50 Years of James Bond
“Live and Let Die” contains my favorite line of any Bond film. Facing off against Mr. Big, Roger Moore launches into Bond’s patented introduction, “My name is…” when the jive-talking villain cuts him off. “Names is for tombstones, baby,” Big growls. “Y’all take this honkey out and waste him now!”
It’s a neat bit of dialogue, but it also serves a clever subliminal function, preventing Moore from parroting the character exactly as Sean Connery had created him. While Bernard Lee (M) and Lois Maxwell (Moneypenny) provide continuity with the earlier films, Moore was encouraged to make Bond his own. The silhouette changed, as the hat disappeared from the film’s pre-credits gun-barrel intro. Moore does without tuxedos (favoring neckties and flashier looking suits) or his usual cocktail (taking a gin and tonic instead of the shaken-not-stirred vodka martini).
Of course, the basics are the same: the unflinching confidence in the face of certain death, the irrepressible to desire to seduce any female (save Moneypenny) who crosses his path, the groan-worthy one-liners the follow any fatal situation. But Moore posed a refreshingly different take on the character, one that accentuated Bond’s “gentleman spy” mystique, partly necessitated by the fact that he wasn’t as brawny or tough as his predecessor. Where Connery might have wrestled a nest of killer crocodiles, Moore instead tricks the hungry animals into alignment and then runs across their backs.
The most significant Bond ingredient missing from “Live and Let Die” is Q, whose gadgets still play a central role (007 uses his electromagnetic watch to unzip a girl’s dress and a pressurized air bullet to defeat Kananga). The film also offers a few key additions, including an illuminating glimpse of Bond’s home — a swanky bachelor pad with loud, ’70s-style decor and a personal espresso machine more complicated than any Q gadget (“Is that all it does?” M asks).
Whenever the series has shown Bond’s personal domain before, his place always looked like the empty apartment George Clooney’s character maintains in “Up in the Air” — a sad reminder that these road warriors live far more lavishly when they travel than they do at home. In “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service,” the filmmakers ingeniously used Bond’s bedroom to suggest that Lazenby and Connery were one and the same character by having Bond reminisce about his keepsakes from past adventures as he contemplates resignation from MI6 (“Underneath the Mango Tree” plays as he holds Honey Rider’s knife belt from “Dr. No,” for instance).
Moore certainly had it easier than Lazenby, assuming the mantle after Connery had already stepped aside once. But he was also a better fit, inhabiting the role in a way the Australian actor couldn’t, while advancing the central appeal of the Bond franchise — namely, the way 007 could make the most harrowing situations look easy. Fifteen years later, in “Die Hard,” Bruce Willis would play an action hero whose anti-terrorist activities left him bloody and beaten. Moore, by contrast, was the sort who could save the world without mussing his hair.