The Roger Moore Years, Part 1 by RICH PASCHALL
After five films the original James Bond, Sean Connery, left the series, but when George Lazenby only stuck around for one film despite an original offer for more, Connery returned for Diamonds Are Forever. The franchise rebounded nicely from the comparatively weak showing with Lazenby, but Connery was tired of 007 and thought he was a bit too old for the part. He said he would never play Bond again, but Never Say Never Again was in his future.
If Connery was feeling a bit old for the part, then it would seem a bit surprising that the next actor to play Commander Bond was almost 3 years older. Roger Moore, however, had all the qualities the producers wanted in James Bond. He was handsome and charming and had experience as a super sleuth. Moore was Simon Templar in the long running television series, The Saint. In a bit of irony, in an early episode of The Saint, Templar is confused for Bond.
First up for Roger Moore was Live And Let Die (1973). The eighth Bond film was based on the second Ian Fleming novel. The series made no attempt to film the books in order. While some novels actually continued elements of previous stories, it was not a series in the same sense as Harry Potter, for example.
The film brings back Guy Hamilton as director. He not only directed Diamonds Are Forever, but also the critically acclaimed Goldfinger. Sir Paul McCartney contributed the Academy Award nominated theme song. Roger Moore proved to be the engaging secret agent the producers had hoped.
The film does not stand up well to the test of time. The cliché ridden antics of 1970s era films are on full display. The chase scenes are incredibly long and the introduction of a stereotypical and somewhat comical southern sheriff into the action is a bit on the absurd side. Nevertheless, the Bond franchise is now moving ahead again, with a full shaker of vodka martinis.
Next for Moore was Man With The Golden Gun (1974). It was supposed to be the second Lazenby film, but when he refused to do the project, it was put on the shelf for Connery’s return in a different story. Even though it was the thirteenth Ian Fleming novel, the movie found a way to incorporate elements from the previous film based on the second novel. With more over blown and lengthy chases, the film even finds a way to include the southern sheriff from the previous film. Yes, he is on vacation in southeast Asia with his wife and finds himself in the midst of the chase. An incredible jump with a car by Bond looks a lot like one done by Pierce Brosnan as Bond decades later.
Guy Hamilton directed Golden Gun as well. After two long films with improbable and lengthy chase scenes, he was done. While the films did well as the box office, Man With the Golden Gun was not well received by critics. It was time to move on
The third Roger Moore film finds the hero hitting his stride, in my humble opinion, with The Spy Who Loved Me (1977). An American and a Soviet submarine disappear and Bond is sent to investigate along with a beautiful Soviet agent, who would prefer to kill Bond for the death of a Soviet agent who had once tried to kill Bond. The chase scene on skis is more exciting than the car and boat chase scenes of the previous two movies. The intrigue is there, the Bond girl is beautiful, the scenery is great and the Bond devices and tricks supplied by “Q” are up to par. This film finally has the charm of the Connery films, something that has been lacking despite the box office success.
The fourth Roger Moore film, Moonraker (1979), bears almost no resemblance to the 1955 novel from which it takes its name. Nothing in the Fleming story could have suggested this. The film moves full speed ahead into the realm of science fiction, retaining some of the traditional Bond elements before Roger blasts off into space with the latest “Bond girl.”
Instead of preventing a nuclear missile from destroying London, the film has Bond on a quest to find a missing space shuttle. You will recall the previous film had him looking for missing submarines. Now it is not just London that Bond must save, but the entire world. Who knew so many space shuttles were at the ready of the villain and NASA? Yes, there will be battle and a chase in outer space.
In the novel, the villain is an ex-Nazi. Remember the book is from 1955 so the ex-Nazi and Soviet connection is plausible. In the updated story, the villain is attempting to set up a scenario where he can establish a master race. I won’t go into exactly how he intends to pull this off, put it requires space ships, satellites, a space station and lots of lasers.
These films were not made in the rapid succession of the early Bond films. After the fourth film, Moore was 52 years old, but continued to be a popular Bond. Moonraker was the top grossing Bond film at that point and Moore would be in demand for more films. Yes, the Roger Moore era was nowhere near the finish.
The Roger Moore Years, Part two on Sunday.
Bond, James Bond, The Sean Connery Years, Part 1
Never Say Never Again, The Sean Connery Years, Part 2