MI6 trawls the archives to see how critics of the day received Roger Moore's debut as James Bond in the 1973 film "Live And Let Die"...

Time Tunnel: Review Rewind
21st February 2009

New York Times - June 28th, 1973
Torchlight, Voodoo drums. Dark bodies writhe in the mounting frenzy of some unspeakable tropical rite. Suddenly a door is flung open and framed within it stands a beautiful white girl held captive by two monstrous black men. Her filmy white gown scarcely covering the soft contours of her body, she is dragged — protesting — to a crude scaffold and there is tied fast.

As if by signal, the ranks of jeering celebrants open and there advances an executioner, laughing, stomping, hideously costumed. He holds a poisonous snake in his outstretched hands, a snake whose bite is destined for the smooth young bosom.

Whatever the quality of this little scenario, you must admit that to stick it into a movie these days takes nerve. Merely to make a new adventure movie in which all the bad guys are black and almost all the good guys are white, and which includes in its climax the (near) sacrifice of a (recent) virgin—takes nerve.

Nerve, and certain insolence toward public pieties, and a lot of canniness about just what level of sophistication its audience is up to—all of them qualities that have characterized the James Bond movies since the beginning, 10 years ago, and that abundantly characterize the latest, Guy Hamilton's "Live and Let Die."

There are now eight Bond movies, and though they are the work of many different talents (Hamilton has directed two previously: "Goldfinger" and "Diamonds Are Forever") they do represent a recognizable tradition in which the whole—or the memory of the whole — seems to be greater than the sum of the parts.

Above: One of the many special publicity shots promoting Roger Moore as the new James Bond. "Live And Let Die" was the third consecutive 007 movie that had changed the lead actor.

The plots tend to flow into each other—one scheme after another for controlling all the money in the world—changing their elements to fit changing anxieties (in "Live and Let Die" the evil is a heroin monopoly operating out of some Caribbean island kingdom with pipelines into New York City and New Orleans), but remaining the same in essence.

And always there is a woman waiting to be converted by the power of sex. In "Live and Let Die" she reads the Tarot pack to tell fortunes for the enemy. James Bond's card keeps coming up "Lovers," though she thinks she is hoping for "Death."

There are three chases (four, if you stretch a point), including one by car and motorboat that gets so complicated it allows for character development. One actor, Clifton James, who appears only during the chase, gets fourth billing in the cast list.


The names above Mr. James's do not seem so impressive. Roger Moore is a handsome, suave, somewhat phlegmatic James Bond—with a tendency to throw away his throwaway quips as the minor embarrassments that, alas, they usually are.

As Solitaire, to whom the cards speak truth only so long as she remains a virgin, Jane Seymour is beautiful enough, but too submissive even for this scale of fantasy. Yaphet Kotto (Dr. Kananga), a most agreeable actor, simply does not project evil.

However, I could list compensating virtues by the score. There is a marvelous escape from an alligator farm (deadly reptiles are rather a motif in this movie), a superb collection of grotesque ways of killing, and a fine sense of pace and rhythm. "Live and Let Die" has been especially well photographed and edited, and it makes clever and extensive use of its good title song, by Paul and Linda McCartney.

Variety - June, 1973
Live and Let Die, the eighth Cubby Broccoli-Harry Saltzman film based on Ian Fleming's James Bond, introduces Roger Moore as an okay replacement for Sean Connery.

The script reveals that plot lines have descended further to the level of the old Saturday afternoon serial.

Here Bond's assigned to ferret out mysterious goings on involving Yaphet Kotto, diplomat from a Caribbean island nation who in disguise also is a bigtime criminal. The nefarious scheme in his mind: give away tons of free heroin to create more American dopers and then he and the telephone company will be the largest monopolies.

Jane Seymour, Kotto's tarot-reading forecaster, loses her skill after turning on to Bond-age.

The comic book plot meanders through a series of hardware production numbers. These include some voodoo ceremonies; a hilarious airplane-vs-auto pursuit scene; a double-decker bus escape from motorcycles and police cars; and a climactic inland waterway powerboat chase.

Killer sharks, poisonous snakes and man-eating crocodiles also fail to deter Bond from his mission.


Time - July 9th, 1973
There is a new James Bond — Roger Moore of Sainted TV memory — and a new angle to his latest adventure. In this incarnation, 007 is the Great White Hope. He goes about beating up black men who are doing a little heroin smuggling to finance a Caribbean dictatorship and, perhaps, take over the U.S. after they've turned it into a nation of junkies with their free-sample program.


Both novelties are deplorable, and Live and Let Die is the most vulgar addition to a series that has long since outlived its brief historical moment — if not, alas, its profitability.

Moore is afflicted with coolness unto death; one half expects some plot revelation — a saliva test, perhaps — to explain that the bad guys somehow got him hooked before the picture started.

None is forthcoming, so probably what we have here is a case of belated fastidiousness: an actor trying to dissociate himself from a project turning sour all around him.

As for Bond's new character as a racist pig, there is a dubious rationale for it. Through the years he has kicked and chopped his way through most of the other races of man, so it could be argued that it is just a matter of equal rights to let blacks have their chance to play masochists to his pseudo-suave sadist. Not surprisingly, this strained justification fails to relieve the queasiness Live and Let Die induces.

Why are all the blacks either stupid brutes or primitives deep into the occult and voodooism? Why is miscegenation so often used as a turn-on? Why do such questions even arise in what is supposed to be pure entertainment?

In part, the answers lie in the fact that the so-called entertainment is never really entertaining. A couple of solid citizens, Yaphet Kotto and Geoffrey Holder, are underemployed as an island dictator cum pusher and his witchdoctor hireling while Jane Seymour, Gloria Hendry and Madeline Smith are comely enough but curiously sexless sex objects. They, like Moore, suffer a sort of weightlessness, a lack of humanness, which is what Sean Connery as 007 lent previous Bond adventures. The raunchy adolescent humor that helped audiences giggle past the ugly inhuman stuff in previous Bond films like Goldfinger and Diamonds Are Forever is rare and surprisingly inept. The vehicular chases that have proved commercially successful in other films are here rendered five times, which is four more than any movie needs. Setting aside an allright speedboat spectacular over land and water, the film is both perfunctory and predictable—leaving the mind free to wander into the question of its overall taste. Or lack of it.

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