The first James Bond movie I saw starring the late and dearly missed Roger Moore was Live and Let Die in high school. I grew up with Sean Connery’s classics in heavy rotation on VHS at home and the adventures of Pierce Brosnan playing out in theaters and on my Nintendo 64, and while popular logic dictates that one’s favorite Bond is the one they grew up with, it was only when I began seeking out the campier Bond outings of the 70s and 80s in my late teens that I finally felt I had found my Bond. Six actors have portrayed Ian Fleming’s superspy over for Eon Productions over the past 55 years, and while each bring something novel and interesting to the role (yes even Lazenby, haters) it’s Moore, the longest tenured Bond, that resonates the most with me. Over the course of his 12 years with the role, Sir Roger Moore ably met the challenge of replacing Connery’s towering icon by creating a Bond that was wryer, gentler, and a hell of a lot more fun to be around than he’s ever been before or since.
James Bond is a masculine fantasy, and no actor before or since has understood that better than Roger Moore did. In press interviews conducted prior to the release of The Spy Who Loved Me, Moore talks about creating that fantasy and keeping it aloft. Where later Bonds such as Timothy Dalton and Daniel Craig would try to explore Bond as deeply flawed in human, Moore made the character something nearly superhuman. The quickest and most assured with a one-liner and armed with an steel-lined unflappability, Moore’s Bond is the fantasy of capability and collected calm. As James Bond, Roger Moore is never, strictly speaking, tough. This isn’t the blunt instrument badass of Casino Royale and Skyfall, but rather a precise surgical instrument going about his duty with care and a sense of decorum. Moore’s Bond is not Ian Fleming’s Bond, and that’s okay. Much in the same way that producers Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman would frequently pare down the plots of Fleming’s novels to be reworked into film, Roger Moore took the bullet points of Bond’s character and invested them with everything he had. When people slip on a tuxedo and sip a martini, it’s Moore’s charm they’re hoping to achieve.
Moore brought to his portrayal of Bond a dependable consistency, a level of quality that cannot be as readily said about his films. Over 12 years, the franchise shot between campy and grounded with Moore’s performance as a stable and assured hand keeping things from sputtering out of control along the journey. Rather than rigid, Moore’s Bond-as-superhuman portrayal lends the series and character a flexibility they rarely have. Even in relatively straight-forward and reserved entries such as For Your Eyes Only, Moore plays Bond with some levity, a quality that serves him well when the series is at its silliest. Whereas Daniel Craig sat uncomfortably in the punny, old-school “Classic Bond” trappings of Spectre and Connery chafes in the comic book elements of a film like You Only Live Twice, Roger Moore is as natural in the screwball comedy-tinged espionage of The Spy Who Loved Me as he is in the strange kung-fu funhouse of The Man with the Golden Gun, and both are the better for it. Much like Adam West as Batman, Moore amplifies the humor and camp of a movie like Moonraker* by playing his role as straight as possible. More than any other Bond, Moore invests the franchises misses with the same energy and enthusiasm as the hits, and in doing so, makes even the weaker films of the canon a blast to watch.
Whether by design or the nature of the man in the role, Roger Moore brings to Bond rare kindness. Many more worthy tributes than mine have made mention of Sir Roger Moore’s work as a UNICEF goodwill ambassador and advocate for children and many more have shared stories of his kindness and enthusiasm while meeting fans, so perhaps this Bond possessing such a genuine warmth was the natural byproduct of the man investing so much of himself into the role. It’s hard not to find fault with James Bond as an icon of masculinity. Various writers, directors, and actors will try to offset these faults through a variety of ways, but only Moore has been able to do so through his own basic decency. Sir Roger Moore was by all accounts a true consummate gentleman, and as such, Bond followed suit. There’s not a whole lot to recommend Bond as an aspirational figure –the character’s misogyny and colonialism almost go without saying at this point– but there’s ample stuff to recommend Roger Moore, and he brings all of it to his portrayal of 007.
Roger Moore always seemed the happiest with his legacy as Bond of any of the actors to fill the role. It’s hard to fault him. Over the longest tenure in the role, Roger Moore created an enduring cinematic icon, carrying the torch handed to him by the standard-bearer of the role with true professionalism and enthusiasm. Sean Connery made James Bond a guy that generations of men wanted to be, but Roger Moore was the first (and maybe only) to make Bond the kind of person you’d actually want to meet.
Rest in Peace, Sir Roger Moore. The lady sang “nobody does it better”, and I am inclined to agree.
*I invite anyone still of the opinion that Moonraker represents the nadir of the franchise to watch it back to back with Die Another Day and get back to me if they feel the same at the end.