News and Commentary

Tribute: A Look Back At The Late Roger Moore’s 007 Films

Now that the franchise is, depending on which titles you count, 24 movies and 55 years old, we all have our very own James Bond. While Sean Connery will always be the ultimate 007, Roger Moore is my 007. Yes, I still remember waiting in line with my dad to see Connery’s $1 million comeback in the under-appreciated Diamonds are Forever (1971). I also remember holding Dad’s rough mechanic’s hand in that insanely-crowded line and then having to come back for the 9 p.m. show because the early show was sold out (something that has never happened to me since). But even then it felt like Connery’s time was past.

I first met Roger Moore’s Bond at the tender age of eight while in attendance at something called a drive-in theater (Google it, kids — they were awesome). The year was 1973, my mom and sister were passed out in the back of the station wagon, and it was just me and dad watching this amazing mash-up of James Bond and blaxploitation.

If I close my eyes real tight and concentrate I can actually transport myself back to that night … but only for a moment. For just a moment I feel the cool humidity of a Wisconsin night, hear the sound of tires crunching gravel as cars creep in and out. I smell Dad’s cigarette smoke, feel the vinyl seat beneath me, and to this day will argue that movies sound their very best when heard through a clunky, metal speaker hanging from a car window.

That night the following images were forever burned in my tender brain: Jane Seymour’s perfectly-crooked smile and perfectly-arranged cleavage, Rosie Carver sporting a huge afro and tiny bikini, Yaphet Kotto exploding in mid-air, and an eternally cool Bond escaping a herd of marauding crocodiles by using their heads as stepping stones.

Did you get that? Bond bounded across the water using … The Heads Of Crocodiles.

The next time I met Roger Moore was in the summer of ’77. The day was hot, the theater dark and cool, and sitting on either side of my mom, my kid sister and I watched in awe as 007 skied off a cliff (a cliff!) only to be saved by a Union Jack parachute as the first lilting notes of Carly Simon’s rapturous title song (still the best in the series) took the entire experience to another (and unforgettable) level.

Octopussy I saw by myself at the 79 cent theater. The year was 1983 and it all felt very grown up — you know, driving myself in my own car (a 1972 Buick Electra) after work to see a James Bond movie. It was also more bitter than sweet. Even at the time this 17-year-old aching with desire to be totally independent understood how this meant that neither I nor the world were so young anymore. Nor was 56-year-old Roger Moore. One more and he was out. And then it all got away from me. The times and the years and the Bonds now blur by with increasingly rapid speed. How is it even possible that there have been 3 Bonds since? How is it even possible that Daniel Craig has already made four 007 films?

At the age of 89, Sir Roger George Moore left us forever this past Tuesday, but not before leaving behind a legacy of seven Bond films that will live on for as long as we watch movies. God love Roger Moore for making that character his own. God love him for not trying to do a Sean Connery impersonation. Imagine stepping into the biggest and most iconic film franchise in the world. Imagine trying to fill the shoes of a Connery. Imagine trying to do all of that after Connery’s first replacement, George Lazenby, flamed out so spectacularly. Nevertheless, for 12 years that is exactly what Roger Moore did — the impossible — and along the way he not only made two of the all-time best Bond films, he also delivered some of the greatest overall screen entertainment of his time.

Oh, and memories … He gave us those too. You see, iconic actors who create iconic moments are their own sort of time machines. The elixir they create makes it possible to recapture and recall, if only for a moment, the feeling of where we were when the magic first happened.

Live and Let Die (1973) — B

That crocodile stunt I mentioned earlier? Those were real crocodiles, y’all. In 1973 there were no green screens. While the cameras were running, people had to actually do this stuff. That includes a spectacular speed boat chase (on water and land) through the Louisiana bayou.

If anything, over the last 44 years, Live and Let Die has improved, even though it was pretty damn entertaining on day one. Dropping Moore’s suave, slightly self-aware but still ruthless (what a knife edge he walked) MI6 agent into a blaxploitation movie doesn’t date the movie so much as it captures a long-lost era. Exciting, sexy as hell, and a great title song.

The Man With the Golden Gun (1974) — C-

Roger Moore had not only earned a second shot at the title, he had done so well in the role that this dud would be forgiven.

Despite the perfect casting of The Mighty Christopher Lee in the title role (an assassin obsessed with going mano-a-mano with Bond) and the inspired addition of Herve Viillechaize as Nick Nack, Lee’s deadly manservant, the Bond Girl (Britt Ekland) is too dumb to be believed and the story too contained (an island, and underground lair that feels smaller than Buffalo Bill’s basement) to really feel like a Bond film. The endless mistakes made here would all be remedied a mere three years later.

The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) — A+

My all-time favorite Bond movie is an absolute delight from start to finish. A whopper of a story (someone is stealing nuclear submarines!), a sexy, capable Bond Girl (Barbara Bach) who has a mature and complicated romance with our hero (she’s a patriotic Soviet agent, he killed her lover), and Richard Kiel’s Jaws, a scary-as-hell assassin who can beat a shark at its own game.

The score, the scope, the action, and a stunningly beautiful and suspenseful sequence staged at the Egyptian Pyramids that has never been topped.

Moonraker (1979) — C+

After the spectacular box office and critical success of TSWLM, the producers thought bigger would be better, and when it came to the box office they were correct. When you figure in inflation, Moonraker is still one of the highest-grossing Bond films of all-time. Although not as bad as most of its critics would have you believe (you’re certainly never bored), by the time you arrive in outer space and Jaws falls in love with another misfit toy, you can feel that everyone is trying too hard.

For Your Eyes Only (1981) — A

Learning again from their mistakes, the producers went back to the basics and delivered another of the all-time great Bond chapters. By this time Moore has made you forget all about Sean Connery, especially when he uses that license to kill to enjoy a little personal vengeance, to relentlessly chase down an assassin (on foot) and kill him in cold blood by kicking his teetering car off the side of a cliff. What a moment.

The closer is unforgettable, a mountain assault that involves a climb so suspenseful you are on the edge of your seat no matter how many times you’ve seen it.

Octopussy (1983) — B+

An underrated entry, one where too many walk away remembering the camp of Octopussy’s all-girl circus as opposed to the drama and tension, especially when Bond races the clock to stop a nuclear detonation.

The kitchen sink is thrown in everywhere but if you don’t have a good time, you might want to see about having a SteelPoleRectumectomy.

A View To A Kill — C

Four real shames here. 1) Moore had to go out on such a low note. 2) Christopher Walken is wasted as the villain. 3) An opening sequence we’ve seen before (snow, skis, California Girls, yawn). 4) Tanya Roberts is easily the worst Bond Girl in history.

Nevertheless, unlike The Man with the Golden Gun, this one is surprisingly re-watchable, thanks to all the spectacle, Patrick Macnee, Duran Duran’s kick-ass theme song, which is incorporated in the rest of the score, and, of course, Moore’s very presence.

Roger Moore’s screen career scanned 60 years.

He was the Saint, he was Beau Maverick, and he was my 007.

Follow John Nolte on Twitter @NolteNC. Follow his Facebook Page here.