I watched Live and Let Die with my son Sam (11) this evening. It was his first Roger Moore Bond movie. Moore, for me, is charming and light, but Sam, quite rightly I think, greatly prefers Daniel Craig. Watching Moore pretend to kick and karate-chop bad guys in the streets of Harlem and the bayous of Louisiana is thoroughly unconvincing, it doesn’t look like Moore would care to ruin the drape of his slacks. Although we both got a healthy laugh out of his expertly delivered line: “Don’t worry darling, its just a small hat, belonging to a man of limited means, who lost a fight with a chicken.” I had also forgotten that the bad-guy plot of Live and Let Die was, at the time, a ripped-from-the-headlines adaptation of the story of Frank Lucas, the real-life Harlem drug lord who really did take over the heroin trade from the Mafia, a tale well-told in the movie American Gangster.
Nevertheless, Sam is of an age enough to want to know the facts of life — by which I mean “How did the movie do?” For this, I turn to Box Office Mojo, which not only keeps track of these things but also goes so far as to adjust grosses for inflation. (Their list of all-time grosses, adjusted for inflation, is particularly edifying.)
I’m shocked to find that Live and Let Die is one of the least popular of the Moore years. The Looney Tunes cartoon Moonraker is number 1, and the truly bizarre Octopussy is number 2! (No pun intended.) The trajectory seems to be: People weren’t ready to embrace Moore when Live and Let Die came out, then there was the unfortunate Man with the Golden Gun, which would turn anyone off of the series, but then there was the going-all-out Spy Who Loved Me, which saved the franchise and allowed Moore to do five more of them. It’s hard to imagine a studio today saying “Well, the grosses were way down on the first movie, but let’s let the guy do two more and see if things pick up.” Which of course goes back to the Bond movies being producer’s movies, the Broccolis own the property and no studio can tell them what to do. At this point, the Bond movies could justify their production on ancillary rights alone, it’s not like people are going to suddenly stop watching James Bond movies in endless rotation on cable networks.
As for the superior You Only Live Twice doing less than half of the turgid, bloated Thunderball, YOLT had the misfortune of splitting the Bond dollar in 1967 with the ersatz Bond parody Casino Royale, which was a huge hit that year but is not listed here for some reason.