Three killings, three reasons why British Intelligence should be worried. First, the United Kingdom's delegate at the United Nations is assassinated by a high frequency burst of sound through his translation earpiece, then in Harlem an agent is killed while watching a funeral in the street - his own, as it turns out. Finally, an agent in the small Caribbean island of San Monique is forced into a voodoo ceremony and sacrificed; this island and its leader Dr Kananga (Yaphet Kotto) will soon loom large in the life of British spy James Bond (Roger Moore), for it is he who is dispatched across the Altantic to sort it out as only he can...
Live and Let Die was turned down by Sean Connery, but his loss was Moore's gain as it would be the first for the longest-serving Bond to date, and many considered his performance as a breath of fresh air to a role that could have been regarded as growing hackneyed now the swinging sixties were well and truly over. Nevertheless, Moore essayed the secret agent character as more of an international playboy than Connery ever had, and he seemed far more part of the British upper crust with his suave moves and determination never to allow his feathers to be ruffled, not even in the face of what appeared to be certain death.
If this meant Moore had a nice line in humour, the sense of Bond being in any real danger was now more remote than ever, but the spectacle that accompanied him was apparently just what seventies audiences wanted, and so that's what they got. Still, 007 was moving with the times, and as blaxploitation was popular at the time, Live and Let Die could easily be seen as the agent's swim in those waters. While this could have been a strength, there are those who see this film as bordering on racist considering every bad guy is black, and almost every black character has some knowledge of Dr Kananga's rum dealings.
On the other hand, this had some of the best villains of the series' entire run of the seventies, and the excellent Kotto obviously relished his chance to lock horns with one of the most famous heroes of them all. Kananga is backed up by some engagingly sinister henchmen including Julius Harris as Tee Hee, a towering and cheerful presence who has a metal claw for a hand (he lost the original limb to a crocodile, we discover later) and Geoffrey Holder almost stealing the whole film as the voodoo priest Baron Samedi, who brings out the fact that this is the closest the Bond movies ever got to a horror film with its Tarot and occult curses.
Speaking of which, our lead Bond girl this time around was Jane Seymour as Solitaire, a fortune teller who can read the cards as long as she remains a virgin - fat chance of that with Bond about. She is an ethereal personality who seems almost bland in comparison with sparky Gloria Hendry as Rosie, the eager agent who our hero manages to get killed when he tries to persuade her to tell him all she knows about Kananga. The bad guys' plan is to flood America with heroin and take over, but this is something of an afterthought as by and by everything in the story takes second place to the action. This means a chase in a bus which loses its top deck, and most memorably a long speedboat pursuit along the Louisiana waterways, allowing Clifton James to do his redneck sheriff party piece (he would be back in the next film). Live and Let Die is not a bad entry, and Moore can be exceedingly witty, but there's something a little tacky about it - that sixties gloss was wearing off. Paul McCartney's theme song is excellent, however, and his old friend George Martin capably took care of the rest of the score.