Word has come down that Roger Moore, best known for his turn playing James Bond, has died at the age of 89.
My all-time favorite piece of writing about Moore isn’t actually about him; it’s about Bryan Ferry and his band Roxy Music.
In the “Spin Alternative Record Guide,” critic Rob Sheffield — then all of 28 or so, later to pen “Love is a Mixtape” and this year’s amazing “Dreaming the Beatles” (which isn’t just probably the best book ever about the Beatles, but one of the best books of 2017 in general) — wrote that Roxy Music was divided into two parts: the Sean Connery years and the Roger Moore years, meaning the first five albums (bleeding-edge art rock, a few with Brian Eno, beloved by hardcore) and then the final three, recorded after a band hiatus (slicker, more Romantic, all surface, total pop).
This is a brilliant characterization of both Ferry and Moore. For much in the way that later-period Roxy could write “Avalon” or “Oh Yeah,” it is impossible to see the rougher, realer Connery raising an eyebrow and delivering a one-liner the way Moore could, or in space, a la the admittedly terrible “Moonraker.”
(Bedding Grace Jones in the admittedly terrible “View to a Kill”? They probably both could have handled that one.)
And besides, for anyone between the ages of, say, 30 and 50, Moore was the guy they grew up with as Bond.
After playing bit parts in American film and TV, then doing time in the thriller series “The Saint” for 100 episodes (wherein he refined the style he would bring to his next role), Moore embodied 007 for seven films and about 2,000 (OK, 12) years.
Playing Bond as suave and corny, dashing and dopey, Moore traded in Connery’s hairy chest and weightlifter physique for a guy who flat-out refused to take himself so seriously (or maybe ever work out).
Because, man alive, if anyone deserved to be made fun of a bit, it was the character of James Bond. This was Bond as a British Dean Martin (who himself played the spy Matt Helm) — Moore as Bond approached being a spy the way Martin approached acting, as the true player for real who truly did not give a [beep].
Moore’s Bond liked shooting people, making jokes and sleeping with any available lady, probably not in that order. Indeed, as Bond, Moore out-Martin’ed Martin-as-Helm, if that makes sense.
And say what you will about the scripts and Moore’s wry vibe, the stunts and chases in Moore’s Bond pictures, all pre-CGI, were uniformly terrific.
As far as the actual films, the best Moore Bond flick is probably, oh, let’s say “The Spy Who Loved Me,” with Barbara Bach as the Bond girl, that dope Lotus and Richard Kiel as Jaws. (Which reminds me, Moore-era Bond had the best villains.)
I also remain fond of “The Man with the Golden Gun” (Christopher Lee killed it as the always-fun-to-say Scaramanga) and the extremely racially sketchy “Live and Let Die,” which is what happens when British people make a blaxploitation movie. Amazing theme song, though.
(That said, Moore’s diary about the making of “Live and Let Die’ is flat-out amazing.)
As for the others, well, “For Your Eyes Only” tried to get serious (the skiing stuff was cool), “Octopussy” was almost unforgivable trash, “Moonraker” is in spaaaace and “A View to a Kill,” while sporting one of the best Bond themes, is not good but featured Christoper Walken in a part that was supposed to be for David Bowie and Grace Jones, who is welcome in anything, anywhere, at any time.
Requiescat, Mr. Moore. You were a smooth operator.