Live and Let Die Retro Review: Well, Hello, Jim - Comic Years
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Live and Let Die Retro Review: Well, Hello, Jim

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BY March 28, 2021

After a brief absence, I am back with our James Bond Retro Reviews. If you haven’t been here before, then you should start with our Dr. No Retro Review. And you should also know what this is. It’s exactly what it sounds like, though. We do reviews of stuff we didn’t catch the first time, because of various inconveniences, like not being alive. I’m currently watching my way through all of the James Bond series. At first, I didn’t know much about ol’ 007 besides the stuff that everyone knows. And now I have Strong Opinions™ on the Bond franchise. So here are some more of them in my Live and Let Die Retro Review.

Farewell to Sean Connery, But For Real This Time

As you probably already know, Sean Connery passed away last Halloween. These movies are basically my only exposure to his work, outside of that one Indiana Jones movie. Still, he made an unforgettable impression. So much so, that I was nervous about watching other James Bonds. I already had a bad time with the first one, so we’ll have to see how it goes this time with Roger Moore.

live and let die retro review image via Eon Productions and United Artists

This movie is also particularly poignant because Yaphet Kotto, who plays Mr. Big, the villain in this movie, also passed away recently. And like Connery, Kotto left behind a strong body of work, including the TV series Homicide: Life on the Street, as well as the films The Thomas Crown Affair, Alien, and Midnight Run.

They will both be missed.

You Used to Say Live and Let Live: What’s Bond Up To This Time?

For Roger Moore’s first outing, Bond has an assignment that’s a little meatier than, “I dunno, check out some smuggling or something.” To that end, there are three dead MI6 agents in three different cities. However, since the agents were looking into Caribbean dictator Dr. Kananga, who is in New York City–one of the cities–Bond goes there first.

live and let die retro review image via Eon Productions and United Artists

His investigation takes him to Harlem (oh, Lord), where he meets Mr. Big (Yaphet Kotto), a powerful crime boss, who relies on a tarot card reader, Solitaire (Jane Seymour), to help him make decisions. Bond can’t figure out what the connection is between Big and Kananga, so he goes to San Monique, the island country Kananga rules. There he meets CIA agent Rosie Carver (Gloria Hendry) and meets up with friend Quarrel, Jr. (Roy Stewart)–his dad appeared in Dr. No.

But that isn’t all Bond finds in San Monique. He also unravels a plan that involves voodoo, poppies, and domination of the global drug trade. I know, I know. These seem like serious topics for our gentleman spy. I’m sure he’ll handle everything with the utmost of sensitivity.

This Ever Changing World In Which We’re Living: Bond Movie Stuff in Live and Let Die

This would not be a Retro Review, of Live and Let Die or any of them, if I didn’t talk about the little details that are particular to Bond films. For example, there are his wonderful toys. Unfortunately, though, this movie doesn’t really have any fun Q gadgets. Well, Bond has a magnetic watch, which he uses to *checks notes* unzip a lady’s dress and kind of move a boat. Anyway, Desmond Llewelyn said in an interview that producer Harry Saltzman “was getting fed up with the gadgets,” so that’s why there’s no Q here. Hmm, sounds like rubbish to me. Let’s move on!

Specifically, let’s move on to the soundtrack. George Martin, most known for his production work with the Beatles, scored the movie. Opinions may vary, but for my money–a mile-long roll of Showbiz Pizza skee-ball tickets–it’s one of the best scores I’ve heard so far. It manages to keep the same vibes as the usual James Bond music, but adds a more modern flair that’s in keeping with the more contemporary plotline. But still, the wordless score isn’t the only music in the film.

Live and Let Die‘s title song, which Paul McCartney and Wings perform, is obviously a classic. There have been cool title songs before, of course, but this is the first Bond song that is a verified banger. And boy, do they know it. A variation of it plays in what feels like every single scene. B.J. Arnau even does a cool soul version of it as a performer in one of Mr. Big’s clubs.

Live and Let Die Retro Review

I know this film garnered mixed reviews from critics, but I think I’m a bit more on the positive side than the negative. Despite my uncertainty, I ended up liking the Roger Moore Bond more than I might have expected. Or at least, certainly more than I would have expected after seeing On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

Beyond Moore’s debut, though, there really isn’t much there there. The plot, for instance, is fairly straightforward, if just a variation on one we’ve seen a few times now. Sing it with me if you know the words: a villain looks like he’s doing one thing, but it’s all a cover for his much bigger plan to destabilize a global market. As for that bigger plan, I know some critics thought the heroin subplot was out of place in a Bond film, but I like the realism. As much fun as space lasers are, I’m not sure that the Bond franchise could have existed as long as it has if they’d solely relied on those fanciful plots. After all, the world changes a little more every day, baby.

live and let die retro review image via Eon Productions and United Artists

And speaking of that, with any Bond movie that sees him interacting with literally anyone outside…let’s say Europe, I was apprehensive. After all, as I’ve mentioned before (and surely will again), Bond was not born from the most culturally sensitive source material. However, this movie, at least, was a pleasant surprise. Yes, some of the dialogue sounds like they plucked it straight out of any given Blaxploitation film. Still, until his godawful death, Mr. Big is a compelling character. (Kotto’s performance, of course, has a lot to do with that.) He’s also surrounded by a coterie of interesting folks as well, which is more than I can say for some past Bond villains.

James Bond Problematic Corner

On the other hand, I do have some qualms with all of this. Mostly in the form of questions, like did Rosie have to be such a ding-dong? Am I really to believe that Solitaire’s psychic power was only in her *five-second-long throat-clearing noise*? And also, Jim, did you really have to kill a gatie? Rude.

Overall, though, this is a perfectly serviceable James Bond film. It’s not my favorite, but it’s not the worst that I’ve seen, either. It’s a decent introduction to Roger Moore as James Bond, as well as a strong hint that Jim is moving ever further into a world closer to ours.

But that’s just what I think. In the comments or on our social media, tell me your thoughts on this Live and Let Die Retro Review, the movie as a whole, or other Bond-related notions.

featured image via Eon Productions and United Artists

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Salomé Gonstad is a freelance writer who grew up in the swampy wilds of south Alabama. When she's not yelling about pop culture on the internet, she's working on a supernatural thriller about her hometown. Also, we're pretty sure she's a werewolf. Email her at salome@comicyears.com.

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