Back in 1984, when I worked in San Francisco, my commute was disturbed one evening as Roger Moore shot his final film as James Bond, A View to a Kill.
While the production shut down Market Street — and diverted traffic to avoid interfering with the shoot — I hoped to catch a glimpse of this man who dared, a decade earlier, to replace Sean Connery as the world’s favorite intelligence officer. When I got my wish to see Moore, he was quietly sitting on a stool, sipping coffee, studying his script. Yes, James Bond had to memorize lines.
In his seven films playing 007, Moore became his own Bond even if he didn’t initially fit our expectations of this mysterious man. By focusing on the layers of character, beneath the surface, Moore made Bond a man we could connect with even in the most exaggerated situations. Today, as we remember Sir Roger, we return to those simpler days when global villains didn’t stand a chance if Bond was in the room. Take a look.
Live and Let Die (1973)
Roger Moore’s debut as 007 silences the critics about his ability to command the role. He makes Bond his own by bringing a gentler approach than Connery, an interpretation many consider closer to author Ian Fleming’s original concept. While the trappings change — flashy suits replace tuxedos and gin and tonics edge martinis as Bond’s drink — the shift in manner makes 007 more accessible just as the situations become more outrageous.
The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)
A sinister villain, played by Christopher Lee, threatens Moore in his second film as the actor continues to experiment with ways to express Bond’s sense of humor. Never one to underplay a pun, Moore grows more comfortable in the role, delivering a gentility with each line that may not frighten but certainly can amuse. While this film’s narrative strains to feel current with concern over coal and oil reserves, Moore celebrates the double entendre.
The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
Just as Moore’s interpretation becomes more secure, the creators toss a curve ball with an exaggerated plot. The Oscar-nominated title tune by Marvin Hamlisch offers the most reliable moments in this outrageous tale that finds Bond trying to outsmart a devious shipping magnate who wants to hijack submarines to start nuclear war. While this sets up a classic car chase, and introduces cool gadgets, Moore never radiates a sense of real danger. He had fun.
By the late 1970s, Moore relishes his rhythm as the series settles for predictable surprise. No matter the threat, we know Moore will outsmart the bad guys without breaking a sweat. While Connery might let us know his work could tire, Moore remains calm even when, this time, the villains reach into outer space to threaten civilization. While that forces our hero to try to save a space shuttle, and the human race, Moore keeps his cool. Always.
For Your Eyes Only (1981)
The new decade begins with, perhaps, the most familiar of the Moore films, a reliable rehash of moments from earlier Bond adventures. Even the Oscar-nominated title song sounds like something we’ve heard before. Once again, Bond finds the British at odds with the Russians over secret codes, shrinking ships and a remote-controlled helicopter. Moore remains reliable in the role, tossing one-liners with ease, even if his surroundings need a refresh.
Just when we fear Moore and Bond may be tired, we get a most entertaining episode. It’s as if Moore realizes he’s getting too old to play the part, with less capacity to convince in the action sequences, so he comfortably focuses on the character’s sense of humor. While the plot about Russians and Allies and the secrets they steal may confuse, the gadgets steal the show. And Moore seems to relish this chance to show how Bond can age with grace.
A View to a Kill (1985)
Perhaps because I watched the filming, this remains my favorite Moore portrayal. In his last installment, the actor is as smooth as we hope while battling villains Christopher Walken and Grace Jones. The Silicon Valley plot lets the film capitalize on San Francisco locations including a thrilling climax over the Bay. And if none of it makes sense, who cares? The film lets Moore wink at the audience, one more time, before he exits with style. The man had class.
Want to read more about James Bond on film? Check out The Reel Dad below.
Remembering James Bond
by Mark Schumann
The Reel Dad
The death of Roger Moore reminds us of his gentlemanly approach to a role many actors have played in different ways.
And, of the performers who have portrayed the character since Moore, Daniel Craig is the most successful. And his take on Bond the most reminiscent of Moore’s style.
Back in 2012, when some wondered if James Bond still mattered at the movies, Craig and the movie Skyfall reinvented the franchise and the man with a first class roller coaster ride. With an energetic pace that feels fresh, and a depth of character rarely seen in the series, this new installment made us feel like we discovered the secret agent for the first time. It was a great way to celebrate the 50 years since Bond, James Bond, first appeared on screen. And, today, an ideal opportunity to salute Roger Moore’s inspiration.
The adventure in Skyfall begins with trouble in Turkey. Time has not been kind to Bond, his work or his agency in the British government. After he is seriously injured on duty, and feared dead, Bond’s colleagues and supervisor ‘M’ become targets of a ruthless killer. No one but James can solve the puzzle that sends him all over the world to search for the villain. At each stop, the agent finds himself in a new adventure that challenges his endurance and entertains his audience.
What separates this episode from most post-Moore Bond films is how director Sam Mendes invests in the character as consistently as he delivers the action. Rather than over-rely on gimmicks and gadgets, Mendes explores the issues this man has balanced for a lifetime. The director enables Bond to express the complexities of caring for ‘M’ at the same time he disagrees with how she handles her work; joust with the villain Silva while trying to understand that man’s behavior; and banter with a new ‘Q’ as he absorbs how this young man’s view of the world dates his own perspectives. This James Bond wants more in life than a martini, a romantic conquest or a momentary adventure. Instead of a larger-than-life man who can get out of any scrape this Bond is a realistic hero who realizes that heroism is a tiring game that never gets easier.
Mendes, the Oscar-winning director of American Beauty, seems less interested to continue the saga than to reinvent its purpose, less keen to satisfy than to stretch our expectations. He gives Skyfall a clear and consistent visual style that departs from the superficial brightness of earlier films in the franchise to establish a world as dark as the shadows in which this Bond finds himself. As in his other films, Mendes brings out the best in his actors. Having worked with Daniel Craig in the under-appreciated Road to Perdition, the director knows how to get the most out of an actor who naturally internalizes his emotional rhythms. Mendes also guides the marvelous Judi Dench to deliver a lovely performance and, best of all, collaborates with Javier Bardem to create one of the most original villains ever captured on screen. Who would have thought that Bardem, after portraying the ultimate bad guy in his Oscar-winning No Country for Old Men, could find so many new corners to explore in an equally outrageous and unforgettable screen turn. What delicious work this is.
If you think, all these years later, you have seen everything James Bond could offer, think again. Skyfall is so fresh in approach, and creative in delivery, that you may feel you are seeing your first Bond movie. Or certainly the first since Roger Moore took ownership. After all, in many ways, you are. Enjoy.