The James Bond I grew up with died earlier this week.
The 007 franchise, the longest currently running in movies, is now on its sixth Bond, Daniel Craig. Sean Connery started the series, left for two (the original “Casino Royale” and “On His Majesty’s Secret Service”), and returned for one (plus another not from the series’ producers).
It may be that “Diamonds Are Forever,” but Connery was not. His replacement was Roger Moore, who had already played a similar role on British TV that was picked up by NBC, “The Saint”:
I saw Connery’s Bond on TV (generally ABC’s Sunday Night Movie). I saw Moore’s Bond in theaters.
Between that and the fact that Moore acted as Bond the most of any of the Bonds (besides Connery there was one-Bond George Lazenby, parody Bond David Niven, Moore’s successor Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan and now Daniel Craig), Moore has always been Bond to me. Connery may be more popular, and Craig may be more the Bond that author Ian Fleming intended, but Moore’s Bond is who I think of.
This story has been circulating on the interwebs:
James Freeman adds that the story …
… squares with what this column heard from a source who occasionally had the pleasure of Moore’s company. The actor was witty and well-read, but often preferred listening to others rather than telling stories of his own. The Times of London notes that despite his huge celebrity, Moore remained self-deprecating:
Sir Roger Moore may not have been the best Bond, indeed by his own estimation he was the fourth best, but off screen he was undoubtedly the most endearing of the actors who played the role. This likeability had much to do with his unwillingness, perhaps inability, to take himself too seriously. When he was cast in the 007 role, for example, he was asked what he thought he could bring to it. More brooding menace than Sean Connery, perhaps? More sex appeal than George Lazenby? He replied: “White teeth.” And when critics accused him of being a one eyebrow actor, he countered that this was unfair because he was, in fact, a two-eyebrow actor.
“The eyebrows thing was my own fault,” he once said in an interview. “I was talking about how talentless I was and said I have three expressions — eyebrow up, eyebrow down and both of them at the same time. And they used it — very well, I must say.”…
When he first took the role, the films’ producer Cubby Broccoli told him he needed to “lose a little weight and get into shape”. He replied: “Why didn’t you just cast a thin, fit fellow and avoid putting me through this hell?
Elsewhere in the U.K., the Gloucestershire Echo reports that “touching tributes are pouring in” for Moore and that among those with fond memories is a hotel manager named Olivier Bonte. Mr. Bonte tells the paper: “He was a very nice person to look after unlike some of the other A-listers we entertain. He was a true gentleman: polite and traditional.”
While this column appreciates the talent of Mr. Connery, Moore was the James Bond that your humble correspondent grew up watching. Leave it to the indispensable Kyle Smith to make the case that “Roger Moore Was the Best Bond:”
Sean Connery, with his big shoulders and his swaggering physicality, his touch of cruelty and menace, was a much larger screen presence than Moore. But it was Moore’s lighter touch — the arched eyebrow, the deadpan sense of humor, the movements graceful rather than aggressive — that was perfect for the times, when the ideal of screen manhood evolved from the irony-impervious scowl of John Wayne to the sardonic smirk of Burt Reynolds and the puzzled uncertainty of Warren Beatty.
If Connery’s Bond was a fantasy figure who projected British might, Moore’s Bond was a synecdoche for the new role of Britain — no longer the lion of the globe, it would measure its influence in soft power. For more than half a century, Britain has exerted its primary influence not through its troops and warships but in its popular culture, particularly in pop music, which without its British elements would scarcely be recognizable today. Moore’s Bond, like his country, had to be clever because he could no longer be overwhelming.
Mr. Smith, lion among movie critics, describes the new Bond finesse in the signature films of that era:
Who can forget how, in The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), Moore’s Bond socked Richard Kiel’s steel-toothed thug Jaws in the midsection as hard as he could — and was rewarded by being picked up and rammed against the ceiling by his much larger foe? Yet Bond won that round when he used Jaws’s deadliest attribute against him — by electrocuting his mouth with a lamp. What better illustration is there of the superiority of fancy footwork over brawn than in Live and Let Die (1973), when Moore’s Bond finds himself on a rock in the middle of a pond full of ravening crocodiles, uses the beasts as stepping stones and smartly walks away from them without even loosening his tie?
This column hasn’t mentioned the famous Bond girls and of course any discussion of this film franchise is bound to raise complaints, often justified, about the treatment of women at the hands of 007. But this week Jackie Bischof gamely argues that the Roger Moore films were distinctive for their strong female characters, including KGB Major Anya Amasova.
At least in a fictional story on film, here was a case where there really was collusion between a western power and a Russian state actor. Mr. Smith describes the closing moments of “The Spy Who Loved Me”:
Escaping from certain death with Russian spy Barbara Bach in a submersible pod that doubled as a ’70s love nest at the end of the film, Bond disdained to comment on the havoc around him and turned his attention to a surprise stowed in the pod. “Maybe I misjudged Stromberg,” he says. “Anyone who drinks Dom Perignon ’52 can’t be all bad.” With a single line (“Let’s get out of these wet things”), he convinces the foe sworn to kill him to sleep with him instead, then closes the curtain on his bosses as they peer through the window.
Sleep well, Sir Roger.