Tuesday, June 23, 2009

I Live And You Die

...is the title I thought was more fitting for James Bond's adventure Live and Let Die. The 2nd novel in Ian Fleming's seminal series, Live and Let Die takes 007 from the streets of Harlem to sunny Florida and across to tropical Jamaica. Reading this book, it seemed closer to the James Bond movies in scope and expanded on Bond's friendship with CIA agent Felix Leiter. Having said that, it differed quite a bit from what would become the movie that served as Roger Moore's debut (I often thought Moore looked the closest to Fleming's description of James Bond physically, minus the facial scar).

First, the pluses of Live and Let Die. Fleming does a great job of broadening Bond's character, his attitudes towards women (very sexist - women are to be desired, pursued and protected only), towards other races (pre civil rights benign racist) and food (one thing I have noticed in these books is every freakin' meal gets detailed. Dude loves his eggs in the morning). A slow tension builds throughout the story, the feeling of always being watched and worrying about every move being a give away to his cover is almost palpable.

At the same time the cause of the tension is troubling because the book has such a pre-civil rights attitude towards other races. This made the first half of the novel hard to get through because it's built on the premise that all black people know each other and form a network that leads to a Mr. Big who keeps authority through fear of his voodoo powers. I guess I shouldn't be surprised by this approach since the book was written in the '50's when people referred to each other in more openly racial tones, just from modern eyes it's hard to stomach.

The second half of the book is when the story gets cracking. A great section comes when Bond decides to sneak into an exotic fish warehouse maintained by Mr Big at the docks in Florida. After CIA agent Felix Leiter investigated the same place and was half eaten by a shark, 007 stealthily sneaks into the building and finds the hidden criminal loot he's after in a fish tank before he's spotted and dodges enemy fire. Though he is temporarily captured, Bond is able to overpower his holder and force the enemy into the shark pit. This whole part was adapted in the Timothy Dalton era Bond movie Licence To Kill (1989) and comes across even better on page then it did on film (which was pretty good on this part).

An even better section occurs with Bond's approach of Mr. Big's Jamaican base. He has to walk underwater through shark and squid infested territory to sneak up on the island. You can feel fear as every air bubble risks detection as squids and sharks swim around while Bond carries a large explosive with him. This part I don't remember being in any Bond film (though I guess Thunderball could get close) and is a thrilling part of the book.

Live and Let Die was used as a sort of general outline as Moore's first cinematic venture as the famed spy bears only slight resemblance to the source material. Because the movie was made in the early 70's it edged more towards the popular exploitation films of the time ("Did you mess with that?") and had bigger stunts of course (the book doesn't have record breaking boat jumps). Plus you can't hear a killer Paul McCartney theme song from a piece of paper. And I kept picturing Jane Seymour as Solitaire, she does fit the description Fleming gave of the virginal psychic. Still, the book is miles ahead of the movie, you almost can't compare the two. So for Live and Let Die the book, Dixie says:


pamwax said...

I agree with Dixie. I read all the 007 books years ago and loved them all. Books are always better then the movies.

Mr. Mike said...

Dixie likes that you agree with her :)