Ten’s 007’s List: Roger Moore Bond Retrospective
Sir Roger Moore passed away this Tuesday, and many media outlets were quick to rank his outings as the iconic super-spy James Bond. They are all wrong. Here is the official ranking.
Roger Moore had a long, critically mixed time in James Bond’s wing tipped shoes. From gritty to goofy, suave to schlocky, he had quite the run. Given that he played Bond the longest of any actor, a fitting 7 times, it is to be expected. To get a truly accurate ranking of Roger Moore’s time as the Martini loving secret agent, I used a super scientific process. How stupid was the Villain’s plot? How awesome was the theme song? Lastly, did I mistake this movie as a child for being a Connery or Dalton Bond film? Here are the results, from best to worst.
Moore’s fourth outing as 007 was a wild, wild ride. Hot on the trail of Drax Industries, Bond find’s himself fending off assassins all across the globe, eventually leading to a showdown above the globe itself, a crazy outer space battle involving laser marines. Yo Joe!
This movie has just about everything that made James Bond work. Incredibly bold evil plan by the villain? How does planetary annihilation and eugenics based re-population strike you? Bond Girl? Holly Goodhead (‘nuf said). Gadgets? Space laser battle. Top that. With the return of iconic henchman Jaws from the previous film, it has all the bases covered. The only ding is that the opening theme song is a little weak, but it was still completely par for the course with other 70’s bond movies.
One calling card of a Bond film is globe-trotting. Exotic locals are introduced at a breathless pace, each vista competing with the Bond Girl for your eye’s attention. While moonraker takes the cake by going to outer space, Octopussy was no slouch. Floating palaces in India, East German auction houses, and even a trip to the Circus are all on Bond’s passport this time around.
Moore was not exactly known as an action Bond, so much so that his successor Timothy Dalton was pretty much a nonstop action Bond in response. Here though, Moore’s right fist of justice shined brightest: a fight with assassins in an Indian palace would have made John Wayne proud. Add in a goon with a yo-yo buzzsaw and an octopus-turned-facehugger stunt and you have cheesy Bond Goodness.
The plot was all over the place, in an audacious blend of smuggling, espionage, nuclear shenanigans and of course, Russians. Octopussy, while a dreadfully sexist name even by Bond standards, was actually a fairly strong, self empowered Bond Girl. The title song by Rita Hayworth was emblematic of Moore’s last few outings, a smooth, romantic jam that would have been at home in a high budget adult video.
If Moonraker was a crazy, over the top icon of who James Bond was back then, Octopussy was the emblem of who Roger Moore was as Bond. Charming, wry, with a little wit and a lot of telegraphed, overhand right hooks. When I think of Roger Moore’s Bond, this is the film I always remember.
A View to a Kill (1985).
This movie is my favorite Moore Bond film, despite every knock against it. While Christopher Walken does his best as a crazy arch-villain, his plot to dominate the microchip industry by wiping silicon valley off the map was sooooo dumb. A noticeably past his prime Moore was not exactly kicking ass and taking names. To make up for that, sky-dives, snow-mobiles, and just about any scene you could sneak a stuntman into was used. Grace Jones rescues the film, her henchwoman May Day being one of the greatest baddies since Jaws.
So what makes this flawed but earnest Bond film my favorite? Two words, and they are both Duran. Duran Duran’s theme song kicked all kinds of ass. Opening the film up with it got me all primed for an action movie when I first saw it, and as such I remember the action bits fondly, rather than as the last gasp of an aging actor. That song so warped my perception of this being a gas soaked action packed thriller, than I misremembered this film as being Timothy Dalton’s first, not Roger Moore’s last. Normally that would be a demerit, but damn it, this film is a guilty pleasure.
Live and Let Die (1973).
This movie is problematic, in that it was Bond’s foray into the Blaxploitation genre. All the locations, from New Orleans to the Caribbean, exist to show caricatures of African American culture. The movie eschews world domination for drug trafficking, a constant theme in the Blaxploitation genre. It has a fucking pimpmobile in it. So why so high on the list?
First: The theme song. Try to name a more famous Bond theme than Paul McCartney’s “Live and Let Die”. I’ll wait. Second: Solitaire. While the portrayals of African Americans where pretty tone deaf in general, this movie gave us our first black Bond Girl, and she was no shrinking violet. Like Kirk kissing Uhura, pairing another white symbol of virility with an African American woman was a fumbling but important step in normalizing interracial relationships. Third: Baron Samedi. A truly fear-inducing henchman, Samedi was the face of a movie that was refreshing the stale “punch Russians, fly away on jetpack, snog a girl, shake, pour, repeat” formula of Connery era Bond. While the stakes were lower in terms of world peril, the stakes felt higher for Bond’s personal safety when facing off against Mr. Big’s thugs and Samedi’s voodoo army. Lastly: The movie is just fun. Connery always winked at the camera with his Bond, but Moore’s wry humor gave the now eight movie old franchise a new veneer. The twists and turns were novel, the action was somehow hokey yet exciting all at once, and all the disparate parts clicked together to inaugurate a new era of Bond in a fun way.
The Spy Who Loved Me (1977).
This movie was the emergence of a theme that I thought really worked for Roger Moore. It took Bond underwater. For the handful of times they’ve done it, it just seems to fit, like a perfectly tailored tuxedo. It seems even more apropos for Roger Moore’s Bond. Connery felt at home in a souped up Aston Martin. Dalton just screamed “plane fight!!!”. Roger Moore to me might as well have been Aquaman. If he wasn’t on a yacht, an island palace, or fighting with snorkels and a spear gun, it just seemed off. It also was the first appearance of Jaws, a henchman so good that they didn’t off him in one movie like every other goon.
For Your Eyes Only (1981).
Moore’s fifth outing got a few things right. It told a tale of revenge, which has always been a strong through line for a Bond film (Diamonds are Forever, Goldeneye, Quantum of Solace, it just works people). It also put him back in the drink, and I don’t mean Martini. The opening theme is a sexy, smooth, and smoky number, and the rest of the soundtrack is done by Bill Conti, who always brings his A game to movie scores. The film was bog standard in most other aspects, and had a weaker than average plot (outside of the revenge motif); Greek black marketers and yet another Russian peril were fairly ho hum. An average Bond movie with a few hints at what makes Moore’s Bond iconic, all in all.
The Man with the Golden Gun (1974).
On paper, this movie should be one of my favorites. It’s got all the hokey elements you could ask for. Following in Live and Let Die’s questionable appropriation of questionable genres, this movie borrowed heavily from the Kung Fu craze that was dominating cinemas at the time. It has a true nemesis for Bond to duel, and it’s our favorite mail stealing super baddy Christopher Lee.
It’s surprising then, that this movie never really moved the needle for me. Unfortunately, it might be Moore’s fault. He’s just not cut out for the intense kind of Bond this movie needs. Pierce Brosnan’s Bond Vs. Sean Bean’s Trevelyan in GoldenEye was pretty much my favorite spy on spy action, and this doesn’t rise to that level. In fact, this movie so completely fell off my radar, that if it wasn’t for the Golden Gun game mode in the N64 classic GoldenEye game, I would have forgotten it exists.
- Sorry, He Only Did 7 Bond Films. What? This is a Ten’s list? Ok….
- Roger Moore did a lot of charity work after he hung up the Walther PP7, most notably for UNICEF. He voiced Santa Claus more than once in shorts that benefitted the children’s program.
Roger Moore had a fantastic sense of self-deprecating humor, and took all the criticisms of his portrayal of James Bond in stride. He even voiced characters that pinched Bond’s cheek a little, such as the character Lazenby (a jest at George Lazenby, the one movie Bond wonder) in Cats and Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore.
So there you have it. The definitive list. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Sir Roger Moore had other accolades in his lifetime (that’s why you have to call him sir), but his legacy will always be as the shaken but never stirred super spy. He stewarded the iconic character through some crazy adventures, and we salute his passing with two eyebrows up.