So Connery is gone, and a new era is upon us. Live And Let Die marks the start of the longest James Bond so far in terms of films made, being the first of a seven that few would describe as wholly magnificent. Yet, as with so many cultural icons, often the first person you see playing a role is the person you form the closest association with. As I’ve said before on this blog, Roger Moore is the Bond I grew up with, the one most often shown on ITV repeats (or indeed, first showings) during my childhood. And this was, at face value, an era of change – familiar trappings such as Q and briefings in M’s office, with Bond tossing onto Moneypenny’s hat stand before tossing off a casual declaration of love were out of the window. For shame.
But there were a number of firsts which helped to make this film stand out in the series, which sadly aren’t repeated enough to qualify as legacies. Sadly, this is the first of only two occasions on which the title track was nominated for an Oscar, and also the first of two times that Bond went hang-gliding. We can only hope that future high quality musicianship and unpowered aviation appear in Bond 23, at which point the legacy value might be reassessed. (Although frankly, I’m a fan of Jack White, but given his effort for Quantum Of Solace we’d have been better giving Jack Black a try, so anything will be an improvement this time around.)
The makers also took other daring choices – no John Barry score! Drinking bourbon instead of vodka martinis! Not wearing a hat! Visiting a made-up country instead of a real place! But actually, there were elements of the formula that were very familiar; the number of incompetent attempts on Bond’s life where the bad guys refuse to hang around and watch would have made Dr. Evil very proud indeed. But in among all that, Bond still continues to find ways to set trends that last in his movies, and other action movies, to this day.
1. The James Bond films are a fantasy series, in the truest sense of the word
While the character of James Bond had been taken from Fleming’s darker origins and slowly twisted into a male wish fulfilment on celluloid, the earlier Bonds remained largely grounded in reality. Even as the space excesses and giant volcano lair of You Only Live Twice pushed plausibility to its limit, the series still remained grounded in some sense of reality. Live And Let Die urinates all over that sense of reality, then kicks it out of a train window. While the voodoo and other religious elements are an attempt to generate a sense of danger, it’s the use of Solitaire and her tarot cards that pushes Live And Let Die, and the whole Bond series with it, into the realms of fantasy.
The plot of the entire film hinges on Solitaire’s 100% success rate with her tarot cards, a success rate that pushes the element of probability past breaking point. The fact that this success rate is then completely inverted to 0% once Solitaire’s had a good Rogering, and the plot consequences of that, require the viewer to accept that in the world presented, certain people must possess this virginity-dependent power of card-based divination and prophecy. If you can present me such a real world virgin scoring exactly 100% and then, well, we’ll work out the next bit, but hopefully you appreciate the point that this doesn’t exist in my actual world and nor, I believe, does it in yours. Thus this Bond film, and every subsequent entry, must be regarded as much fantasy as a bunch of short blokes and their beardy mate traipsing through a forest to get shot of some jewellery.
So if you ever come at me moaning about fights with laser guns in space or invisible cars, you will have to expect me to use the Solitaire defence in return.
2. Never was a new face quite so… old
Roger Moore might have had Shir Shean Connery’s bleshinghs (wow, it’s hard to stop doing that once you start), but that may just have been that Sean wouldn’t have expected ol’ Rog to last more than one or two films at his age. Connery was 41 when he made his last Bond film; Moore was 45 at the time of his first, and 58 at the time he finally announced his retirement. While aging spies were nothing new, the level of physicality which
Moore’s stunt doubles Moore brought to the role was innovative, and is more than likely to be responsible for the likes of Stallone and Willis carrying on running around with guns far past the date when they ought to have been hobbling around with a zimmer frame.
3. Slightly comedic characters get brought back increasingly for their comedy value only
It’s easy to look back with hindsight, but somebody, somewhere, once thought that J.W. Pepper was a good idea. But then somebody else, somewhere, though that once wasn’t enough. If there should be a licence to kill anyone associated with the long history of Bond films, it’s probably that person. For some reason, comedy characters and sidekicks seem to have an unerring longevity, and become increasingly comic as time goes by – and for examples of this, look no further than Joe Pesci in the Lethal Weapon series. Even poor Jaws in this series got brought back to increasing comic effect. Actors, if your agent offers you a part of a comedy relief in a Bond film, politely decline, or venture on at your own risk.
4. Language, Timothy!
As this blog is officially related PG, I’m now entering dangerous territory, but this is also what the makers of Bond did when they introduced casual swearing into the Bond series. Like a short-trousered schoolboy who’s suddenly discovered antisocial epithets, Live And Let Die feels very pleased with itself, because it progresses beyond the “bloody” and the “bastard” and has its first use of religious fecal matter. James Bond will never (sadly) be what would be known in the US as a hard-R rating, so “holy shit” is about as the swearing can ever get in the utterance from Bond’s gob, or in this case from the lady whose plane he hijacks. It’s still so obviously shocking a word that everyone from Marty McFly to Lt. Cmdr. Data drops it in for maximum effect in the world of age-restricted profanity. Even Dame Judi declares that she doesn’t give one about the CIA in Quantum Of Solace, and who could forget that? (Sadly not me, and believe me I’ve tried.)
5. Henchmen with appendages for hands just aren’t scary