After Sean Connery’s refusal to come back to the role of James Bond, it was time for producers Harry Saltzman and Albert R. Broccoli to try out an actor who had already been approached even before Sean Connery was cast for Dr No; Roger Moore.
An old friend
Roger Moore was an old acquaintance of Harry Saltzman and Albert R. Broccoli’s. He’d been on the run up to play the part of Bond back in 1961 when the producers were casting for the role, and was again approached by them when Sean Connery expressed his desire to abandon the role after You Only Live Twice (1967). The first time around, Moore had to pass up on it, because he was working on The Saint tv show, which run from 1962 to 1969. The second time around he was asked to come back, and the idea was to shoot Ian Fleming’s last 007 novel; The Man with the Golden Gun in Cambodia. That idea had to be scrapped because of the Civil War in the region, and by the time the producers were ready to tackle another proyect, Moore was already engaged in another TV show; The Persuaders (1971-1972). Moore had stayed in contact with both producers over the years, however, as they use to go gamble and socialize in the same casino, and when the time came to cast another actor for the role; Moore was asked once again to come back.
A controversial book
Tom Mankiewicz, who had worked with Richard Maibaum in Diamonds are Forever; was asked to pen the script, and was given the choice of picking which one of the remaining Ian Fleming novels he wanted to adapt next. He immediately jumped at the idea of adapting Live and Live Die. Fleming’s second 007 book was a controversial one. The main villain and henchmen were black, and the way they were portrayed and spoke in the book was the subject of heavy editing when it came to publishing the novel in the US. Nevertheless, the idea of Bond going after an Afroamerican baddie fascinated Mankiewicz, as he thought that the characters and the story would give the film an edge that would differentiate it from any other Bond movie before it. It was also the perfect opportunity to go in a different direction, as there was a different actor coming into the role. Guy Hamilton was once again on the director’s chair and, as he’d always been someone to experiment and try, and come up with unusual and original ideas to try and surprise his audience, he was all in on it.
Assembling the cast
Apart from the recurring cast members like Bernard Lee, Desmond Llewellyn and Lois Maxwell, a very interesting number of actors were cast for this movie, some of whom; like David Hedison as CIA agent Felix Leiter, and Clifton James as Sheriff J.W. Pepper, would even reprise their roles in subsequent movies. For the part of the main baddie Mr Big/ Dr Kananga, the producers went with a very interesting choice. Yaphet Kotto was an MGM player who was actually wrapping up on Across 110th Street, Barry Shear (1972), when he got a call from the head of United Artist, David Picker; to participate in the movie as the main villain. Kotto was at first reluctant to accept the role, as he was concerned about the way in which the Black community, and especially his character would be portrayed. He was quickly put at ease when he read the script, and saw that his character was a dark reverse of James Bond. Actually, Kotto took those elements of his character, ( the suave demeanour and intelligence), to heart; in such a way that it would take the actor years to get rid of the habit of trying to behave and live like Bond, much to the detriment of his finances. In turn, Kotto pulls off one of the best villains in the Bond series; a mixture of extreme intelligence, ruthlessness, and sadism; that had been sorely missing from the villains portrayals in the latter movies. A definite return to form on the villain front.
For the part of the main henchman, Tee-Hee; we have actor Julius Harris. Tee-Hee joined a illustrious line-up of henchmen with special “gifts” or peculiarities, like Odd Job, Mr Kitt and Mr Wint, and later on; Jaws and Mayday. His peculiarity was a hook-arm that could cause considerable damage. That, coupled with Julius Harris’s imposing physique; made for one hell of a henchman. His presence, however, was topped by that of actor/choreographer/dancer Geoffrey Holder, who portrays the other “henchman”/ “voodoo doctor”, Baron Samedi, who lends the movie a supernatural element that had never been present in any of the previous movies. Now for the Bond girls. Because of the movie setting in Jamaica, and the impossibility of getting native actresses who could convincingly portray the two main Bond girls in the movie, the producers chose New Yorker Gloria Hendry to portray the role of MI6 liason, and double agent, Rosie Carver. Being such a small part, and in such an important franchise; Carver was worried that she would not get the part after a rather unusual interview with “Cubby” Broccoli. The producer didn’t give her the part right away, and even though she was asked to stay in Jamaica at the expense of the producers until they reached a decision; she decided to reject the generous offer, and move to California to try and get another acting gig, much to the disappointment of her agent. She was actually already lined up for a movie there when she got the call from her agent to catch a plane back to Jamaica, as soon as possible, as she had been given the role. It was a more straightforward affair when it came to casting the actress Jane Seymour. Seymour was an up and coming British TV and Theater actress who was asked to come to “Cubby” Broccoli and Harry Saltzman’s office for an audition. After just one look, Broccoli was convinced that they had their Solitaire. The Tarot toting, mystical lady portrayed in Fleming’s novel had to have a certain virginal innocence about her. It was argued at the time that Seymour might’ve been too young for the role; but that quality that the actress exuded in spades, was spot on for the role, and exactly what the producers were looking for.
On a funny note, we have New York actor who had to pull off the no mean feat of playing a Lousiana native Sheriff; Sheriff J.W Pepper. His character brings a touch of levity and comic relief to the movie that proved so successful, that he would come back for the following Bond adventure; The Man with the Golden Gun.
Double-deckers, Crocodiles and Speeding boats
The movie was shot in location in Jamaica, New York, New Orléans, and in Pinewood Studios, England. The lavish locations were used to their fullest extent. Guy Hamilton was a director which always looked for the unusual and different in each one of the Bond movies he directed; so scouting for locations was a very important part of this process. He at first thought that they would struggle to find something different , or surprising enough, to dazzle the audience. That turned out not to be the case. Right off the bat, two locations were used for the pre-title sequence that were completely opposite in both tone and feel. They managed to get inside the United Nations while they were not in session, to photograph as much of the interior of it as they could, and recreate it on set in Pinewood later on. It was surprising to find out how they managed to recreate it so faithfully and realistically, though. Apparently, while the crew was there photographing everything, they stumbled upon a set of blueprints of the building that apparently the electricians had been using to do some re-wiring. Needless to say, as Hamilton jokingly remarks on the DVDs Audio commentary, they were more than happy to “pinch” those to design their set. The other setting was New Orléans. Looking for locations in the area, Hamilton was told about the Jazz “Funerals”. This odd costume is apparently a hallmark of the city, in which the whole town gathers to celebrate the passing of a celebrated citizen in a colourful and musical fashion. Those two settings, plus the use of a recreated Jamaican voodoo ceremony in Pinewood, filled with snakes, dancers, torches and the like; help set up the dark, but whimsical tone of the movie right away.
Location shooting in New York involved a car chase in which various highway intersections were closed off for the day, and some exterior shooting in downtown Harlem. Most of the interiors for those buildings would later on be recreated on Pinewood.
Most of the in location shooting was done mostly in and around Jamaica and New Orléans. The standout set piece that takes place in Jamaica in which Bond and Solitaire escape Kananga’s goons on a Double-decker bus, and go under a low bridge shearing off the top half of the bus, had to be thoroughly planned out and rehearsed. An expert British Double-decker bus driver was approached to perform the stunt. A mocap of the low bridge was built on Pinewood Studios, and the top half of the bus was taken off and put back on a sliding mechanism which would allow the top half to slide off when the bus hit the low end of the bridge at the appropriate velocity. After constant and tireless trial and error, the stunt team managed to performed the stunt on the third try. It wasn’t the only dangerous stunt that the bus was used for. The driver had to be able to skid from one side of the road to the other to get rid of the motorcycles that are chasing after it. Despite all the necessary precautions taken to avoid danger; some of the motorcycle riders ended up going off road into the shallow end of the coastal waters and landing on some coral reef. Despite some minor injuries, no major incidents were reported.
Back in New Orleans, two major stunts were in the cards. First off, was a chase sequence in which Bond gets rid of Mr Big’s henchmen in a biplane zooming around a small airfield. For this stunt, Assistant set decorator Peter Lamont, who would later go on to work in many Bond films, was to secure the supply of derelict and beat up planes, which could be used for the stunt team to be crashed into, while pursuing Bond.
The other major action sequence was actually connected to a daring stunt which was actually the brainchild of Guy Hamilton. This set piece was conceived when Guy Hamilton while scouting around for locations, happened upon a Crocodile farm. The owner, Ross Kananga, a professional stunt performer, was actually who screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz named the villain after. After meeting Kananga and having taken a look around the crocodile farm, Hamilton decided that it would be a great idea to build an action set piece around the farm in which Bond is taken by Tee-Hee and his men to the crocodile farm, and left stranded on a little rock in the middle of a crocodile-infested swamp. The way in which Bond escapes the dangerous reptiles by jumping onto their backs and using them as sort of a thrashing and biting bridge, is something to behold. The original idea was for Bond to escape the snake pit situation using his magnetic watch, seen at the beginning of the movie; to bring over a small boat that, unfortunately, happens to be tied up to a nearby tree on the shore. The stunt was performed by Ross Kananga himself, who had to do it a total of five times before he was successful. That sequence, jaw dropping in and of itself, was to be followed by what Mankiewicz described in the script as “the most terrific boat chase scene you’ve ever seen”. That boat chase sequence was another brilliant occurrence by Hamilton after exploring Louisiana’s swampy bayous. The boat chase was brilliantly planned out, and executed by a team of stunt men, performing what was considered at the time the biggest speed boat jump seen on-screen at the time. The idea was for the boat to jump as high up as 80 ft, over a parked police cruiser which was on a small stretch of road in between two river fronts. As was the case with the double-decker bus stunt, this too was exhaustively rehearsed, causing no small amount of on-set accidents. It was one of the most daring stunts seen on a film filled with many, and one that; contrary to the case of Diamonds are Forever, was placed in the latter half of the movie, so it wouldn’t be outstaged by any other stunt seen later on. Running over a stretch of road or a lawn on a, at times, uncontrollable speed boat was no easy task, and one that required careful preparation and skill.
Despite the brilliance of all the action set pieces in the movie up to that point, the finale wasn’t without danger. Real snakes, sharks and compressed air bullets were part of the fun. The scene in which Bond faces off against Baron Samedi, and the latter ends up in a coffin filled with snakes; was a major cause for concern for actor Geoffrey Holder. Holder wasn’t very keen on performing the stunt, and Guy Hamiltin knew this. Fortunately for Hamilton, a member of the Royal family showed up on set, which forced Holder to perform the stunt out of a sense of pride. Here is too where Syd Cain’s set design came to the fore, showing off what he’d learned working with such masters of the craft as Ken Adam. His design for Dr Kananga’s underground hideout are very reminiscent of Ken Adams’s previous designs for some of the Bond movies. This location is also the setting for Bond and Kananga’s final confrontation, in which after being tied up along with Solitaire over a shark-filled pool, being cut up by Kananga, so the dripping blood will attract the hungry predators; Bond manages to escape using his magnetic watch as a buzz saw, and has a final fight to the death with Kananga, in which Bond force-feeds him a compressed air bullet; causing Kananga to explode. The scene in and of itself is ludicrous, and the effect of Kananga exploding as kind of an oversized, inflatable doll, is rather wonky; but makes for one of the most funny moments in the movie.
And, as it’s traditional with all Bond movies written by Tom Mankiewicz, there’s one final showdown between Bond and Tee-hee aboard a train, which serves as kind of a nice coda to round up the adventure.
Financial and critical success
The movie was a resounding success, and in spite of Roger Moore’s initial misgivings; it was well received both critically and financially. This time around, there was definite proof that there was life for 007 after Sean Connery’s departure.
Live and Let Die is a fun romp. As with all Bond movies scripted by Tom Mankiewicz, and directed by Guy Hamilton; it is enormously witty and entertaining. It boasts one of the best and most original villains seen in a Bond movie up until that point, and a definite improvement on the somewhat un-charismatic performances by the previous actors. Dr Kananga/Mr Big is one of the best villains in the series. The clever mixture of intelligence and cruelty, coupled with an all-seeing, all-controlling criminal organization; was something that hadn’t been seen since the times of Spectre and Dr No, Goldfinger or Emilio Largo. He doesn’t reach the levels of brilliance and sadism of Robert Shaw’s Grant in From Russia with Love, but he’s definitely up there with the best. So is Tee-Hee, who unfortunately doesn’t get enough screen time to show off what he can do. The same, unfortunately, cannot be said about the Bond girls this time around. Gloria Hendry doesn’t get enough time to fully develop her character before she’s killed off, and although she does a good job, and looks wonderful on-screen, Jane Seymour doesn’t get to do much, apart from playing the damsel in distress. As for the rest, the action set pieces are imaginative, and brilliantly executed, the title song by Paul McCartney and The Wings is one of the best, George Martin does a very good job taking over from John Barry, who had been the official Bond composer up until that point, and the dialogue is deliciously funny. And that’s the real strength of this movie, and one that allows Roger Moore to shine throughout. Despite his initial misgivings about taking over from Sean Connery, he does a brilliant job. His take on the famous spy is quite different from what Connery had done, and Mankiewicz writes the dialogue for him accordingly. His excellent comedic timing, witty comebacks, and one-liners are some of the best in the series; some even add-lipped by Moore himself. His Bond is definitely more sophisticated and definitely not as rough as Connery’s was. Two different takes from two completely different actors in both style and mannerisms. Overtime, Live and Let Die, along with The Man with the Golden Gun, became the butt of jokes for most people familiar with the series on account of its supposed campyness, and silliness. Things had not yet become as campy as they would later on, and it’s unfair to label this movie as such. On my part I think this is a fun, well written, acted and thoroughly entertaining Bond entry that needs to get more love.
Thanks for reading.