With seven movies in the iconic spy franchise, Sir Roger Moore still holds the record as the longest-serving actor to portray Her Majesty’s Secret Service Agent 007, James Bond. At age 89, he is unfortunately now the first Bond star to pass away.
Over the years, Roger Moore took a fair amount of flak for the downturn in quality that the Bond franchise experienced during his tenure. Especially when compared against the modern interpretation of the character, which favors a darker, more serious attitude, Moore’s movies were decidedly lighter in tone and may seem overly jokey and outrageous. The goofy ‘Moonraker‘ (the one where Bond goes to outer space) and Moore’s final 007 picture, ‘A View to a Kill’, are typically rated near the bottom of the franchise ranks by fans. However, little of this was the star’s fault. The Bond series had already started to turn silly with the last couple of Sean Connery’s movies, and the franchise was mainly following the zeitgeist of the era, during which audiences responded to the breezy humor and fantasy aspects of the character’s adventures. In fact, ‘Moonraker’ was extremely popular when released in 1979 and was the highest-grossing James Bond film up to that point. As much as Sean Connery had been the perfect James Bond for the 1960s, Roger Moore was very much the right Bond for the ’70s.
Following five movies by Connery, a one-movie stint by George Lazenby, and another brief return by Connery, Roger Moore was the third actor to play the famed secret agent in the official feature film franchise (not counting the 1967 ‘Casino Royale’ parody spoof). Three years older than Sean Connery, he had actually been considered for the role during the casting of the very first Bond film, 1962’s ‘Dr. No’. He remained at the top of the list of possible replacements when Connery first bowed out, and might have stepped in as the lead in 1969’s ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’ if not tied up with other commitments. George Lazenby took over instead, but ultimately didn’t pan out for the long term. Connery then came back for one last hurrah and quickly dropped out again. Finally, in 1973, the stars aligned and Moore’s schedule opened up. Producers Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman happily offered Moore the lead in the eighth James Bond feature, ‘Live and Let Die‘.
This casting news was met with great public approval at the time. A popular TV star from such series as ‘Maverick’, ‘The Saint’ and ‘The Persuaders!’, Moore had proven capable of playing suave, dashing adventurers and seemed a perfect fit for Bond. Unlike Lazenby, who largely tried to copy what Connery had done, Moore made the very smart decision to tailor the role to his own personality and strengths as an actor. Less rugged or macho than either of his predecessors, Moore played up the debonair, sophisticated side of the character, emphasizing him as a gentleman spy, quick of wit and beguilingly charming. Moore’s Bond was a clotheshorse with impeccable taste and had as much facility with a clever quip as with his Walther PPK. Audiences ate it up.
When judged today, ‘Live and Let Die’ and its immediate follow-up ‘The Man with the Golden Gun‘ only rate as middle-of-the-road Bond pictures. Both were solidly profitable, but Moore finally came into his own with his third try. 1977’s ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’ found a winning formula of lighthearted humor and larger-than-life, globe-hopping adventure. In my opinion, it remains one of the best Bond films under any actor. Responding to the wild success of ‘Star Wars’, the producers fast-tracked ‘Moonraker’ into production next as Bond’s first foray into outer space sci-fi. Although it was a huge hit, the film overemphasized its jokes and campiness and left an unmistakable sense that things had gone terribly wrong. Fortunately, Moore returned with the stripped-down, back-to-basics ‘For Your Eyes Only‘, which was a much stronger movie. However, his run petered out again with the weak ‘Octopussy’ and ‘A View to a Kill’. By the release of the latter in 1985, Moore had clearly aged out of James Bond’s boyish adventures. He looked old and tired and disinterested. The time had finally come to pass the baton again.
Nevertheless, Roger Moore was the James Bond for a generation of fans who grew up watching his movies. His strongest entries hold up as well or better than some by other Bond stars, both past and present. By that measure, he’s the most underrated of all the James Bonds.
Moore also had a career outside 007. He appeared in popular movies including ‘The Wild Geese’ and ‘The Cannonball Run’. Unlike Sean Connery, he was never bothered by being typecast as James Bond. He once quipped, “I personally don’t give a damn. I just want to be remembered as somebody who paid his debts.” He served as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador in the 1990s and was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II for his charity work.
Sir Roger Moore died this morning of cancer.
[Source: The Hollywood Reporter]