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With Connery having earned enough from “Diamonds are forever” to keep him in kilts for the rest of his life, the search was on yet again for an actor to embody the super spy. The role this time eventually went to Roger Moore, most famous for playing Simon Templar in ITC’s “The Saint” and more recently for appearing alongside Tony Curtis in “The Persuaders”. Moore’s Bond was instantly more light hearted than Connery’s interpretation with the famous quizzical raised eyebrow becoming a hallmark of the character throughout the 1970s.
With a theme song by Paul McCartney, “Live and Let Die” saw Moore off to a great start. The tone of the Bond movies had by now settled into a lighter, more humorous and “way out” sensibility, and Moore’s personification of the spy fitted that beautifully. With a plot revolving around Bond’s mission to smash a drug smuggling ring, the action took him to the Caribbean in pursuit of dictator Kananga who wants to control the heroin market in his territory and eventually the world.
Guy Hamilton again directed the film and chose the setting of New Orleans for the first third of the movie, before moving the production to locations in Harlem, Louisiana and Jamaica, making it one of the better travelled Bond films. Cashing in on the then trendy “Blaxploitation” genre, Hamilton cast a number of black actors in leading parts, though resisted the suggestion that Solitaire, Bond’s main squeeze in the film should be anything other than Caucasian.
Yaphet Kotto is superb as Kananga, casual, powerful and seemingly unthreatened by Bond. The stunning Jane Seymour won the role of Solitaire a tarot card reader who looses her foretelling skills when Bond seduces her and becomes his ally in defeating Kananga. Kananga’s henchman, Tee Hee Johnson was played by Julius Harris, continuing the fine Bond tradition of having a distinguishing feature, in this case a prosthetic arm ending in a dangerous pincer and David Hedison took over the role of Felix, the man with the most faces in cinema history. This film is also notable for the first appearance of Sheriff J.W. Pepper a gruff, hard bitten local policeman who becomes embroiled in Bond’s adventures and rapidly and hilariously realises that he is way out of his depth. An out and out comedy character, Pepper was so popular that he would return in “The Man With The Golden Gun.”
Roger Moore famously did part of the scene where Bond makes his escape by running across the backs of several crocodiles himself and nearly lost a foot to one of the ferocious reptiles in the process. Unusually for a Bond film, one of the principal bad guys, Baron Samedi, another associate of Kananga who is a powerful and feared voodoo practitioner is seen in the final shot of the film, having escape the usual fate of Bond’s adversaries. The initial reception from critics when the film was released in 1973 was less than glowing with Moore attracting a great deal of criticism for his more laid back approach to the part but still managed to gross $126 million.