Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Sir Roger And Me

If you grew up in the 70s, there was one question, one choice, that divided people--entire families, even. Your answer could determine how cool or lame you were, how "with it" or "status quo" you were. More than "boxers or briefs," more than "Pepsi or Coke"--hell, more fervently and religiously debated than today's "Apple or Android"--the question that roiled the playground and cafeteria was the simple "Connery or Moore?" ("Lazenby" never entered these discussions, of course.)

Simpler times, those.

But such a question did a fairly huge injustice to Roger Moore. A simple comparison, perhaps--but in those pre-VHS days, when one's exposure to old Bond films was limited to whatever Bond film you had caught ABC re-running on a Friday or Sunday night broadcast, so people committed themselves with metaphysical certitude to aesthetic judgements that relatively little evidence could be cited for.

The majority declaration that "Connery was better" (and he was, for whatever my humble opinion is worth), had the effect of therefore relegating Roger to last place (again, Lazenby was never on the ballot). And that, friends, was unfair. Because second-best Bond wasn't chopped liver.

And we may have been too young to realize this, but let's not forget--neither Sean nor Roger wrote their movies, nor directed them, nor cast them, etc. So an awful lot of what we were basing our judgements on were things that, honestly, had nothing to do with the actors.

And sure, the producers et al. may have been playing to what they perceived as Moore's strengths. And yes, they may have been catering to the direction Roger wanted to go--but they didn't have to. So a lot of what is thought of when you think of the Moore era is really ultimately the responsibility of other diverse hands.

Was Connery closer to Fleming's idea of Bond? Certainly, if we go by what's on the page. Then again, Fleming thought David Niven would have been the perfect Bond--so what the hell do we know?

And sometimes, we get too hung up on the concept of fidelity to the source material. For example, Harrison Ford was pretty much nothing like Tom Clancy's version of Jack Ryan (young Alec Baldwin embodied the character from the novels the best). But that doesn't mean that the Ford Clancy movies are bad, or that Ford himself was. It's a big world, and there is room for lots of different interpretations and portrayals of characters, no matter how strongly we may aver that there is only one correct way to play them.

Yes, to my eyes, Moore's Bond was too urbane, too suave, too gentlemanly most of the time for my preference--he was always much more The Saint than my picture of 007.

But on the other hand, he could certainly play the cold-blooded killer when asked--killing Sandor in TSWLM, kicking Locque's car off the cliff in FYEO. Roger may not have particularly liked those moments, but if called upon, he certainly could have been a much more Flemingian Bond.

But he wasn't usually called upon. Again, responsibility for that goes to the producers and writers. And it's hard to blame them, as Moore's movies made lots and lots and lots of money once they seemingly committed to the softer side of Bond. And who can argue? It's what the audiences wanted!

As I've written elsewhere, the Bond franchise was looking like it was in a bit of trouble, after box office disappointments of the more down-to-earth LALD and TMWTGG. But when The Spy Who Loved Me became a mega-blockbuster, it cemented the franchise's direction for the next decade--over-the-top world-threatening villains, breakneck globe-trotting--and a certain lightness (if not silliness) that Moore was only too happy to go along with.

So, yes, Moore wasn't my preferred Bond--but he was still a James Bond, and a good one. And we should celebrate that. Just as different actors bring different qualities to different incarnations of, say, Doctor Who, each Bond has brought something distinctive to the role. We can have preferred actors, favorite interpretations--but "best" and "worst"? Please--that's missing the point. In a very real sense, Roger Moore is the reason that we still have James Bond movies today.

On my scales, at least, he was in two of the very best Bonds--FYEO is clearly a Top 5 Bond, and while TSWLM is a bit overrated, it's still pretty damned good. Roger also was in (again my opinion) 3 of the worst Bonds--TMWTGG, Moonraker (unarguably the worst) and VTAK (if you have problems with LALD's racial politics, I can see you placing it pretty far down the list, as well). So, it's a mixed result--but really, how much of that can be laid at Roger's feet? The producers disastrously decided to ape Star Wars, the producers chose not to replace Roger when he was perhaps a bit too long in the tooth for the role any more, the producers chose to push the light-hearted direction over the line into occasional silliness. Perhaps a little bit too much blame for the decisions of those far above him has attached to Roger Moore.

But despite the arguments, despite the slights, Roger Moore was always--always--the consummate gentleman. And unlike some other Bond actors, he continued to embrace and celebrate the role, even when he was long done with it. He was an amazing ambassador for the 007 brand.

So, while my opinion is hardly needed in the avalanche of praise being heaped upon Roger right now, let's not forget that he was a good Bond, and an extraordinarily successful shepherd for the franchise we love so much. And even though he might not have been my preferred Bond, I would rather watch any of his 007 movies than the last 3 or so Bourne movies (except Moonraker. Gosh it's pretty awful).