Nov 23, 2020
Sir Roger Moore (1927-2017): An appreciation
I was originally preparing to review Licence to Kill, the 16th (official) James Bond film and probably the most controversial entry in the entire series. However, the recent passing of Sir Roger Moore prompted me to change my plans.
In terms of the Bond films, I was introduced to the 007s of both Moore and Sir Sean Connery simultaneously. I remember seeing Moore’s Bond entries on the big screen while also getting myself acquainted with Connery’s whenever they aired on TV. As a result, I was able to understand why Connery is praised as the definitive Bond in many quarters, but also still develop an affinity for Moore’s.
Moore was actually one of the initial actors sought for the role when Harry Saltzman and Albert Broccoli began the Bond series with Dr. No. But Moore was prevented from slipping into Bond’s tuxedo at that point because he was already signed on to do the TV series The Saint. When Connery sat out making the sixth Bond entry, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Moore’s name was again brought up, but his TV schedule kept him from signing on. Television again kept Moore from agreeing to play Bond again for the follow-up Diamonds are Forever, because he agreed to star in the TV series The Persuaders, which Moore helped develop.
The fact that Moore was an early contender for the role from the beginning made it seem inevitable that he would finally be able to play 007 in the eighth Bond film, Live and Let Die.
Unlike George Lazenby (who played Bond in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service), Moore was willing to play Bond for several movies. This allowed audiences to accept Live and Let Die on its own terms, while On Her Majesty’s, for a time, was dismissed by some because of the behind the scenes drama of that picture (check out the way ABC basically butchered the picture when it originally aired on TV, and you’ll see what I mean). While comparisons to Connery’s Bond were naturally inevitable, the success of Live and Let Die was the first true example of people willing to accept a new 007.
As with Connery’s reign as 007, Moore’s third outing in the role is often cited as the height of his tenure. Like Goldfinger, The Spy Who Loved Me perfectly balances the use of state of the art gadgetry with moments of genuine suspense. The villains, music, and theme songs of both films are also exceptional. While Spy bears no resemblance to Fleming’s novel of the same name (in fairness, this was due to Fleming’s wish that only the title be used when it came to making a movie of that specific book), both films are true to the character.
As I mentioned earlier, Licence to Kill is probably the most controversial Bond picture. While that’s a discussion for another time, in recent years, I’ve found myself wondering if the word “controversial” could also be applied to Moore’s Bond. Yes, all seven of his Bond movies were financially successful; however, there have always been 007 fans, even in those pre-Internet days when his tenure of Bond began, who have expressed their displeasure with his Bond films, specifically with the lighter touch he brought to the role. Some have also shamelessly pointed out Moore’s age, as he remains the oldest actor to strap on Bond’s Walther PPK (he was 47 when making Live and Let Die).
In regards to the rants about being more light-hearted: while I agree that giving the villainous Jaws a girlfriend in Moonraker was stupid, Moore himself retained his 007-suaveness throughout his films. One of my favorite moments of his films is in Octopussy, Moore’s sixth Bond picture, in which 007 must disguise himself as a clown in order to stop an A-bomb from destroying a circus full of people. The idea of Bond dressed as a clown by itself sounds ridiculous. However, Moore’s terrific job at projecting both anger and fear helped make this scene a truly suspenseful moment.
I must also point out a memorable moment in Moore’s fifth Bond movie, For Your Eyes Only. In this film, Moore manages to shoot the assassin Locque (Michael Gothard) before Locque runs him down with his car. The gunshot hits Locque in the shoulder, causing him to lose control of his vehicle, which ends up precariously hanging over a cliff. Bond calmly walks over to the car containing the helpless Locque and reminds the assassin that he murdered one of his colleagues, before sending Locque to his death by kicking the car over the cliff. Moore had reservations about his Bond performing such an act, but Eyes director John Glen convinced him that this would be a wonderful, intense moment—a moment which showed that, like Connery, Moore could play Bond as ruthless as well as charming.
One of my colleagues wrote a nice review of the second Bond film From Russia With Love a while back. That review correctly points out that Robert Shaw’s Grant was such a great character because Shaw himself matched Connery when it came to the intensity he could bring to the role. A nice parallel in the case of Moore’s Bond is Sir Christopher Lee’s Scaramanga, the title character in Moore’s second Bond flick, The Man with the Golden Gun. As with Connery and Shaw, Moore and Lee share wonderful scenes and exchanges of dialogue. Moore even gets one of his best lines in that film with, “When I kill, it’s under specific orders from my government… and those I kill are themselves killers!” As a result, I actually want to laugh when I hear people criticize Sir Roger’s Bond for being “too silly”.
The age issue was inevitable, considering that Hollywood has always been notorious for its ageism. Heck, people poked fun at Connery’s age when he agreed to reprise Bond for the pointless Thunderball remake Never Say Never Again. As the 1980s got underway, Moore made news for his attempts to exit the Bond franchise. The fact that Cubby Broccoli managed to get the actor to sign for his last three Bond pics shows that the producer had great trust in Moore’s star power, regardless of his age. Moore even did some of his own stunts in the aforementioned Octopussy.
Putting aside the fact that Connery’s 007 was known for his witticisms, Fleming’s Bond stories themselves are basically exaggerated, romanticized versions of Fleming’s own career in British Intelligence. While the books themselves may not have as many witty lines as the movies, both succeed in generating elegance as well as intrigue. I’ve even read interviews with several real-life intelligence operatives over the years stating that Bond makes their profession out to be a lot more exciting than it actually is.
Also, considering how the Bond films would get bigger budgets with each outing (unlike other film series), having Bond actually go into space in Moonraker was only a matter of time, if you ask me. While I’m happy that the subsequent entries were literally more down to earth, taking Bond to the stars seemed to me a nice one-time gimmick (some may say timely, considering that the American space program was running strong at the time).
Hence, Moore’s Bond is, overall, not much more of a deviation from the Bond books than Connery’s. In addition, while a movie should certainly adhere to the source material it claims to be based on, deviations can also be beneficial. I’ve read all of Fleming’s Bond books more than once and I’ll no doubt do so again, as they’re entertaining. But I find that Moore (and Connery) brought a carefree aspect to the character that wasn’t present in the books. and this aspect helped the movies become successful.
Sir Roger ended his 12-year Bond career with A View to a Kill. While that film has its critics, it also has a great title song by Duran Duran, terrific villains played by Christopher Walken and Grace Jones, as well as a nice role for Patrick Macnee, who repeats the chemistry he had with Moore when they respectively played Dr. Watson and Sherlock Holmes in Sherlock Holmes in New York.
While Moore’s post-Bond career never received the acclaim that Connery’s did, he managed to get some good films under his belt. My favorite of these is perhaps The Wild Geese, with Moore, Richard Burton, and Richard Harris making a great team as the title mercenaries who find themselves trapped behind enemy lines thanks to the very person who hired them.
But Moore became most proud of his work with UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund. With the encouragement of his friend Audrey Hepburn, Moore joined the organization in the early 1990s and traveled the world helping children living in poverty get the chance at a better life. He also fought for animal rights by working with PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), even narrating a video for the organization.
Moore’s charity work would make an even bigger impact than his acting work, which is why he was knighted in 2003.
He even found a way to interconnect his acting fame with his charity work by hosting an auction of James Bond memorabilia in 2012. The proceeds from this auction raised nearly $1 million for UNICEF. This led to Moore receiving the organization’s first UK Lifetime Achievement Award.
Whether you like his work as Bond or not, there’s no doubt that Moore helped ensure that 007 wouldn’t just be a fad of the 1960s. The fact that he would end up making the same number of Bond movies as Connery (seven) certainly says something.
Moore’s subsequent work would also prove that he wasn’t just an actor, but a true humanitarian as well.