DO YOU REMEMBER George Lazenby? Or "On Her Majesty's Secret Service?" A movie that generated such indifference, from audience, actors, technical people, everybody, that I for one couldn't tell you whether Lazenby's dead or alive? Well, it was pats on the back for us cynics who looked upon efforts to replace Sean Connery with skepticism after that one. Better to retire the series undefeated, than replace Him with the cipher Lazenby -- who promptly confirmed our worst fears. None of this daunted producers Broccoli and Saltzman, who are determined to cash in on the Bond phenomenon. They came up with Roger Moore, who was no big deal as the Saint. So. More is a credible 007, dignified if a little stiff, competent if a bit embarrassed at the inanities placed into his mouth, and, if nothing else, active.
007 aside, I like to think that there's no qualitative or quantitative difference between one Bond movie and the next. This series defines popular art for the middle class white masses, just as "Superfly" defines that art for the black masses. What surfaces in "Live and Let Die" is little more than ostentatious Action.
By which is meant simply that this is one gutless movie. It plays its easiest hands. What is fatal to Live and Let Die is the assumption that the audience will accept it at face value; the movie demands not attention but acquiesence. There is not a spontaneous moment to be found; every act, down to each chase and tribal Caribbean voodoo ritual is choreographed. In fact, the real star is dancer Geoffrey Holder, whose grace and rich Jamaican voice lend spirit to the voodoo scenes, and authenticity elsewhere.
There is yet a more serious failure of approach. Each of the Bond series has been characterized by a certain flippancy of approach. Apparently no one ever felt the need for accuracy, or credibility. Consequently, we are expected to believe a chase sequence in which Moore merely maneuvers a cab through a meticulously placed set of cars, showroom new to boot, on an otherwise empty FDR drive. It could've been a Liberty Mutual auto insurance commercial.
HOLDER'S CHARACTER is not in the book. In fact, very little makes it from page to screen. Liberties with Fleming have always been the prerogative of the filmmaker, but those liberties have been abused with Live and Let Die. Because of its extensive use of blacks, it attempts to broaden its appeal and double its audience. But it only offends. Fleming's loving portrait of Harlem by night is gone, replaced by a leering broad daylight cab ride into Harlem, whose one joke is of course Bond's whiteness in black Harlem. There is an obligatory Harlem shot (125th and Lenox probably). But this is obviously not Harlem, because this Harlem has no people, only pimps and pimp cars. It's a set piece, all clothes and cars. The Superfly ripoff is appalling. The book prided itself on a painstaking accuracy, from Bond's particular Martini to a long, well-researched passage on Caribbean voodoo. The movie confines itself to elaborate coffee makers and magnetic watches.
The days of James Bond's multi-purpose cars are gone. He himself is reduced to a sort of easy domestic complexity, and good old Midlands ingenuity. Goldfinger succeeded precisely because it was so far-fetched. Live and Let Die forces Bond to stand on his own, and he's just not as interesting when he hasn't got a brace of devices for assistance.
MAYBE THIS LACK of spontaneity is deliberate. What I've noticed since Diamonds are Forever is a trend toward genre self parody. There is much tongue in cheekiness here. The final chase sequence, a fifteen minute combined car-boat chase through the Louisiana bayous, even manages to introduce and develop a major character, a sheriff tightly based on the Dodge Sheriff of advertisement fame.
The movie ends with a virtual sacrifice. Solitaire, ex-virgin and seer, is to be sacrificed for betraying Mr. Big. There is much preparation, much ritual: fires, effigies, wild-eyed primitives, coffins full of lethal snakes (phony) and about 1500 natives who move in sequence looking possessed. This scene is so good it is repeated, first as a precredit vignette, and once with Solitaire as the finale. Solitaire is dressed in virginal white, and is led, amidst much kicking and screaming to the place of sacrifice, where she is confronted with a poisonous snake; it will presumably bite her somewhere around her lowcut Empire style bodice. It doesn't. I think they live happily ever after.
The major problem is one of obsolescence. Bond movies can no longer rely on the Cold War for accessible plots. No more SMERSH or SPECTRE. Consequently, Live and Let Die is no more than an elaborate heroin swindle. The movie's Mr. Big turns into an ordinary villain, and a nondescript one at that. He is at no time believable.
Broccoli and Saltzman realize all this. They're running scared, because underlying everything, the staginess, the flippancy, the mechanization, is a sense of caution, the realization that Her Majesty was a failure, and, if Live and Let Die collapses, they can kiss the whole production goodbye. So Paul McCartney is imported to write a title song (which is sung for no particular reason during the movie), George Martin does music, and hopefully, the producers are covered. Nice try. Live and Let Die is a nice night's entertainment, only if you're the kind of person who drives miles for a Bond triple feature at a drive-in, or you're tired of spending money on Bergman. But it's an idea whose time has passed