Roger Moore, James Bond #3 or #4 depending on who you talk to, died this past week. There is a non-verified rumor that says he had been picked to play Bond all along but being set to star in The Saint TV series he was not able to free himself from that obligation. He was our 007 – from our birth to when Timothy Dalton took over, he was the one we knew. So this week we take a look at the best of the Roger Moore Bond years.
Growing up what boy didn’t love the Bond films? Who didn’t want to be James Bond, super spy, license to kill? I loved Roger Moore’s version. His films were somewhat campy, action-packed and he loved a one-liner. As a teen this was cool. I do admit as I got older I looked back at films like A View to a Kill and Moonraker and grimaced as parts of those films are just not good. I also reviewed Sean Connery, George Lazenby, and even Timothy Dalton and realized I liked a more serious Bond and, thank you, Daniel Craig. I also realize there is room for all Bonds (except Pierce Brosnan) and some of the Roger Moore films were really great too.
Live and Let Die – 1973
The first Moore film and one of my favorites. It differs a lot from the other Bond films: it has African-American villains and actually plays, in some ways, as a Blaxploitation film. The Moore films, especially the later ones, have great opening scenes but this one not so much. It feels of the times, early 1970’s. The villains are great, another good role for Yaphet Kotto as Mr. Big, aka Dr. Kananga, both a Caribbean dictator and a heroin magnate. He has henchman Whisper, Tee Hee (who is equipped with a claw hand) and Baron Samedi, a voodoo priest played by former 7-Up pitchman Geoffrey Holder. Also by his side is my favorite Bond girl, Jane Seymour’s Solitaire. Like most Bond films, the plot is crazy ludicrous. Kotto is both dictator and drug lord, controlling a large supply of heroin, killing CIA agents, and using Solitaire to predict the future. It’s very confusing. I guess her ability to read the tarot cards is based on her virtue which once Bond takes that, her abilities are gone and Kananga orders Samedi to sacrifice her. I ate this stuff up but I’m not going to lie, it’s a little crazy looking back at it. At one point Bond is set to die at an alligator farm in Louisiana and he escapes by running along the backs of alligators. At another point they steal a speedboat and are pursued not only by Kananga’s men but by Sheriff J.W. Pepper, a bumbling buffoon of a southern “walking tall” sheriff caricature(to my deep disappointment this character returns in The Man with the Golden Gun). We have great locations: Harlem, New Orleans and fake island nation San Monique (Actually filmed in Jamaica). More about this later but it has a great Grammy-nominated theme song by Paul McCartney. It’s definitely a fun film and Moore is just getting his feet wet. This is one that often is split amongst the people I know: they either love it or hate it. I love it and there just isn’t another Bond film like this one. Spoiler Alert: the final scene is great as Baron Samedi is riding the front of the training laughing showing us somehow a supernatural event kept him alive after his presumed death by coffin of snakes.
Bonus: Has a line that is often quoted/misquoted by my group of friends although not as much anymore, Kananga’s, “Take this honky outside and waste him”.
MG: This film is pretty gonzo, and since it was one of the last Moore Bond films that I saw, for a long time it felt out of place compared to the others. Over time, though, I’ve come to appreciate the pure outlandishness of this. Yaphet Kotto is a great badass in this film. The speedboat chase is well-done and enjoyable, unlike the majority of any chase scenes in most current films. Good call on comparing it to a Blaxploitation film. They couldn’t make this one today.
The Spy Who Loved Me – 1977
This is the first Bond film I ever saw so for me it’s one of my favorites and it’s pretty good. I first saw it on TV, I think ABC used to have a Sunday Night Movie and my father let me stay up to watch it. The opening ski scene is classic and amazing. It gets you right into the film and I love the ski pole gun that blows a hole in the chest of the “bad guy” and then the subsequent jump into the canyon. It’s a masterful scene as it goes silent then the parachute of the Union Jack opens up and Carly Simon’s “Nobody Does it Better” kicks in. Another fantastic theme song (more about this later). This is the first Bond film to use an Ian Fleming novel title but none of the source material, so technically that is the only novel never filmed. The main baddie is ok, Karl Stromberg, living in an underwater structure called “Atlantis”. The plot is about submarines and nukes. The future Mrs. Ringo Starr, Barbara Bach is a fantastic Bond girl as the Russian Agent, Anya Amasova. It’s got this great underwater Lotus submarine car. But my favorite thing is the henchman Jaws played by Richard Kiel. Nothing like fighting a giant with metal sharp teeth. He ranks up there with Oddjob as my favorite henchman. The only Bond film I like more is For Your Eyes Only.
Bonus: In a non-post credit world, the Bond movies always told you what was coming next. I loved this part. In the case here it claimed “James Bond will return in For Your Eyes Only” but because of Star Wars they decided to go into space with Moonraker.
MG: I could be mistaken, but I think this was the first Bond film for me as well. I know I saw it on TV. Moonraker was the only Bond film I saw in the theater, until the 80’s with A View To A Kill. You’re stealing some of my thunder with Jaws (more on that later). The Bond ski chases were classic. Nobody has done them better.
The Theme Songs of the Roger Moore Bond
The theme songs of the Roger Moore years were the best. I currently have four on my IPOD and no others. I will say Lulu’s “The Man with the Golden Gun”, Shirley Bassey’s “Moonraker” and Rita Coolidge’s “All Time High” don’t make the cut. It started with Paul McCartney’s “Live and Let Die” the first rock song to headline a Bond film. It’s great with the slow start to the build up, it gets you excited for what is about to happen. This song was Grammy nominated and has been covered most famously by Guns N Roses. Carly’s Simon’s “Nobody Does it Better” tops McCartney’s in that it was Grammy and Oscar Nominated for Best Song. This is the first theme to not have the title of the movie in the title since Dr. No but it does have it in the lyrics. This would be a great song whether it was a Bond song or not. It appears that the best songs appeared in every other film in the Roger Moore years, kind of like how all even numbered Star Trek movies are the best. Next is Sheena Easton’s, “For Your Eyes Only”, this also was a big hit and to date the only time the singer of the song appeared in the opening credits. Again another great start to a song, with the opening piano keys and the percussion. Sheena Easton sang this perfectly. Being the first Bond movie I saw at the theater whenever I hear this song it brings me back there. The last one is from one of my favorite bands, Duran Duran’s “A View to a Kill” another great song with another great hook, New Wave meets Bond. All these songs can stand alone as well be part of the Bond franchise. These songs are just as good as the movie they come from with the exception of Duran Duran’s where the song is better than the movie.
Bonus: Great video by Duran Duran that has fun with the material.
MG: Yeah, for whatever reason the Moore Bond films had the best theme songs. My favorite is “For Your Eyes Only”, although it’s advisable to just enjoy Easton’s virtuoso singing and not pay attention to the weak lyrics of the verses. I remember seeing the Duran Duran video prior to the film’s release, and it got me all excited to see it in the theater.
For well into my teen years, Roger Moore was the only James Bond I knew. He was always cool, calm, and collected, and never at a loss for a good double entendre. Where another of my movie hero icons, Indiana Jones, always flew by the seat of his pants, Moore’s Bond was the Man With the Plan, and his Q-supplied gadgets always came in handy at just the right moments. He wasn’t bulked-up like Arnold, Sly or even John McClaine. Bond’s strength, though he could hold his own in 1-1 combat, was always his wits and his elusive skills. That was cool for a skinny kid that was petrified of taking, or throwing, a punch in a fight. And to top it off, Bond was like catnip to women. Even as he was getting a bit long in the tooth in A View To A Kill, Bond could always get the ladies. Here are my best of Roger Moore’s Bond.
Moonraker – 1979
So Moonraker is usually Exhibit A in the argument for Connery’s Bond being the best. Yes, it’s cheesy and at times borders on self-parody, but it’s not as bad as you think, and Roger Moore is still good in it. It definitely can be enjoyed as a guilty pleasure. We all know it got made due to the success of Star Wars (as did Alien), and indeed, its space setting is what drew me to it as a pre-teen, my first Bond film in the theater. The overly convoluted plot boils down to the villain, Hugo Drax, plotting to wipe out the earth’s population with a toxic gas, and building a secret space station to create a new genetically superior race (after each days viewing of the news and/or social media, this plan feels less sinister to me and more like a good idea). When I watched this about 10 years ago, I had forgotten how long it took until Bond made it to space for the climactic battle. He bounces between England, California, Venice, and Rio before finally stowing away on a space shuttle with astronaut, doctor, and CIA agent Holly Goodhead. Jaws pops up multiple times in this film to battle with Bond, first in a pretty well-done freefall/parachute battle and then in Rio with another cool cable car sequence. When you throw in the speedboat chase, quite a bit goes on before the space stuff – which is really the weakness of the film as it’s a lot to slog through. The “romance” between Jaws, who turns good, and a woman named Dolly, who is like half his height, is an unnecessary comedic element that cheapens the film, but I thought it was funny as a kid. Since my first two Bond films were this and Spy Who Loved Me, I had this idea that Jaws was in most of the Roger Moore Bond films, but, alas, it was only these two.
Bonus: Richard Kiel (Jaws) turned down the role of Chewbacca because he didn’t want to wear the costume and thought the pay was beneath him. Also, I had no idea until now that he played the alien in my favorite Twilight Zone episode “To Serve Man”.
DJ: Yeah, I love Jaws but his stuff with Mrs. Jaws is a killjoy, it cheapens an awesome badass villian into this lovestruck fool. This movie makes me cringe but it may need a current viewing for me to accurate gauge where it stands with me.
Bond Credit Sequences
As I mentioned in the Alien Autopsy post, I have a thing for interesting opening credit sequences, and the Bond films were famous for them. The formula of an opening action sequence (that often had nothing to do with the main film), then a main title credit sequence, and finally the main story remains a constant, even as the actors playing Bond have cycled in and out through the decades. Although there are familiar elements to all of these, namely silhouettes of naked women and pistols, sometimes with Freudian slow-mo bullets coming out of them, each sequence tailored its look to that particular film. For example, in Live and Let Die’s opening credits, the visuals are voodoo-related – fire, skulls and such. As a kid, or maybe just as a male, my favorite part of these sequences was trying to spot a nipple in the silhouette or transparent imagery. (I just watched the one for The Spy Who Loved me and there’s practically outright nudity in it). There were a lot of trampoline and acrobatics in these too. Maurice Binder did all the title sequences for Roger Moore’s Bond films, which gave consistency to them, though the tradeoff might have been originality.
Bonus: Binder did all of the Bond opening credit sequences prior to Goldeneye, 14 in all, except for From Russia With Love and Goldfinger.
DJ: I’m not going to lie, I didn’t see this one coming from you. I agree the potential to see nudity as a teen boy was always inherent in paying close attention to the openings. Honestly though, like I mentioned earlier, having Sheena Easton in the opening credits of For Your Eyes only is a plus.
For Your Eyes Only- 1981
This has always been my favorite of all the Bond films, for a variety of reasons. [Wow, what a poster, by the way. Talk about Freudian imagery]. After the tongue-in-cheek jocularity of Moonraker, there was a feeling that Bond needed to be brought back to earth. There was an intentional thematic decision to make For Your Eyes Only more serious and dramatic, and it shows. Director John Glen, moving into the director’s chair after editing the prior two Bond films, gave the film a certain grittiness and gravitas that had been missing from Moore’s Bond up to that point. Glen would go on to direct the remaining two Roger Moore Bond films and the two Timothy Dalton entries. Revenge was a key theme of the story, and we see Bond kill someone in cold blood for the first time, when he pushes the disabled car of a still-alive henchman off of a cliff. The Bond girl, Melina Havelock (a name finally free of any double entendre) as played by Carole Bouquet, is one of the most three dimensional female characters in Bond, and she has the intelligence, self-reliance and badassery to avoid any hint of being a damsel-in-distress. Julian Glover, as Kristatos, is convincing as an ally of Bond for the first half of the film, and successfully surprises us when he turns out to be the main villain. There’s so much classic Bond in this film: a ski chase, the KGB, a secret spy device called the ATAC, submarines, a casino, a car chase, an underwater fight, and various cool European locales all combine to make this a quintessential Bond entry. And to top it off, we get the great opening helicopter sequence where Bond gets to put an end to the classic villain Blofeld.
Bonus: The closing scene featured an actress portraying Margaret Thatcher, which was the first time a real-life head of government was seen in a Bond film.
DJ: Yes, this is the Roger Moore standard. The first one I saw in a theater and my personal favorite. The opening is great. There was a legal issue with using Blofeld so they don’t name him and then they kill him, goodbye legal issue. Another great skiing scene. Julian Glover should have been in our character actor post, Bond, Empire Strikes Back, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and Game of Thrones, now that’s a nerd resume.
MG: That’s a good observation about Glover. I wonder if he ever goes to Comic-Con type events. It would be hard to pick which 8 x 10 to buy for his autograph (Well, not for me, but for other nerds).