RAMNATH N PAI RAIKAR | NT NETWORK
Although producers, Albert R Broccoli and Harry Saltzman had succeeded in retaining actor, Sean Connery as James Bond in the 1971 Bond series movie, ‘Diamonds are Forever’ by offering him a then record salary of $1,250,000, plus a percentage of the profits, by the time pre-production work started on ‘Live and Let Die’ (1973), it had become clear that no financial overture – even an offer of astronomical sum of $5.5 million – would induce Connery to play Bond yet another time. Therefore, the producers had the inevitable task of finding a new 007.
There was concern on the part of some that inconsistency among the actors would have a negative effect on audience enthusiasm, as this would be the third actor besides Connery and George Lazenby – the latter playing Bond in the 1969 movie, ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’ – to enact the British superspy over a period of just four years. Broccoli and Saltzman, whose relationship was becoming increasingly strained due to differences on a number of matters, agreed on one key decision: The new Bond would have to be an established actor with significant credentials. Furthermore, United Artists wanted an American to play Bond: Burt Reynolds, Paul Newman and Robert Redford were all considered. However, Broccoli insisted that the part should be played by a Briton and put forward Roger Moore, even as other British actors namely Timothy Dalton and Michael Billington were considered for the role. Dalton, incidentally, went on to play the character in the 1980s Bond films.
Ultimately, it was announced that Roger Moore would make his debut as James Bond in ‘Live and Let Die’, especially as he had become an icon among espionage fans through his long-running title role in the spy thriller television series, ‘The Saint’, which ran from 1962 to 1969. Interestingly, Moore was on the shortlist with Connery, Patrick McGoohan and Richard Johnson to play 007 in the very first Bond movie, ‘Dr No’ (1962). However, being already committed to ‘The Saint’, there was no way he could accept the offer.
The story goes that when the part was reoffered to Moore in ‘Live and Let Die’, he asked his son, Geoffrey as to whom he preferred: James Bond or Roger Moore. To this question Geoffrey replied, “Don’t be silly, Daddy, James Bond, of course!” “So how could I turn it down after that?” Moore had quipped while narrating this incident in an interview.
After signing the contract, Moore was enthused about playing the role and fully accepted the inevitable pitfalls: Frenzied paparazzi, fanatical fans, and long shooting schedules. To maintain a sense of continuity, the producers signed Guy Hamilton, the director of ‘Diamonds are Forever’ to direct his second consecutive Bond Film. Tom Mankiewicz also returned to write the screenplay based on the original novel with the same name by Ian Fleming. The screenplay overindulged in Moore’s personal preference for overt humour.
Mankiewicz had thought of turning Solitaire into a black woman, with Diana Ross as his primary choice. However, producers decided to stick to Fleming’s description of a white woman, and after thinking of Catherine Deneuve, finally cast Jane Seymour in the role. Yaphet Kotto was cast as the villain, Dr Kananga while doing another movie for United Artists, ‘Across 110th Street’ (1972). Mankiewicz created Sheriff J W Pepper to add a comic relief character. Portrayed by Clifton James, Pepper appeared again in the subsequent Bond film, ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’ (1974).
Location shooting of the film took place in New Orleans and the surrounding bayou country. For the fictional island of San Monique, the filmmakers went back to Jamaica, where ‘Dr No’ was filmed. They also made the most of the New York City locations. Interiors and sequences requiring sets were done at the Pinewood Studios, London, where art director, Syd Cain built Dr Kananga’s impressive underground lair.
Principal photography began in October 1972, in Louisiana and ended in March 1973. For a while, only the second unit shot after Moore was diagnosed with kidney stones. The speedboat jump scene over the bayou, filmed with the assistance of a specially-constructed ramp, unintentionally set a Guinness World Record at the time with 110 feet (34 metres) cleared.
Musically, ‘Live and Let Die’ is significant among the Bond films because for the first time the composer, John Barry did not contribute to the score. Beatles producer, George Martin rose to the task, providing a number of atmospheric tracks, although use of his music is often erratic. Paul McCartney and Wings provided the film with a terrifically exciting title song and it quickly rose on the international charts to become a major hit. The title song, “Live and Let Die” was written and composed by Paul and Linda McCartney, and was nominated for the Academy Award in the Best Song category.
On July 5, 1973, ‘Live and Let Die’ held its Royal World Premiere at the Odeon Cinema in London’s Leicester Square with Princess Anne in attendance.
When released, ‘Live and Let Die’ attracted mostly positive reviews, with praise for the action scenes. Produced at a budget of $7 million, the film removed all doubts about public acceptance of Moore as James Bond, as the international Box Office grosses exceeded those for ‘Diamonds are Forever’ at $161.8 million. Moore was however nonplussed and, to his credit, went on to play his own unique version of the British superspy in six more films.
The film holds the record for the most viewed broadcast film on television in the United Kingdom by attracting 23.5 million viewers when premiered on ITV on January 20, 1980.