It isn’t fair to see Roger Moore strictly through the bullet-riddled and lipstick-smeared prism of James Bond, Agent 007. But we do. He was a humanitarian, a TV star, and by all accounts a warm and wonderful family man. But to us, the viewing public, Roger Moore was James Bond. And that’s because he was so good at it.
For many of us in Generation X (remember us?), Moore’s Bond was our first Bond, thanks to movie-of-the-week repeats of Moonraker, The Spy Who Loved Me and The Man With The Golden Gun on network television (remember that?). We could not get enough of the cool, cunning Brit with those blue eyes, impossible jaw, and unparalleled skill for saving the world while wisecracking his way through every bar and bedroom in the known universe.
Sean Connery? Who? That guy wasn’t in our thoughts because Roger Moore was filling our screens. This conversation likely happened in our house when I was a kid:
Mom: There’s a James Bond movie on tonight.
Me: Cool! Which one?
Of course, with age comes appreciation, and any Bond fan worth their weight in Walther PPKs recognizes Connery’s 1960s canon for its brilliance. Connery established the 007 brand over the course of five stupendous films, then famously walked away. An Australian unknown, George Lazenby, starred in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service in 1969, then walked away, afraid that he’d be forever typecast as James Bond…as if that’s a problem. Connery gave it another go in 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever, then walked away a second time.
The Bond franchise was teetering, and in stepped Roger Moore. There he stayed for 12 mostly great years.
Moore’s 007 wasn’t the “blunt instrument” envisioned by Bond creator Ian Fleming, certainly not like the human jackhammer that is Daniel Craig. Instead, he was the embodiment of 1970s louche, a super-spy in a leisure suit, Hugh Hefner with a bottomless martini and license to kill, sauntering through a languid, post-Watergate world of harvest gold and avocado green. Moore’s 007 was the right tool for the job.
James Bond, the character, has been psychoanalyzed as much as any living human person, and he’s generally regarded as a cynical, calculating misogynist, with a barely perceptible moral compass and no sense of remorse. Moore’s 007 could certainly be a jerk (watching him smack Maud Adams around in The Man With The Golden Gun is painful), but he’s also the most approachable. I think it’s because Moore’s own charm and decency seeped into the character he played, and made this 007 likable.
A misogynist? For sure. This was the 70s, an era of key parties, disco, and a general sense that everything is going to hell, anyway, so let’s live it up. Moore’s 007 was a lover and a bit of a fighter. To a modern ear, every Bond girl’s helpless coo of “Oh, James” can set off alarm bells of social justice, but one of Moore’s famous eyebrow arches telegraphed to the audience, “You do realize this is all a joke, right?”
Bond fans forgive their man for a lot of questionable behavior. Moore’s 007 was the easiest to give a pass to. We rooted harder for Roger Moore than any other Bond, because his character was the most human.
Not all of Moore’s films were great, or even good. Moore’s first film, 1973’s Live And Let Die, was a pastiche of Blaxploitation (with one kickass boat chase and Paul McCartney’s theme song), while 1983’s Octopussy and 1985’s A View To A Kill – both films featuring Moore when he was well into his 50s – are borderline unwatchable. The producers had no idea what to do with James Bond in the Just Say No 80s.
I wish Moore’s own Bond canon could be shifted one slot to the left, and he’d starred in Diamonds Are Forever instead of a doughy and disinterested Connery. (Roger Moore careening around Las Vegas with Jill St. John in a red Boss Mustang? Sign me up!) And while I’m wishing, I wish Moore followed his gut instinct and ended his run after 1981’s For Your Eyes Only, his last solid outing, and one that featured the tried-and-true Bond plot elements of revenge and good ‘ol Cold War skullduggery, as well as a car chase starring a humble Citroen 2CV.
One last wish: I wish the critics dismissing Roger Moore’s 007 as too flip, too quick with a joke, and too smarmy would just back off. He was the perfect man at the almost perfect time, and he’s the one that made GenX kids like me – the generation now in charge of moviemaking – love 007. The James Bond played by Roger Moore saved the franchise and passed the torch, in addition to a ton of cool stuff:
- He barrel-rolled an AMC Hornet over a twisted, broken bridge.
- He bested – then befriended – Jaws, the baddest of all the Bond villains.
- He flew a space shuttle armed with a laser. (NASA, where is our space shuttle armed with a laser?)
- He took down Scaramanga, Drax, Mr. Big, Stromberg and Blofeld.
- And he piloted that white Lotus Esprit under the sea, the coolest Bond car since the Aston Martin DB5.