Saturday, 9 June 2012

Live and Let Roger Moore

1973. Bond finally turns his back on Scotland and Sean Connery and says 'hello' to Roger Moore.
Keep it down Roger
The signs are good, despite a lack of Q. Moore is English and thanks to Simon Templar and The Persuaders, reasonably popular. From these roles it's clear Moore will bring a fresh approach to the Bond series. Moore is so very English and this juxtaposes strangely with Live And Let Die.  How would it have looked if Clint Eastwood had have taken the job?

Bond is going very 'pop culture' with this instalment and, although it's happened with every film, it's a bit jarring.

Live And Let Die is Richard Roundtree away from being a full blown blaxploitation picture with Moore sticking out like a stiff upper lip.  Having said that, Moore's debut is also his best effort as Bond.  Bond began to take a worrying change of direction in Diamonds Are Forever and Live And Let Die sees this change accelerate. It was lighthearted, played for laughs, tongue in cheek. A million miles from the splendour of From Russia With Love. Was this change a result of Moore's casting or was Moore cast to fit in with the new aesthetic?  It's not fair to say Live And Let Die was just a big screen version of The Saint but that's how Moore plays it. We're dangerously close to a Bond film that will simply be all fast cars and fast women with a choreographed punch up at the end before the villain is carted off to prison.

The book of Live And Let Die tells the story of Bond's pursuit of Mr Big who has been smuggling retrieved Caribbean treasure to sell on the black market to fund his Moscow paymasters. The story of Bond hunting doubloons in New York is a little dated so now we have Mr Big as a heroin dealer. Drug dealing. Not exactly espionage but Bond is drafted due to the demise of several Brits previously involved with Mr Big.  Most of the book ends up in License to Kill but some elements remain. The main element from the book retained by the film is voodoo. Live And Let Die drowns in it's lighthearted play with voodoo as Mr Big's mystique is stripped away and turned into hokum.  This is particularly apparent when Bond manipulates Tarot cards to get Solitaire into bed.  Mr Big is essentially using voodoo superstition to protect his poppy plantations. Plantations which provide two tons of heroin for him to give out free. This 'junkie welfare' will create many more addicts, drive the (hinted at Mafia) out of business and leave Mr Big peerless. It's not a satellite armed with lasers or stolen nuclear missiles but it sounds like an effective plan.

Bond shuttles around Harlem and the Caribbean before ending up in Louisiana, trapped on an crocodile farm. Bond has gone from the cigar chomping fop of earlier hang gliding scenes to a resourceful and adaptable hero in the space of one scene. The crocodiles snap closer to Bond before he makes his escape in the best stunt of the film. The best because it is understated and the result of a tense build up.

Unfortunately, all this hard work is undone moments later in a waterborne chase. Sheriff J W Pepper is ingrained into your soul during the speedboat scenes which seem to last forever. Pepper is drafted in for comic relief. The trouble is that we don't need relieving.

The never ending boat chase brings us toward the film's conclusion; Mr Big's final burst towards Bond and the rescue of Solitaire. But we're not quite over. There's still just enough time to recall From Russia With Love in a train sequence which ties up all the loose ends.

This is Moore's best Bond as it's not too silly. There is an up in the count of one liners and the eyebrow is just under control but despite this Moore can still put a little steel into his Bond. His treatment of Rosie is up there with Connery's Bond at it's misogynist worst.  The trouble is Moore peaks too soon. This isn't the first time we'll see this happen but it's no less disappointing.

Live And Let Die was nominated for an Oscar. Before you get too excited, it was for McCartney's title song.  He's been dining out on that song for years now.

McCartney, at every bloody gig, EVER.

James Bond (and Q) will return, but then, so will J W Pepper.  Politicians speak of the economic collapse causing a lost decade. Bond is on the brink of his own lost decade.