Live And Let Die

large live and let die blu-ray4

Novel publish year – 1954
Film release year – 1973
007 – Roger Moore

second 007 novel; the eighth film.  As should be expected by those familiar with the Roger Moore era, where Bond unfortunately morphs all too often into a comedic character, discrepancies between the novel and the film are pervasive.  The film really plays up Blaxploitation-era characters and scenes, to generally cheesy effect.  The novel, by contrast, retains the fairly serious and often gritty tone Fleming developed in Casino Royale, and which remains mostly consistent throughout the novels.  That said, Fleming, a product of his times, was not without his own prejudices.  (See, for example, the title of Chapter 5, summarizing Bond’s trip to Harlem in New York City.)

In the novel, 007’s primary protagonist is Mr. Big, a SMERSH-connected operator who runs a criminal scheme importing a bounty of a secret pirate treasure — old British gold coins — he has discovered in the Caribbean.  The general theme is that Mr. Big is selling the gold on the black market to help finance communist operations in the U.S.  In the film, 007’s main foil is Dr. Kananga, a role the film’s screenwriter made more complicated by having Dr. Kananga conceal his locations and movements by assuming a fake identity as a Harlem drug lord named, unsurprisingly, Mr. Big.  Rather than the coin-smuggling scheme found in the novel, in the film Mr. Big/Dr. Kananga is involved in the production and importation to the U.S. of heroin

 Voodoo and the myth of Baron Samedi play a role in both the novel and the film.  In both, Mr. Big/Dr. Kananga use the religion as a method of controlling followers and scaring outsiders away from his illegal operation.

Live and Let Die is the novel where 007 first meets Quarrel, the Cayman islander and fishing boat operator who helps 007.  Incidentally, in the film franchise, Bond meets Quarrel for the first time in Dr. No.  In the novel, Quarrel helps 007 “get fit” for his upcoming attempt to penetrate Mr. Big’s Caribbean island operation.  Oddly, Quarrel also appears in the film despite the fact that he was killed off by being burned alive by Dr. No’s henchmen in the very first film.

The CIA’Felix Leiter also plays a prominent role in both the novel and the film.  While in the film Felix is mostly 007’s trusted sidekick in the U.S. who helps with logistical support, in the novel he plays much more of an equal partner in the investigation into Mr. Big.  In sharp contrast with the film version, in the novel Felix is gravely injured – losing an arm and leg – when Mr. Big’s henchmen toss him into a shark tank when 007, Felix, and Solitaire are in Florida.  (As in the films, Felix will re-appear in subsequent Bond novels but, unlike the films, his role will be necessarily limited by his injuries.)

In another interesting contrast between the novels and the films, in the novel, MI6 Agent John Strangways (later killed in the opening sequence in the Dr. No novel and film), is 007’s contact in Jamaica.  

Some of the more interesting scenes in the film – which are similar to the often morbid and violent tones founds in the novels – take place when the Olympia Brass Band help Mr. Big’s men in New Orleans by removing the bodies of murdered agents during the course of a sham funeral procession in the French Quarter – shifting from melancholy funeral dirge before the murders, to a euphoric version of When The Saints Go Marching In after each murder.  These scenes, however, do not appear in the novel.

In the novel, 007’s “big test” (a common plot point around the 3/4 mark in nearly all of the novels) is a 300-yard underwater swim to Mr. Big’s island.  Unlike the cool and calm character played by Roger Moore in the film, in the novel Bond is downright petrified just before he enters the water on his mission.  On his way, Bond fends off a giant octopus, as well as sharks and barracuda stirred up by Mr. Big’s men, who toss blood and offal into the water to create a feeding frenzy.  All in considerable contrast to the method by which the film version of 007 penetrates Dr. Kananga’s turf – casually hang-gliding onto Dr. Kananga’s poppy-filled island while smoking a cigar.  Moreover, the “big scenes” in the film are mostly farcical chase sequences in which a) Bond takes an elderly student on a flight lesson while evading Dr. Kananga’s men; and b) speeds through a Louisiana river, disrupting a wedding and sparking the ire of the regrettable local sheriff, J.W. Pepper (who appears again, equally regrettably, in film version of The Man With The Golden Gun).

— the requisite “Bond girl” — is similar in both the novel and the film.  One interesting difference is that in the novel, Solitaire is almost immediately keen on Bond and does not hesitate to save his life by deliberately misreading her tarot cards to protect him, while, in the film, Solitaire is initially recalcitrant and only succumbs to 007’s charms when he tricks her into believing that being with him is destined by the cards.  Rosie Carver, the clumsy CIA double agent in the film, does not appear in the novel.

In the novel and in the film, Mr. Big/Dr. Kananga attempts to kill 007 and Solitaire with a somewhat similar method — both involve, as is common in both the novels and the films, sharks.  In the novel, 007 and Solitaire are bound together, dragged behind Mr. Big’s yacht, and run over a coral reef to put blood in the water to attract sharks.  (A sequence which is actually re-created in the film version of For Your Eyes Only.) In the film, 007 and Solitaire are bound together and slowly lowered into Dr. Kananga’s indoor shark pool; Kananga slashes Bond’s forearm with a knife so that his blood drips into the water, attracting the sharks.  Essentially, in both, 007 and Solitaire are used as shark bait.  (The scene in which Bond escapes being eaten alive at Mr. Big’s alligator farm appears only in the film.)

Of course, in both the novel and the film, 007 prevails over Mr. Big/Dr. Kananga.  In the novel, the violence visited on Felix Leiter is paid back when a shark devours Mr. Big after Bond blows up Mr. Big’s yacht, thrusting him and his henchmen into the shark-filled water.  (Quarrel saves Bond and Solitaire from the same waters before they, too, can be attacked by the sharks.)  In the film, Bond kills Mr. Big by forcing a special Q-Branch-provided pellet into his mouth, which causes him to (very comically, unfortunately) expand like a cheap blow up sex doll, ascend into the air, and explode; a scene spoofed in the first Austin Power’s movie.

Finally, in the film, Bond and Solitaire return from their adventure on a train, where Mr. Big’s ever-loyal henchman, Tee Hee Johnson, tries to avenge his boss’s death by attempting to murder Bond in a private train car.  This scene is a nice little homage to a scene from the novel where, shortly after rescuing Solitaire, Bond (who, we are told in chapter 10, loves trains) and Solitaire travel on a train called The Silver Phantom from NYC to Florida and end up escaping a hit squad sent by Mr. Big.

Next: Moonraker


1 comment
  1. Pat said:

    Just finished novel while home with a bad cold in a snowstorm…perfect escape to Caribbean setting! I am reading through the novels in the order they were written ….have an e-anthology on iBooks. Just came back to this blog !

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