Roger Moore is the first of the officially recognized James Bond actors to pass away. And in life, he always got way too much shit.
See, James Bond was one of the first ‘things’ I ever got into slightly later on. I always liked video games, I always liked music, I always bought toys. But during my senior year of high school, thanks to a combination of various factors, I got SUPER into James Bond. Like, read all the books, watched all the movies, played all the video games, even tracked down the occasional comic they did.
And in my burgeoning days of Bond fandom, visiting forums and reading articles, one thing seemed to jump out at me – people weren’t too sure how to feel about Roger Moore.
Some said he was too comedic. Some said they hated his portrayal of Bond. Some say he had the worst writing and directing of the series. Whatever the reason, it seemed like the internet just never care for poor Sir Moore.
I don’t exactly think that’s fair. I’ve seen his James Bond, I’ve seen his Simon Templar, I’ve seen his Lord Brett Sinclair, I’ve even seen him in ffolkes, and I think Roger Moore is a fantastic example of an actor who’s always willing to do the best he can with what he has to work with.
Yes, I think it’s fair to get some things out of the way upfront. By virtue of being the longest-tenured Bond, he was going to wind up with a slightly less fair ratio of bad-to-good Bond movies. Dalton’s were both okay at worst, Brosnan is exactly 50-50, and fuck you all four of Craig’s are awesome, but none of them nearly had as many to do as Moore.
This means when it gets bad, it was bad. At least two of Roger’s are on my “worst Bonds of all time list” (being The Man With The Golden Gun and Octopussy, but neither are still as bad as perennial punching bag Die Another Day) but given he did eight goddamn Bond movies the odds of them all being The Spy Who Loved Me were against him.
And that’s the thing. When Moore’s movies were good, they were awesome. The Spy Who Loved Me is a strong contender for best Bond movie ever, and is at least the first one you want to show people who have never watched a Bond movie pre-Brosnan because it hits literally every beat they’re supposed to hit, and damn near better than any of the rest of them.
Live and Let Die has some…unfortunately of-its-time moments, but offers one of the most memorable theme songs and some of the most memorable action scenes in the series’ history, some that have never been topped by any other time James Bond has had to steal a motorboat. And A View To A Kill has maybe the best theme song of them all and features Christopher Walken as a horse-racing Nazi clone baby, which does worlds to make up for the movie’s minor shortcomings.
No matter what his movies were about, or even how well they turned out, they all had one thing in common: Roger Moore trying his ass off. A lot of Bond actors tend to find a groove and stick with it through their tenure, leading to some performances later on that are samey at best or disinterested at worst, but you could tell Moore really gave a shit about being James Bond and would always try to match the movie he was in.
Not a lot of other Bonds could go from the suave, above-it-all wisecracker of Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker to the quiet, focused killer of For Your Eyes Only one movie later; too many times a Bond actor would find his temperature and stick with it without looking at what the movie around him was asking of him but Moore knew how to elevate even his…lesser pictures.
Let me get deep into the weeds for a second, while we’re talking about acting. Live and Let Die is not my favorite Bond movie, nor is it probably anyone’s (despite Paul McCartney’s best efforts with that goddamn theme song, because goddamn is that a good theme song). But I’ll be damned if Moore’s performance specifically in LALD isn’t both his best Bond performance, maybe the best Bond performance of the classic era, and my pick for the most faithful in the series to the original novels.
See, a very important thing from the books that I never really saw a lot of is how Bond’s attitude is handled. Way too many of the movies try to make it personal for Bond by giving him a reason to get emotionally attached – M gets kidnapped, a loved one dies, etc. Throughout most of the books (and a lot of the earlier movies), to Bond it was just a job.
He’s just here to kill someone because the government told him to, and he’s frequently over it. In the Bond novels, he was either there to kill you, there to fuck you to get information out of you, or he thought you were a complete knob. Live and Let Die, and Roger Moore specifically, is maybe the only time this has been transferred to film. You can feel Bond rolling his eyes at every increasingly dangerous, complicated, and stupid thing that happened to him, but that’s Bond doing it and not Moore – he’s enjoying the time he’s spending in that movie, he just knows Bond is completely fucking over it at this point in his career as a blunt instrument of Her Majesty’s Government and plays it like it’s just a particularly shitty day at the office. I’ve recently seen an interview with Moore where he said the key to his performance is to play it like he’s not a guy that enjoys killing (a crucial factor from the books) but he does take his job incredibly seriously, and that’s a hard balance for most Bonds to nail down.
I don’t mean to boil down Sir Roger’s entire career. He was charming and funny and excited to be part of every role he ever had no matter how big, small, or miscast he felt he was (and I haven’t even gotten to the fucking majesty of ffolks, which is a title I promise I have spelled correctly and you need to watch immediately). But I’ll be goddamned if James Bond wasn’t a major part of me developing into a grownup (it taught me how to eat, drink, and dress if nothing else) and Roger Moore really deserves a ton of credit for what he did for the series.
Rest in peace, Sir Roger. I’m sure wherever you’re going the gin is cold, the cigars are plentiful, and you’ll never have to wear another safari jacket ever again. I just hope there’s a little memorial star somewhere on the wall for you.