A fond farewell to Roger Moore, probably best known as James Bond (but so much Moore).
He is the Bond most of the people my age grew up with. He was the 70s Bond and his movies reflected the era.
Let’s pretend you have never heard of James Bond and don’t know a thing about him. Well, I would be glad to fill you in.
Bond was a naval veteran of WWII, rank of Commander. He joined the British intelligence
service after the war and became a special operative — a “double 0” agent. Most people call him a spy, but he was actually an assassin. He would be dispatched to take care of some terrifically brilliant and crazy villain who had some kind of plot to take over or destroy the world. And then he had “a license to kill.”
End of bad guy.
He wasn’t they only British agent out there doing this. I don’t know how many there were, but he was agent 007.
Bond had his own style, set up in a series of novels by Ian Flemming. He was educated in the best private schools and a cultured gentleman, well versed in art and gourmet cooking and especially gambling.
He was also tall, ruggedly built and very handsome with a suave way of seducing beautiful women. He smoked and drank (vodka martinis — shaken, not stirred) and drove sports cars in a daring and skillful way.
Author Flemming was frustrated that his creation couldn’t attract attention from the movies (especially in America) because he really wanted to cash in. His stories were for entertainment — he wasn’t writing artsy novels.
The very first nibble of show business interest in Bond was from American TV. A series called Climax! (Yes, the exclamation was part of the name) presented a one-hour adaptation of the first novel “Casino Royale” as a live broadcast in 1954. But because it was American TV, they made Bond an American agent of “Combined Intelligence” (a fictional intelligence agency). This American Bond was played by Barry Nelson and he was quite different from the British version of the novels.
First, he went by the name of “Card Sense” Jimmy Bond (since he was a pro gambler), and instead of vodka martinis, he drank Scotch-and-waters. Of course since Bond was now an American, his CIA contact from the book, Felix Leiter, was transformed into a British Intelligence agent. Isn’t it great how TV works?
The cast included the great Peter Lorre as the villain (Le Chiffre) and Linda Christian as Valerie Mathis, the femme fatale (Vesper Lynd in the book). To allow for the very tame TV rules of the 1950s, the novel’s brutal genital torture was re-written to be merely toe torture (and it is off screen). Apparently Le Chiffre broke a couple of Bond’s toes to make him talk. Our hero would not squeal, though.
The show was not necessarily a big hit and nobody jumped on the Bond character as something to promote so the author was once again frustrated that he wasn’t going to have a great success with his spy character.
Casino Royale has been remade twice since then. The first time was a real bizarre adaptation that had enough crazy details to make a whole book in itself.
Simplified version — The rights to Casino Royale were uncertain — the TV people bought it for $1,000 and sold it for $6,000 (a pittance, even by 1950s-60s standards). The Sean Connery movies were making a lot of money and publicity on the big screen, so the guy with Casino Royale rights decided to make his own movie.
It retained the title, but little else from the Flemming novel. It went through multiple cast changes, multiple directors and boatloads of money before finally making it to the screen (missing several projected dates). As Hollywood dreads to hear, it went over budget and over schedule.
Everybody who was anybody in 1967 was in the cast. David Niven is the original James Bond (Oh, if only Errol Flynn had still been alive!), and before the movie is over there are at least half a dozen other James Bonds (maybe more). I told you it was wacky.
The villain is a mysterious guy named Dr. Noah (a pun on the real Ian Flemming character Dr. No) who turns out to be Bond’s nephew and is played by Woody Allen. What could be more wacky than an evil genius Woody Allen?
Peter Sellers tries to steal the show — and he’s pretty successful — as a professional baccarat player (and fake James Bond) and Ursula Andress is double-agent Vesper Lynd (who is a female fake Bond).
Other famous actors (some of whom are also fake James Bonds) include:
Orson Welles as Le Chiffre
William Holden as the head of the CIA
… and many more who are not well known today, especially British stars and comedians.
One of the biggest stars of the movie was the Burt Bacharach/Hal David soundtrack. The Tijuana Brass had a big hit with the theme song and “The Look Of Love” (sung by Dusty Springfield) was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Song.
But though the story was treated with more gravitas, this was not the James Bond the public fell in love with 40 years earlier. This was a back-to-the beginnings story and James Bond did not have his License To Kill. In fact he didn’t have his Aston Martin when the story begins, and when a bartender asks him if he wants his martini shaken or stirred he snarls, “I don’t care!”
Daniel Craig was a controversial choice to play Bond (but then so was Sean Connery at first). As the 6th or 7th (or whatever) actor in the franchise, he was definitely cast against type. All the other Bonds were tall, dark and handsome. Craig was short, blonde and harsh-looking. While the other Bond actors were suave casino dandies, Craig was a street-thug who looked uncomfortable and out of place in a tuxedo.
The fans were not pleased and there was a lot of dissension on social media, fears that the expensive movie would flop.
But Daniel Craig acquitted himself honorably as James Bond, despite the new direction of the character. He especially won over the audiences with his tenderness in the love aspect of the story. Craig would go on to play Bond for ten years through four movies. At this writing, there is even talk that he is going to take the golden bait (upwards of $100 million) to play Bond in two more movies before hanging up his tux.
To most fans, Sean Connery defined James Bond. His looks, his manners, his lovemaking and his deadly-serious fighting.
Of course he was (for all reasonable purposes) the first Bond — the first MAJOR James Bond. Few people remembered the 1954 TV version, and the producers changed most of the facts so that Barry Nelson was Bond in name only.
Although Ian Flemming was pleased as punch to finally have his hero hit the big screen, he was less than pleased when Connery was chosen for the role. Connery had done odd jobs before acting clicked for him, as most actors do. He was a milkman and a body builder, which got him modeling jobs.
Right before his premier as Bond in Dr. No, he starred in a Disney movie “Darby O’Gill and the Little People.” He did not shoot or blow up leprechauns, so his suitability for being the deadliest spy in the world was hard to gauge.
For his part, Connery was reluctant to take the Bond role, mainly because it would lock him into a series of films. But he realized the upside of a popular hero on his overall career.
Producer Cubby Broccoli was persuaded to choose Connery by his wife and to him fell the chore of convincing Flemming. Again, a female intervened — this time Flemming’s girlfriend. Ladies could sense the sex appeal that the males overlooked.
Dr. No director Terrence Young coached Connery in the manners and style of an upper-class British gentleman spy. The hero appears fully-formed in this first big-screen adaptation, leaving Daniel Craig to introduce the prequel almost 50 years later establishing how James Bond became the suave and deadly super-spy.
Connery won over Flemming by his Dr. No performance, remembering in a 2008 interview, ““What was it he called me, or told somebody? That I was an over-developed stunt man. He never said it to me. When I did eventually meet him he was very interesting, erudite and a snob – a real snob.” He was huge success in the following movies:
Dr. No (1962),
From Russia with Love (1963),
You Only Live Twice (1967)
Diamonds Are Forever (1971)
Never Say Never Again (1983)
After Connery made Bond world famous and made himself into a superstar, he called it quits. He came back twice, being replaced the first time by Aussie male model George Lazenby (who didn’t seem to please audiences or critics) and long-term by Roger Moore.
Moore might have been the star of Dr. No if he hadn’t been involved with TV. The Saint was very popular from 1962 to 1969 and The Persuaders in 1971-1972.
But when Connery gave up his License to Kill, Moore was the top choice to take over — especially since Lazenby wasn’t that popular and had decided he wasn’t interested in being Bond any more.
Moore actually played James Bond in 1964 — as a guest in a comedy skit on a British TV show “Mainly Millicent.”
He took over the film role at the age of 45 and played Bond through the 70 and into the mid 80s. His Bond films were:
Live and Let Die (1973).
The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)
The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
For Your Eyes Only (1981)
A View to a Kill (1985).
This wasn’t your parents’ Bond — Moore played the secret agent lightly, with a sometimes goofy humor and lots more funny quips while killing villains.
In other words, he turned James Bond into The Saint.
Purists who longed for Connery said he wasn’t gritty enough and the campy movies suffered because although Moore was suave, you never really believed he was that dangerous or in danger.
A scene where he skips over a bunch of alligators to escape an island comes to mind.
Talk about jumping the shark!
But when Moore retired from Her Majesty’s Secret Service at age 58, the series reverted to grit-overload with Timothy Dalton — who was physically a great Bond, but fans complained he was “Light on nookie.”
Of course they complained about Pierce Brosnan ( Gene Siskel said he “looks like Bond’s valet”) and Daniel Craig — as mentioned before — who was given material that might have been more suitable for Jason Bourne than James Bond.
Overall, Roger Moore had a tough time taking the franchise from Sean Connery, and all the other Bond actors had a tough time taking over from Moore.
There is no doubt that James Bond makes a place in history for all the actors involved. And it hurts us to lose a cherished actor as much as it would to lose James Bond himself.
Rest in peace, Roger Moore.