BOND 50 LIVE AND LET DIE

2012 marks the 50th anniversary of James Bond on the big screen. To celebrate, SFX’s Nick Setchfield revisits each and every 007 adventure in a week by week countdown to Skyfall

MISSION 8: LIVE AND LET DIE (1973)

WE’VE BEEN EXPECTING YOU, MR MOORE Roger Moore was always the heir apparent to James Bond. The wryly dashing Englishman had been on Broccoli and Saltzman’s original shortlist for Dr No and even played a surprisingly brawly 007 in a sketch for Millicent Martin’s 1964 comedy show Mainly Millicent. Winning small screen stardom as The Saint – a twinkly, charm-loaded turn popularly perceived as an extended screentest for Bond – Moore had been in the frame as recently as the late ‘60s, when the producers had approached him for an abortive version of The Man With The Golden Gun, set to be shot in Cambodia before civil war made filming in the region an impossibility. Tellingly, he had been Sean Connery’s plus one for the premiere of Diamonds Are Forever, a choice that felt heavy with pop-cultural portent even then. Connery’s latest exodus was a potentially fatal wound in the heart of the franchise; Broccoli liked to disarm the egos of his leading men by reminding them that there had been an infinite parade of celluloid Tarzans, but George Lazenby’s underwhelming box office proved that Bond was different. It needed to be a perfect fusion of part and performance, icon and star. The studio, for its part, favoured issuing the coveted licence to kill to an American. Paul Newman and Robert Redford were considered while Clint Eastwood chose to put himself out of the race: “To me, that was somebody else’s gig,” he recalled. “That’s Sean’s deal. It didn’t feel right for me to be doing it.”

In the end it came down to a simple choice between Roger Moore and rising star Burt Reynolds, whose breakout performance in 1972’s Deliverance channelled a rugged, jungle-chested machismo that looked set to enshrine him as a genuine ‘70s action star. Director Guy Hamilton insisted that Reynolds possessed all the right elements for Bond – “I must say the best people at the time were voting for Reynolds,” screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz later revealed – but Broccoli vetoed him on the grounds that Bond must always be British (ironic, given that he had originally signed American John Gavin for Diamonds Are Forever). Roger Moore found himself haunted by Connery’s voice on the totemic line “My name’s Bond, James Bond…” but, a brief bout of nerves before his first press conference aside, he embraced the chance to make Fleming’s hero his own. “I didn’t have any reservations – four or five thousand actors have played Hamlet!” Intriguingly, Paul McCartney’s title song tells us to “give the other fella hell” – could this be the same “other fella” on George Lazenby’s mind in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service?

 

SHEER MAGNETISM While Lazenby had been surrounded by the symbols and rituals of his predecessor – a move that only invited unflattering comparisons – Moore’s blue-eyed incarnation of the superspy is introduced in a far craftier way. Withheld from the pre-titles sequence, we finally find him in the creamily innocent arms of Madeline Smith, in his own bed, in Bond’s ferociously ‘70s bachelor pad (the camera lingers on him using a coffee maker in frankly pornographic detail). It’s here that the movie wittily flips the traditional mission briefing scene, with M and Moneypenny encountering 007 on home turf, far from the familiar mahogany and leather of the spymaster’s Whitehall office – and, thankfully, far from the ghosts of the Connery films. Edging on classic bedroom farce, complete with a girl in a wardrobe, it’s a scene that plays to Moore’s brilliance for light comedy, his eternal hint of a wink. “Sheer magnetism, darling,” he purrs, saucily unzipping Madeline’s dress with his latest Q-branch timepiece. Later he’ll show us – and us alone – the rigged tarot deck that he uses to seduce Solitaire. Moore’s almost conspiratorial with the audience, colluding with them in a smirky, knowing pact that softens the edges of Bond. It’s a very different approach to Connery, who frequently suggested a snarling disdain for his signature one-liners. But Moore has a surprising toughness in his debut adventure. He threatens the life of Rosie Carver in a post-coital moment (“I certainly wouldn’t have killed you before…”) and by claiming Solitaire’s virginity he steals away her psychic gift, an act of unparalleled bastardry beyond even Connery’s Bond.

 

GHETTO FABULOUS Live And Let Die is the first Bond flick to chase and not define the big screen zeitgeist. It’s a trend that would define the franchise over the next decade, from the nod to Jaws in The Spy Who Loved Me to the shameless Skywalking of Moonraker. This is the age of Shaft, Superfly and Foxy Brown – trailblazers of the Blaxploitation fad that targeted a contemporary ethnic audience with hip, ghetto-set adventures. Screenwriter Mankiewicz wanted to acknowledge the black revolution underway in America and threw out Fleming’s original tale of a quest for pirate treasure – along with some wince-worthy racial stereotypes – in favour of a contemporary, street level plot involving heroin smuggling. Immaculate in dapper coat, striped tie and leather gloves, Moore cuts a splendidly improbable figure in ‘70s Harlem, stepping from Savile Row across 110th St, the urbane colliding with the urban. The rusting, graffiti-scrawled back-alleys, screamy pimp fashions and shopfronts filled with the leer of ritual skulls feel as exotic as anything we’ve ever glimpsed in a Bond film.

 

VOODOO CHARM There’s always been a distinct strain of sci-fi in Bond’s big screen DNA, but Live And Let Die is the closest the franchise creeps towards horror. From the burning voodoo imagery of the opening titles to the whispering, scarecrow-haunted isle of San Monique, it’s a film that carries a delicious occult shiver, quite at odds with Bond’s usual tech-fetishising, ever so rational universe. The pre-titles sequence riffs on smoky old Universal zombie movies, complete with goat-headed snake wrangler and Caribbean islanders losing themselves in the supernatural abandon of a ceremonial sacrifice. Elsewhere a hat with a totemically bloodied feather is left on a bed, utterly spooking a trained CIA operative (most hotels just leave chocolates on the pillow…). At the heart of it all is the towering, taunting Baron Samedi, the single weirdest figure in Bond history. Introduced as “Voodoo god of cemeteries and chief of the legion of the dead – the man who cannot die”, Samedi’s booming laugh possesses a genuinely demonic sense of mischief. Is he flesh and blood or something more? The movie clearly suggests the latter. As he rises from a grave Bond pragmatically places a bullet in his head. Samedi’s eyes turn towards his own smouldering skull before Bond blasts the figure apart. Whatever it was, it wasn’t human. Moments later another Samedi rises… As played by Trinidadian dancer and choreographer Geoffrey Holder, the Baron is a memorable, eternally unsettling presence, hi-jacking the final shot of the film as he rides a train into the end credits, laughing, ever laughing, at the certainties of Bond’s world.

WELCOME TO PEPPERLAND While Diamonds Are Forever brought a broader, blacker sense of humour to the Bonds, the arrival of blustering redneck sheriff J W Pepper may be the precise moment the franchise remodels itself as a series of crowdpleasing comedy spectacles. In truth the tub-bellied Louisiana lawman is a great comic turn by Clifton James, a New Yorker and a graduate of Lee Strasberg’s prestigious Actor’s Studio. Spitting huge wads of tobacco-stained phlegm, tongue protruding like a sun-bothered bulldog, sweat-drenched face forever dabbed by a hanky, Pepper is every redneck inch the anti-Bond – and a perfect foil for Roger Moore. Inspiring Jackie Gleason’s Sheriff Buford T Justice in 1977’s Smokey And The Bandit – starring nearly-Bond Burt Reynolds – he points the way to a whole genre of raucous, stunt-crammed, Southern-fried fare that would find great success in the late ‘70s, from Every Which Way But Loose to The Dukes Of Hazzard.

TRESPASSERS WILL BE EATEN It’s the most gloriously pulpy moment in the Bonds to date. Marooned on a rock at Kananga’s heroin farm, 007 watches as the snouts of crocodiles surface from the rust-coloured water, their dark eyes fixing upon him with unmistakably hungry intent. For once his Q-issued gizmology is useless. Stealthily, a croc clambers onto the rock, followed by another, then another… How will he get out of this one, kids? Producer Harry Saltzman suggested a helicopter rescue, dismissed by screenwriter Mankiewicz as “too easy” – though he had no idea how to resolve the cliffhanger he’d written himself into. “Why the hell doesn’t he jump over their backs?” suggested Ross Kananga, owner of the true life gator farm that supplied the location and the man who loaned his name to the movie’s villain. On New Year’s Eve 1972 Kananga actually attempted the insanely dangerous stunt himself, taking five heart-stopping attempts to leap across the backs of the snapping, increasingly agitated predators. The audacious final sequence is pure Bond joy.

TRIV AND LET DIE

Tom Mankiewicz’s original choice for Solitaire was Diana Ross.

 

We nearly had a new M as well as a new Bond – Kenneth More was poised to replace a poorly Bernard Lee in the role.

The screenplay tells us that Tee Hee’s arm was taken by a crocodile named Old Albert – a sly nod to franchise master Albert R Broccoli.

Moore chose to wear crocodile shoes in the scene where he’s surrounded by the crocs. He soon regretted this.

Clifton James wore stomach padding for his role as gutbucket sheriff J W Pepper.

 

The script takes pains to avoid direct comparisons with the Connery years. Bond orders a “Bourbon, no ice,” rather than his familiar vodka martini.

The crew fretted that there was a real voodoo curse on the production – Roger Moore was incapacitated by kidney stones while a showpiece boat chase in the bayou saw stunts go wrong.

Moore wrote an account of his time filming the movie. Roger Moore As James Bond 007 was published by Pan Books in 1973 to tie in with the film’s release. It’s well worth tracking down.

 

The filmmakers considered bringing original Bond girl Ursula Andress back as Honey Ryder to help ease the transition to the new 007.

JAMES BOND WILL RETURN IN THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN