The great Roger Moore, seven times James Bond, has died at the age of 89.
Roger Moore was more than just James Bond– he did a couple of non-Bond pictures with the great On Her Majesty’s Secret Service director Peter Hunt, for example. But it is his dapper tenure as 007 from 1973 to 1985 that made him a screen icon and a beloved entertainment figure for so many millions, including myself growing up.
Often traduced as a campy departure from the supposed Fleming purism of the great Sean Connery, Moore’s detractors have often shown a rather silly and unlettered fixation upon their own subjective notion of Bond, as we witness today with endless fanzine valentines to the overrated Daniel Craig.
In truth, Connery clearly grew bored with Bond after Thunderball, if not after Goldfinger. While You Only Live Twice is an enjoyable picture in its way, and Connery fun to watch in it, it’s impossible to miss Connery’s boredom with the material compared to his taut performances in his earlier Bond pictures.
Returning with Diamonds Are Forever, Connery clearly enjoyed himself more. But it was that picture, directed by Goldfinger’s Guy Hamilton, which determined the template for much of what came after. Hamilton went on to direct Moore’s first pair of Bond pictures, Live and Let Die and The Man With the Golden Gun, and neither film can fairly be described as any more campy than Connery’s last franchise outing.
Indeed, Diamonds Are Forever is, in its way, a terrific picture, even if it skimps on action spectacle. Live and Let Die, with its blacsploitation motifs and Eastern Seaboard/Caribbean locations, was relatively modest in its reach but already established Moore as a cool and credible secret agent.
In fact, Live and Let Die is one of the most underrated of Bond pictures. In his first outing, Roger Moore displays some sharp “misogynistic” tendencies, as when he fools Domino in surrendering her prized virginity (some today would probably scream “Rape!”), or when he assures his ebony goddess that he’ll kill her if she doesn’t give him the information he requires. “You wouldn’t, not after what we just did,” she insists. “I certainly wasn’t going to kill you before, ” Sir Roger icily replies.
Live and Let Die boasts one of my favorite action set pieces of all time: the multilayered boat chase. The ebbs and flows of this elaborate sequence, moving through seemingly endless bayous and sometimes flying over bridges and obstructive patches of land, interspersed with bits of comic relief from the infamous Sheriff J. W. Pepper, make it a rare action scene that one can relax into. It’s positively symphonic, the way this sequence stretches itself out, speeds up and lulls down, then back again, most of it without the benefit of Sir George Martin’s terrific score– though in the rare moments it kicks in, it makes things especially pulse-pounding.
The Man With the Golden Gun sees Moore continue being Mr. Charmingly Icy, twisting Maud Adams’ arm and slapping Britt Eckland around on the tush. The film’s bits of comic relief have made it a lightning rod for fan criticism, but this too is a sort of favorite of mine. It’s not just Christopher Lee’s fine performance as Scaramanga but something about the whole subdued mood of the film. Britt Eckland’s performance is underrated because too few reviewers recognize it for the comedic turn it is. John Barry’s music (which he himself disdained) I’ve always enjoyed, and while the slidewhistle sound effect during the infamous car stunt detracts, it doesn’t ruin the whole film. As the last Bond picture with the distinctive look of the 60s era, The Man With the Golden Gun is, for me, an enchanting time capsule.
1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me was the big franchise reboot, and the film that unleashed the distinctive Roger Moore Bond persona. Going big, the film reenacts the apocalyptic scale of You Only Live Twice, but this time with swanky globetrotting, a hot Russian female spy, ginormous sets that Stanley Kubrick secretly did the lighting for, and an outrageous opening stunt diving off some giant mountainside up on Baffin Island or some such place. This is the Bond film that even Moore’s detractors love, and justly so– everything is glossy high budget perfection, and Moore’s chemistry with Bach is glamorous and seductive.
Moonraker follows the formula, attempting if possible even to upend the previous entry. It’s a mixed bag, with of course some infamous excesses, but the precredit sequence remains a milestone in action cinema, the French scenery is breathtakingly photographed, and the finale is a stunning special effects extravaganza. Cokehead Lois Chiles is no Barbara Bach, but Lonsdale’s Hugo Drax is an effective Blofeld-esque villain. Though an uneven viewing experience, Moonraker is a kind of trashterpiece, fascinating to watch and strangely seductive.
With For Your Eyes Only, Moore was past his contract, and the scenario was concocted in a vacuum as to who would be playing Bond. The result is Bond played by Moore with few of his trademark quips, but plenty of nonverbal Moore charm. The film is also a return of sorts to the comparative minimalism of From Russia With Love, thrusting Bond into a Cold War spy game to recover a lost MacGuffin in the depths of the Aegean. The plot doesn’t really survive rational scrutiny, but it’s played straight which suffices to give it the right sense of urgency.
Longtime 2nd unit director/film editor John Glen got his first shot at directing here, and he took on the task with amazing energy. Abetted by Alan Hume’s gorgeous cinematography, For Your Eyes Only is terrifically exciting to watch– the most satisfying Bond film since On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. The helicopter death ride, Spanish countryside car chase, Greek mountain climbing battle and seaside shootout, and of course the epic ski chase, are all dazzling action set pieces. Moore himself is crisp throughout: fit looking, quick with a wry eyebrow raise, but also displaying at times a mature intensity that makes this perhaps his best all-round performance.
However, with his sixth Bond picture Moore delivered the real sleeper of the Bond canon, the film I believe actually tops For Your Eyes Only and The Spy Who Loved Me as well as The Living Daylights as the best of all post-OHMSS Bond pictures– Octopussy.
Many of those who saw it in their childhoods have compared it favorably with Raiders of the Lost Ark, and they are right to do so. Octopussy is the Bond film which does whatever it wants at any given moment, which results in it being a combination of pure escapist extravaganza with taut spy thriller realism. The extravaganza is provided largely by the film’s Technicolor Indian locations, including the titular heroine’s Pussy Galore-esque island of female warriors. When the film gets to Germany however, it settles in on a massive half-hour action set piece that is simply the tightest and most suspenseful stretch of Bond excitement we’ve seen since OHMSS.
And Roger Moore throughout is spectacular– just bouncing off the walls. It helps greatly that the entire cast seems to approach the film with just the right attitude. Louis Jourdan as villain Kamal Khan and Maud Adams as Octopussy give Moore seasoned actors to work with who have the same old school glamour and refinement. Adams in particular has an electric chemistry with Moore: while she’s no Liv Ullmann, she certainly brings a poise and knowingness to the part as a worthy “opposite number” for Bond. The vulvular bed upon which she makes love to Bond is an outrageous whim of set design, and the preceeding moments in which Bond strides forward past her slammed-in-his-face door to take what they both want is one of the sexiest (in the best “Not tonight, Scarlett” tradition!) moments in Bond history.
Sadly, Roger Moore’s final outing would be an unhappy one for him, as he lengthily admitted his feelings of obsolescence and embarrassment filming A View to a Kill. While the film falls short of its two mighty predecessors and has an uneven, somewhat Brosnanesque tone, there is still much to admire in it. Although Moore’s age seems to have caught up with him– he was suddenly, visibly, oldish looking in a way he wasn’t just two years before and sometimes appears somewhat winded by the proceedings– the performance is by no means a bad one. Moore accused Grace Jones of some rather unprofessional antics, and I suspect that Christopher Walken, intentionally or not, may have needled him with his histrionic acting. And Tanya Roberts, of course, is undeniably one of the lamer Bond girls. Still, it’s an interesting picture, with beautiful photography, an underrated steeplechase set piece, and a fantastic climax atop the Golden Gate Bridge. Moore felt he had stayed on a picture too long, but this is not a bad addition to the canon.
Roger Moore penned some highly readable memoirs and acting for many years as the sort of unofficial Bond Emeritus. His conscience was clearly peeved by the films’ turn towards more graphic violence and fake seriousness. He also, late in life, stepped into controversy when he offended the Social Justice Warriors by indicated that James Bond should always be, of course, a White Briton. Of course Moore was absolutely right: James Bond is a White myth, created by and for White people who, by the way, created the great nation that is Britain: an historically White nation which deserves to be, and shall once again be, for White people. As the present horror in Manchester underlines, there is no gain to sharing our space, our culture, our lives with foreigners. They can drink tea and make spy movies and blow themselves up back in Pakistan or Somalia or whatever other hell they hail from– and WILL be returned to.
Roger Moore has been an indelible part of my movieviewing life, and always will be. His seven entries in the Bond franchise are each recommended by Moore’s lightheartedly cool, suavely unflappable interpretation. Seldom accorded the full respect he deserves, Moore was like a handsomer David Niven. Charming, dangerous, but always fundamentally moral, he gave us thirteen years of saving the world in inimitable style. “His services,” as Blofeld would once say, “will be greatly missed.” But as Moore’s Bond himself once said in For Your Eyes Only, “We’re not dead yet”– just as the villainous Kristatos’s yatch yanked him and Carol Bouquet into the pristine seas to be consumed by sharks. I’ve used that movie clip as a sort of Cheer Up to those chokng on blackpills during our present world crisis. Against the odds, Roger Moore’s Bond always came out alive and on top. And, I pray, truly our beloved Roger Moore is not and will never be “dead yet” either. Godspeed, fine hero.