The third post in my “James Bond at 50” series focuses on the Roger Moore Years. My first exposure to the James Bond movies was Roger Moore’s 1979 hit Moonraker. Admittedly, Moonraker was not one of the better Bond films but, for me, it was the beginning of a whole new world. To this day, when I think of James Bond, my first recollection is Roger Moore’s portrayal of the character and the seven Bond films he did between 1973 and 1985.
Because of his commitment to several television shows, in particular the long running series The Saint where he played the character Simon Templar, Roger Moore was unavailable for the James Bond franchise for a considerable period of time. It was only after Sean Connery declared in 1966 he would not play Bond any longer that Moore became aware he might be a contender for the role. However, after George Lazenby was cast in 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and Connery played Bond again in 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever, Moore did not further consider the possibility of playing the role until it was abundantly clear that Connery had in fact stepped down as Bond for good.
After Diamonds Are Forever, producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman tried to convince Sean Connery to return as Bond but he declined. After considering Jeremy Brett, Michael Billington, and Julian Glover, the two producers finally turned to Moore. Only then was Moore approached for the role, accepting Broccoli and Saltzman’s offer in August 1972 despite the fact that, in real life, he was a pacifist. “Hardly the right background for someone who is playing Bond” according to Moore. In his autobiography, Moore writes that he had to cut his hair and lose weight for the role. Although he resented having to make those changes, he was finally cast as James Bond in 1973’s Live and Let Die.
Unfortunately for Moore, according to the BBC documentary Everything or Nothing: The Untold Story of 007, it was during this time producers Broccoli and Saltzman began to differ on their respective visions for the James Bond character resulting in confusion over the future direction of the films. With the producers increasingly divided, the quality of the movies suffered. The second Moore film, The Man with the Golden Gun (1974), saw reviewers criticize the movie as a whole, particularly the comedic approach, with some critics describing it as the lowest point in franchise history. Although the film was profitable, it’s the fourth-lowest-grossing Bond movie in the series.
Maud Adams, who played Andrea Anders in the film, said “There was a scene in The Man with the Golden Gun where they tried to make [Moore] look like Sean. It didn’t work, at all, in my opinion. Roger is a gentleman. He will charm women into bed. He didn’t have to force his way around.” During the filming, Broccoli believed the Saltzman wasn’t paying enough attention to Bond. Saltzman had branched out into other businesses and Broccoli didn’t understand why he was so determined to do other things. Ultimately, when these other ventures began to fail, Saltzman had to sell his shares of the James Bond franchise in order to pay off his debts.
The tensions between Broccoli and Saltzman had became too much for either man, making The Man with the Golden Gun the final film they would co-produce. However, Saltzman was determined not to sell his shares to Broccoli even though Broccoli very much wanted to buy them. The subsequent legal battle delayed production of the next 007 film, The Spy Who Loved Me, for three years. Ultimately, Saltzman sold his shares to United Artists, tying the fate of Bond to the fate of the studio. UA would now be Broccoli’s partner leaving him very bitter with his former partner for many years thereafter. It wasn’t until 1981 and the release of For Your Eyes Only that Broccoli and Saltzman would see each other again.
Meanwhile, Moore continued to play the role of James Bond in The Spy Who Loved Me, Moonraker, For Your Eyes Only, Octopussy, and A View to a Kill. His Bond was very different from the version created by Ian Fleming. Screenwriters like George MacDonald Fraser provided scenarios in which Moore was cast as a seasoned, debonair playboy who would always have a trick or gadget in stock when he needed it. His character became known for a sense of humor and witty one liners but, at the same time, was also an extremely skilled detective with a cunning mind. This James Bond was designed to serve the contemporary taste of the 1970s.
When playing Bond, Moore tried not to imitate either Connery or his previous roles. Screenwriter Tom Maniewicz fitted the screenplay around Moore’s persona by giving more comedy scenes and a light-hearted feel to Bond, an approach that led Raymond Benson to describe Moore’s Bond as “a rather smarmy, eyebrow-raising international playboy who never seemed to get hurt”. Film writer Andrew Spicer considered Roger Moore to be the most elegant and mannerly of the Bonds with the voice and style of an English debonair country gentleman. Benson agreed, stating that Moore was “too nice and well-mannered to be a James Bond of any real substance” while Doug Pratt said that “the writers worked out an amenable personality for Roger Moore and found a breezy balance between comedy and action”.
Spicer says, “Roger Moore re-created Bond as an old-style debonair hero, more polished and sophisticated than Connery’s incarnation, using the mocking insouciance he had perfected in his role as Simon Templar. Moore’s humor was a throwaway and, certainly in the later films, verged on self-parody. It was an essential strand in the increasingly tongue-in-cheek direction of the series which became more light-hearted, knowing, and playfully intertextual”. Additionally, Moore’s one-liners were delivered in a way to suggest that the violence inherent in the films was a joke as opposed to Connery’s which was used to mitigate the violence.
Moore explained his approach to the humor by saying “to me, the Bond situations are so ridiculous … I mean, this man is supposed to be a spy, and yet everybody knows he’s a spy … it’s outrageous. So you have to treat the humour outrageously as well”. A number of Moore’s personal preferences were transferred into his characterisation of Bond; his taste for Cuban cigars and his wearing of safari suits were assigned to the character. Moore’s use of cigars in his early films put him in contrast to the cigarette-smoking Connery, George Lazenby, and Timothy Dalton. By the time of Moore’s fifth film, For Your Eyes Only, his characterisation had come to represent an old-fashioned character in contrast to the fashionability Connery had brought to the role in the 1960s.
In 1985, Moore appeared in his final Bond film, A View to a Kill. Critics focused on Moore’s age; the Washington Post said “Moore isn’t just long in the tooth – he’s got tusks, and what looks like an eye job has given him the pie-eyed blankness of a zombie. He’s not believable anymore in the action sequences, even less so in the romantic scenes”. In December 2007, Moore admitted that, by 1985, he “was only about four hundred years too old for the part”. In fact, Moore originally wanted to leave the role after Moonraker for that very reason. Actor James Brolin was briefly hired as Moore’s replacement, beginning with the film Octopussy, in 1982. However, for various reasons, Moore was asked to return each time until he finally called it quits for good after A View to a Kill.
To this day, Moore is the oldest actor to play 007 in the Eon series; he was 45 in Live and Let Die and 58 in A View to a Kill. Moore is also the longest-serving James Bond actor having spent 12 years in the role. In 2004 and 2008, Moore was voted ‘Best Bond’ in an Academy Awards poll.
Sadly, Roger Moore passed away on May 23 2017 at the age of 89.
Following is a brief description of each of Roger Moore’s James Bond films.
— Live and Let Die (Released June 1973): James Bond is sent to investigate the murder of three British MI6 agents, all of whom have been killed within 24 hours. He discovers the victims were all separately investigating the operations of Dr. Kananga (Yaphet Kotto), the dictator of a small Caribbean island, San Monique. Bond establishes that Kananga also acts as Mr. Big, a ruthless and cunning gangster. He flies to San Monique, where he meets Rosie Carver (Gloria Hendry), a CIA double agent. However, Bond suspects Rosie of working for the dictator and she is subsequently killed by Kananga.
When visiting San Monique, Bond determines that Kananga is producing two tons of heroin and is protecting the poppy fields by exploiting locals’ fear of voodoo and the occult. Through his alter ego, Mr. Big, Kananga plans to distribute the heroin free of charge through his Fillet of Soul restaurants, which will increase the number of addicts. Bond and Solitaire (Jane Seymour), a beautiful Tarot card reader employed by Kananga who turns against him, are captured in New Orleans and taken back to San Monique. However, Bond escapes, killing Kananga, saving Solitaire, and destroying the poppy crop.
Live and Let Die was third film directed by Guy Hamilton. It was a box office success ($161.8M on a budget of $7M) and received generally positive reviews from critics. Released during the height of the Blaxploitation era, it used many archetypes and clichés from that genre. The film departs from the plots of the earlier James Bond films focusing instead on drug trafficking and is set in African American cultural centers such as Harlem and New Orleans as well as the Carribbean Islands. It was also the first James Bond film featuring an African American woman to be romantically involved with 007, Rosie Carver. The film received a Best Original Song Academy Award nomination for Live and Let Die written by Paul and Linda McCartney and performed by their band Wings.
— The Man with the Golden Gun (Released December 1974): After receiving a golden bullet with James Bond’s code “007” etched into its surface, M (Bernard Lee) relieves Bond of a mission to locate a British scientist. The scientist is the inventor of the “Solex agitator”, a device to harness solar power, thereby solving the energy crisis. The bullet signifies Bond is a target of assassin Francisco Scaramanga (Christopher Lee) and Bond sets out unofficially to find him. From a spent golden bullet, Bond tracks Scaramanga to Macau where he sees Scaramanga’s mistress, Andrea Anders (Maud Adams), collecting golden bullets at a casino.
Bond and his assistant, Mary Goodnight (Britt Ekland), follow her to Hong Kong where Bond witnesses the murder of the scientist, the theft of the Solex agitator, and the kidnapping of Goodnight. Bond is subsequently assigned to retrieve the agitator, rescue Goodnight, and assassinate Scaramanga. Bond meets with Hai Fat, a wealthy Thai entrepreneur suspected of arranging the scientists’ murder, and is captured but subsequently escapes. He tracks Scaramanga and his accomplice, Nick Nack (Herve Villechaize), to an island in Red Chinese waters where the two men fight a duel and Bond kills Scaramanga.
The Man with the Golden Gun, the fourth and final film directed by Guy Hamilton, was made with an estimated budget of $7 million. As indicated earlier in the post, despite initial good returns from the box office, it grossed only $97.6 million worldwide making it the fourth lowest-grossing Bond film of all time. It also met with very mixed reviews from the critics. Many dismissed the film and Moore’s performance as being only a shadow of the great Connery movies describing them as “uninspired, tired, and boring” while wondering if “enough was enough”. Opinion on The Man with the Golden Gun has not changed with the passing of time. Imagine Games Network (IGN) Entertainment Inc., among others, labeled it the worst Bond film ever in 2012.
— The Spy Who Loved Me (Released July 1977): Bond is tasked with investigating the disappearance of British and Soviet ballistic missile submarines and the subsequent offer to sell a submarine tracking system. Bond works alongside Major Anya Amasova (Barbara Bach) of the KGB. The pair track the plans across Egypt and identify the person responsible for the thefts as shipping tycoon, scientist, and anarchist Karl Stromberg (Curd Jurgens); in the process escaping Stromberg’s seemly indestructible henchman, Jaws (Richard Kiel), known for his steel teeth.
Bond and Amasova follow a suspicious tanker owned by Stromberg and establish it is responsible for the missing submarines; the submarine in which they are travelling is also captured by Stromberg. Stromberg plans to destroy Moscow and New York, triggering nuclear war, and subsequently establish a new civilization. Bond escapes, freeing the submariners captured from the other submarines, and follows Stromberg to his headquarters where he shoots the tycoon and a torpedo destroys the base.
The Spy Who Loved Me, directed by Lewis Gilbert, grossed $185.4M worldwide on a budget of $14M. Eon executive Charles Juroe said that, at a screening attended by Charles, Prince of Wales during the Union Jack-parachute scene in the film’s opening sequence, “I have never seen a reaction in the cinema as there was that night. You couldn’t help it. You could not help but stand up. Even Prince Charles stood up.” It’s Roger Moore’s favorite Bond film and many critics consider it the best installment to star the actor. Marvin Hamlisch was nominated for several awards such as the 1978 Academy Award for Best Song, Original Music Score for Nobody Does It Better, sung by Carly Simon, as well as a Grammy Award for Best Score for a Motion Picture.
The Bond franchise would live to see another day.
— Moonraker (Released June 1979): A Drax Industries Moonraker space shuttle on loan is hijacked and Bond is ordered to investigate. Bond meets the owner of the company, Hugo Drax (Michael Longsdale) and one of Drax’s scientists, Dr. Holly Goodhead (Lois Chiles). Bond follows the trail to Venice where he establishes that Drax is manufacturing a nerve gas deadly to humans but harmless to animals, pursed once again by now mercenary assassin Jaws (Richard Kiel). There, Bond meets up with Goodhead and finds out she’s a CIA agent.
Bond and Goodhead travel to the Amazon looking for Drax’s research facility where they are captured. The two escape and pose as pilots on one of six space shuttles being sent by Drax to a hidden space station. There Bond finds out that Drax plans to destroy all human life by launching fifty globes containing a toxin into the Earth’s atmosphere. Bond and Goodhead disable the radar jammer hiding the station from Earth and the U.S. sends a platoon of Marines in a military space shuttle. During the battle, Bond kills Drax and his station is destroyed.
Monracker, directed for the third and final time by Lewis Gilbert, cost $34M to make, almost twice as much as its predecessor, The Spy Who Loved Me. Although critical reviews were mixed, the film’s visuals were praised with Derek Meddings being nominated for the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects and the movie eventually became the highest grossing film of the series with $210.3M worldwide, a record that stood until 1995’s GoldenEye. Many critics consider Moonraker one of the lesser films in the series, largely due to the plot, which takes James Bond into space as well as due to some of the ploys used in the film for comedic effect. The film’s producers had originally intended to film For Your Eyes Only but instead chose Moonraker due to the rise of the science fiction genre in the wake of the Star Wars phenomenon.
On a sad note, Moonraker was the final film for Bernard Lee, who had played the character “M” in all the Bond films since Dr. No. “M” is the Head of the Secret Intelligence Service, also known as MI6. Author Ian Fleming based the character on a number of people he knew who commanded sections of British intelligence. A number of Bond scholars have noted the Lee’s interpretation of the character was in line with the original literary representation. Cork and Stutz observed that Lee was “very close to Fleming’s version of the character”, whilst Rubin commented on the serious, efficient, no-nonsense authority figure. Smith and Lavington, meanwhile, remarked that Lee was “the very incarnation of Fleming’s crusty admiral.”
Lee died of cancer in January 1981, four months into the filming of For Your Eyes Only and before any of his scenes could be filmed. Out of respect, no new actor was hired to assume the role and, instead, the script was re-written so that the character is said to be on leave, with his lines given to either his Chief of Staff Bill Tanner or the Minister of Defense, Sir Frederick Gray. Later films referred to Lee’s tenure as head of the service, with a painting of him as M in MI6’s Scottish headquarters during the 1999 instalment The World Is Not Enough. Robert Brown would assume the role of “M” beginning with Octopussy.
— For Your Eyes Only (Released June 1981): After a British spy boat sinks, a marine archaeologist, Sir Timothy Havelock, is tasked to retrieve its Automatic Targeting Attack Communicator (ATAC) communication system before the Russians do. After Havelock is murdered by Gonzales, a Cuban hit-man, Bond is ordered to find out who hired Gonzales. While investigating, Bond is captured but Gonzales is subsequently killed by Havelock’s daughter Melina (Carole Bouquet) and she and Bond escape. Bond identifies one of those present with Gonzales as Emile Leopold Locque (Michael Gothard) and so follows a lead to Italy and meets his contact, Luigi Ferrara, as well as a well-connected Greek businessman and intelligence informant, Aris Kristatos (Julian Glover).
Kristatos tells Bond that Locque is employed by Milos Columbo (Chaim Topol), Kristatos’ former organised crime partner. After Ferrara is murdered—and the evidence points to Columbo—Bond is captured by men working for Columbo. Columbo then explains that Locque was actually hired by Kristatos who is working for the KGB to retrieve the ATAC. Bond and Melina recover the ATAC but are captured by Kristatos. They escape and follow Kristatos to Greece where he is killed and the ATAC is destroyed by Bond.
John Glen made his Bond directorial debut with For Your Eyes Only. Once again, critical reviews were mixed but the film was a financial success generating $195.3M worldwide on a budget of $28M becoming the second highest grossing film behind Moonraker. After the science fiction-focused Moonraker, the producers wanted a conscious return to the style of the early Bond films and the works of 007 creator Fleming. For Your Eyes Only followed a grittier, more realistic approach, and an unusually strong narrative theme of revenge and its consequences. The theme song For Your Eyes Only, sung by Sheena Easton, was nominated for Best Original Song at the 1981 Academy Awards.
A side note. The opening sequence of For Your Eyes Only features the only references in the Roger Moore films to past Bond movies; recognizing Bond’s wife, killed during the film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, by showing him at her gravesite as well as a fight between Bond and SPECTRE mastermind Ernst Blofeld, both first introduced in the Connery films. There would not be another reference to either Spectre or Blofeld until the 2015 release of Daniel Craig’s fourth Bond film, Spectre, although hints of a secret organization would be made in each of Craig’s first two Bond films.
— Octopussy (Released June 1983): Bond investigates the murder of 009, killed in East Berlin while dressed as a circus clown and carrying a fake Faberge egg. An identical egg appears at auction and Bond establishes the buyer, exiled Afghan prince Kamal Khan (Louis Jourdan), is working with Orlov (Steven Berkoff), a renegade Soviet general, who is seeking to expand Soviet borders into Europe. Bond meets Octopussy (Maud Adams), a wealthy woman who leads the Octopus cult. Bond finds out that Orlov has been supplying Khan with priceless Soviet treasures, replacing them with replicas, while Khan has been smuggling the real versions into the West via Octopussy’s circus troupe.
Bond infiltrates the circus and finds that Orlov replaced the Soviet treasures with a nuclear warhead primed to explode at a U.S. Air Force base in West Germany. The explosion would trigger Europe into seeking disarmament in the belief that the bomb was an American one detonated by accident leaving the West’s borders open to Soviet invasion. Bond deactivates the warhead and then he returns to India leading an assault on Khan’s palace. Khan flees the palace capturing Octopussy in the process. Bond follows them as they attempt to escape in an airplane, clinging to the fuselage and disabling one of its engines. Bond rescues Octopussy from Khan, the pair jumping onto a nearby cliff moments before the plane crashes into a mountain, killing Khan.
Octopussy, the second film directed by John Glen, grossed $183.7M worldwide on a budget of $27.5M. Critics again gave it mixed reviews with one reviewer claiming it was long and confusing. Octopussy was released in the same year as the non-Eon Bond remake of Thunderball, Never Say Never Again, starring Sean Connery. Never Say Never Again opened to positive critical reviews and was a commercial success, grossing $160M worldwide, slightly less than the Eon-produced Bond film Octopussy.
— A View to a Kill (Released May 1985): Bond is sent to Siberia to locate the body of 003 and recover a microchip originating from the Soviet Union. Upon his return, Q (Desmond Llewelyn) analyses the microchip establishing it to be a copy of one designed to withstand an electromagnetic pulse made by government contractor Zorin Industries. Bond investigates millionaire industrialist Max Zorin (Christopher Walken) and discovers he is trying to corner the world market in microchips. He establishes that Zorin was previously trained and financed by the KGB but has now gone rogue. Bond goes to San Francisco where he learns from CIA agent Chuck Lee that Zorin could be the product of medical experimentation with steroids performed by a Nazi scientist, now Zorin’s physician, Dr. Carl Mortner.
Bond tracks down the woman Zorin attempted to pay off, State Geologist Stacey Sutton (Tanya Roberts), and discovers that Zorin is trying to buy her family oil business. Bond uncovers Zorin’s plan to detonate explosives beneath the lakes along the Hayward and San Andreas faults causing them to flood. Bond and Sutton also find a larger bomb in a mine intended to destroy a “geological lock” that prevents the two faults from moving at the same time. Sutton escapes while Bond fights Zorin’s henchwoman, May Day (Grace Jones). Bond destroys the bomb, tracks down Zorin, and subsequently kills him and his physician, Dr. Mortner.
A View to a Kill, with John Glen directing his third consecutive Bond film, grossed $152.4M worldwide on a budget of $30M. Despite receiving a mixed reception by critics, it was a commercial success with the Duran Duran theme song, A View to a Kill, performing well in the charts and earning a Golden Globe nomination for Best Song. Christopher Walken was also praised for portraying a “classic Bond villain”. However, as noted earlier in the post, one of the most common criticisms of the film was that Roger Moore, 57 at the time of filming, had visibly aged in the two years since Octopussy. Also, due to an increase in the number of violent scenes compared to his previous films, A View to a Kill was Moore’s least favorite of the series.
A side note. A View to a Kill would be the last Bond film to feature Lois Maxwell as Miss Moneypenny. Miss Moneypenny is the private secretary of “M”, the head of MI6. A close confidante of her boss, she also enjoys a flirtatious—though never consummated—relationship with Bond, whom she understands perfectly. Maxwell had played the Moneypenny character in every film beginning with Dr. No. Moneypenny would subsequently be played by Caroline Bliss in both of Timothy Dalton’s films, by Samantha Bond in all four of Pierce Brosnan’s films, and by Naomie Harris beginning with Daniel Craig’s third Bond film, Skyfall, where the character was reintroduced to the series following the 2006 reboot. For the first time, Moneypenny is given a backstory, starting as a field agent before retiring to become “M’s” private secretary as well as a first name, Eve.
With the aging Roger Moore no longer believable in the role of James Bond, the time had come for a change. A new Bond would be chosen to lead the franchise into the 1990s.
To end this post, I’ve included a compilation video showing Roger Moore’s “40 Great James Bond Quotes” including Bond’s famous introduction; “Bond, James Bond”. I’ve also included a video highlighting the theme songs played over clips from each of the seven Moore films including Live and Let Die (Paul McCartney and Wings), For Your Eyes Only (Sheena Easton), All Time High (Rita Coolidge), and A View to a Kill (Duran Duran). Unfortunately, due to copyright restrictions, only the instrumental version of Nobody Does It Better is included.
At the end of the second video, there’s an outtake from A View to a Kill that I think you’ll find amusing. However, if you don’t wait until the very end, you’ll miss it!
As always, your feedback is appreciated!