, finding him talkative, informed about the production and with a good knowledge of the entire series. Able to explain the differences between a Connery Bond and one starring Moore, he talks about his tailoring of the story to the new star of the Bond movies and how the script was rewritten as Moore settled into the role. Finally, Sir Roger Moore has been coaxed into recording a commentary for this Ultimate Edition and other than his tendency to drift off into silence, it's an enjoyable listen. Moore has always been rather blasé about his talents and is no different here, clearing having fun watching the film but able to mock his own performance, which, if he were entirely honest, is actually pretty good.
On to the second disc and extras new to this DVD are, obviously, an Interactive Guide, Live and Let Die Conceptual Art (1m38s) and two new features, Bond 1973: The Lost Documentary (20m46s) and Roger Moore as James Bond, Circa 1964 (7m44s). The first of these is a shabby-looking, made-for-television feature that looks at the casting of Roger Moore in the role and also features interviews with the cast and crew, including Julius Harris showing off his hook to two very nonplussed children and Geoffrey Holder and Jane Seymour practicing with the Jamaican ballet company in a swimming pool. Seymour's stretching is particularly impressive! The second new feature is introduced by Michael Wilson and features a performance by Roger Moore as James Bond on the television show Mainly Millicent in 1964, where he played opposite Millicent Martin.
Extras from the original DVD include the three main features from that release, Inside Live and Let Die (29m47s) and On Set With Roger Moore (1m37s and 3m47s) as well as a Photo Gallery. Finally, there are also the Original Trailers (2m45s and 1m43s), TV Spots (58s, 57s and 29s) and Radio Communications (1m46s).
Last updated: 19/04/2018 04:57:03