Ode to a Relic From the Cold War
My coffee’s empty. As I sit here typing this, I’m unsure what to say. James Bond is my problematic fave, after all.
It’s hard for it not to be – as I sit here in this café, I’m trying to bring back over a decade of Bond memories. My father, showing me and my brothers “Die Another Day” (fun at the time, but now so, so terrible compared to the rest). Rifling through old VHS tapes, recordings of those Bond films which were the Saturday Night Movie TM, and watching films out of order and trying to place who was the Bond in this one. And of course, judging each film based on the opening song.
“Live and Let Die” still holds up as one of the best songs, imo, and as I type this it’s more palpable than ever. Now, in this ever changing world in which we live in if you give in and cry – say live and let die.
And the world has changed. Recently, one more thing has changed too – James Bond is no longer immortal. Unlike other 1960’s franchises, Bond has seemed pretty impervious to the passage of time. We were fortunate enough that an entire half-century of Bond actors were still alive – from Connery through to Craig. Now there’s a gap in that chain.
Bond is now mortal. Roger Moore, James Bond for under two decades worth of movie-goers, has ceased to be. Time has killed 007.
This isn’t meant to be an obituary or a retrospective on “what Moore film was the best”. Yet Moore really was Bond, wasn’t he? He was the archetypical, gentlemanly gadget-wielding English secret agent from England. It’s curious to think though how poorly that title fits Bond – at turns played by a Scotsman, Welshman and Irishman (and, in one-off Bond George Lazenby, by a representative Aussie). For an English secret agent, Bond has been pretty cosmopolitan.
Moore’s Bond also went into space. Silly fun was had.
Yet there’s a scale of Bond-ness too, and Moore continues to be the exception rather than the rule. Where five actors have portrayed Bond in grounded, action-filled spy thrillers Moore was unabashedly “fun”. Although, in recent memory, “Die Another Day” was probably the most Moore-ish film we’ve had since Moore hung up the tuxedo in the mid-80’s. Critiquing “Die Another Day” as going “too far”, Moore admitted that he was “the first Bond in space” as the spy franchise attempted to keep pace with that ’77 smash hit “Star Wars”. But this was the sort of cartoonish world of espionage that Moore inhabited, tapping more into childhood fantasy than any Bond before or since. It’s far more fun to play make-believe when you’re fighting an evil super criminal in outer space than if you’re embroiled in Cold War frame-ups involving sex scandals and garrotte wire.
Sir Roger Moore still involved himself with the Bond franchise even after putting up the tuxedo in 1985.
Moore though was more than just your childhood fantasy on celluloid. Calling himself “protective towards” the character, in recent years he was more than any previous actor a sort of self-appointed elder-statesman of the Bond franchise. In the midst of current Bond Daniel Craig casting doubt on his future involvement and speculation that Idris Elba should step up as Bond, Moore noted that the character needed to be “English English”. The comment sits as odd, since as I previously noted Moore and Craig are the only “English English” actors to portray the character.
It’s somewhat telling though – of all the Bonds, Connery and Moore are the two inexorably linked with the Cold War. I’d go so far to say that M’s quip to Brosnan’s Bond in the mid-90’s soft reboot “GoldenEye”, that Bond is a “relic of the Cold War”, is a pointed reference to the Roger Moore era. That’s really what Moore was by the end – a relic from an older, more conservative time. The world has changed.
But despite that, and although I will expend as much ink as possible to uphold the iconic portrayal of Connery or defend the lost opportunity which was Dalton (man deserved more than two films, tbh), it’s hard to deny that Moore defined Bond. When we think of classic Bond, we think of a gentleman spy, quip at the ready and an unreserved English-ness to him. No other actor comes close to capturing that – it’s the Bond that Moore created, cultivated, and in a Bond-afterlife of subsequent decades sought to defend. As one reviewer of the botch-job “Quantum of Solace” noted, you can’t get angry with Moore.
His films were more cartoonish and fantastical than his fellow Bonds, but that makes him the Bond of your childhood. And as problematic as your childhood might be, can you really get angry at it?
James Bond may no longer be immortal, but in an era where the incumbent would rather slit his wrists than reprise the role there’s something to appreciate in the fun and camp of Roger Moore. In that regard, perhaps, nobody does it better.
BRENDAN JAMES O'SHEA