What are we to make of Bond, that slightly leering brute who does all for Queen and country, always at the ready with quip, car and gadget? Certainly, when one of its own, the acting fraternity of which a certain number of Bonds can be counted, passes into the Fleming sunset, a moment of reflection is appropriate.
Roger Moore got to Bond, a role he had for twelve years, after a hiccup which saw Sean Connery leave, then return for Diamonds Are Forever after the disastrous George Lazenby interim. He admitted to a modest acting range, claiming that he was only ever allowed to “act” in one film: The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970).
The Bond franchise has certainly been both durable and extensive. Melis Behlil is almost bowled over by the sheer magnitude of the Bond name in a collection titled Hollywood is Everywhere (2016).
“James Bond is one of the most recognizable film characters of all time.”
Over 40 years – 1962 to 2006, 21 Bond films grossed ticket sales over $1.5 billion.” (All in all, there have been 24 official ones.)
Enthusiastic forecasting tends to go into picking the next Bond, and the cardinals of the movie industry gather the brains trust to identify who will slip into a role hewn from the rock of stereotypical solidity. Of late, the powers that be in the Bond franchise have decided that Tom Hiddleston is certainly not the man, being “a bit too smug, and not tough enough”.
Moore’s succession to Connery’s celluloid throne had to settle, the crown needing to fit. Connery’s edge was softened, leaving its way for a certain sardonic essence to take over, punctuated by casual, period piece racism. Gold was struck: seven films followed, making them some of the most successful the franchise would see.
Was he a good Bond? Moore was ever self-deprecating, placing himself behind “the Bond” Daniel Craig, Connery and even Lazenby.
“Sean,” he suggested, “played Bond as a killer and I played Bond as a lover.”
He would only ice over on days he received his pay checks.
A. O. Scott, penning for the New York Times, tired at the reminders that Connery was the better one, “real” in so far as these approximations can be.
“The Connery consensus seemed like part of a larger baby boomer conspiracy to bully people my age into believing that everything we were too young to have experienced firsthand was cooler than what was right in front of our eyes.”
Sinclair McKay, reviewing Simon Winder’s otherwise compelling The Man Who Saved Britain, also states his allegiance to Camp Moore.
“There was just one error of judgment and it’s a mistake most Bond aficionados make: Winder has little time for Roger Moore, who was in fact the best screen Bond of all.”
Enter the world of the trashy big screen runs garnished with camp and plain silliness (“heavenly,” sighs Scott), with The Spy Who Loved Me, Moonraker, Octopussy, For Your Eyes Only heaping innuendo and effect without mercy on their audiences. Brushed and spruced, and Connery’s Bond had transformed into a creature of false levity of more advanced years, able to dismantle, among other things, a bomb dressed in a clown’s outfit.
Of course, Moore, as others of the Bond club, provided an abridged variant of the Fleming character. By any standards of the day, it was hard to depict anyone, certainly a man of service, who goes through his sixty to seventy cigarettes a day with industry while also downing alcohol as nutrient-packed mother’s milk. The liquor-filled gormandiser can be overlooked for the sex inclined womaniser with a sociopathic touch.
To look at Bond on screen, and it is a point only mildly alleviated by the sullen, emotionally stricken contribution of Craig, is one of yawn filled boredom backed with a certain imperial nostalgia. First read in times of food shortages and post-war dreariness, Bond shooting through his tasks behind the wheel of an Aston Martin, gadgets of lethal exotica and champers, thrilled.
The point on enervating boredom has been made by John Lanchester, but it is also one admitted by Bond’s creator, Fleming, who hit upon the name of his protagonist because it was “the dullest name I’ve ever heard.” Pursuit, full blooded, is permanently required, as is the living of life to absurd levels of consumption. The organism, otherwise, perishes.
For Moore, there was not much beyond Bond. The franchise made him, but he also exhausted the role that needed retooling after 1985. Less than glamorous roles followed, and he became a traditional, tax minimising actor. One of his regrets:
“I would have loved to play a real baddie.”
Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMITUniversity, Melbourne. Email: [email protected].