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Saturday, 1 September 2012

Countdown to Skyfall - Give us Moore Bond

James Bond MK III - Roger Moore was 45 years old when he took over the role of James Bond in 1973 - he had been linked to the character several times previously with Sean Connery even predicting that he would make an ideal replacement as Bond when he threw in the towel after You Only Live Twice. Course things didn't go as planned and with Moore contracted for the TV series, The Saint, George Lazenby took over the Bond role when Connery left. However Connery returned for Diamonds are Forever and then once again said, never again.

And so Roger Moore's name popped up again but the actor was this time contracted to The Persuaders TV series. However when the show failed to score ratings in the US where it was pitched against Mission Impossible  Moore was let out of a five year contract. Now the way was clear for him to take over the role he had coveted for so long, that of James Bond.

 Moore played the role up until 1985's A View to a Kill, taking the character through some of his most successful films. And yet Moore's tenure as 007 is often derided by both fans and critics who unfairly compare Moore's smooth Bond to Connery's more earthy interpretation. Personally Moore is my favourite Bond - I'd even rate him above Connery in the role. Now that last statement will probably be dismissed by most of you as it seems the general consensus is that Connery was the best. But Connery was the first -  well that's if you discount the CBS TV production of Casino Royale starring Barry Nelson as Jimmy Bond -  so he set the benchmark on which the character would forever be judged.

People say Moore was unlike Fleming's Bond - well that's true but even although I am a huge Fleming fan and know all of the original canon intimately, I realised early on that the movie series were distinct from the books. Each operate in their own little world. Connery too was unlike Fleming's bond, as was George Lazenby and Pierce Bronsnan . Daniel Craig doesn't come anywhere close to Fleming's super hero - in fact to my mind the most Fleming Bond was Timothy Dalton but as I've said the movies and books are separate entities.

Diamonds are Forever is an interesting film and is often called the first Roger Moore Bond film, even if it was Connery in the role. And there is some sense in this - the style of the film was far more comedic than previously, even more larger than life, so when people say that Moore brought too much comedy to the franchise they are clearly forgetting Connery's Diamonds are Forever which actually ushered in this style of Bond movie.

 Moore's second Bond, The Man with the Golden Gun was something if a disappointment following the excellence of Live and Let Die. That's not to say it's a bad film, but it does lack spectacle and seems far too small a canvas for a Bond movie. But Moore's performance was spot on and one scene, where he turns a gun on a gunsmith, he even manages to display some of the dangerous edge that Connery was so good at.

The Spy who loved me followed - Moore's favourite amongst his pictures. It certainly made up for the spectacle that TMWTGG lacked and the writers were finally getting used to the strengths in Roger's performance - namely the was he could handle light comedy. There are several major set pieces in this film and the underground lair of Stromberg was perhaps the best set since the underground volcano in Connery's You Only Live Twice. The battle scene in which Bond goes into action with the navy is superb.

Moonraker - Ok I'll give the Moore bashers a point here as the film really is a step too far and the comedy is too up front. Taking James Bond into space was a mistake - thought not a financial one as Moonraker was then the highest grossing Bond film of them all. But the film was a disjointed mess and the producers realised that they had gone too far with the character because they brought Bond back down to earth for the next movie - For You Eyes Only, arguably Moore's most realistic performance as the super spy and the best of his films.

 For your Eyes Only is indeed a fine film and the situations Moore's Bond finds himself in are, for once, not out of the realms of possibility. This Bond is a hard-boiled Bond. Moore has made it clear that he was not at all comfortable with this new tougher Bond but the film is excellent. And the fact that the actor was by now in his fifties gave him a rugged look that suited the weary aspects of the character in the movie.

 Octopussy followed and this really should have been Moore's last film - he is showing his age in this movie but he still manages to effectively carry off the more strenuous scenes. The comedy is brought back big time but when there is action it comes with a bang. It's a good film but Moore should have really walked into the sunset, as he had been threatening to do since Moonraker, after this one.

 Moore ended with A View to a Kill - a lame remake of Goldfinger only this time with Silicon Valley rather than Fort Knox. The major problem is Moore's age and the stunt doubling is atrocious and Moore visibly becomes twenty years younger in the action scenes. The film is also over-long and quite frankly commits the sin of being boring.

As I've said Moore's Bond is often dismissed but this is so unfair, and Moore had a tougher job at getting the public to accept him as James Bond than Connery ever did.

Consider when Moore stepped into the role - the franchise had lost its original sheen and many people considered the series to be over - Diamonds, whilst financially successful, was not such a critical success and the thinking was that James Bond was a thing of the past, a glorious memory of Britain's final days as a super-power on the world stage. James Bond was in fact old fashioned and couldn't compete with the new wave of action cinema with stars like Clint Eastwood and Steve McQueen. James Bond was a hanger on from the British Empire and dreadfully unhip in this brave new world.

 Roger Moore proved that there was still life in the old dog and indeed his Bond movies were amongst the most successful ever made - time after time I have argued with people who have called Moore a terrible Bond and his films nonsense for this is clearly wrong and I would maintain that Moore was closer than anyone else to Fleming's original creation. And for me Moore will always be the definitive James Bond.

I thought Timothy Dalton was excellent too, as was Pierce Brosnan and George Lazenby was OK if a little amateurish at times. Daniel Craig, I think, is a great and very talented actor but I just don't think he's right for James Bond and I feel that both his Bond movies were lacking the essential ingredients that make Bond stand out from all the other action movies out there. It would be interesting to find out how many of the people who think Craig's Bond is the Bond of the books have actually real Fleming's original novels. Not many, I think.

When you analyze Moore's Bond, there's a lot of similarities between the way he and Connery played Bond - Connery also, at least from Goldfinger onwards, presented Bond as a larger than life, devil may care character and both actors were fond of the corny one liners. Of course Moore's tenure as Bond happened to coincide with a period where the comedy was becoming more important to the series, and it also helped that Moore was superb, far better than Connery, at playing for laughs. I would argue that all of Moore's films, with the exception of Moonraker, are better than Connery's comedic, Diamonds are Forever.

If Moore's Bond had failed then we would never have had Dalton, Brosnan or Craig and Connery wouldn't have returned for Never Say Never Again. It was Moore that kept James Bond at the top of the box office for more than a decade and for that reason alone he deserves the accolade of the best ever James Bond.


Davieboy said...

Thanks for the fab link to the Millicent Martin sketch! Brought back memories - I was only 7 or 8 in 1964 but remember MM very well.
The sketch was funny and well-performed. Roger Moore had a deft touch for comedy. The prop failures amd MM's trip hardly fazed them at all. TV gold!

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