Keeping the British End Up, Sir Roger Moore

IMG_2994You can’t be surprised or shocked when an 89 year-old man dies, but that doesn’t mean “Roger Moore died” was the last thing I thought I’d hear on Tuesday morning upon arriving to work. I also didn’t want to believe it. I had a similar reaction when Christopher Reeve died. “But Superman can’t die!” Neither can James Bond. Sir Roger Moore, knighted in 2003, apparently had cancer and according to his family, it was a quick battle once he was diagnosed. They also wanted to point to his work as a UNICEF goodwill ambassador, a role he took on in 1991, as his greatest accomplishment. I aint going to argue. Saving the world for real is truly nobler then saving the world in blockbuster films. However, for me and millions of others, Roger Moore, to paraphrase the Live and Let Die (1973) poster, IS JAMES BOND.

I’ve been meaning to do my rankings; best Bond, best villain, best fight, best song, best car chase, best Foley artist to capture the sound of ice clinking in a glass, etc. for some time now. (Yes yes, and I need to write my SPECTURE review, back off man!) All those will come, someday. But let’s get this out now and here; as long time readers (and I thank all four of you) know, I’ve always had a soft spot for Moore as Bond. I’m not sure who the best Bond is? (wait for that list dear reader) But who is the best Bond is a question that, at the end of the day, is subjective with no right or wrong answer (unless your favorite Bond is Dalton, then you are wrong.) But what is not disputable, what is 100% fact; Moore is without question my favorite Bond. This is something I’ve been shy or embarrassed to express with passion or out loud at times, but it has always been the truth. And it turns out, I’m not alone! Look at what my favorite critic had to say about Moore. A.O. Scott hit on one of the reasons it’s always been Moore for me, those Channel 11 Saturday afternoon airings of Bond. (That, and my first movie theater Bond was Octopussy.) For me, watching those movies on TV, as a Gen Xer born in 1974, Moore was Bond and Connery was the other guy. If it was a Moore film on Channel 11, I watched. If it was a Connery film, I was disappointed and sometimes watched while other times my Legos won the afternoon. For me, Moore was funnier. Moore was more relatable. He was cool in the late 70’s Chevy Chase/Burt Reynolds kind of way. It’s that “yah, it’s all kind of a joke and we, me and you audience member, are in on it.” But not in an Irony in “” 90’s kind of way. It’s the “I’m the smartest guy in the room/never let them see you sweat” brand of cool.

Live-and-Let-Die-United-Artists-1973.-Six-SheetAll of the obits for Moore talk about how he brought a light touch or a raised eyebrow or a less serious, breezier tone to Bond. All that is true and it is his legacy. The man wore it well because it was him. Even the title of his 2008 autobiography “My Word is My Bond” is a pun. It’s why so many of us love him, but I think his natural charm and wit shadows the serious weight and heavy lifting Moore pulled off time and time again as Bond. Today, we take it for granted that any (white) male with a British accent can at least be considered for Bond. Not so in 1971. Picture someone else playing Dirty Harry or Indiana Jones (Shut up Shia Labeouf!!!) and you get the idea. Lazenby was such a disaster (at the time) that EON backed the Brinks truck up to Sean’s chateau while simultaneously eating major humble pie. Two years after Connery quit a second time, Moore successfully carried on the mantle of Bond, not by trying to be Connery, but by NOT being Connery. Without Moore, no Craig. The franchise would have died and been remembered, if at all, as a relic of the swinging 60’s, just like Matt Helm. Moore proved you could be your own Bond and still be Bond. He then ushered Bond through a second crises three years later when Harry Saltzman, one of the two masterminds of the series, split. Everyone questioned could Bond carry on? The answer was The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), a hall of fame entry. Then again, three years after that, the departure of Ken Adams and his crew. Almost as much as Connery, Ken Adams was Bond on film. The round room in Dr. No (1962), the volcano in You Only Live Twice (1967), the slanted Queen Elizabeth MI6 headquarters in The Man with the Golden Gun (1974), the Mondrian control room in Moonraker (1979), M’s office forever; the look and feel of Bond was Ken Adams’ wonderful set designs. Moore’s films moved the franchise past that and opened up to different looks, the stripped down Euro spy intrigue of For Your Eyes Only (1981), the lavish over the top kookiness in Octopussy (1983), and on to the techno/sterile/sleek look of the Bonds of the 90’s and the aughts. Moore’s steady hand got Bond over all those bumps in the road so it could continue long after he himself was gone.

636311334049037233-AP-Britain-Roger-Moore-ObitAbove all, I think Moore, as the longest tenured Bond, doesn’t get credit for playing more shades of Bond than any other before or since. Yes, all six Bonds can be broken down to one word summations; Connery is the tough Bond, Craig is the brooding Bond, etc. In this way, Moore becomes the goofy Bond. These one word umbrellas are, of course, totally unfair. One of the coldest, most merciless kills in Bond history happens in For Your Eyes Only when Moore, ice in his veins and fire in his eyes, runs up approximately 2 quadrillion stairs to push a car and terrified passenger over a cliff. None the less, saying Moore is the goofy Bond or campy Bond or tongue in cheek Bond is not wrong. But take a step back and look at how far apart 1973’s Live and Let Die is from 1985’s A View to A Kill. And then consider everything in-between. Again, in the simplest terms, the Moore era Bond films were more or less chasing and attempting to cash in on the most recent trends in movies and therefore whiplash inducing in their varied tone and style. This was not Moore’s doing but was a strategy EON took on at the time. In very broad stokes, Live and Let Die is the blaxploitation/ red neck revenge Bond, Golden Gun is the Kung-Fu/ environmentally woke Bond, Spy Who Loved Me is the cold war capital B Big Bond, Moonraker is the Star Wars Bond, For Your Eyes Only is the back to basics small b bond (with a side of 1980 winter Olympics thrown in), Octopussy is the Indian Jones Bond, and A View to a Kill is the technology paranoia Bond. Moore filled the various demands of all these different Bonds with a breezy easy. He didn’t bend to these films, they bent to him. He keeps it all grounded and most importantly… keeps it Bond. That’s not easy, Dalton lost Bond in Licence to Kill (1989), the American cop show Bond. Moore however, could do it all and still be charming as hell. Jump on alligators heads? Sure! Knock a 7 foot guy named Jaws on the head with stones from the pyramids? Can I wear a tux! Shoot freaking lasers in freaking space? Anything for king and country! And what was he not down for? He hated when he was asked to manhandle actresses, Maud Adams in particular. Did he end up doing it? Yah, but he fought against it and likely got the director to tame down the scene as a result. Yet another proud accomplishment in the Moore era moving past Connery.

gun-1Moore always said he had a limited ability to act and that Sean was the best Bond. Perhaps. But Moore was my Bond, the Bond I grew up with, and the reason I fell in love with 007. I think I’m done apologizing for that from now on.

R.I.P Sir Roger. For me, nobody does it better.

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