«Agent 007 – Live and let die» was released 50 years ago: everything you don’t know about the film

«Agent 007 - Live and let die» was released 50 years ago: everything you don't know about the film


Of Philip Mazzarella

Roger Moore as James Bond in an episode that was very successful

You know the story, but let’s pretend not. In 1962, “Agent 007 – License to Kill/Dr. No” quietly inaugurates the (later eternal) saga of the cinematic adventures of the British spy James Bond with an adaptation (already very inaccurate) of the sixth novel in the popular series by writer Ian Fleming. The unforgettable Sean Connery, for many the most iconic incarnation of the character, returns in the following years in four more increasingly successful films, but after “Agent 007 – You Only Live Twice/You Only Live Twice” (1967) the tiredness takes over and producers Harry Saltzman and Albert R. Broccoli are forced to replace him with the unknown George Lazenby for what, ironically, is arguably the best installment of the series: “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service Majesty’s Secret Service” (1969).

However, the film did not achieve the hoped-for success; and Connery is reluctantly called back to service for the weak “Agent 007 – A cascade of diamonds / Diamonds Are Forever” (1971) beyond which, however, the Scottish star declares he no longer wants to go. And so, looking for a replacement that doesn’t turn out to be another flash in the pan, EON Productions, after briefly toying with the idea of ​​casting Adam West or Burt Reynolds (!) on Batman TV, think well of staying in Albion and to shape a “new” Bond on the sly aplomb of Roger Moore, already a star of British TV thanks to telefilms such as “Ivanhoe”, “Il Santo” (in which he played the gentleman thief Simon Templar) and the epochal for us Italians “Beware to those two/The Persuaders!” in which he duetted with the legendary Tony Curtis. Thus it was that, on 27 June 1973, Bond reintroduced himself to the US public with “Agent 007 – Live and Let Die / Live and Let Die” (which was released in England on 7 July and here only at Christmas), based (always distantly) on Fleming’s second novel of the same name. Expected at the gate with a drop of skepticism, the already forty-five-year-old Moore remodeled the character with elegance and light-heartedness, but above all with a (self) ironic attitude in line with the “pop culture” of the time. The public was thrilled.

Six more films followed until 1985: the longest, hitherto undefeated (and probably unbeatable) series of consecutive incarnations of the same actor in the role of the secret agent. In keeping with the production philosophy of the saga, increasingly aimed at favoring the accumulation of breathtaking action and exotic locations at the expense of narrative complexity, the plot of “Live and let die” sees James Bond (Roger Moore) sent to America to meet CIA agent Felix Leiter (David Hedison) and investigate the simultaneous death of three British agents which took place between the UN headquarters in New York, the city of New Orleans and the (fictitious) Caribbean island of San Monique, where the prime minister dominates / corrupt dictator Kananga (Yaphet Kotto) and opium poppies are secretly grown thanks to the local labor subjugated by the voodoo priest Baron Samedi (Geoffrey Holder). Having survived an ambush by the mysterious Harlem drug kingpin known as Mr. Big, Bond meets the beautiful Solitaire (Jane Seymour), a clairvoyant fortuneteller, then flies to San Monique where Rosie Carver (Gloria Hendry), a Local CIA who he believes is a spy of the dictator and whom the latter has killed.

After seducing the virgin Solitaire taking away her ability to predict the future (sic!), Bond allies with the girl and, in New Orleans, is captured by Kananga who reveals himself to be the elusive Mr. Big and who would like to distribute a huge load of heroin free of charge to kill rival traffickers economically and exponentially increase the number of drug addicts with monopolistic purposes. The dictator will then deliver Solitaire to Baron Samedi to be “sacrificed”: but 007 will prevent by all means that any of the villain’s plans come true. “Live and let die”, written by Tom Mankiewicz and directed by the astutely recalled “Goldfinger” director Guy Hamilton, marks a rift with the previous 007 films not only as regards, as already mentioned, the presence of Moore who gives the film “light” tones previously already tested and yet never so explicitly exhibited, but also for the choice to detach itself from the more frustrated Bondian clichés (read: megalomaniac super-villains children to some extent of the tensions of the Cold War and projected to varying degrees towards the ‘subjugation of the world) in favor of a crafty contamination with a lot of fur on the stomach (especially for the lucrative US box office) with the sui generis epic of cinema “blaxploitation”, at the time in its apical moment.

Needless to say, however, everything is managed with a superficiality and an evident and chilling underlying racism that today would be (rightly) unanimously massacred by the critics: and if the film is the first to include a disposable “Black Bond Girl” – the underutilized Hendry – and all the black performers are forced into the most sinister stereotypies (as well as the most “classic” outrageous names), even the main places of the action (Harlem, New Orleans and the swamps of Louisiana, those imaginary Caribbean but so similar to Haiti ..) are all represented with a deviated, even specious and frankly repulsive idea of ​​anthropology and African-American cultural tradition. This does not mean that, from the point of view of entertainment of the time and of Bond’s epos, “Live and let die” still remains a brilliant trait d’union between two almost antithetical decades, between the zerozerosettesque norm of invincibility and the appeal of increasingly imaginative or futuristic gadgets (here a Rolex equipped with a circular saw and one of the very first quartz LED watches, the Hamilton Pulsar P2 2900), with a mix that today we would say WTF (ahem…) between urban crime fiction and exoticism pulp (with black magic, voodoo, snakes and caimans, splatter touches and truly supernatural events taken seriously with a rigor that leaves you stunned: see the deprivation of powers of Solitaire or the “resurrection” of Baron Samedi).

As well as a sparkling “setpiece” blender decidedly successful which has its best moments in the adrenaline rush of motorboats between reeds and marshes of the bayou, the even more technically apt sequence of the roundabout of the airplane or the funeral-parade of the sequence which traditionally precedes Maurice’s beautiful opening credits Binder. For once, the soundtrack was not composed by the great John Barry, but by veteran Beatles producer George Martin. But it all adds up: because the original song of the incipit (one of the many Oscar candidates in the sixty years of life of the series), “Live and Let Die”, was entrusted on that occasion to none other than Paul McCartney and the Wings of him. And it is one of the most beautiful that has ever been heard.

June 27, 2023 (change June 27, 2023 | 07:32)


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