A Look Back: Live and Let Die with Robert Baum

maxresdefaultFollowing Sean Connery’s return to British intelligence in Diamonds Are Forever (1971), Roger Moore is the new Bond, James Bond in Live and Let Die. Note to trivia buffs: this is film number eight based on Ian Fleming’s second Bond novel and Moore is the third James Bond–following Connery, George Lazenby, and Connery again.

The man who once essayed the title role in the tv series based on Leslie Charteris’ The Saint books imbues agent 007 with a lighter touch than Connery. Moore brings a charm to the role and shows more ease in his first Bond outing than Lazenby displayed in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969).

When Moore is first seen (following the pre-credit sequence), he is at home in the company of a gorgeous woman. The tryst is interrupted by the early morning arrival of Bond’s boss M (Bernard Lee) and his secretary Miss Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell). They send 007 on his way to New York for his mission. One which will involve voodoo, heroin, and a lovely fortune teller named Solitaire (Jane Seymour).

It has been noted that the producers were hoping Connery would return to the series–and not for his 1971 mission. One can only imagine how certain moments of the film might have turned out had that happened. Like a sequence in Harlem when Bond enters a restaurant which serves as a front for his adversary’s illicit operations. And everyone in the place is black. An approach which an undercover operative calls a “clever disguise.”

“Voyage to the bottom of the Sea” regular David Hedison becomes the fifth actor to play 007’s longtime ally CIA agent Felix Leiter. His rendering of the role is a far cry from the most recent Leiter (Norman Burton in Diamonds Are Forever, who seemed more like light comic relief) and makes for probably the best Leiter since Jack Lord played the agent in the first Bond adventure Dr. No (1962).

Yaphet Kotto makes for an OK villain but his claw-handed henchman Tee Hee (Julius Harris) makes for a delightful scene-stealer. Clifton James is amusing as a redneck sheriff though he comes off as being too much of a buffoon. Former Beatle Paul McCartney’s title tune certainly makes for the liveliest Bond theme song ever. Seymour is quite a stunning presence despite the fact that her accent makes her sound like a fairy tale princess. However, she does establish herself in a pantheon of such Bond beauties as Ursula Andress, Honor Blackman, Claudine Auger, and Diana Rigg.

While the film is a bit chatty, director Guy Hamilton–who also helmed 1964s Goldfinger and Diamonds Are Forever–keeps the narrative going at a slightly brisk pace. But hey, this is a new Bond; Hamilton is breaking Moore in, presumably saving the heavy stunt extravaganzas (though there is a jaw-dropping boat chase which includes a moment which made the Guiness Book of World Records) for later entries in the series–hopefully. Moore relies primarily on being witty and charming to get himself out of trouble than the fisticuffs frequently employed by Connery (when there was no available gadget or PPK around to do so). to extricate himself from sticky situations.

A Look Back: The Spy Who Loved Me with Robert Baum

v1Following a near three-year absence from the screen, James Bond returns to cinematic service for the Queen. The Spy Who Loved Me firmly establishes Roger Moore as the suave operative and pits him against a malevolent marine magnate (Curt Jurgens) with designs on destroying the world. This entry marks a first in the series as producer Albert R. Broccoli has parted ways with partner Harry Saltzman. Which accounts for the approach to Bond who, in Moore’s first two efforts seemed more like Michael Caine in Get Carter (1971)–which Saltzman produced. Caine’s Jack Carter was influenced by Sean Connery’s 007. Here Moore gets to show his knack for humor while on his new mission.

Two submarines–one British, one Russian–somehow disappear. MI6 recalls Bond from Austria to search for their country’s vessel. Shortly thereafter, the KGB contacts one of their own (Barbara Bach) to get their boat back to the USSR. They both wind up meeting, unexpectedly, in Cairo. As both the UK and the USSR are each a craft short, an Anglo/ Soviet partnership is formed by 007 and Major Anya Amasova (Bach) and their respective superiors: M (Bernard Lee) and General Gogol (Walter Gotell, who previously appeared in the second Bond film–albeit in a different role–From Russia with Love). They head to Italy by train to investigate the operations of Karl Stromberg (Jurgens) but the mission is nearly derailed due to the unwelcome visit by an assassin in Stromberg’s employ: a steel-toothed giant named Jaws (Richard Kiel, last seen making travel tough for Gene Wilder in Silver Streak).

Later the pair are received by Stromberg aboard his impressive aquatic citadel and later utilize the latest marvel created by Q (Desmond Llewelyn): a Lotus capable of traveling the roads and underwater. The car also sports an array of options which Bond employs to escape pursuit by Jaws, Stromberg’s pilot (alluring Brit genre actress Caroline Munro), along with a few unnamed henchmen. Then comes a bit of news which threatens to put a chill on the relationship between Bond and Amasova both personally and professionally.

Lewis Gilbert, director of Connery’s next-to-last Bond appearance You Only Live Twice (1967), returns with a recycling of that film. The screenplay exchanges the hijacked rockets for shanghaied submarines and a secret base inside a volcano for an underwater one. Jurgens makes for an uncharismatic nemesis for Moore. He almost seems to be like an adversary which David Hedison and Richard Basehart might have encountered on the old series “Voyage to the bottom of the Sea.”

Marvin Hamlisch, substituting for usual 007 composer John Barry, crafts a score which lacks the excitement of prior Bond film scores. “The James Bond Theme” sounds rather dull and unimpressive when heard in the pre-credit sequence. Such an amazing feat performed by Rick Sylvester certainly deserves better. It’s really a shame that Barry didn’t compose a work to complement the efforts of John Glen’s second unit work. The score and Jurgens are about the only flaws in an otherwise solid adventure that should hopefully get the series back on its feet. Hopefully the next installment–the end credits note the upcoming one will be For Your Eyes Only–will be here sooner than the nearly three year gap between Guy Hamilton’s lackluster The Man with the Golden Gun and Gilbert’s The Spy Who Loved Me.

Roger Moore’s humor helps him put his own stamp on Bond’s passport to adventure. After starting up with Hamilton putting him through his paces on his first two cinematic missions for British Intelligence (Live and Let Die, The Man with the Golden Gun), Moore and Gilbert click and the third time is the charm for the actor’s presence to completely differentiate his 007 from Connery’s hard-edged approach.