R.I.P. Roger Moore: Reviewing His James Bond Films
Sir Roger Moore, 1927-2017
Cinema fans around the world were saddened to hear the news of Sir Roger Moore's passing on May 23, 2017. The film star died at his home in Switzerland after what his family called "a short but brave battle with cancer." He was 89 years old.
Roger Moore first made a name for himself in British and American television during the '50s and '60s in shows like Ivanhoe and Maverick. He gained worldwide fame for his starring role as Simon Templar in the wildly popular TV series The Saint (1962-69). The Templar character, a modern day Robin Hood, was a suave, well dressed man-of-action with similarities to James Bond.
When The Saint ended, Moore became the third actor to play Ian Fleming's super-spy in the highly successful James Bond film series, following in the footsteps of Sean Connery and George Lazenby. Roger's portrayal of Bond had a lighter touch than either of his predecessors; he once described his 007 as "a lover," whereas Connery had played him as "a killer."
Sir Roger played 007 in seven films between 1973 and 1985, and I've seen them all numerous times over the years. Some were good, some were not so good, but even if the film wasn't great, Roger was always fun to watch. He was the first 007 I saw as a kid, when 1979's Moonraker first hit cable TV -- I watched it about a dozen times, and it made me into a Bond fanboy for life. Here's a brief review of Sir Roger's years as James Bond.
"Live And Let Die" Trailer (1973)
"Live And Let Die" (1973)
'Blaxploitation' cinema was at its peak in 1973, and Moore's first spin in 007's tuxedo is a voodoo-flavored affair that takes Bond on a quest through Harlem, New Orleans and the Caribbean in search of a major heroin smuggler (Yaphet Kotto). I laughed a lot at this flick, and not always because the humor was intentional. Live And Let Die is horribly dated nowadays (The fashions! The music! The slang!) but it's still a fun flick. Try not to laugh when a Harlem crime kingpin tells his henchmen, "Take this honky outside and waste him!"
Live and Let Die is also notable for its appearance by future mega-star Jane Seymour in one of her first major film roles, as the Bond girl "Solitaire." The theme song by Paul McCartney and Wings has gone on to become a classic rock staple and has been covered numerous times by bands including Guns N' Roses and Lizzy Borden.
"The Man With The Golden Gun" Trailer (1974)
"The Man With The Golden Gun" (1974)
In Moore's second Bond adventure, he heads off to the Far East to recover some stolen solar technology and faces off against Scaramanga (Hammer Horror legend Christopher Lee), the underworld's most celebrated assassin-for-hire, at his private island fortress.
Golden Gun was a middling Bond adventure at best; it's campier than Live And Let Die and the "energy crisis" storyline has dated the movie terribly. (I haven't heard anyone use that phrase since the late 70s!). Britt Ekland's "Agent Goodnight" was quite possibly the most inept leading lady Bond has ever been saddled with. Of course, most women in Bond films are there to serve as eye candy, not role models or Bond's equals, but she set the Womens' Lib movement of the 70s back at least a decade. I laughed like hell when she accidentally set Scaramanga's Solar Powered Doom Gizmo in motion by backing into the control panel with her bikini-clad ass. Christopher Lee is suitably evil as Scaramanga, and hey, any movie where Herve "De Plane! De Plane" Villechaize gets stuffed into a suitcase is all right by me.
Fun fact: Christopher Lee was related to Bond creator Ian Fleming by marriage, and the two were frequent golf buddies. Fleming had wanted Lee to portray baddie Dr. No in the first 007 film but by the time he contacted the producers about it, the role had already been cast.
"The Spy Who Loved Me" Trailer (1977)
"The Spy Who Loved Me" (1977)
Box-office returns for Moore's first two 007 installments were respectable, but they weren't the massive blockbusters the producers had hoped for, so they took a few years off to plan 007's next move. When it came time to shoot Moore's third adventure, 1977's The Spy Who Loved Me, the motto must have been "go big, or go home," because The Spy Who Loved Me was the biggest, most elaborate Bond production in a decade. The gamble paid off handsomely, as The Spy Who Loved Me became one of the highest grossing films in the series.
When a pair of nuclear submarines (one British, one Russian) mysteriously disappear without a trace, the KGB and M.I.6 must pool their resources to get to the bottom of the mystery. Bond is partnered with a lovely Russian counterpart (Barbara Bach, who can't act but has absolutely stellar cleavage) and their investigation takes them from Cairo to the bottom of the ocean, where they uncover the plot of the insane multi-billionaire Stromberg, who plans to use nuclear missiles from the stolen subs to trigger World War III, after which he and his private army will "start all over again" in his private underwater city. We meet Richard Kiel's "Jaws" in this film as one of Stromberg's hired goons (he would make a return engagement in "Moonraker"), plus we see one of 007's coolest gadgets EVER - the Lotus automobile that converts to a submarine!!
The Spy Who Loved Me has held up very well, it's tons of action-packed fun and is tied with Moonraker in my book as Roger's finest turn as Bond. Eye candy is provided by the aforementioned Bach, and onetime Hammer Horror babe Caroline Munro, who plays Stromberg's bikini clad helicopter pilot. Caroline would later turn up in one of my all time favorite B-Movies, the Italian Star Wars ripoff Star Crash.
"Moonraker" Trailer (1979)
Speaking of Star Wars ripoffs... 007 cashed in on the late 70s Star Wars craze in this totally ridiculous, but enjoyable, adventure. When an experimental space shuttle is stolen during a test flight, 007 is put on the case. He visits California, Venice, Brazil, and finally outer space, where the crazed inventor Hugo Drax plans to wipe out all of humanity from a secret space station and then re-populate Earth with his hand-picked "master race." The climactic laser-gun battle between the bad guys and the U.S. Space Marines (?) aboard Drax's Death Star is a total hoot.
Moonraker is a sentimental favorite for me because it was the first Bond film I saw as a kid. I was 10 years old at the time and had no idea who James Bond was, nor was I aware that Moonraker was part of a film series that stretched back nearly 20 years by that point. All I knew was that there were guys shootin' at each other with laser guns, and as a Star Wars crazed kid that was enough for me. (I even had a bunch of the Moonraker trading cards from Topps!). Thanks largely to the ongoing mania for anything sci-fi related due to Star Wars, Moonraker quickly became the top grossing film in the history of the 007 franchise and held that record until 1995, when it was unseated by Pierce Brosnan's Goldeneye.
"For Your Eyes Only" Trailer (1981)
"For Your Eyes Only" (1981)
Moore's fifth 007 brought James Bond back "down to earth" after the space-faring Moonraker, sending him on a mission to the Mediterranean to recover a missing missile-launch computer system. Along the way he battles bad guys on skis, in cars, on top of mountains, and even at the bottom of the ocean. This is the one film where Moore actually plays Bond as kind of a bad-ass, particularly in the iconic scene where he coldly pushes a car containing a bad guy off a cliff and into the sea!!
"FYEO" has some decent action scenes but runs a bit longer than it really needs to. It does earn some bonus points due to the presence of the cute-as-a-button Lynn-Holly Johnson (whatever happened to her anyway?), who plays a bubbly blond figure-skater who's fixated on James.
Useless trivia: actress Cassandra Harris, who was married to future Bond Pierce Brosnan at the time, has a minor role in "FYEO." She was the first to introduce Pierce to Bond producer Albert "Cubby" Broccoli when he visited the film's set during production. Sadly, Cassandra did not live to see her husband step into 007's tuxedo, as she passed away in 1991.
"Octopussy" Trailer (1983)
1983's Octopussy is probably Moore's least essential Bond flick. The storyline is fairly average cloak-and-dagger stuff (a Russian general is sneaking priceless Faberge eggs and other treasures out of the Soviet Union and auctioning them to bankroll a revolution) but the mood is a little too light and breezy this time out, making the comedic moments feel forced. At one point Bond swings away from bad guys on a jungle vine, complete with the famous Tarzan yell on the soundtrack, and later on he has to hide from East German border guards on a circus train by hiding in a gorilla costume and then defuse a bomb while dressed as a clown. Moore's Bond performance always had a comic touch to it, but such lapses into slapstick felt like a bit much, even for him. The pressure to finish and release Octopussy before a rival Bond production starring Sean Connery - Never Say Never Again, released later the same year - probably didn't help matters. Sir Roger was reportedly already planning his exit from the series at this time.
"A View To A Kill" Trailer (1985)
"A View To A Kill" (1985)
A View To A Kill, released in 1985, was Roger Moore's final turn as 007, and thankfully it was a step up from Octopussy. Bond visits France and San Francisco as he investigates Max Zorin (Christopher Walken, in a typically awesome, crazy performance) - a multi-millionaire and business magnate who plans to destroy California's Silicon Valley so he can monopolize the world's microchip market. Bond's sidekick this time out is Stacey Sutton, a geologist played by former "Charlie's Angel" Tanya Roberts. Tanya couldn't act worth a damn, but MAN, she could fill out a set of satin pajamas! Scary new-wave music legend Grace Jones also shows some impressive scenery-chewing ability as Zorin's bat-sh*t crazy bodyguard, "May Day." I hate to admit it but I have always loved the theme song to this one, by '80s Brit-popsters Duran Duran!
A View To A Kill has some cool action sequences and set pieces, but Moore - who was 57 years old at the time of filming - was clearly too old for the role by this point. As a result, several "stunts" are painfully obvious green-screen trickery, and his love scenes with Roberts end up coming off kinda creepy. In his autobiography My Word Is My Bond, Roger says his decision to step down as 007 was finalized while making this film, because Tanya Roberts' mother visited the set one day and he realized that SHE was younger than him. (Yikes!)
A View To A Kill wasn't well received by critics but it was a success at the box office, allowing Roger to leave the series on a high note as he passed the Bond martini shaker to Timothy Dalton.
Nobody Does It Better...
Moore's post-Bond career consisted mainly of voice work (Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore) and cameos in films like Spice World, most of which played on his 007 notoriety. He also devoted much of his time to charitable causes, serving as a Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF. According to his IMDb page, Moore's final acting performances include the 2011 film A Princess For Christmas and a cameo in a 2016 made-for-TV update of The Saint.
R.I.P., Sir Roger. Thanks for all the years of entertainment, and may your martinis always be shaken, not stirred!
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© 2017 Keith Abt