One of the most popular images accessed by visitors to the JBIFC’s facebook site over the last year has been the now famous black-and-white still of Roger Moore posing beside the ominous looking sign warning that ‘Trespassers Will Be Eaten’.
What is the background to this iconic publicity shot? Sir Roger, who recently celebrated his eighty-seventh birthday, has recalled the context of this legendary photo on a number of occasions over the years. And the story behind the photo helps give a great insight into some of the challenges the production crew faced during the location filming for Roger’s first 007 adventure, Live and Let Die.
Location filming on Roger Moore’s debut James Bond film began in the USA in October, 1972. After flying in from London via New York (where some key scenes were shot in the Big Apple), Roger then moved down to New Orleans and spent the first few days there getting used to steering his jet-ski boat, in rehearsal for the famous and quite spectacular 15-minute boat chase at the heart of the movie. It was during the preparations for this chase that Roger suffered his first accident on the movie, cracking his front teeth and injuring his knee and shoulder when he lost control of his jet-boat while rehearsing on the famous Irish Bayou.
Inevitably, there were also a number of other (mainly minor) injuries during the main filming for the boat chase, a complex sequence which took place in various bayou backwater areas in Louisiana, about 30 miles outside New Orleans. On one occasion, a stunt driver in a jet-boat swerved out of control and ploughed into an oak tree. Although the stuntman was unhurt, it was a sobering indication of some of the challenges the movie-makers faced when carrying out the increasingly elaborate stunts that many cinemagoers had now come to expect in a James Bond movie.
The sequence where Bond gives an ‘unofficial’ flying lesson to the startled Mrs. Bell (Ruth Kempf) was also shot in New Orleans, at Lake Front Airport. Again, although there was some very careful planning beforehand with the planes and cars, there were still some hair-raising near-misses in this sequence for one or two members of the stunt team. But it was clear that the stunt crew also thoroughly enjoyed themselves wrecking numerous cars and planes, including shearing off the wings of a plane as it crashed through some hangar doors. The filming attracted a lot of spectators, and made big headlines in the local Louisiana press and on TV.
Return Another Day
It seemed fitting that Live and Let Die, Roger Moore’s first 007 adventure, was returning Bond to Jamaica, the place where Dr. No, Sean Connery’s first Bond film, had also carried out location shooting. Moore’s film also shot some sequences very close to where Dr. No had been filmed on the island. It was also, of course, the birthplace of James Bond, in the sense that 007 author Ian Fleming had lived there while drafting his annual Bond novels.
The Live and Let Die crew moved on to Jamaica in December, 1972, the first time Roger had visited the beautiful island, and he took the opportunity at one point to visit the late James Bond author’s Jamaican bungalow retreat, Goldeneye. He recalled later that he felt ‘a great sense of awe, and was quite humbled to think everything started within those simple rooms with the first Bond book’.
In the film’s script, which was partly based on the plot and main characters in Fleming’s second novel, Mr. Big (played by Yaphet Kotto) is using a combination of strong-arm tactics and fear of voodoo to protect his secret drug production facilities on the island of San Monique, a fictional island somewhere in the Caribbean. Building on his work for Diamonds Are Forever, screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz was keen to again have some memorable stunts in the movie’s plotline.
Earlier that year, during a pre-production location recce in March, 1972, the Director Guy Hamilton had been joined by Art Director Syd Cain and Mankiewicz, and the trio had been hunting for sites that would be suitable locations for some of the sequences set out in Mankiewicz’s first draft screenplay. In particular, the first draft penned by Mankiewicz had described a sequence where Mr. Big would drop 007 into a large sugar granulator, a huge machine commonly used in the sugar industry in Jamaica. However, this idea had been (reluctantly) dropped when Hamilton and Cain found that using such a cumbersome machine for filming would be simply too dangerous, even on a Bond movie!
While searching for suitable alternative locations in Jamaica for Mr. Big’s island, the trio took to the jungle areas in the east of the island. Just outside Montego Bay, driving along a jungle road, they passed a sign warning the public to ‘Beware Crocodiles Crossing’. A little further on, they had then passed an even more attention-grabbing sign warning that ‘Trespassers Will Be Eaten’. They discovered it was positioned near the entrance to a crocodile farm owned by a certain ‘Mr. Kananga’. In a delicious irony, the warning sign reminded them of the words used by Mr. Big when he fed Bond’s CIA buddy Felix Leiter to the sharks in Fleming’s original novel (a note pinned to Leiter had said ‘He disagreed with something that ate him’).
More importantly, though, when the excited trio looked around the farm, and met the farm’s owner, Ross Kananga, they quickly realised that this very unusual place offered really interesting filming possibilities, and was the perfect place to have a sequence where Bond’s life appears to be genuinely in danger. Director Guy Hamilton and Syd Cain were certainly impressed with both the farm and with the resourceful Mr. Kananga, who seemed to have a very special relationship with his crocodiles after a long period as a ‘croc’ farmer.
The intriguing Mr. Kananga was an American who was also part-Seminole Indian. His father had been a crocodile wrestler who had lost his life to a croc, and Ross Kananga also had various scars from his own life-long career farming and dealing with crocs. Indeed, the farm had an estimated 1,300 crocodiles and alligators. Among his many talents, Kananga could make a special crocodile call, to which many crocs would respond immediately, and he could even make the special mating sound of his green and fearless friends.
Mankiewicz eagerly told Hamilton and Cain that he could introduce the crocodile farm into his script. Moreover, after careful negotiations, Kananga agreed to allow the production to make full use of the farm when filming commenced later that year.
From a View to a Thrill
The logistics of shooting on Live and Let Die were very complex, and the tasks were divided between a number of shooting units. During the pre-production plans for the principal photography on the movie in Jamaica, careful preparations had been made for the croc sequences on the farm. A small team of craftsmen had been brought over from Pinewood in England to build a retractable bridge to a small concrete island in the farm’s main pond, which Mr. Big’s henchman Tee Hee (Julius W. Harris) would use to maroon 007. The farm’s main pond (quite stagnant in the near-unbearable Jamaican heat) was also cleared of excess crocodiles as a safety precaution so that Hamilton could bring his main film unit on to the site and be confident there would be no nasty surprises!
In fact, before he arrived, Roger Moore noted gleefully that: ‘Production and construction noise has driven all the crocs and alligators to ground. Ross Kananga, the alligator specialist and handler, is busy digging them out of the mud where they have buried themselves. I have sent him word not to bother on my account’.
Principal photography by the first unit at the farm location lasted a full day, while some additional footage of the crocodiles munching on chicken was taken by the second unit on the following day. During the filming on the main day, there was more elasion when Kananga (pictured here) agreed to double as Bond in the sequence with the crocodiles (and probably quite a sigh of relief from the stunt men!).
It is a little unclear precisely when Ross Kananga agreed to volunteer to actually do the main stunt (there are various accounts of this), but Mankiewicz had apparently chatted to him and explained how they were going to have Bond stranded on the small concrete island surrounded by the crocodiles, and Kananga suggested he would be the best person to do the stunt, given his strong familiarity with their behaviour. He could immobilize the crocs by having them tied down in the water using weights, and he could then try to jump over the backs of his crocs.
However, the veteran croc handler was also under no illusions about how dangerous and unpredictable his crocodiles could often be. At one point during the day’s shoot, he became concerned that crew members were becoming far too complacent and were turning their backs on the crocodiles. He began to fear an accident, and had to warn the crew a number of times to always be on their guard.
For the actual main stunt, although Kananga had the feet of about a dozen of his crocodiles tied down to weights on the bottom of the pond to keep them still, the jaws and tails of the crocs were left free to maximise the sense of danger in the sequence. In a now famous scene in the movie, where Bond suddenly sees an opportunity to use the backs of some lined-up crocodiles as stepping-stones to make his escape from the small island, Ross Kananga, dressed as Moore’s Bond, proceeded to dash across the backs of three of his crocodiles as they lay in line in the water.
It was an increasingly tense atmosphere on set for both Kananga and the watching crew, as he had to do the stunt five times to get the sequence just right. The first four times he tried to carry out the stunt, he slipped and fell into the water. Alarmingly, after the first take, the crocs had also begun to anticipate Kananga’s steps, snapping at him ever more sharply. At one point, on the third take, he nearly lost his foot when one of the increasingly temperamental crocs actually bit his shoe. He also realised that his ordinary street shoes were not helping him to keep his balance.
Even after giving Bond’s street shoes some specially prepared soles to help him keep traction, Kananga still kept slipping. After changing his clothes and rowing out to the small island yet again, it was only on his fifth attempt that he finally managed to keep his balance, run across the crocs and reach the shore.
It was a brave stunt that caused deep intakes of breath all round, but earned Kananga great admiration from everyone who was involved in the filming or observing the highly dangerous sequence, including Roger Moore (who, very wisely, watched from a safe distance!). In fact, Tom Mankiewicz, the movie’s screenwriter, as a tribute to the generous cooperation of Ross Kananga on the movie, incorporated his surname into the script (‘Dr. Kananga’ became the cover name of Mr. Big in the movie).
Too Hot to Handle
In his own Diary account of filming Live and Let Die (which was published by Pan Books in 1973 to tie in with the release of the movie), Moore referred to the crocodile farm sequence as ‘Bond Day Thirty-Sixth’ (his 36th day of filming on the movie), and as ‘C for Crocodile Day’.
As he recalled in his Diary: ‘This morning I was bleary-eyed at the early start but I soon woke up when we passed a sign which said: “Beware Crocodiles Crossing”, then stopped at another which warned: “Trespassers Will be Eaten”. That was not bluff, as somewhere among the log-like mass in the swamp is Bongus, a 13-foot-long, 1,500 pounder who once ate four fishermen’.
Roger also noted in his Diary that the atmosphere on set was tense, and that Guy Hamilton had refused admission to visitors or even the official film crew photographers. In another Diary comment, the third 007 commented: ‘Crocs are the most malovent, menacing creatures I have come across’.
But it is clear that, at some point in the day, the film unit’s main stills photographer was able to ‘borrow’ Roger for the now iconic shot of him posing next to the ‘Trespassers Will Be Eaten’ sign, and the still has undoubtedly gone on to become one of the most memorable off-set photos of the early Moore Bond era. It was certainly a great coup for the film’s publicists.
Interestingly, the memory of that day’s filming also stayed firmly with Sir Roger for years afterwards. In his autobiography My Word Is My Bond (2008), the former 007 reflected: ‘Those bloody alligators and crocodiles scared the you-know-what out of me’. He also revealed, with grim but good humour: ‘Foolishly, I made a wardrobe error. I thought it would be smart to wear crocodile-skin shoes. My beloved Italian croc-skin shoes probably had a few cousins and aunties in Ross’s farm…’.
But you can be confident the crocodiles didn’t take it personally!
Did You Know?
When Live and Let Die received its small-screen premiere on British TV in January, 1980, the audience was a truly astonishing 23 million viewers. This is still, even today, a ratings record for a TV screening of a 007 movie in Britain. This record was very nearly equalled by another Roger Moore Bond movie, The Spy Who Loved Me, which picked up 22.9 million viewers when it was first shown on the UK’s ITV network in March, 1982.