In just about every James Bond movie, when the villain leaves him to be devoured by sharks or whatever, he says with a laugh, “Goodbye, Mister Bond.”
And then Bond escapes.
Alas, the one thing Bond can never escape is actual death. The great actor Roger Moore, who played Bond the longest – seven films over 12 years – passed away Tuesday at 89.
Moore came to the series in 1973’s “Live and Let Die.” He replaced the harder-edged Sean Connery and one-film-star George Lazenby, also a brawler, with a more erudite and sophisticated playboy interpretation.
Many lament the jokey approach the series took under Moore, save the outstanding “For Your Eyes Only.” The 1981 film showcased a return to the more serious and grounded espionage story. It’s unquestionably the best film in the Moore Bond series. It has just about everything a great Bond movie needs to achieve a four-star rating.
Despite a few missteps, “For Your Eyes Only” is totally engaging. The film features Moore’s best performance, plenty of great characters and locations, the most classically beautiful Bond girl ever, and an outstanding script.
There’s no denying that Moore’s Bond was suave. He was an English gentleman and got rough when he needed to be. As campy as the series became during his tenure, he is the Bond everyone between the ages of 40 and 55 grew up with, and so many hold Moore close to their hearts.
FAST FACT: Roger Moore’s screen debut came via a tiny role in 1945’s “Caesar and Cleopatra.”
The ’70s and ’80s were a period of cultural and stylistic transition in the United States. Moore’s Bond both reflected and influenced that period of cinema and culture.
Many viewers never took Bond films seriously, suggesting that they are intended to be frivolous entertainment. Perhaps, after the strife of the Vietnam War, audiences desired less serious fare and the producers merely delivered on it.
Still, while he came off as a playboy in many respects, at his core, Moore was a gentleman with the capacity to be a tough guy.
“For Your Eyes Only” grounded the series after it literally flew off into space in “Moonraker.” The former demonstrated that Moore was also a fine English actor. In fact, “For Your Eyes Only” was akin to Moore’s turn as a mercenary in one of the great unsung action films of the same period, “The Wild Geese” with Richard Burton and Richard Harris.
Most Bond fans will scoff at “The Man with The Golden Gun,” but the film is probably the second best in the Moore canon. It skillfully dovetailed a circus theme into the espionage thriller genre, and provided Moore with a Bond that was balanced between spy and sophisticate.
The producers apparently wanted to reverse direction following “Live and Let Die’s” portrayal of Bond as a playboy buffoon. This time, Moore’s Bond is more akin to the spy we saw in “Goldfinger.” He’s more on the ball, more conscious of each situation, more serious in his work and not so easily fooled. He even smacks Maud Adams around a bit to get information.
We still see some regrettable goofiness, but it’s downplayed.
There is one other solid aspect to Moore’s portrayal in “The Spy Who Loved Me.” Despite the outward appearance of a superficial lover who knows just the right thing to say to bed a woman, many of his more serious lines are delivered with conviction.
When confronted by Amasova (Barbara Bach) on the death of her lover, Moore’s response is direct, forthright, and deadly serious. His various battles with Jaws show he’s capable of a good fist-fight.
In perhaps the most brutal Bond murder since Connery plugged a man in the back in “Dr. No,” Moore slaps his tie from the grasp of an assassin teetering on a ledge, and he falls to his death. Finally, the assault inside Stromberg’s cavernous tanker demonstrates his natural leadership and military training. All in all, he’s a very convincing Bond this time around, and even a bit of a bad-ass.
Regardless of one’s individual taste, there remains no question that Moore was – and always will be – James Bond to many people around the world. Although death claims everyone at some point, Moore will live on as James Bond, just as he did after three more actors took his place.