Roger Moore Was My James Bond

Roger Moore Was My James Bond

Everyone has their James Bond. For my uncle, it was Sean Connery.

When I was around 10 years old, he visited from up north and sent me on a mission. I was to scour the local Blockbuster (remember when that was a thing?) and return with a James Bond movie on VHS (remember when that was also a thing?). There was only one parameter: it had to star Connery. In my uncle’s eyes, he was the only Bond. No one else mattered. Those other guys? Not worth the time of day. He specifically requested Goldfinger, a movie that he claimed featured everything you needed to know about being a man. Goldfinger was unavailable. I returned with Diamonds Are Forever, which proceeded to punish my entire family for two hours as we endured it.

I share this story because every James Bond fan has their quirks. You won’t find anyone who loves all of the movies. You won’t find a consensus on which actor best portrayed 007. And in my experience, the exact nature of these quirks are defined by very specific and very personal moments. Bond has always been malleable, a pop culture force that bends with the times and absorbs popular trends to create the artifice of youth. It’s always different. Always adapting. Always shapeshifting. Because of this, your Bond isn’t always my Bond. Agent James Bond of MI6 is a different thing for just about everyone.

And Roger Moore was my James Bond.

Roger Moore passed away today at the age of 89, and I was immediately overcome with both sadness and nostalgia. Sadness because an icon, someone I have spent more time with (via my television) than many members of my family, has died. Nostalgia because the thought of Moore conjures up memories of trips to that above-mentioned Blockbuster video, of discovering the James Bond movies one-by-one, and of trying to defend Moonraker to my older brother at an age before I realized it was okay to think that aspects of the things you love are awful.

You can say that I stumbled into the James Bond movies. I was aware of them before my Connery-devotee of an uncle preached about Goldfinger, but I was no expert. I was just a kid hungry for action-packed movies full of guns and gadgets (the sex appeal of the series would come a little bit later) and James Bond had more than enough entries to keep me occupied. You could say I grew up with Pierce Brosnan’s take on the character. As a kid in the ’90s, I wore out my VHS tape of Tomorrow Never Dies, unaware at the time that it’s really not that great. It was James Bond, and James Bond was enough.

But Brosnan’s Bond was new and fresh and still developing during my early days of Bond fandom. He felt so separate from the other guys, the ones lining the shelves at Blockbuster. While there were less than 20 James Bond movies at the time, it felt like there were hundreds! There was so much to see and so much to explore and there was no way I was ever going to see all of them!

So I dove in. I picked them by my gut. The coolest titles got watched first – I didn’t care about watching them in order. If it was in stock and I hadn’t seen it yet, I’d take it home and watch it. Probably three or four times in a week. My childhood obsession with Bond, one that continues to this day, means that I have an encyclopedic memory of some really awful movies.

As I bounced around the Bond timeline, swerving from the ’60s to ’80s and back again, young me started to notice something. There was one version of Bond who was popping up a little more often than the others. And he was different from the others, too. He smiled a bit more. He was faster with a joke. He made being a secret agent look like a ton of fun. I learned that this was Roger Moore.

Eventually, you figure out the Bonds. Sean Connery is the sociopath, the gentleman brute without a conscience. Timothy Dalton is the professional, the guy who dutifully gets the job done because someone has to do it. Pierce Brosnan is the the tourist, the smug playboy who milks every trip and every encounter for maximum pleasure. Daniel Craig is the broken monster, the fragile titan whose conscious breaks as his body endures. George Lazenby is…well, he’s George Lazenby.

And while Moore’s James Bond is instantly identifiable and wholly different than the others, he is oddly hard to pin down. He’s the funniest of the Bonds, as Moore was the most comfortable with the one-liners and the quips. He’s also the most charming of the Bonds, trading in the dangerous masculinity of Connery for a silver tongue and a sly wink. Moore was also the most willing to embrace the most lunatic ideas with a straight face. I often think about the big scene in Octopussy when Bond must disarm a nuclear bomb in the middle of a circus tent while wearing full clown make-up. On paper, it’s embarrassing. In execution, it’s divisive amongst fans. But you wouldn’t know it from Moore’s performance – even with that tongue firmly in cheek, he sells the moment. While Connery’s Bond made just about every encounter look easy and Craig’s Bond makes every encounter look punishing, Moore was flexible. He was a big goof until it was absolutely necessary that he stop being one. And that makes his harder-edged moments all the more powerful.

When I’m not thinking of Moore’s big bomb-disarming scene in Octopussy, I’m thinking about the scene in The Spy Who Loved Me when a defeated henchman clutches Bond’s necktie, the only lifeline keeping him from tumbling off a building. Bond pushes his advantage, gets some information, and then casually brushes his opponent’s hand aside, letting the man plunge to his death. It’s an unusually harsh moment for Moore’s Bond, made all the more startling because it’s surrounded by scenes where he’s the most pleasant and sociable of the 007s. This is echoed in For Your Eyes Only, when Bond kicks an assassin’s precariously placed automobile, sending it falling off a cliff. Connery, Craig, Dalton and even Brosnan kill with a casualness that can be numbing. When Moore kills, especially when he does it up close and personal, it provides a jolt. He means it. You take notice when Moore stops smiling.

I’m not prepared to say that Roger Moore is my favorite James Bond actor. I appreciate all of them, although Moore does deserve special credit for proving that the character could have legs outside of Connery. However, he is undoubtedly my James Bond. As I endlessly watched and re-watched the series, the mere fact that he dominated a significant portion of the movies ensured that much. To a youngster, Connery’s coldness was hard to appreciate and Dalton simply wasn’t in enough to movies to create a bond (pun unintended, but welcome). Moore, who wrapped Bond’s violent instincts with humor and wit and a more laid-back (and dare I say dad-like?) sense of cool, ensured that I kept coming back for more.

And eventually, my James Bond obsession grew into a movie obsession. And here we are. I’m only writing about this today because Roger Moore was cast as James Bond 007 over 40 years ago. In a weird way, Moore’s James Bond has had a larger impact on my life than most real people.

Every generation is going to have their Bond. My uncle loved Connery. People a few years younger than me may embrace Brosnan. Craig, by reinventing the character in a bold, new light, has permanently altered who James Bond is for an entire generation. But while we’re giving credit to Craig for shattering the mold, let’s credit Moore for breaking it the first time, for reshaping the very idea of James Bond. His take is a little campier, a lot sillier, and certainly more broad, but as those dark moments show, Moore knew exactly what he was doing. His James Bond isn’t a goof – it’s a collection of specific choices. Maybe they work for you. Maybe they don’t. But he’s as singular, and as important, as any of the other Bond actors.

And Roger Moore will always be my James Bond.

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