As a relatively topical fan of the James Bond franchise (though not so topical that I’d buy all of the films on DVD), I had a cursory knowledge of the actors who played Bond and the times that they had been cast. Little did I know however that by the time Roger Moore had signed onto the role in Live and Let Die that this was the third attempt to bring him aboard, and that maybe producers Harry Saltzman and Albert Broccoli were hoping that the third attempt brought the proverbial charm. Moore had been approached for the role as early as the Dr. No days, but was in the midst of doing The Saint television show, and Connery was chosen. Connery left and the opportunity came to Moore again, however he was not available and George Lazenby came on to do On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. He left, Connery did one more and then finally, Moore was available to take the reigns.
And he came aboard to a Bond film that is probably his best and one of the best Bond films in the franchise. In Live and Let Die, James has to go to America (and subsequently, the Caribbean) to research the deaths of several British agents. He goes into Harlem to try and find out the whereabouts and criminal motivations of a mysterious boss named Mr. Big, and eventually makes his way to a fictional island called San Monique, where a United Nations delegate named Kananga (Yaphet Kotto, Homicide: Life on the Street) is waiting for his arrival, and using the results from a tarot card reader named Solitaire (a very young Jane Seymour, Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman), he plans for the demise of Bond.
Moore was able to have the same sort of creature comforts in the film that Connery had had in the past. Guy Hamilton, who directed Goldfinger, returned to take the helm, with a pretty daring script from Tom Mankiewicz, who provided the script for Hamilton’s direction in Diamonds are Forever. There was the concerted effort not to turn Moore into another Connery, and you can quietly see the humorous playful tone a lot more in this film than in previous Connery ones. But Connery just looked like someone you shouldn’t screw around with, while Moore (at least in this film) looked like the possible effeminate cousin of that person. I don’t mean for it to be a dig, as Live and Let Die is better than most of the Connery films, and is probably in the Top 5.
The stunt sequences are clearly elevated in this film from others too. In rewatching this the other night, I had forgotten just how impressive the Bayou boat chase really was, and in seeing some of the other stunts, it’s clear that for better or worse that the guy who plays James Bond always gets a good first outing. Except for Timothy Dalton.
Presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, Live and Let Die looks a little better than the original special edition, but not by leaps and bounds. Quite frankly, I didn’t think the picture was that good to begin with, and while it’s been cleaned up a little bit, we’re talking about a disc with three commentary tracks AND a DTS option to boot, which brings me to the…
Which isn’t an earth-shatterer by any means. In fact, the movie doesn’t have too many explosions in it to show off any low end fidelity, and the surround effects are fairly scarce. Paul McCartney’s theme song has never sounded better, but the audio can leave a Bond aficionado wanting a bit.
Both commentaries from the last edition of Live and Let Die are retained for this new edition. The box lists the first commentary with Hamilton, but it’s actually like the other commentaries that are edited together and provides John Cork (of the Ian Fleming Foundation) another chance to provide some occasional comments and introduce various members of the crew.
Mankiewicz is on the second commentary track as a solo act. He usually brings a lot of information to the table and is pretty well-thought out, as is the case with the Superman commentary with Richard Donner, but I would have liked to have him play off someone to loosen things up a bit. Aside from his gaps of silence, he’s not too bad, introducing longtime cast members as they appeared and providing the occasional piece of production trivia. He also discusses the Bond films (and Moore’s place in them compared to Connery) and other large-scale debates like that. All in all, he’s not disappointing here.
The last track includes an appearance from the man himself, and unlike his other commentary tracks, Moore seems to recall a little bit more than the other films, which is cool, and he really gets a kick out of recalling the locations, and the people he worked with on the film, including some practical jokes that he played on Kotto. There’s even a good story about how one of the stunt drivers was arrested and production was delayed. It’s also a fairly recent track, as he references Katrina and the casting choices for the Bond to replace Pierce Brosnan. Moore recalls in decent detail the courting process of his getting to be Bond, which is nice to hear. He does seem to run out of steam in this film (and it seems like this was the first one he did a commentary for, hence the lack of relevant information afterwards), but this is still an entertaining commentary on the film.
Disc Two brings a few more new extras to the table, but it seemed like back in the ’70s, there was more thought given to humping each other than shooting some behind the scenes film. The “Declassified: MI6 Vault” starts off with conveniently enough, a “lost documentary” on Bond that came out in 1973. In the film (that runs about 20 minutes in length), Saltzman and Broccoli discuss the process of casting Moore for the part, and the piece is hosted by Moore and features his preparations for and work in the film. He also shows off some of the stunt work that he had to train for, and other members of the cast and crew talk about their individual roles in the film and what they wanted to do with Bond in this new incarnation. Kotto’s role and his thoughts about it seems to indicate that he gives it a lot more thought than other Bond villains have, but to see the young Giardello is cool. There is a revealing quick part in the film where one of the black stuntmen discuss the discrimination that they suffered in the film, next to some film footage of a white stuntman’s face and upper torso being painted black, which is both surprising and disturbing. The piece seems to borrow from color and black and white film stock, but it stills winds up being a nice featurette that contains a bit more information that I expected. Following this is a conceptual art gallery that features posters, along with some narration by current Bond producer Michael Wilson, and after that is an interesting film clip where Moore plays Bond in a British TV show back in 1964. For inclusion’s sake it’s cool to have here, as Moore (who was still The Saint) is received warmly on the show that is a sketch comedy series of sorts, with this particular sketch being about eight minutes long.
Going onto the “007 Mission Control” part of the disc, the usual look at Bond’s allies, Bond’s villains, Bond’s girls and Bond’s weapons is contained, followed by the “Mission Dossier” section (or the part where the old extras start to kick in), commenced by the “Inside Live and Let Die” making of featurette. At almost a half hour, it puts the chase to get Moore in a solid perspective, as the filmmakers recall the urge to prove that the accusation of Bond outliving his time is false (ironically, the first of several times that it would have to be done). Mankiewicz recalls getting the chance to do the film, and Hamilton recalls getting the opportunity to come back into the Bond fold. There are new interviews with almost all of the major players in the cast and crew, and the cast remembers how they got the parts in the film, and there are breakdowns on the stunt sequences (including those incredible boat stunts), along with some rehearsal footage that didn’t work out like they hoped, that show just how precarious stuntwork really can be. The crocodile hopping sequence is shown with all of the stunt takes (all five of them), and the close calls included, a nice touch. Following this are two looks at Moore on set, during the opening funeral sequence and some hang gliding rehearsals, both sequences run about five minutes in total length. In the “Ministry of Propaganda” section there are 2 trailers, 3 TV spots and 2 radio spots, and the “Image Database” is your usual run of stills galleries.
I’d probably put Live and Let Die in the number 3 spot behind From Russia With Love and Goldfinger in terms of good Bond movies. Moore chips in with the best of his commentary tracks to this point, and the film is good fun when it comes to action, suspense and drama. As part of Volume 3 of the Region 1 Bond collection, it’s worth grabbing, otherwise, hack a region-free player and buy this one cheap from an e-tailer.