Battle of the Bonds // Part 003 // Roger Moore
The lavish, the affable, the tongue-in-cheek Bond
Posh, debonair, and more than a little campy, Roger Moore’s James Bond is a fascinating litmus test for your appreciation of the sillier side of this franchise, perhaps even life itself.
Opinions on Moore vary more wildly than any other Bond, fluctuating between recoil and refusal of his light-hearted japery to an unironically sincere appreciation for his willingness to be in on the joke.
An entire generation hates him, but I just love him.
Roger Moore is my favorite Bond.
Now, now, before you go and close your tab, know that I don’t fault any fan for not being into Moore’s characterization of our favorite secret agent. I fully understand that his Bond features a much different style, sensibility, and worldview than his predecessors that, in turn, rubs many the wrong way.
He was nothing like Connery or Lazenby.
And that was the point.
Roger knew he couldn’t top Connery at his own game, so he simply didn’t try. Where Lazenby played Connery karaoke (hitting the notes pretty well, to his credit), Moore chose to sing a different tune altogether.
“My personality is entirely different than previous Bonds. I’m not that cold-blooded killer type. Which is why I play it mostly for laughs,” Moore once said. “This is a famous spy — everyone knows his name, and every bartender in the world knows he likes martinis shaken, not stirred. Come on, it’s all a big joke!”
Perhaps more so than any other Bond, Moore made the character his own, injecting his natural amiability and air of sophistication into the 007 archetype, fully leaning into the luxuriousness inherent to a life filled with beautiful women, fast cars, and strong martinis.
It sounds like a good time, why not have some fun with it?
Where Connery was cool and composed, Moore was warm and disarming. Where Connery was aloof and ruthless, Moore was genial and gregarious. Where Connery raised a hand to a woman, Moore raised an eyebrow.
Connery played the cold-blooded killer, Moore the consummate gentleman.
“Fleming saw Bond as himself,” said producer Harry Saltzman in a 1973 interview with TIME during the run-up to Moore’s Bond debut, Live And Let Die, “as a kind of disenfranchised member of the Establishment, Eton, Harrow, and Cambridge. And Sean [Connery] was none of those. Fleming would have been delighted with Roger, however. He is the classic Englishman.”
There’s long been a perpetuated urban legend that Ian Fleming actually preferred Moore as his first choice for an on-screen Bond, but there are no journalistic sources to back that rumor up aside from a claim by Cubby Broccoli in his autobiography, When The Snow Melts. Moore himself has dispelled the tale, once telling Entertainment Weekly when asked about the rumor, “That’s what they told me, at least…But Ian Fleming didn’t know me from shit…”
Fleming might not have been aware of Moore at the time of the original Bond casting call, but Broccoli and Saltzman certainly were, and they would become increasingly interested in the prospects of a Roger Moore Bond run.
Sir Roger starred as Simon Templar in the British mystery thriller series The Saint across 118 episodes from 1962–1969, his character described as “a buccaneer in the suits of Savile Row, amused, cool, debonair, with hell-for leather blue eyes and a saintly smile.”
A bonafide hit from day one, The Saint’s popularity quickly led to syndication in the states, then to a purchase by NBC to secure exclusive broadcast rights in America. As international interest in The Saint grew, so too did Roger Moore’s profile at home and abroad.
There’s little doubt that Moore’s time as Simon Templar served as a widespread introduction, precursor, and pipeline of sorts to the idea that Moore could one day take up the Double-O title. Roger was playing a James Bond-lite on TV, all the while accumulating international fame and a certain kind of association with the bad-guy busting, bad-girl bedding sensibilities Bond would help perpetuate and audiences would come to expect from their entertainment.
It also didn’t hurt that Roger had developed a bit of a gambling habit, often running in the same stake-raising social circles as Broccoli and Saltzman.
Roger was continuously courted by the Bond producer duo during this time, he even came quite close to succeeding Connery after You Only Live Twice (The Saint and an uprising in Cambodia got in the way), and supplanting Lazenby after On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (no uprisings this time, just The Saint again and one last dance with Connery).
While Lazenby had his fling with the franchise and Connery crept back in for a $1.25M booty call, Moore wrapped up The Saint and made a couple of smaller films before becoming the highest-paid television actor in the world for one series as the co-lead alongside Tony Curtis in Lew Grade’s The Persuaders!
Roger Moore described what happened next in his 2008 memoir, My Word Is My Bond:
“I was at Pinewood filming The Persuaders when Sean was filming Diamonds there, and consequently I got to see a lot of Harry and Cubby around the studio. When Sean left the franchise, I knew the role was up for grabs again and declined Lew Grade’s offer to make a second series of The Persuaders. Just as well I did, as my phone rang. It was Harry. ‘Roger,’ he said, ‘Cubby and I have decided we want to go with you as the next James Bond.’”
The PPK was officially passed on to Roger Moore when he was the age of forty-five, the oldest starting age of any Bond before or since. For context, Connery turned in his Walther after Diamonds Are Forever at age forty-one, and was only thirty-two when Dr. No premiered. Lazenby was just twenty-nine when he took on the role.
Moore would go on to star in a franchise-leading seven films in twelve years, the longest time a single actor held the Double-O title until Craig surpassed Moore’s record much later down the line. The world’s third Bond was fifty-seven when he officially decided to hang it up following 1985’s A View To A Kill.
Despite these eye-opening age anecdotes, Roger always appeared (and acted) much younger than his years would suggest. With his boyish charm, roughishly handsome good looks, and smooth, bronze complexion, Moore perpetually radiated a mischievous aura of youthful whimsy and laidback confidence.
To elicit another Connery comp, the grand extravagance of Bond productions and the heightened social profile that came along with the role became a tireless burden for our first Bond. Moore, by all accounts, relished the privilege, savoring every dizzying minute of an all-time high he knew few others would ever experience.
“I think the Bonds are marvelous subjects — escapist entertainment expensively made,” Moore told TIME, shortly after production on Live And Let Die began, “It’s all going for you as an actor. I often stop in the middle of a day’s work and say: ‘Jesus Christ, they’re really going to pay you for being a kid and living out your fantasies!’”
No Bond drank in his time as 007 quite as Roger did. He wanted to be Bond (provided the proper accommodations were made), and he truly wanted to live up to the title in the eyes of Bond fans. I think that means something. I think it matters that Roger gave a shit, especially coming off Connery’s contentious relationship with the series and Lazenby’s outright refusal of the name Bond, James Bond.
Maybe that’s why I’ve always had such an affinity for Roger Moore.
I was the young, impressionable dork parading around a combination lock briefcase set to open with the code 0–0–7; a regular childhood terror that would sneak around hallways and furniture, ducking in and out of lines of sight before popping up and squirting my parents and siblings with a cheap water pistol.
Those close to me certainly know I never met a well-timed quip I didn’t like.
Little boys wanted to grow up to become Bond; Roger remained a little boy as Bond, never losing sight of the cheeky childhood wonder at the center of it all.
Live And Let Die (1973)
Three MI6 agents, in three disparate parts of the world, have been killed in the last twenty-four hours. Rightfully perturbed, M sends secret agent James Bond to New York to investigate the killings and establish a connection. While en route to convene with his CIA pal Felix Leiter, Bond is nearly killed himself after his driver is mysteriously assassinated. Tracking the license plate of the suspected killer leads Bond to the hideout of Mr. Big, one of Harlem’s most prominent crime lords, and his personal tarot reader, Solitaire. After narrowly escaping a Mr. Big-sanctioned death sentence, Bond heads to the island of San Monique in search of its dictator, Dr. Kananga, only to discover that Mr. Big and Kananga are one and the same.
Turns out the three MI6 deaths are indeed connected, and the agents were on the verge of something major. Kananga has been harvesting the island’s poppy fields to produce heroin at an alarming rate, planning to flood global drug markets with free smack, increase the number of exploitable addicts, and push out all competition before swooping in to profit off the surge of fiending junkies. Can 007 make his way through NYC gangs, ravenous reptiles, and the occult in order to defeat Kananaga before he unleashes his pandemic of addiction?
Live And Let Die continues what would become one of the franchise’s most reliable calling cards: starting new Bonds off on the right foot with a dynamite debut. This film is very much a typical Bond adventure, yet feels atypical, almost an outlier of the series, in the intentional steps it takes to differentiate Roger Moore’s Bond. In Roger’s first 007 outing, Bond smokes cigars instead of cigarettes, orders a whiskey neat over the usual martini, and brandishes a Dirty Harry-inspired magnum rather than his trademark PPK during the film’s climax. Cultural shifts of the era are woven into the broader Bond framework to a great degree here, adding more literal and figurative color to a series in serious need of some diversity. Bond films have always had a propensity for adapting popular themes and styles of the time, and this trend would reach new heights in the Roger Moore era.
The year was 1973 and the Blaxploitation film genre had just taken off with Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song two years prior. Broccoli and Saltzman, never ones to pass on a good cash grab, turned to the Bond story most influenced by Black culture, Fleming’s 1955 novel Live And Let Die for Sir Roger’s film debut. Screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz did his best to sidestep the intensely problematic source material, crafting a charmingly strange story comprised of voodoo, virginity-powered clairvoyance, and a tangled web of gangland drug-trafficking spun throughout Harlem, New Orleans, and the Caribbean. Roger Moore slips into the role with relaxed aplomb, his conviviality striking a stark dichotomy against Jane Seymour’s wide-eyed Solitaire, the mercurially sinister performance of Yaphet Kotto’s Mr. Big/Dr. Kananga (the franchise’s first Black villain), and the film’s killer crew of menacing henchmen in Whisper, Tee Hee, and the voodoo priest Baron Samedi.
Right from the jump, you know you’re in for something offbeat with Live And Let Die, something wonderful and strange. Following a trio of murderous vignettes in the Bond-less cold open, we’re smacked upside the head with an all-time title song from Paul McCartney and Wings, the greatest since Shirley Bassey’s “Goldfinger,” one that would take on a life of its own as a new expectation-setter for Bond songs to chart after reaching #2 on the US Hot 100 and staying there for three consecutive weeks following its release. “Live And Let Die,” the song, not only fucking slaps, it sets the tone for Live And Let Die, the film, as a raucous send-up introducing the world to our new James Bond with celebratory conviction.
This film does deserve credit for adding much-needed diversity to an overwhelmingly-white franchise, but it should be noted that the motivation for adding that diversity was driven more by capitalistic ambition than any sort of virtuosic pursuit of equality. Unsurprisingly, much of the Black representation we do get has aged quite poorly, coming off the wrong way no matter the intention. All Black characters facilitate Mr. Big’s villainous enterprise or become Bond’s hired help. Lines such as, “Get me a make on a white pimpmobile!” — “Hey, man, for $20, I’ll take you to a Ku Klux Klan cookout!” — and “Names is for tombstones, baby. Y’all take this honky out and waste him!” are shamelessly spewed. And don’t even get me started on the racist-ass buffoon that is Louisiana lawman J.W. Pepper.
Bond’s deviant manipulations of the opposite sex return in what might be the most damning example of the character’s predatory tendencies. The moment in question sees Bond convincing Solitaire to sleep with him after pulling “The Lovers” card from her all-powerful deck, only for it to be revealed that Bond has stacked the deck against her with a set comprised solely of “The Lovers” cards. We then learn Solitaire was a virgin prior to the proverbial roll in the hay and that said hay-rolling has caused her to lose her psychic abilities, leading to a shockingly violent fit of rage from Kananga. Moore’s Bond might be remembered as a kinder, more benevolent gentleman, but make no mistake, he still resorted to top-tier creep behavior when presented with an opportunity to get his rocks off.
Sidenote, and personal lowlight: Q is noticeably absent from this film. The global treasure known as Desmond Llewyn was tied up with a prior commitment and had been written out of the film by the time he was able to make himself available. This brought much sadness to Llewyn and inspired the Bond fanbase to publically demand Q be brought back. The producers heard them loud and clear: Q would go on to appear in every subsequent Bond film until Daniel Craig’s rebooted era began in Casino Royale.
In true Roger Moore fashion, the reception and continued legacy of Live And Let Die is fairly divisive. Some celebrate the eccentricities of Roger’s first outing, while others see the film as a middling, more-than-mildly offensive entry that does too little with the immense talent and promising premise involved. The film was a hit at the time, however, making over $200M (adjusted) more than Connery’s last dance in Diamonds Are Forever, and there’s a fervent, cultish appreciation of this film in certain Bond circles today that I proudly associate with. Thrilling high-speed chases, evocative set pieces, an excellent cast of villains, and a strange, mystical vibe make this one of my most rewatchable Bond films.
Moore Ranking: 3rd of 7
The Man With The Golden Gun (1974)
A golden bullet marked with James Bond’s 007 code number has mysteriously arrived at MI6. Only one man would possess such a bullet, and it would appear he wants to send Bond a message. Better known as “the man with the golden gun,” Francisco Scaramanga was once a trick-shot marksman in the circus, now he’s an assassin-for-hire charging $1M a hit. Bond has been on assignment tracking an energy scientist, the same scientist, Bond soon discovers, a client of Scaramanga’s seeks to eliminate. After learning Scaramanga is after a piece of technology able to harness solar energy for his malicious intent, and that it was Scaramanga’s distressed mistress who sent the bullet, Bond flies to Scaramanga’s remote island sanctuary for a duel of honor with the fate of the world hanging in the balance.
The Man With The Golden Gun is the Moore film I return to the least, but before I start dunking on this snoozefest, know that it does possess some redeeming qualities, just as every other installment in this franchise does. The plot is intriguing, Christopher Lee’s pragmatically-maniacal titular villain is an excellent draw, and who could deny the charms of Hervé Villechaize’s wine-tossing, Tabasco-fetching Nick Nack? Mary Goodnight, an underappreciated “Bond Girl,” is played spiritedly by Britt Eckland and Maud Adams’ understatedly devasting turn as Andrea Anders injects some welcomed humanity into one of the series’ colder films.
We’re also treated to one of the greatest car stunts ever filmed, for this franchise or otherwise: a full corkscrew jump pulled off by stuntman Loren “Bumps” Willert in one take (never mind that terrible slide whistle John Barry insisted on playing over the immaculate stunt). There’s also something undeniably enthralling, even in the midst of such mediocrity, about Bond and Scaramanga’s lunchtime back and forth, their duel between titans on the beach, and the ensuing funhouse climax. It’s in these moments where the film really sings. Unfortunately, it’s really the only time this film does so. Onto the dunking…
The Man With The Golden Gun is to Roger Moore what Thunderball was to Sean Connery. Which is to say, TMWTGG does just as Thunderball did: seek lazily to recreate the preceding film’s success, ultimately yielding middling and uninspired results. When this film arrives in the midst of a chronological rewatch, I find my interest hard to acquire. When I’m in the midst of selecting a Bond film to enjoy at random, this film’s consideration never arrives. The disparate elements of the film show promise. Why, then, is this movie so rudderless? And why, oh why is everyone so angry?
Bond is an absolute dick to Mary Goodnight, tosses a small Thai boy off a boat in one of the most unforgivably terrible moments in the franchise’s history, and aggressively manhandles Maud Adams’ Andrea Anders in search for information, culminating in an uncharacteristically ruthless (for Roger) backhand (Moore admirably pushed back at this characterization and made sure his Bond would never be put in such a position in future films). Meanwhile, M’s already-high grump dial is turned all the way up as he tells Q to shut up and remarks he wished a bullet that missed Bond had found him instead. Take a walk, M.
Haven’t had enough? How about a ridiculous subplot involving Scaramanga’s third nipple and a rushed score John Barry later described as “the one I hate the most”? Still not satisfied? J.W. PEPPER RETURNS (and reveals he’s a…Democrat?) to double down on his obnoxious cultural insensitivity. This was Guy Hamilton’s fourth and final Bond film, so maybe the depleted director was simply going through the motions and pushing rope, an unfortunate circumstance for Moore’s sophomore showing as 007. If this is one of your favorite Bond films, I’d be genuinely curious to hear what you admire about it.
This film nearly killed James Bond. Ticket sales were hardly half of Moore’s first film in the US, and the worldwide returns were down 20%. Even producer Harry Saltzman left the franchise following the film’s release, the negative reaction exacerbating a series of poor investments he had made when times were good. Less an indictment of Moore’s acceptance as Bond and more a response to the dull mundanity of this particular entry, fans made it clear they wouldn’t turn out in droves for just any paint-by-numbers Bond flick.
A certain level of expectation had been set by the previous eight films that simply wasn’t met with The Man With The Golden Gun. Like so many other moments in the franchise’s history, the creative decision-makers took very seriously the public’s criticisms and made sure their mistakes would not be repeated the next time out. What followed was The Spy Who Loved Me, an all-time course correct, one of the most universally-beloved Bond films in all the franchise, and the one Moore film most fans place atop their Bond pantheon.
Moore Ranking: 7th of 7
The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
Bond is instructed to pull out of a mission in the Austrian Alps after a British nuclear submarine up and vanishes. Whilst skiing down the slopes, 007 narrowly escapes pursuing Soviet agents, killing one before parachuting off a perilous cliff. Meanwhile, Soviet Colonel Gogol is notified that one of their own nuclear subs has also gone missing. Gogol calls on his best KGB agent, Major Anya Amasova, Agent Triple X, to investigate, and shares the sad news that her lover was killed during a mission involving the British Secret Service…
Once home safe in London, Bond is made aware of a situation most sinister: the navigation routes of these secret submarines, and their armageddon arsenals, have been compromised. An unlikely alliance is struck between Britain and Russia as they send their top respective agents to hunt down a common foe, beginning a grand, globe-hopping adventure in search of the all-powerful submersibles. What begins as a chilly, confrontational competition between the two agents warms into an affectionate Anglo-Soviet alliance formed by the pursuit of their shared enemy. That is until Amasova learns it was Bond that killed her lover during that snowy alpine mission in Austria.
The evil culprit behind the submarine hijacking plot is revealed to be Karl Stromberg, a wealthy shipping tycoon fascinated by the sea. Following several death-defying run-ins with Stromberg’s metal-mouthed henchman, Jaws, Bond and Amasova board the evil entrepreneur's secret underwater lair and finally find their missing submarines. Stromberg, however, is in full control of the subs, and he’s preparing to fire their powerful payloads on New York and Moscow, spark a nuclear war capable of destroying the surface world, and form a new underwater kingdom led by his empire. Can Britain and Russia, 007 and Triple X, put their differences aside and band together under extraordinary circumstances to save the world from mutually assured destruction?
Roger Moore had been Roger Moore all along, but it wasn’t until The Spy Who Loved Me where his keen self-awareness and wry subtlety as an actor really leaped off the screen as Bond. The reasoning was simple: Moore’s previous two films featured a character written as if he were still played by Sean Connery. When Lewis Gilbert was selected to return as director ten years after helming You Only Live Twice, Gilbert brought on screenwriter Christopher Wood to instill more of Fleming’s original characterization — “very English, very smooth, good sense of humour” — into the Moore vehicle. The results ring true with the punny punch and cool comfort of a Bond actor truly settling into his groove.
And what better film to finally hit those marks than an all-important tenth entry in the franchise absolutely loaded with pop culture iconography still firmly entrenched in the minds of filmgoers today? The cold open featuring that breath-taking Union Jack-parachute scene is remembered as one of the best in all the franchise, famously eliciting standing ovations during the film’s London premiere. “Even Prince Charles stood up,” said Eon executive Charles Juroe remembering the night for the documentary film Everything or Nothing: The Untold Story of 007.
The Spy Who Loved Me features one of the best main villain/henchman combinations throughout the franchise anchored by a truly intimidating performance from Curd Jürgens as Karl Stromberg. And Richard Kiel’s brilliant, underratedly nuanced, turn as Jaws, the giant assassin with killer grillz, features an aura of relaxed, imposing menace, with a surprising undertone of physical comedy, that has lasted the test of time and made Jaws one of the most iconic villains in cinema history.
There’s so much to love about this film, even for the most ardent Roger-haters. A legendary car chase chock-full of motorcycles, helicopters, and a Lotus Espirt that can transition into a submarine? Bond trouncing around Egyptian ruins?? That funky disco-inspired Marvin Hamlisch score??? The birth of the tipsy tourist gag?!? Give me a break. This film rules.
I’ve long held the belief that plots of Bond films are secondary to the thrills and set pieces facilitated by said plots. Most of these stories tend to buckle under the weight of logical thought or analytical scrutiny, so it’s best to put the more quizzical sections of your cranium on auto-pilot and just enjoy the ride. That said, this is literally the same movie as You Only Live Twice.
Both Lewis Gilbert-directed films begin in a control room where something goes wrong and government vessels mysteriously disappear. Bond springs into action, teams up with foreign allies to track down the missing vehicles of high importance and discern who’s responsible. Then, a big fight breaks out in the enemy’s lair, many machine guns are fired and grenades are thrown, ultimately leading to Bond pulling off a last-second, day-saving move right before the central villain ignites a war between superpowers. It’s a solid premise, that clearly works, so I understand why Gilbert went back to the well, but the fact that these movies really are exactly the same in structure is actually quite comical.
To its credit, The Spy Who Loved Me is far more effective, emphasizing better-written characters, more dynamic action, and a lead in Roger Moore that is engaged and thriving instead of a visibly bored Sean Connery with one foot already out of the franchise.
Few Bond films had more riding on them than The Spy Who Loved Me did. The critical response and box-office returns of The Man With The Golden Gun were the worst the franchise had ever seen across nine films. If the tenth Bond film didn’t go big, it’s quite possible our favorite secret agent would have gone home for good.
Despite a delay getting the film off the ground as a result of legal trouble stemming from producer Harry Saltzman’s departure from the series, an extended director search that briefly considered Steven Spielberg and Guy Hamilton returning for a fifth Bond direction credit, and an original script including Blofeld and SPECTRE that was shot down by the biggest Bond baddie of all, Kevin McClory, causing even further delays, The Spy Who Loved Me was finally released in 1977 to universal acclaim after an unusually long gestation period.
The extra time in the oven would pay off handsomely for the film as it went on to become one of the most successful and beloved films in all the franchise’s storied history. Despite the adversity, Bond was back, proving definitively that Nobody Does It Better.
Moore Ranking: 2nd of 7
Moonraker, a space shuttle designed by Drax Industries, has been commandeered by pirates of unknown allegiance. James Bond, Agent 007, acting under the order of MI6, is tasked with investigating the ambiguous disappearance. A visit to Hugo Drax’s estate in hopes of helping the magnate track down his missing shuttle yields far more questions than answers. Joining forces with astronaut Dr. Holly Goodhead, Bond globe-hops from California to Venice, then to Rio de Janeiro before leaving our Earth’s atmosphere outright in pursuit of Drax after discovering a plot unlike any other he’s yet faced.
By releasing nerve gas-dispensing globes across the Earth’s atmosphere, Drax plans to destroy human life as we know it and rebuild our world with a new, genetically-perfect master race. The stakes have never been higher… Does Bond have what it takes to save the planet from a mass extinction event rained down by an insane industrialist from his space domain?
Bond in space! What more could you want? Moreso than Live And Let Die’s Blaxploitation appropriation, The Man With The Golden Gun’s incorporation of martial arts into its central plot following Enter The Dragon’s cultural splash, or The Spy Who Loved Me adding sharks and a character named Jaws two years after Spielberg’s totemic work, Moonraker is the film most unabashedly riding the coattails of a massively successful piece of genre filmmaking to meet its own ends. Attentive viewers will spot that it is actually For Your Eyes Only alluded to in the “James Bond Will Return In…” section of The Spy Who Loved Me’s end credits. Those with even the slightest knowledge of film history should know that a little movie by the name of Star Wars was released in 1977, just as TSWLM was, and, well, that movie changed quite a few things, Cubby Broccoli’s plans for the next Bond film included.
Like Diamonds Are Forever and a couple of other Moore films soon to come, Moonraker is perpetually shit on for being too cartoonish, too decadent, too outwardly ridiculous. You remember what I thought of Connery’s final Bond film, right? Then it should come as no surprise to learn that I, unironically and unapologetically, cherish Moonraker as a testament to the virtues of Bond’s sillier side. Look, if you don’t like Roger Moore, if you believe camp has no place in the realm of 007, or if you prefer your spy stories remain grounded by the laws of physics, I don’t know what to tell you; you probably hate Moonraker.
The truth is, though, if you were to strip away the pigeon double-take, python water wrestling, and Jaws love story of it all (uh, but why would you?), you’d still be left with an absolute heater of a plot (adapted from one of the better Fleming novels, although little more than a few characters and plot details survived the adaptation), a spectacular villain in Michael Lonsdale’s egomaniacal Hugo Drax, and a number of extravagant set pieces, including speed boat chases through the canals of Venice and jungles of the Amazon, a Jaws confrontation atop moving cable cars in Rio, and an eye-opening laser gunfight in and around Drax’s space station. Even Dame Shirley Bassey came back after twelve years away to record her third and final Bond theme for Roger’s grand space adventure. Moonraker is one hell of a ride, whether you’re willing to admit it or not.
I can’t believe it…that mad lad Lewis Gilbert did it again! He made the same movie for the third time! And he didn’t even have the decency to wait a full decade this time around, in fact, he hardly waited two full years! The trappings are different, the coat of paint is a trifle glossier, and there are a number of flashy, new technological improvements woven in, but make no mistake, Moonraker is structurally the exact same film as The Spy Who Loved Me and You Only Live Twice before it. Good on Gilbert for getting away with it yet again, I guess.
Well-intentioned ribbing of our, shall we say, creatively conservative director aside, there’s not much else to chastise in Moonraker, provided you know what you’re getting yourself into. If you’ve seen this movie and despise it, you’re likely to list many of the things I adore about the experience as reasons why this is a lesser Bond film. If for some reason you’ve followed me down my infinite Bond rabbit hole without seeing Moonraker, I would encourage you to go into this film with an open mind and a strong cocktail at your side. Change into something a bit more comfortable, light a candle or two perhaps. Just let this thing wash over you and report back to me once you’ve come out the other side. I bet you’ll have been changed for the better.
All the handwringing about Bond’s fantastical foray into the space age was turned out to be moot: Moonraker was a right smash. Continuing the significant momentum created by The Spy Who Loved Me, Moonraker would become the most financially successful film of Roger Moore’s seven, and the highest-grossing film, at the time, for production company United Artists. With a budget more than twice as much as The Spy Who Loved Me, one that nearly exceeded that of the first eight Bond films combined, Moonraker was simply too big to fail. But how do you top an adventure so grand and ostentatious that even our earthly confines are too restrictive for its ambitions?
Cubby Broccoli and the gang at Eon Productions correctly realized they had taken one too many giant leaps for Bond-kind; the only logical next step was to scale back significantly and return, once again, to 007’s roots. Much like On Her Majesty’s Secret Service following You Only Live Twice, the next Bond film, For Your Eyes Only, would trade in the fantastical for the fundamental, delivering a fan-favorite film much more concerned with story than it was spectacle.
Moore Ranking: 5th of 7
For Your Eyes Only (1981)
A British intelligence vessel carrying a submarine coordination device (the Automatic Targeting Attack Communicator, or ATAC) has sunk in the Ionian Sea. Before a marine archaeologist secretly working with the British can locate the downed craft, a Cuban hitman murders the archaeologist and his wife, their surviving daughter witnessing the assassination and vowing revenge. The Soviets are made aware of Britain’s blunder and set out to capitalize on the opportunity while MI6 agent 007 is ordered to retrieve the ATAC before the Russians find it.
In a tale rife with revenge, double-crosses, and political manipulation, James Bond teams up with Melina Havelock, daughter of the murdered couple, and a charismatic, pistachio-loving smuggler named Columbo to track down the ATAC system and foil a KGB plot to turn Britain’s naval fleet against themselves with the sunken militaristic asset.
It’s quite ironic that the director to bring Bond back down to Earth following Moonraker would be named John Glen. In his first of five successive Bond films (the most of any Bond director), Glen set out to go “back to the grass roots of Bond. We wanted to make the new film more of a thriller than a romp, without losing sight of what made Bond famous — its humour.” Necessitated by a lower budget as a result of United Artists' financial trouble and an early 80s recession, For Your Eyes Only features classic, creatively-crafted Cold War intrigue executed with the kind of artful purpose limitations often bring out of artists.
Glen brilliantly encapsulates the ethos of For Your Eyes Only during an early scene where Bond’s souped-up Lotus Espirt Turbo is blown all to hell, forcing the improvisational agent to escape his violent pursuers in a considerably less souped-up Citroën 2CV. If Moonraker was a Saturday morning cartoon, For Your Eyes Only is a Sunday night drama: decidedly adult, routinely suspenseful, and unabashedly unwavering in its commitment to delivering an unvarnished spy story.
The action set pieces here are devoid of frills, yet flush with thrills, featuring the aforementioned Citroën car chase through the Spanish countryside, superb ski action (remember it was John Glen, as a second-unit director and editor, who was responsible for much of the sublime ski action in On Her Majesty's), a truly tense mountain climbing finale, and one of Roger Moore’s most undeniably badass Bond moments.
As a subtle, dialed-back spy drama that still manages to check all the boxes on what audiences came to expect from their 007 escapades, For Your Eyes Only stands out as the most earnest and old-fashioned of Roger Moore’s Bond run. The film is a welcome breath of fresh air, almost a palate-cleanser of sorts, between two of the franchise’s more out there entries in Moonraker and Octopussy.
There’s no M in this film but that’s no fault of the franchise’s, just the sad reality of the beloved Bernard Lee dying of cancer shortly after filming began. Carole Bouquet’s Melina Havelock never really worked for me, which is unfortunate given how central her quest for revenge is to the plot and emotional narrative of the film. The character is written as an independent woman with a score to settle and no time for Bond’s advances, but she never quite comes to life through acting as straight and narrow as the deadly bolts in her crossbow. She’s not half as bad as Lynn-Holly Johnson’s teenaged ice skater Bibi Dahl, however.
Bibi, of course, is obsessed with Bond the minute she lays eyes on him, and the film has some fun with Bond continually turning down the advances of a woman several decades his junior. That’s all well and good, but this meaningless subplot does few favors for Roger Moore, who’s long since shown signs of his age (Moore was fifty-three upon release of the film). We’re also subject to a number of lines attempting to equip Bibi with the trendy teenaged lingo of the day, which in all actuality just comes off childish. She gets “pooped,” thinks relocating to a mountaintop monastery hideout is “the pits,” and embarrassingly jockeys for the attention of an Aryan biathlete.
To cap things off, this film is bookended by two out-of-left-field scenes that still have fans puzzled to this day. The cold open sees Bond finally dispatching of his arch-nemesis, Blofeld, after visiting his deceased wife Tracy’s grave. We never hear the name “Blofeld” uttered, and we never see his face, but the bald head/Nehru jacket combination is unmistakable. The lack of identification is a result of the continued legal drama between Cubby Broccoli and Kevin McClory, the swift killing of this “Blofeld” a message sent loud and clear to McClory that this franchise needs not the character he claimed to invent to be successful. It’s actually quite a fun scene, but tonally just feels off.
At the very end of this film, Bond is patched through to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, but Bond is busy getting down with Melina, so a parrot, naturally, speaks to the PM, squawking, repeatedly, “Give us a kiss.” It’s such a bonkers note to end on, and it kind of takes the air out of a film clearly striving to strike a more realistic and emotional chord.
The first Roger Moore Bond film of the 80s was another massive commercial success, setting an all-time opening-day record for UK cinema. It would also prove to be far different than the actor’s two following outings of the decade. Similar to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, although to a much lesser extent, the return to hardboiled spy work of For Your Eyes Only was met with a rather cool reception from critics that proved to warm considerably over time. The shift from over-the-top theatrics to gritty realism was a shock for some, but audiences would grow to appreciate the low-tech, low-key approach that harkened back to Connery’s greatest moments. Despite his penchant for extravagance, Moore proved he could play Bond straight just as well as any actor before him.
Moore Ranking: 4th of 7
Secret agent 009 has been killed in action during a covert mission in the heart of East Germany, his lifeless hand found clutching a mysterious, counterfeit Fabergé egg. The genuine version of this egg is to be auctioned in London shortly after 009’s demise, keying M and 007 into a connected conspiracy. After the exiled Afghan prince Kamal Khan grossly overpays for the real Fabergé egg, Bond suspects a grander plot and tracks the shady character back to his palace in India.
Infiltrating Khan’s compound leads him to Octopussy, a wealthy, enigmatic businesswoman and leader of a troupe of acrobatic smugglers masquerading as a traveling circus. Bond learns of a shared history with Octopussy, becomes closer to the charming cult leader, and soon discovers a crazed Soviet general named Orlov, in league with Kamal Khan, has been using Octopussy’s smuggling prowess to fuel his quest for world domination. A nuclear warhead is primed to explode on a US Air Force base within West Germany, and the ensuing call for unilateral disarmament will leave borders unprotected for Orlov’s tank brigades to bring forth a new age of Soviet supremacy.
There’s only one man that can stop WWIII, and he’s running out of time…
I’m assuming you’re already sitting down, but if you aren’t, grab a seat and listen up. Do you have any of your Moonraker cocktail left? You might want to finish it, if so.
I. Love. Octopussy. LOVE, love. It’s my favorite Roger Moore film and while I’m not revealing my full film ranks just yet, you had best believe this sucker will be way up there. I care not that this film is universally panned, endlessly disrespected by the masses, and consistently relegated to the deep, dark depths of franchise power ranking listicles. It downright baffles me why this film receives so much hate.
Granted, with it now being public knowledge that Roger Moore is my favorite Bond and that I wholeheartedly embrace, rather than sheepishly shy away from, this franchise’s sillier side, you probably had an inkling this moment was coming. Still, I hold fast my belief that Octopussy is a genuinely fantastic piece of filmmaking, and my ultimate Bond comfort movie. This is pure Cold War intrigue showcasing some of the best action, thrills, gadgets, villains, and pure sequences exemplary of Bond’s one-of-a-kind style throughout the entire franchise.
The more ludicrous aspects of this film are nearly all balanced out by moments of true drama and high stakes. Everyone remembers that unfortunate Tarzan yell scene, but the rest of the jungle chase scene as Bond is hunted by Khan and his big-game hunters is a true treat. Where else are you going to find a spy fending off spiders, tigers, snakes, leeches, crocodiles, and high-powered rifles in the span of four minutes? So many take umbrage with Bond disguising himself as a circus clown, and later hiding in a gorilla suit (the summer of ’83 proved to be pretty gorilla heavy), seemingly forgetting the payoff in Bond’s greatest bomb-defusal scene. To me, these moments exemplify Bond’s quick-thinking craftiness and the lengths he’d go to in order to stop the mass loss of innocent life.
The general consensus is that The Spy Who Loved Me is the film where Roger Moore most looked, felt, and acted like Bond, but I think it’s Octopussy instead. Although fifty-five at the time (may we all be so lucky to look as good at that age), Roger fires on all cylinders (and down banisters!) here, always calm, cool, and collected whether he’s emasculating the film’s villain in a sizzling game of backgammon, destroying a Cuban military base with their own heat-seeking missile, or gunning down Soviet goons with the greatest of ease.
James Bond’s all time high never fails to lift my spirits.
My takes on this film’s lowlights are quite different than most, I presume, but I do have a few. Most notably, the ugly, racist head of this franchise is reared once again in a number of moments appropriating Indian culture or outright mocking it. After Bond works Khan over for 200,000 rupees at the backgammon table, 007 hands a stack to his local associate and quips, “That’ll keep you in curry for a few weeks, won’t it?” Jesus. Directly following this scene we’re treated to an extended Tuk-Tuk chase through narrow Indian streets and crowded markets, culminating in Bond tossing his winnings into the air, effectively preying on the commonfolk’s lower-caste status to create an obstruction for his trailing pursuers. Not a great look, James.
And, of course, Bond creeps it up on more than one occasion. Vijay, this film’s local Bond ally, relays to 007 that Octopussy is held up on a floating palace full of beautiful women where men aren’t allowed. His response? “Really? Sexual discrimination. I’ll definitely have to pay it a visit.” What a troubling line. And then when Octopussy gets upset with James after he declines her invitation to join her roaming band, Octopussy walks away, is grabbed and turned around by Bond, then aggressively kissed after she clearly said “No!” Naturally, Bond’s kiss melts her defenses, as she drops the classic “Oh, James!” Most unfortunate. This movie also ends like three separate times, leaving the viewer with a not totally unwelcomed feeling of exhilarating exhaustion by the time credits roll. All in all, Octopussy features many of the same downfalls most of its predecessors had. Bond just never learns his lessons.
Nearly four decades before this Battle of the Bonds began, a real-life battle between current and former Bonds went down at the box office.
Sean Connery had signed on to Never Say Never Again, Kevin McClory’s non-Eon Bond remake of Thunderball, to be released in the same calendar year as Octopussy. Roger Moore had actually planned to retire following For Your Eyes Only, leading to yet another highly-publicized Bond casting call yielding a number of high-profile screen tests. American actor James Brolin was even reported to have been hired and preparing his move to London when Broccoli caught wind of McClory and Connery’s plans. Broccoli was not about to be bested by his arch-nemesis and the actor that would call him the first Bond villain on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. Roger Moore would return and face off with his prestigious predecessor, but the Bonds never took the battle as seriously as the producers and press did.
“There was no animosity between Sean and me,” Moore recalled in My Word Is My Bond: A Memoir, “We didn’t react to the press speculation that we had become competitors in the part. In fact, we often had dinner together and compared notes about how much we’d each shot and how our respective producers were trying to kill us with all the action scenes they expected us to do. I never actually saw Sean’s film. I’m told it did very well, but not quite as well as Octopussy!”
Sure enough, Octopussy would outgross Never Say Never Again by nearly $30M, and prove once and for all that when it came to the world of Bond, nothing compared to the real thing.
Moore Ranking: 1st of 7
A View To A Kill (1985)
On a mission to locate the body of 003 in the frozen tundra of Siberia, James Bond recovers a Soviet microchip from his fellow, fallen agent. Analysis back at MI6 reveals the chip to be one originating from Zorin Industries, the government-contracted conglomerate run by Max Zorin, a tycoon with a hot streak and shadowy past. Bond’s visit to Zorin’s estate during a highfalutin horse sale finds the agent running into the formidable henchwoman May Day, stumbling upon a secret laboratory within the stables, and shedding light on the tycoon’s penchant for biological manipulation.
Zorin himself, we learn, is the product of Nazi genetic experimentation, and he’s looking to dominate the microchip business by any means necessary. Enlisting the help of a State Geologist, Stacey Sutton, that’s been a thorn in Zorin’s side, the two infiltrate Zorin’s mine and find his plans to detonate a tremendous payload under the San Andreas fault, trigger a mass flood into Silicon Valley, and flush out all his chip-making competition. It’ll take a spy, a scientist, and a spurned lover to stop the psychotic purveyor before he kills millions in the name of tech domination.
I’m not as fervent in my defense of A View To A Kill as I am with Moonraker or Octopussy, but I’ll defend it all the same. You know the deal by now. Of Roger’s Super Silly Trinity (Moonraker, Octopussy, A View To A Kill), this is the film where I see more clearly the qualms of critics and detractors. It’s most definitely a convoluted hodgepodge of pieces that don’t quite fit, a bubbling melting pot, if you will, spilling over with inconsistent performances and enough cheese to make even the most well-stocked Parisian cafes green with envy. But it’s still damn fun.
Starting with the villains, Christopher Walken (the first Oscar-winning actor to date to play in an 007 adventure) as Max Zorin and living icon Grace Jones as May Day are both totally going for it, relishing in every sadistic syllable of their over-the-top dialogue. And they were lovers! Weirdos in love. Until they weren’t, Zorin’s double-cross the match lighting the fire of May Day’s redemptive sacrifice. And how about those classic Bond travelogue locations? Iceland (doubling as Siberia), Royal Ascot, Paris, Château de Chantilly, and San Francisco make for quite the regal backdrops.
We’ve never seen Bond chase a poison butterfly fishing pole assassin (you read that right) up the Eiffel Tower, and we’ve surely never seen Bond trail such an assassin, in half a Frenchman’s taxi, as they parachute over the Seine River. Rock-salt shotgunning trespassing cronies, evading a troupe of dumb-as-doornail cops (aren’t they all?) in a stolen firetruck, and hand-to-axe combat against a bastard Nazi child atop the Golden Gate Bridge round out this ridiculous film’s larger-than-life set pieces. It might not always come across as such, but Roger Moore’s last go-round as Bond was a fitting finale as any, equipped with big action, even bigger villains, and the biggest Bond song to date.
At the franchise’s twenty-three-year mark, Bond had finally found its chart-topping hit. Powered by Duran Duran’s supreme marketability, “A View To A Kill” reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 in the States (Paul Hardcastle’s “19” would keep Bond’s hit from reaching #1 in the UK), was nominated for a Golden Globe, and is probably the best, most memorable facet of this fourteenth Bond film. It’s still a banger. Go ahead and give it a spin.
I’ll defend Roger Moore to the grave, but my guy was objectively looking like The Crypt Keeper after a round of pre-filming cosmetic surgery. At the ripe old age of fifty-seven, Roger Moore admitted, in his previously mentioned memoir, to feeling “a little long in the tooth…but I was pretty fit and still able to remember lines. A rather nice deal was agreed with my agent, and once again I slipped into the tuxedo — admittedly it had been let-out a bit since my first film — to play Jimmy Bond one last time.”
Now, Moore is rightfully remembered as the Bond that enjoyed his time donning the 007 calling card the most, and while he’s nowhere near as checked out as Connery in Diamonds Are Forever, afflicted with as much nonsense as Brosnan in Die Another Day, or as worn out as Craig in Spectre, The Rog was simply not having a great time on the set of his swan song. Moore famously had zero chemistry with his shrieking “Bond Girl” counterpart Tanya Roberts, and he infamously hated Grace Jones’ guts.
I can’t help but return to Roger’s rollicking memoir, in which he recounts his love scene with Grace Jones: “I slipped between the sheets, followed by her and her rather large black dildo. I’m glad she thought it was funny.” You and me both, Grace. Moore was persuaded back to the franchise with another sizeable payday and provided another workman life performance, hitting the lines and filling the screen as he always did, but the time had surely come for Roger to finally hang the tux up for good.
The end had long been nigh for Sir Roger Moore, his penchant for check-cashing and friendly relationships with Cubby Broccoli and the Eon crew keeping him in the James Bond role long past what many fans would have preferred. A View To A Kill was yet another huge success, but the returns had been steadily declining since Moonraker’s out-of-this-world box office performance. All parties involved agreed it was time for a new Bond to take up the mantle. “We urgently had to find a new James Bond,” Broccoli would later admit, and find a new Bond they did.
Roger Moore had taken 007 to the outer reaches of Earth’s atmosphere and back, steadily evolving Bond from a secret agent to a superhero. It was clear that a new era needed to be beset, one that would truly return Bond back to his Fleming roots. There was no further room for expansion, it was time Bond came home…with Timothy Dalton.
Moore Ranking: 6th of 7
“Most people settle on Sir Roger Moore or Sir Sean Connery as their favourite Bond,” wrote Francis Blagburn in a tribute piece on The Telegraph shortly after the actor’s death in 2017. ”Why Moore? Because he was Bond incarnate, and then some. He was the quintessential Englishman, somewhere between a gentleman and jester — a slick, schmaltzy, suave provocateur. Moore’s 007 was, in a word, fun: never above a wry laugh, preferably with a dry Martini in hand.”
Roger Moore was about as far from Fleming’s original creation as you can get, but who the fuck cares? Moore’s first film was released more than twenty years after Fleming’s debut Bond novel hit bookshelves; the world had become a radically different place from the one Fleming, in his extended post-war malaise, had dropped Bond into.
Moore ushered in a new Bond era that was fun, knowing, and unafraid to poke fun at the more ridiculous aspects of the franchise.
The series would go on to outgrow the constraints of its source material (for the better, more often than not) with Moore at the helm. The actor’s most popular film, The Spy Who Loved Me, famously features no resemblance to Fleming’s original story other than the title itself. Moore inherited the role in a new decade, the 70s, and would take it halfway through yet another, the 80s. His larger-than-life interpretation of the character allowed for the franchise to evolve far beyond its original creator’s wildest dreams.
And yet there are still so many that discredit Moore for being too cutesy, too sardonic, too self-aware.
Aside from The Spy Who Loved Me, no Moore film is mentioned in the same conversation as Connery’s high watermarks, and none of his seven entries established a standard like Dr. No, raised the ceiling on what a Bond film was capable of like Goldfinger, or ushered in a creative revolution like On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
The “bad” Moore films are widely looked down upon as some of the “worst” entries throughout the entire storied franchise.
What Moore’s films do provide, however, is a steady IV drip of Double-O dopamine; warm and cozy nostalgia hits reminiscent of cherished old friends always welcomed in, no matter how much time has passed.
There’s an essence of comfort, for me at least, pulsating through each of Roger’s seven films. It’s something that has to be felt to be believed. Maybe it’s the kind of thing unique to formative experiences or childhood introductions that become embedded into your brain’s pleasure centers, reliably firing off whenever that feeling comes around again.
I’d claim I don’t know where that essence comes from, but I have no interest in feigning ignorance or shying away from how I truly feel.
That feeling comes from the joy of watching my favorite James Bond do what he does best, as it always did.
It comes from Roger Moore.