Saturday, 6 July 2013

Live & Let Die at 40

Generally speaking, I think it follows that your favourite James Bond actor (assuming you enjoy the series) is the one you grew up with and so - as a kid of the 70s and 80s - that puts me firmly into the Roger Moore camp.  I’m pleased to be there.  I know the actor has a lot of detractors but I like the style he brings to the films, I like him as an actor and it works perfectly for me.  Having said that, I like the Daniel Craig versions too and they’re a completely different kettle of fish.

In 1978, when I was 9, my Dad took me to see a Bond double-bill at Corby cinema.  I hadn’t seen either film (though I had watched a couple of the Connery ones on TV) and was overawed by the fact they had a speedboat in the foyer.  Dad told me it was the one from the film - looking back on it, he might not have been telling me the truth.
I didn’t know what to expect, though I had a ViewMaster set of Live And Let Die and the poster promised much, but it’s safe to say that I was bowled over.  The Spy Who Loved Me was the better of the bill (I still hold that as my favourite Bond film ever - come on, the Lotus, the music, the parachute, Caroline Munro, what more you could want?) but I did enjoy the thrill of LALD.

Sean Connery was adamant, following Diamonds Are Forever, that he was done with Bond and the series (only one of those proved to be true).  The producers - Albert “Cubby” Broccoli and Harry Saltzman - approached and tested a raft of actors - Clint Eastwood, John Gavin, Jeremy Brett (who later became Sherlock Holmes on ITV) and Burt Reynolds amongst others - but Broccoli felt the role should be played by an Englishman.  Roger Moore, who’d been in the frame before (some say for “Dr No” though the actor denies it), was available after The Persuaders didn’t pick up for a second series and he was signed up - on condition he cut his hair and lost some weight.

With a new Bond - and all the publicity that ensured - the rest of the cast fell into place (Jane Seymour as the virginal psychic Solitaire, Yaphet Kotto as both Mr Big and Dr Kananga, Julius Harris as Tee-Hee (he had a metal claw for a hand, the 9-year-old me loved that) and David Hedison as another incarnation of Felix Leiter).  Madeline Smith, who makes a cameo appearance as a KGB agent Bond is dallying with, was recommended for the role by Moore, who’d acted with her on TV.  Whilst both M and Miss Moneypenny appear - in Bond’s flat, at the start - Q is nowhere to be seen.

The Bond films were changing too, moving into the 70s and trying to keep up with pop culture.  A decision was made by the producers - both in their choice of actor and the direction they steered the screenplay - to make things a little lighter, with more of a hint of Bond being a playboy.  Tom Mankiewicz deliberately moulded the screenplay around Moore's persona by giving him more comedy scenes and a light-hearted approach to Bond.

Filming began in October 1972 in Louisiana, where it took in Kananga’s crocodile farm (the producers took his name for the villain, having spotted his sign ‘Trespassers will be eaten’ on their location scout) and the boat chase (where Roger Moore managed to crash and injure himself on his first day of work), before moving to Jamaica (doubling for San Monique) in November.  In December, one unit worked on interiors at Pinewood Studios whilst the other took care of location shooting in Harlem, New York.  The bus chase was filmed in Jamaica and whilst Moore did some of the driving himself, the stunts were performed by a London Transport bus driving instructor called Maurice Patchett.

The film was released in the USA on 27 June 1973 with its world premiere held at the Odeon Leicester Square in London on 6 July 1973.  On a $7m budget, the film grossed $161.8m worldwide, securing the continuation of the series and cementing Roger Moore as one of the biggest actors of the day.

For me, there’s a lot to like about the film - Roger Moore, the speedboat chase, the bus sequence, Mr Big, Tee-Hee (a great character, portrayed by a classy actor), the crocodiles and the stuntwork, New York in the early 70s and the cracking theme song by Wings - but quite a lot that seems terribly dated now - such as the Blaxploitation clich├ęs and race issues (which are dealt with in this blog post that discusses the issue in a much smarter way than I ever could).  But all that aside, this is a great Bond film with a pace that never slackens.

“It began on Sunday, 8 October 1972, when, as the new James Bond, I left England in a blaze of publicity for the first location in New Orleans.”

To tie in with the release of the film, Pan published “Roger Moore as James Bond: Roger Moore's Own Account of Filming Live and Let Die” in 1973, which was based on his diaries of the time.  It’s a great read and very amusing, with fascinating insights into the behind-the-scenes process and Roger’s life at the time.  The book opens with an acknowledgment to Sean Connery, one of Moore’s close friends: “I would also like to thank Sean Connery – with whom it would not have been possible.”

Written in a warm and witty style that’s full of Moore’s self-deprecating humour, he often punctures the glamour of the film business whilst never giving the impression that he takes his job for granted.  From playing tricks on Yaphet Kotto to the ‘glamour ‘of removing Madeline Smith’s dress (“It may seem like money for jam pressed close to the beautiful Madeline Smith and taking her clothes off into the bargain, but on the twentieth take your arm is aching, you've got cramp in your left foot and your right knee is going to sleep. When I got home the children asked me what I did today and I wasn't quite sure what to tell them.”) and attempting to make the role his own (“I confessed to Guy that in reading the script I could only ever hear Sean's voice saying; ‘My name is Bond’.  In fact, as I vocalized to myself I found I was giving it a Scottish accent!”).

So here's to you, Live And Let Die, on your fortieth birthday!

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