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Sir Roger Moore wasn’t the first actor to play James Bond, but the charming gentleman turned out to be the longest-tenured–and for a generation was the 007 they grew up watching.  In an era before VHS, this was the Bond you saw in the theater and heavily edited for television on ABC.  His was the voice you heard if you read the books.  And unlike Connery who publicly chafed at being typecast in the series, Moore proudly wore the tuxedo and basked in the 007 spotlight.

In the aftermath of Sir Roger’s passing, one looks at his body of work as James Bond.  He came to the role in the early 1970’s when the producers had already tried to recast 007 with an unknown, with less than desirable results (“On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” grossed less than the previous four films in the series).  Connery returned for “Diamonds Are Forever”, but it was clear he would never return to the role (see the 1983 film “Never Say Never Again”).  For a while in this stretch American (gasp!) actors were considered to take the role of the British super-spy…let’s just say the series could have gone in several different directions at the time.

Moore brought a fresh face (despite being three years older than Connery, Roger looked about ten years younger than Sean in 1973) and a certain style to the role.  If one compares the two, Connery was more of a between the tackles fullback type of 007 while Moore was a graceful halfback on the perimeter.  Sean provided power, while Roger fielded finesse.  One made the easy things look hard, while the other made the hard things look easy.  But both got the job done.

The new direction of the series followed the lead of its lead actor, from a grittier series laden with gadgets and the occasional witty aside to gadgets, asides, bigger sets and lighter moments with the occasional grit.  It was probably a smart move to create a different Bond that wouldn’t have to compete with Sean Connery’s shadow.  And Moore would wind up surpassing his friend in tenure and movies made (7 “official” films to Connery’s 6).

The actor who plays James Bond is often at the mercy of his material;  it’s tough to make ice cream out of garbage (although I’m sure Q has a gadget somewhere which does that).  It took a while for the series to hit its stride with Roger Moore in the role:  “Live and Let Die” and “The Man with the Golden Gun” both feel more like “thermometer films” (reflecting Blaxploitation and Kung Fu movies of the day) than “thermostat films”.  “The Spy Who Loved Me”  brought big Bond back in spades- and while “Moonraker” made more money and “For Your Eyes Only” was a better film, this is the quintessential Moore movie (his “Goldfinger”, as it were).  After trying to play off “Star Wars” with “Moonraker”, 007 came back to earth with “For Your Eyes Only”.  It’s a shame that wasn’t Sir Roger Moore’s exit from the role, because it would have been a great way to go out.

Initially that was supposed to be his final bow, but Sean Connery returning to a role he said he’d never take again in “Never Say Never Again” forced the producers to cough up an offer Sir Roger Moore couldn’t refuse for “Octopussy”.  He’d even return for “A View to a Kill”, which was a great song that deserved a much better movie.

So without further ado–ranking Roger’s 007 turns as 007…:

 

7–The Man with the Golden Gun, 1974.  These ratings are fluid, and I keep on rotating the bottom three depending on my moods of the day.  From Lulu’s up-tempo song to sheriff J.W. Pepper’s unwelcome cameo, this feels like a bad remake of “Live and Let Die”.  And there’s no big battle at the end, just Bond and the villain running around a funhouse.  Even more dated than Moore’s outfits:  the energy crisis subplot.  Raised Eyebrow:  the gun is the original “transformer”, made of a pen, lighter and cigarette case.  Rolled Eyes: Tatoo from “Fantasy Island” is a henchman.  “Da Plane!”.

6–A View to a Kill, 1985.  The series was running on fumes, and having a 58-year old play the ultimate action hero is not the way to provide pep.  Christopher Walken and Grace Jones were bright spots in an otherwise lame film.  Tanya Roberts is a less than awesome Bond Girl.  And playing the Beach Boys made casting Timothy Dalton a good idea for 15 minutes. Raised Eyebrow:  Duran Duran delivers one of the best songs of the series.  Rolled Eyes:  there was a dog-robot at the end.  Honestly.

5–Moonraker, 1979.  Ripped for being rather juvenile, but it tries to be bigger than Golden Gun and features a younger Moore which gives it the edge over the previous two films.  It’s basically “The Spy Who Loved Me”, but in outer space.  Michael Lonsdale is a decent villain, but Jaws with a girlfriend takes whatever terror he provided out of the equation.  Bonus points for the late Bernard Lee’s last turn as M.  Raised Eyebrow:  there’s a fantastic fight in a glass factory, and another one on an aerial tramway in Rio.  Rolled Eyes: there’s also a gondola chase in Venice that ends with the gondola becoming a hovercraft.

 

4–Live and Let Die, 1973.  They wrote the script not knowing who would be 007, just with the instructions of keeping things light like they did in “Diamonds Are Forever”.  The Tarot Card motif is pretty cool and there are a few car and boat chases, plus an alligator farm.  And the theme song!  The lack of Bond identity hurts this film, and J.W. Pepper as a redneck sheriff is cute if you happen to be 8 years old.  Raised Eyebrow:  007’s race across a back of alligators.  Rolled Eyes: the villain blows up like a balloon at the end.

 

3–Octopussy, 1983.  Many view this entry as one part 60’s seriousness combined with one part 70’s fluff.  There’s  a yo-yo saw to add tension, but also 007 swinging and shouting like Tarzan.  Louis Jourdan makes a solid villain, and it’s nice to actually see Roger Moore hit on a woman his own age (or at least within two decades).  A sassy pre-credits sequence gets things going and there’s another countdown to armegeddon 007 has to foil.  Lamest theme song of the series.  Raised Eyebrow:  the train ride to the US base.  Rolled Eyes:  Q joining 007 for a raid on the villain’s lair.

2–The Spy Who Loved Me, 1977.  Hold on–that year had Star Wars, Smokey and the Bandit and this movie???  Basically a riff off “You Only Live Twice”, but when you haven’t had a “traditional caper” checking all of the boxes in ten years the heart grows fond for a little formula.  Precisely the movie I wish they’d let Daniel Craig make, instead of what amount to four origin stories.  From the world in danger to a great ski chase, from a well-written villain to a big battle, Moore never did it better.  Raised Eyebrow:  the pre-credits ski chase was the best of the decade…and Carly Simon’s theme song answers the challenge.  Rolled Eyes: first appearance by Victor Tourjansky  in the series as “guy who is drinking during a 007 car/gondola/ski chase and double-checks his bottle to make sure he can believe his eyes”. 

1– For Your Eyes Only, 1981.  Probably next to “From Russia With Love” as the best Cold War tale in the entire series.  An older, wearier Bond has more than a few tough moments.  Moore has a good cast to work with, the action scenes are realistic and the gadgets don’t get in the way of a good story.  For those who wanted the perfect mix of seriousness and commercial appeal, I refer to 007 late in the film: “That’s détente, comrade:  you don’t have it…and I don’t have it.”  Raised Eyebrows:  the villain tries to kill 007 by running him over the reefs.  Rolled Eyes:  the pre-credits sequence starts strong but slides into silliness.  The 70’s weren’t over just yet.

 

 

 

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