This week for Does It Look Like It’s Our First Time? I take a look at one of the most cringe-worthy entries in the entire series, Live and Let Die.
But first let me insert a trigger warning. There is some talk of sexual assault that serves as part of the plot. Please, proceed with caution.
You ever see a movie that just makes you uncomfortable? Not uncomfortable in the way a particularly gory scene in a horror movie might; or uncomfortable in the way watching a sex scene with your grandma might. But uncomfortable in way that just leaves your very soul cringing. I had never experienced this particular feeling until I sat down to watch this week’s movie, Live and Let Die.
One thing I try and keep in mind when watching and reviewing these films is the context and time in which they were made. In this case, 1973 when Blaxploitation was at its height. Movies such as Shaft and Sweet Sweetback’s Badasssss Song that had been released a few years earlier helped establish the themes that typically are central to Blaxploitation, most notably crime and the enforcement of negative African American stereotypes. This is would be all well and good if it weren’t for one small detail: almost every black character in this film is either a criminal or ends up dead. Every single one. Not only that, the film leans so hard into negative stereotypes of African Americans, that any good will it gains from featuring a cast that was at least 50% black is done away with within the first half hour of the film. I can only assume that every black actor on set had to say “it’s a paycheck” multiple times a day. Even the one black character in the film who doesn’t fall into either of the previously mentioned categories simply exists to serve Bond.
The plot mainly revolves around James Bond (this time played by Roger Moore) trying to disrupt a Harlem drug dealer known as Mr. Big from secretly getting the population hooked on heroin by distributing it through his “Fillet of Soul” restaurants for free and then becoming rich off the following addiction. There’s also a plot with Mr. Big (whose real name is Kananga) using the Occult and a Voodoo priest known as Baron Samedi to keep the local San Monique people from messing with Kananga’s poppy fields.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Bond movie without a terrible subplot involving the mistreatment of a woman at the hands of our “hero”. Kananga employs a beautiful tarot card reader named Solitaire (played by Jane Seymour) to predict future and even see current events. However, because Bond is well, apparently unable to control his libido he tries numerous times to sleep with Solitaire, eventually succeeding. Now aside from the massive racist stereotypes in this movie one of the most egregious and sickening things is the way Bond “seduces” Solitaire and is what made me cringe the most and feel rather slimy for even watching it. After finding her location, Bond has Solitaire pick a card from the Tarot deck he’s using. It is revealed that she drew the “Two Lovers” card and this convinces her to sleep with him. We see Bond drop the deck and are shown a deck made up entirely of copies of that one card, the very definition of rape by deception. What makes this even worse is Bond’s lack of interest and caring when Solitaire later expresses regret due to the fact that because she has now lost her virginity she has also lost her ability to read the cards, brushing it off as hysterics before saying that they need to leave. To me this is absolutely disgusting and brings the entire film down.
As for Roger Moore as Bond he is incredibly bland. Connery and even Lazenby at least made you think they could back up what they were talking about. Moore just tries to be a smart ass without the ability to walk the walk, in addition to talking the talk. While the Bond films ask for a certain suspension of disbelief, it’s hard to believe that Moore who was 45 during this film, could do half the stuff that his predecessors had done. His performance has me wishing and looking forward to the even more outlandish Dalton and to a greater extent Brosnan films that are to come.
I’ll give the Bond series credit for being willing to get away from the typical spy movie formula and trying to move into another genre. After all, with a new actor playing Bond it seems like the perfect time to switch things up. Too bad they chose a film genre that does not lend itself well to the Bond universe. I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the great theme song, our first real “rock” song written for the movie. As a massive Beatles fan, hearing Paul McCartney sing the intro for an entry in one of the most well-known and beloved film series of all time is a special treat. Apparently, the critics agreed as it was nominated for Best Original Song at the Oscars (not the last time a Bond song would be nominated), though it ultimately lost out to The Way We Were.
While a lot of people seem to enjoy this one I find it difficult to get past some of the issues with it, mainly race and Bond’s treatment of Solitaire. As I said at the beginning of this review I try to keep in mind the context of when it was made, but sometimes even that doesn’t excuse the choices made by the writers, actors, and director.