Franchise Expansion (Or Implosion): ‘Live And Let Die’
by Ben Martin
Franchise Expansion (or Implosion) is a column that looks at franchises that have new installments or releases forthcoming. In looking at a franchise, each entry in a franchise will be given a review and then be examined as part of the bigger franchise. (i.e., Was this sequel a worthy expansion of this franchise or was it an implosion of sorts?)
Very seldom does one character define a subgenre. But that is precisely what James Bond 007 has done with spy/espionage fiction. Since making his film debut in 1962, Bond has appeared in over 20 movies. Moreover, the character has only been portrayed by a mere six actors (officially, anyway). Now that the 25th (official) Bond installment, No Time to Die, is finally slated for release on
April 10th November 25th, I think now is a better time than any to look back at 007’s dossier. I’ll be examining the James Bond franchise to see how these pictures evolved over the decades with each new leading actor. Today’s mission: Live and Let Die (1973)!
When James Bond made it to the silver screen, the films essentially created the modern spy-thriller. However, by the 1970s, 007 movies required a new energy. Thus, the franchise engaged in its first instance of following a trend as opposed to setting one. The novel, Live and Let Die, was published in April of 1954 and is the second book in the series. But, to adapt these pages to the cinema of the time, EON Productions decided to follow in the mold of the 1970s most popular and prolific subgenres: the Blaxploitation film.
Initially, producers Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli and Harry Saltzman wanted the man they considered to be one of the keys to the franchise back. However, to the duo’s surprise, Sean Connery (Entrapment) turned down a then-unheard-of offer of $5.5 million to return to the role. It was only after this refusal that Broccoli and Saltzman realized the obvious: an installment with a fresh, new tone needed a fresh, new Bond! Once again, an offer was extended to Roger Moore (The Saint). This time around, Moore gladly accepted the role. In doing so, Moore became the oldest actor to portray the character to date; making his debut at age 45. You wouldn’t know it though as the actor approached the part with all the vigor of youth.
With a new Bond, the old foe of Blofeld was finally tossed aside for a new villain, Kanaga (Yaphet Kotto). Of course, with a new nemesis, comes a duo of new Bond girls as well. First up, there’s Solitaire, played by a young Jane Seymour long before she became Doctor Quinn, Medicine Woman. Better still is the fact that Solitare is key to the film’s plot, which I’ll get to shortly.
Then there’s Rosie, portrayed by Gloria Hendry (Across 110th Street). Sadly, she is not given all that much to do in this flick. Still, Hendry and her character are incredibly crucial as the actress portrays the first African-American love interest in the series. While such an occurrence should not have been considered a big deal, it was a massive one then. Say what you will about James Bond being a regressive, misogynistic character, but Live and Let Die brings him into the then-modern era. Not surprisingly, though, EON Productions did hedge their bets against all this newness by bringing Goldfinger and Diamonds Are Forever director Guy Hamilton back to the helm. Although, he was the only series veteran to return — even John Barry didn’t come back to compose the music for this film!
Live and Let Die takes James Bond 007 (Moore) to an exciting place: the American South. Following the assassinations of several MI-6 operatives, our hero is sent to New Orleans, Louisiana, to find out what organization could behind these killings. In cooperation with the CIA, Bond soon finds that these crimes can be traced to a massive heroin ring run by an intelligent and charming criminal named Kanaga (Kotto). However, to get close to him, the hero must utilize the skills of a psychic named Solitaire (Seymour).
I should admit that I have an affinity for two ’70s subgenres. The first being Blaxploitation flicks, of course. The other subgenre to which I’m referring is “Hixploitation” — which the movie embraces with the inclusion of a redneck character, Sheriff J.W. Pepper (Clifton James). Maybe it’s my enjoyment of these types of flicks that lends to the following opinion, but I’ll stand by it nonetheless. I loved Live & Let Die and was enjoying just about every minute of my first-time viewing! This film is the most fun in the series thus far. Best of all is (as you already guessed), Live and Let Die is a beautiful Franchise Expansion because it sets out to be an original angle on a seasoned formula!
Aside from pointing the franchise in a new direction, I think much of this particular entry’s success is due to a focus on being fun, which is embraced by the film’s talented cast. Roger Moore’s take on James Bond is wonderfully energized. As opposed to being a charming brute like his predecessor, Moore plays Bond as a true gentleman who would never strike a lady. And you can tell Moore is loving every moment of playing this part.
In closing, I should note that some fans of the franchise might not enjoy Live and Let Die as much as I do for one simple reason. This installment feels just as much like a Blaxploitation flick as it does a Bond picture. By that same token, Live and Let Die has the occasional slow stretches, as tends in the occur in all of the subgenres in which it is playing. Even still, this is easily one of my favorite entries in the franchise thus far!
Live and Let Die is Available on Home Video.
James Bond Will Return For Another Installment of Franchise Expansion or Implosion with The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)!
007’s Newest Mission, No Time to Die, Will Be in Theaters on November 25th!
Read About Bond’s Past Franchise Endeavors-
From Russia with Love:
You Only Live Twice:
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service:
Diamonds Are Forever: