I was born in the 1970s. Thus, my conception of James Bond will always be embodied by Sir Roger Moore. While the popular opinion is that Sean Connery will always be the “definitive Bond”—whatever that means—to me, Sir Roger Moore is the essential Bond, if for no other reason than he had to endure the biggest challenges the role has ever faced.
Connery invented the role, and he did that very well. Every Bond after Moore got to put his own spin on the role. But that was only possible thanks to Moore. Yes, there was Lazenby in between. But George Lazenby almost killed the franchise1 If anything, the move to Lazenby, then back to Connery in Diamonds are Forever made Moore’s job as the “new” Bond even more difficult. Someone had to put a new spin on this iconic character in such a way as to not only be accepted, but to ensure that anyone coming after him had the freedom to do the same. Not many franchises survive the recasting of the lead. For Bond to go on for more than 20 films, it needed to survive this transition several times over. This is an incredibly difficult challenge, and Sir Roger Moore pulled it off.
If it weren’t for Moore, in other words, the Bond franchise would have been dead decades ago. He certainly wasn’t getting any help from the script writers and directors during this period.
Moore’s Bond was dapper and smooth, yet took himself far less seriously than Connery’s. He was smart and talented, but he was vulnerable and capable of being outwitted. He was just more human than Connery ever was in the role, for lack of a better term.
And he survived one of the most difficult periods of male fashion in recent memory. All with a grace that no other actor could have pulled off, I believe.
My longstanding theory is that Roger Moore is the best of all the actors so far at playing Bond, the character. Unfortunately, he never got to play that character in a really good movie. All seven of his movies as Bond are deeply flawed in one way or another. A few, I’d argue, are amongst the worst in the franchise. And none, I’d argue, are amongst the best of the franchise. Yet he’s still the best Bond, as far as the man playing the role goes.
What follows are my brief takes on all seven Roger Moore James Bond films, in order of release date.
Live and Let Die (1973)
Not only a bad movie, but arguably one of the most racist Bond films, even when judging it within its own time. One of the best theme songs of the franchise, yet one of the worst movies of the franchise. I find this film unwatchable for the most part, despite part of it taking place a few blocks from where I once lived in Harlem. It has no Q, for crying out loud. And to top it all off: Sheriff J.W. Pepper. That’s all you need to know.
The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)
We go from one of the best theme songs to easily the worst theme song in Bond history. A better movie, however, than Moore’s first, though not by much. Christopher Lee makes for a great villain. Sheriff Pepper inexplicably returns, despite being godawful in the last film2 And Bond is driving an American car, which is never a good thing.
The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
Many argue that this is Moore’s best Bond film. And I see that point of view. It’s not my favorite, but it’s probably second on my list. There was a sense of campiness around the Bond franchise during this period that doesn’t age well at all. While I love that Roger Moore brought a dry sense of humor to the role, the scripts of these films take the humor of the franchise to the point of self-parody3 It’s a marvel the franchise survived this period. Having said all that, this is one of the more coherent scripts that Moore was handed.
The worst Bond film. There’s no way to argue otherwise. Unintentionally funny for more than two hours. Unwatchable. A sad attempt to compete with Star Wars. Michael Lonsdale as Hugo Drax is perhaps the one saving grace of this film. Totally wasted, along with Moore, in a script that makes little sense from start to finish.
For Your Eyes Only (1981)
This is the best of the Moore Bond films. Some argue it’s formulaic. Some say it doesn’t do anything to advance the series. I’ll take it over the crap Moore was handed prior to this any day of the week. It has the Lotus (though they blow it up fairly early on). It has a great theme song sung by Sheena Easton. It has an awesome early 80s funky score by Bill Conti that dates the film in a good way. And it has Bond turning down the advances of a teenage girl. Which, while that sounds like a given, is actually a step forward for the character. I could do without all the skiing, but that’s true of 90% of all Bond films. This is as good as it gets during the Moore era, unfortunately.
This was the first Bond film I actually saw in the movie theater. I went with my father, and I remember the experience fondly. Unfortunately, watching the movie again later as an adult, it didn’t hold up to my memory of it as a child. It had so much potential. But then they put Bond in clown makeup, for crying out loud. What were they thinking?
A View to a Kill (1985)
Roger Moore’s final portrayal of Bond. A lot has been said of Moore’s age by the time this film was made. And that’s fair. He was getting too old for the role. And the film has its share of that silliness that drives me nuts about the entire Moore era. (The prolonged chase scene in the fire engine, for instance.) But here’s what A View to a Kill has going for it that I believe makes it underrated: Christopher Walken as a great classic Bond villain. A master plan by the villain that doesn’t involve nuclear missiles, for once. Grace Jones, who was an unconventional choice and good match for Bond. Arguably one of the top five theme songs in a franchise that has a lot of great theme songs. And a pretty cool end scene on the Golden Gate Bridge. Not the best of the Moore Bond films, but far from the worst.
All in all, Sir Roger Moore was handed a shit sandwich with Bond from start to finish. And yet he carried the franchise for more than a decade, reinventing the character for my entire generation. I’d say that was quite an accomplishment.
So godspeed, Sir Roger Moore. May you rest in peace. You had an impact on so many lives, my own included. I hope you were able to appreciate it while you were with us.