We have reached a critical juncture this week with 007(x3) Weeks of 007 – the first Roger Moore film. Moore is a divisive Bond. Perhaps not as divisive at Timothy Dalton, but Dalton’s impact on the franchise is lessened by his only having appeared in the role twice. Moore is Bond for the longest period of time and does the most movies. He brings an added level of comedy to the franchise and a greatly increased number of gadgets. Plus, except for one “Hey that looks like Blofeld but they’re not calling him Blofeld” moment, SPECTRE is completely out of the story.
But, we will get to all that stuff. We need to start at the beginning, and for Moore it begins with “Live and Let Die,” a movie that has the honor of offering to us an “and introducing Jane Seymour” line in the opening credits.
As with Lazenby, the franchise instantly differentiates this Bond from the ones that have come before. First off, the pre-title sequence doesn’t have Bond in it nor someone who looks like him (the first time this happens in the franchise), and then, immediately post-credits we get to the gadgets.
Oh, the first gadget isn’t hugely impressive, Bond makes M a cappuccino, but it is involved and leaves M wondering if the only thing the machine does is make coffee. Then there’s the magnetic watch Bond uses to unzip a dress. Moore’s first scene, our first introduction to his Bond, and he’s all about the gadgets. It is something we’re going to see repeatedly in his films.
Now, I want to be sure not to gloss over one of the other incredible differences between this Bond and his predecessors, and the brief mention in the preceding paragraph just isn’t going to do it. Bond makes M a cappuccino. Not only that but he does it in Bond’s house. This is the first time we’ve seen where 007 lives and M actually goes to visit him as opposed to calling Bond to the office.
What does this mean? What is it telling us? Is it about Bond’s growing relationship with his boss or is it a change in the world between 1962’s “Dr. No” and this 1973 movie? Coming on the heels of Paul McCartney and Wings singing the “Live and Let Die” theme, it seems clear that it is that the world is changing and that this Bond reflects that change. Bond, as I think I said during the “Goldfinger” piece, blasts the Beatles for no particular reason in 1964 but now, in 1973, a former Beatle is singing the title song and M is at Bond’s house. These things happen back-to-back and not by accident. This is a new era, a different world, and a different Bond.
Want another difference? Felix Leiter. No, not the actor (although this is David Hedison’s first time in a role he plays twice), but rather how he’s used. We have seen Leiter following Bond and helping out in small ways before, but here his role is comical. His job in the movie is simple – clean up Bond’s messes, and Leiter does it over and over and over again. It really is quite incredible and you end up feeling bad for the guy. Not as bad as you feel for him when he shows in “Licence to Kill,” but bad.
One of the things that is much mocked about the Bond films are the needlessly complicated ways in which bad guys want to kill Bond, and “Live and Let Die” features a great one. Bond is shipped off to a crocodile farm to die an assuredly painful death in the chompers of many an animal. Kananga (one of the great Bond baddies) or a henchman could just shoot 007; Bond is unarmed and at their mercy, but no, Bond has to be killed by crocodiles and no one even sticks around to watch the death happen.
I am of two minds about this. First, it’s a great scene, and it’s long been one of my favorite needlessly complicated deaths. Then, on the other side, it’s moronic. Why would you try to kill this guy in such a ridiculous way and then not hang out to watch it happen? Surely the only reason to have Bond eaten by crocs is for your own personal amusement at seeing it go down.
Actually, as much as that troubles me, the use of music in “Live and Let Die” troubles me more. More than once, a chase/escape/action sequence takes place with minimal music only to have the music pick up just before Bond wins/gets away. The cue lets you know in advance exactly when Bond is going to win. It is a really weird choice, one which undercuts the action.
That is actually the point of it though, isn’t it? The music is clueing you in, saying, “Hey, if you want to know the awesome way in which Bond gets away here, we’re giving it to you right now.” The movie isn’t about whether the hero escapes, it’s about how the hero escapes. Bond has to win, Bond always wins, so it consciously doesn’t play up the tension surrounding the former question, only the latter.
There you have it – new Bond, more humor, more gadgets, and an updated view of the world. As for the idea of them stripping away things every time they introduce a Bond, I think it’s there in the above. We don’t have the MI6 office, we don’t have Q, we don’t have a crazy scheme to take over the world (the big thing here is drugs), there is no major ground assault as we’ve seen in a bunch of other movies. And, with Baron Samedi laughing at the front of the train at the end of the film, we don’t have the pure happy ending. We are left wondering if, perhaps, Bond hasn’t really won.
We will find out the answer to that next week (or not), when 007(x3) Weeks of 007 returns with “The Man with the Golden Gun.”
photo credit: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment