WHO SAYS MOORE IS LESS?
An Opinion from David Morefield
Okay, I have a confession to make... I like Roger Moore as James Bond.
If you're like most people in the world, that statement will no doubt elicit a heart-felt "So what?", but in the world of hard-core Bondophiles, it's like "coming out of the closet."
One of the more curious elements of Bond history is the fact that Roger Moore, having played 007 in more "official" Bond films than any actor, having held the role for 12 years and having been accepted and even loved by audiences throughout his reign, is considered by serious fans to be the bane of the series.
"Too humorous," cry his detractors. "Too wimpy," they say. Too blonde, too old, too foppish, too stiff... take your choice. "...And he can't act!"
On the newsgroups, and in e-mail, I could always answer these remarks in the time-honored manner observed by all netters: "So's yer old man!!" But thanks to this site I can defend Roger in a hopefully more eloquent fashion. So here goes...
Professional and amateur Bond historians usually draw a clear line between the Bond films of Sean Connery, deemed "serious," and those of Roger Moore, deemed "comedic." That's because historians like things cut and dried, so as to be safely categorized and shelved away in the proper dusty box.
But as usual, reality is a bit more complicated. Humor has been an important element in the Bond films all the way back to "Dr. No," wherein Sean Connery's Bond delivers several sardonic lines that you'll never find in the novel (where, as usual, Fleming's Bond is about as cheerful as Bob Dole at a double funeral). Audiences liked the humor, so EON kept it up, in accordance with their motto, "If it worked last time, do it again... only bigger!"
So as time went on, the humor increased, until by the time of DAF, any resemblance the films may have had to actual human relationships, political reality or the laws of physics was purely coincidental. In DAF, Sean Connery delivers one-liners and performs comedic stunts very much in the "Roger" mode. This is a clear indication that EON had decided to play up the humor angle well before they picked Roger Moore as Bond.
Think back to the most annoying gags and you'll realize they probably didn't come from the mind of Roger Moore. Things like Jaws flapping his arms when his parachute fails, or a gondola that becomes a hovercraft, or horrible sound effects like the slide whistle during the car jump in MWTGG, or the Tarzan yell in "Octopussy," are far more likely the invention of a scriptwriter, and in any event are ultimately the blame of the directors, who had the final say in their inclusion.
The fact is that a lot of people enjoy the humor in the Bond films; it's one of the major selling points. Of course, what's funny and what isn't is a matter of opinion. Some fans would say that ANY comedy is out of place in a Bond film, but I disagree. It seems unlikely that a series based on the exploits of a hired killer, a series full of death and destruction and sadistic excess, would ever have appealed to very large audiences without being tempered with humor. From sports cars with ejector seats to tuxedos worn beneath SCUBA gear, the majority of Bond films have refused to take themselves completely seriously. After all, they are not art. And audiences enjoy the humor; when it's absent, as it was for the most part in LTK, the films are not as well received.
Ask the man on the street to describe his favorite Bond scene and he probably won't tell you about Roger Moore kicking Locque's car off a cliff, or Sean Connery choking Bob Simmons to death with a fireplace poker. More likely he'll mention the Aston Martin employing its gadgets, or Oddjob throwing that crazy hat, or maybe Bond's plunge off a mountain-top, saved at the last moment by a Union Jack parachute. In all these scenes is a tongue-in-cheek, over-the-top sense of fun that people enjoy. It is precisely this sense of humor that defines Bond for most people, and sets him apart from the grim-and-gritty, sweaty t-shirt variety of action hero. Roger Moore not only excels at this approach, for many of us he defined it.
This is a more difficult objection to respond to. Exactly what makes a person "too" nice?
Moore's Bond films aren't exactly littered with random acts of kindness. At no point does he try to placate Stromberg or Kamal Khan with a box of chocolates and a bouquet of flowers. And I don't remember him ever asking an evil henchman, "Why don't we sit down and discuss this over a nice Chianti?"
Or is the argument that it's much "nicer" to shoot a man to death while he eats his Ceasar Salad (SWLM) than to electrocute him in the bath tub (GF)? No, really - I'd like to know, so if I ever decide on murder, I can prepare a defense on the grounds of "niceness."
The argument seems to be that Roger isn't "ruthless" enough; he doesn't seem the type to pop out of the shadows and stab you in the kidneys with a rusty dirk. It's interesting how Bond enthusiasts are probably the only fan group in the world who feel cheated when their idol isn't a big enough bastard! Scripter Richard Maibaum often went on the record with complaints that you "just don't believe Roger's dangerous." Even Cubby Broccoli said, "He has never managed to be cruel, and cruelty is an important part of Bond's make-up."
But as Bond said in OP, "actions speak louder than words." The fact is that Broccoli kept bringing Roger back until almost everyone agreed he was too old to keep going. The reason, of course, is that Roger's films made an awful lot of money. Which would seem to indicate that a lot of people didn't really mind paying money to see a "nice guy" in the role.
Which raises the interesting question of why people DO go to see the films. The impression I get is that Roger believed people were coming to see HIM as much as to see "James Bond." There is some evidence to support this, although obviously it irritates some serious Bond fans, since Roger's nature goes against Bond's, and vice-versa.
Director John Glen has said that he had to fight for a long time to get Roger to kick Locque's car over the cliff in FYEO. Roger's argument was, "I don't do that sort of thing." Well, one would hope he doesn't. But of course James Bond does. In interviews over the years, Moore continued to substitute "I" and "me" for "my version of Bond," as if even he were unclear about where Bond ended and he began. I remember being particularly struck by a remark made during the filming of AVTAK; "My personality is totally different than previous Bonds. I'm not that cold-blooded killer type. Which is why I play it mostly for laughs."
Hmm... I've heard stories about Sean and George being difficult to work with, but "cold blooded killers?"
Anyway, my own opinion is that Roger wasn't the only one who had trouble separating his real persona from his fictional counterpart. On screen, Moore's Bond kills as often as any other, and at times behaves like a conniving, perverted reprobate. But through it all, we see that twinkle in his eye, and that pleasant, clean-cut face that seems to say, "Just kidding - I'm really a sweetheart."
Whether that adds up to "good clean fun" or "an absolute travesty" appears to be a matter for debate.
Okay, so maybe Sean Connery *could* beat the crap out of Roger Moore. Who cares? For me, brute strength was never a major part of the Bond mystique. After all, it was that *other* guy who bent steel in his bare hands and changed the course of mighty rivers. Fleming never wrote Bond as a superhuman muscleman - the only superpower he seemed to have was the ability to survive getting the crap kicked out of him in every book despite a "fitness regimen" that consisted mainly of eating rich foods and smoking 80 cigarettes a day. Sean was great in the action scenes, but really how many times in Fleming's novels does James Bond smash an enemy over the head with a sofa?
The trait that defines the cinematic James Bond is not strength, but "cool." Here is a guy who's quick on his feet, never at a loss for ideas, clear-headed while explosions go off around him and supremely confident in his own abilities. Speaking as someone for whom the mere act of finding matching socks in the morning is a confounding and panicky affair, I can respect those traits.
Anyway, Roger may not be a Hercules, but he is definitely "cool." No threat seems to ruffle him, no danger makes him sweat. In fact, his usual reaction when threatened with a horrible death is to infuriate his tormentor even further with some smart-ass remark. This is evident from the start of Moore's tenure, way back in L&LD and the scenes in Harlem's "Filet of Soul" restaurant. Roger's attitude toward Tee-Hee, Mr. Big and Solitaire betrays a supreme arrogance and cockiness. "Funny how the least little thing amuses him...Wasted? Is that a good thing?... Don't go away, I shan't be long." Roger's Bond has the attitude, "Your threats bore me. And even if you do kill me, I'll still be better dressed than you."
If Sean's Bond is full of youth and vigor, Roger's is older and more cautious. He tends to solve problems with his wits instead of his fists. And when at all possible, he cheats. Take the fight at the karate school in MWTGG. Bond knows he'll never beat the guy in a fair fight, so he kicks him during the ceremonial bow. The hell with honor, and the hell with macho posturing; rule number one is to stay alive! That's how I choose to view most of Roger-Bond's fights; if he has no other choice, he'll fight tooth and nail, but if at all possible, he'll cheat.
Part of the perception of Roger as "soft" may, again, have to do with his personal image. He never made any pretense of being a "macho man." His usual response, when asked about stunts was, "Of course I do them. And I also do my own lying." He made no secret of his dislike for explosions and, remembering the time a pistol blew up in his face in his Army days, could never manage to fire a gun on screen without flinching.
But again, I direct you to the man on the street. The popular image of James Bond is not that of a Schwartzenegger-like ubermensch, or a machine-gunning Rambo-type, but rather a well-dressed, martini-sipping cool customer, unruffled by even the most titanic calamities. This, again, is an area where Roger Moore excels.
This one always gets me. Some folks seem genuinely upset that Roger Moore has blond hair, presumably because James Bond does not. Well, so what? I don't see a scar on Sean Connery's cheek. I didn't notice baracuda tooth-marks on Timothy Dalton's shoulder. None of the actors looks exactly like Fleming's Bond, and it's likely none ever will.
If it bothers you that much, turn down the brightness button on your TV set until Roger becomes a brunette.
At 57, Roger Moore in AVTAK was the oldest actor ever to play Bond (beating even David Niven), and I am the first to admit that he didn't look so hot for much of that film, mostly thanks to some weird makeup effect where his face seemed pulled back and taped behind his ears.
It's unfortunate that he didn't retire before that, but I would argue that up until OP, Roger looked pretty damned good most of the time. When he debuted in 1973, a lot of reviewers said he brought "youth" to the role, despite the fact that he was actually three years older than Connery. In fact, about the time of "FYEO," I was wondering if maybe he'd made a deal with the devil or something, as he looked about a decade younger than his real age.
That Roger held onto the role for so long is a testament to his popularity. He was selling as many tickets - maybe more - at 57 as he had at 45, so why replace him? Sure, it seemed a bit unlikely that he could perform all those feats of derring-do at his advanced age, but hey, we're talking about a character who indulges gluttonous appetites but never gets fat, who we never see working out a day in his life and yet can out-swim, out-fight, out-ski and out-drive every man on Earth. If you're still expecting realism in these films, go sit in the corner.
"AND HE CAN'T ACT!"
Here's the part where I make everyone angry. Ready? Okay: The role of James Bond does not require a lot of acting skill.
We're not talking high drama here, folks. Bond as a character is no deeper today than he was 33 years ago in Dr. No. He is not the type of character to undergo "catharsis" (unless you extend the definition to include throwing your enemy in a vat of boiling mud after he killed your wife and made you cry). The "serious actors" of the world wouldn't touch the part with a ten-foot pole, and we wouldn't want them to.
I know, I know. Sean Connery won an Oscar. But I take it more as a sign of esteem from his Hollywood buddies than anything else. Certainly his "Oscar caliber" work in "The Untouchables" was nowhere near as accomplished or interesting as what he did years before in "The Hill" and "The Man Who Would Be King." Basically, Sean Connery does what Roger Moore does (and what Cary Grant, Errol Flynn and Clark Gable did in an earlier age)... he plays himself.
Sean is Sean, in Arab robes or chain mail or a business suit or a Russian uniform. There's that same Scottish burr and those same mannerisms always. He is not an "Ac-tor" (say it with two syllables and a British accent). He is a movie star. The old-fashioned kind, and maybe even the last one left. Roger Moore, when he was working, was another one. These are two guys with so much style and charisma on screen that people pay money to see THEM, regardless of the part they play or the story they act out.
When you remove the normal motivation of "drama" - the protagonist's emotional and spiritual growth - you are left with escapism. If you're not watching a film to be "moved," then you're watching it to be entertained. And if the object is entertainment, you need a star and not an actor. For me, it's as simple as that. Roger is a star, so is Sean. Dalton is an actor, which made for some interesting moments but ultimately didn't satisfy enough people. Brosnan could evolve into a star, time will tell.
Roger has never missed an opportunity to poke fun at his own abilities, and he refused to take offense when others criticized him. "What do I look for in a role? Well, not too much butter." But as he pointed out, escapist entertainment has its value as well: "I was asked during the filming of Moonraker when I was next going to make a serious film. I replied that I thought spending 30 million dollars on one film was pretty serious."
MOORE, ROGER MOORE
My own experience is that most complaints against Roger Moore boil down to one mortal sin: He is not Sean Connery.
Coming from a generation that grew up with Roger Moore as Bond, I always accepted the idea that there could be more than one 007. But I understand that for the previous generation it was a lot harder to let go of Connery. My own feeling is that it's better to have a series of actors in the role than to keep on one guy - even Sean - forever. If Bond is going to last, he must be immortal even though the men who play him are not. And it's the responsibility of each new Bond to bring something new, something uniquely his own, to the role.
It's an inevitability that in a series lasting 17 entries over 33 years, some films will be better than others. Some will just plain stink. But what's important is that the series itself continues, so we all have something to talk about and analyze, and so every two years or so we can sit in a darkened theater and feel our heart rate quicken as that famous music starts and that silhouette strolls into the gunbarrel.
Taken in that light, Roger Moore is not the bane of the series, but its savior. Few people thought the series would last for long after Connery left - even Harry Saltzman soon bailed out! - but Roger Moore put a new spin on the character and re-energized the series. During his tenure, the series not only survived, but achieved new levels of success, and Roger's own brand of star appeal drew in fans who Connery never reached.
I was certainly one of them. As a youngster, I could see all the Connery films on network television, but I quickly developed a preference for Roger's Bond. Of course, over time I would come to decide that Sean was my favorite, then George, then Sean again and then Brosnan, but I never outgrew my affection for Roger, the nice guy in rogue's clothing, the foppish, smarmy, stogie-smoking cad who was nonetheless completely charming. After all, wasn't he the one who introduced me to the exciting world of James Bond in the first place?
I devoted my adolescence to trying to duplicate Roger's charm; to raise one eyebrow at a time, wear the best clothes, have a witty rejoinder for every occasion, walk with poise and speak with perfect diction, stay cool at all times and get every beautiful babe I met into the sack with me. Eventually I mastered the eyebrow part.
This year, Roger Moore will celebrate his 70th birthday. I'd like him to know that there are those of us who appreciate his contributions. His Bond may not be everyone's favorite, but that's what makes horse races. Roger's success in the role proves that the character of James Bond will survive despite major changes in direction, despite different interpretations and different acting styles. And that's the key to its survival. Not to mention the fact that he gave millions of us many hours of pure, escapist fun. And in my book, that's what Bond is all about.
Special thanks to David Morefield
for allowing to put the article on our site.