One of my favourite quotes from Roger Moore is “My acting range? Left eyebrow raised, right eyebrow raised.” But as usual, this most modest of people did himself a disservice. Having been a 007 fan for most of my life, I’ve read quite a few books about the world’s least-secret secret agent, and most of them roughly agree on many things. Something that many of them tend to do was put down Moore’s Bond, even if at times only subtly. Not Ian Fleming’s Bond. Not taking the role seriously. Not bothering to act, etc etc etc ad nauseum. In ‘serious’ Bond fandom, even now [though it seems to have lessened a little of late, and is obviously lessening far more all over the world as I type] it’s common to refer to the ‘Roger Moore years’ with disdain, as if they’re the equivalent of the black sheep of the 007 series [did any of these people really watch Quantum Of Solace?], or shouldn’t even be regarded as part of the fanchise at all.
Of course now everyone seems to be saying what a bloody good Bond he was, though some of us have known that for some time. As a few readers may know, I’ve been re-watching the Bond films with a more critical eye and posting reviews of them, and I can find little to fault in his performance as Bond. Yes, he’s different from Sean Connery, but so is Daniel Craig and, to a lesser extent, Pierce Brosnan. Many have said that Moore played Bond as little more than an extension of himself and the characters he portrayed in The Saint and The Persuaders, but in a way I feel that this is something that makes his Bond special. Every time I watch Live And Let Die or The Spy Who Loved Me, I feel like I’m actually watching a super cool guy named Roger Moore, or at least Moore as he was back then, rather than a fictitious spy hero. I’m not sure I can say that for the others, and this is probably one reason why I’ll find it a very sad experience to watch the next Bond film in my series, and why so many of us fans have been hit so hard by his passing. His Bond was a fantasy hero almost as fantastical as any of the Marvel folk, but he was absolutely brilliant in this particular version as Bond. And he suited the films. Connery may have fit quite well into Diamonds Are Forever, which is basically a Moore Bond film before there were any Moore Bond films, but can you imagine him, say, looking comfortable driving a hovercraft [which was previously a gondola] through Venice’s St. Paul’s Square past double taking pigeons? Or Craig?
Roger looked entirely at home doing all these ridiculous things. The films were mostly silly and comedic, and Moore did exactly what was required. He may not have looked too convincing in some of the fight scenes, but nobody else could have delivered his quips better, let alone even partly get away with lines like: “Your turn will come”, spoken to a woman he’s just kept locked in a cupboard for a couple of hours while he’s had it away with another lady. His comic timing and delivery was certainly allowed to flourish. And, actually, he was perfectly able to be serious, to toughen it up, when the scripts allowed him to do so. Most of his films contain at least one moment of this nature, and some of them, like the kicking of the car down the cliff with the bad guy still in it, are performed with a convincing coldness that even Connery would have found hard to match. He fit in well with the more down to earth nature of For Your Eyes Only, and I do wish he’d made more Bond films of that kind, but the producers decided that Bond swinging from the trees yelling Tarzan’s cry was more the order of the day. By this time, he was getting a bit long in the tooth to play Bond, but because his 007 was basically a joke anyway, it in no way detracts from the fun of the films.
A great many years ago I watched an interview with Moore on TV where he said that he always wanted to do different kinds of roles but that he hardly ever got offered them. However, his evil doppelganger in The Man Who Haunted Himself was frightening and showed an even darker side that could have been allowed to flower if it had been allowed to. In a sense you could say that he was his own worst enemy in cultivating such a distinctive screen personality that many thought that was all he could really do. But I doubt that Moore was too bothered really. After all, he often said that he was most proud of his work for UNICEF, which basically gave him a second career and a great purpose. I’m not one to fawn over famous people, and in fact I find the whole celebrity culture thing sickening. But, ignoring Bond and acting-related comments, I’ve never read one single word said against Moore as a person. Even grumpy old Connery had nothing but good to say about him. And the fact that Roger never seemed to have had a bad word for anyone else either, that he seemed to be such a genuinely nice guy, is another reason why his passing has hurt so many so badly. Something that for me sums this up is when I had the pleasure of seeing his one man show in 2012. Reminiscing about filming his 80’s Bonds, he brought up Grace Jones, then quickly dismissed the subject by saying that if he can’t say anything nice about somebody then he’d rather not say anything at all. He just couldn’t say bad things, and this didn’t seem fake or manufactured, it seemed genuine. This for me epitomised the man he was.
RIP Roger Moore. As a kid, you were the screen hero I most wanted to be, saving the world time and time again with effortless style and sheer coolness. Nobody did it better.