Roger Moore: Stirred, never shaken

By Gary Abernathy - [email protected]

Roger Moore, who died last week at the age of 89, was always my favorite James Bond.

I’m guessing that for most fans of the Bond movies, Sean Connery holds that distinction, which is understandable. The first actor to essay a part is typically the favorite. He has the chance to make it his own and imbue it with the qualities and personality that become firmly imprinted on the character in the minds of most fans. Actors who follow in their footsteps find it difficult to win those fans over.

Similarly, Christopher Reeve remains the preferred Man of Steel, just as Michael Keaton is most people’s favorite Batman. (Except for those of us who favor the TV incarnations, in this case George Reeves as Superman and Adam West as the Caped Crusader.)

My preference for Roger Moore’s Bond is likely due in part to the fact that his was the first portrayal of the character I happened to see. As a teenager of the 1970s, I did not see a Bond movie until I saw “Live and Let Die,” Moore’s first turn in the part in 1973, two years after Connery’s last sanctioned Bond film, “Diamonds Are Forever.”

Moore ended up starring in seven Bond films, one more than Connery, at least until Connery came back for an “unauthorized” version in 1983 ironically titled, “Never Say Never Again.”

Moore’s appeal was lasting. He was still playing suave and debonair at age 57 when he made his last Bond outing, 1985’s “A View to a Kill.”

I’ve since seen all the Connery movies, along with every other Bond film with all the other actors. Most of the Bond actors are fine, but I still prefer Roger Moore.

I feel about the Bond films the same way I feel about the Superman and Batman movies, along with other films about superheroes. (And make no mistake, James Bond is merely a superhero character, even without tights and capes.) They should be played for what they are – escapist fantasies, not dark, depressing, disturbing Freudian melodramas.

Of all the Batman movies made since the films began in earnest with 1989’s Michael Keaton version, my favorite is the one nearly everybody else says in the worst – 1997’s “Batman & Robin,” starring George Clooney. To me, the Clooney film is what movies based on comic books should be – silly, escapist nonsense with a lot of colorful action, ridiculous scenarios and over-the-top villains.

Instead, the critics, and apparently most fans, prefer something else, such as 1992’s “Batman Returns” with a Danny DeVito “Penguin” so gross and vile that he’s actually hard to watch, or 2008’s “The Dark Knight” with a “Joker” played by the late Health Ledger so violent that he rams pencils through people’s hands.

The latest Bond films follow the same trajectory. They’re darker, even more violent than before, and present a sometimes tormented James Bond filled with angst.

Can’t we have comic book and fantasy characters who are deemed sufficiently entertaining merely because they can fly through the air or transport themselves in fantastic Batmobiles or employ secret agent gadgets like cufflinks that fire bullets? Must we turn them dark and brooding, inhabiting universes so violent and graphic that most parents hesitate to take their children to watch them? Apparently, we must.

Forgive this winding road, but it does lead us back to why Roger Moore was, to me, the best Bond. Moore played Bond with a perpetual sly smile and devious wink. He was everlastingly unrumpled. The opposite of how Bond ordered his Vodka Martinis, Moore was sometimes stirred, but never shaken. Both his portrayal and the scripts he was asked to animate were the breeziest of the franchise.

Some critics say Moore’s Bond films were too silly. Similar criticism is leveled at the Adam West “Batman” show or even the last couple of Christopher Reeve’s Superman films.

Too silly? Too silly?? We’re talking about James Bond and Batman and Superman. Silly is what we should be shooting for. They should be fun and light and frivolous and, yes, silly.

Roger Moore did a very smart thing when he took over the role of Bond from Sean Connery – he did not try to imitate Connery. Instead, he endowed the role with his own more relaxed, wry and unperturbed take on the part. In fact, in at least one interview, Moore said he always played Bond for laughs.

Connery’s Bond is rougher and tougher than Moore’s. Even in his interaction with women, you have the feeling that Connery’s Bond just might grab his conquest by the hair and drag her into the nearest cave.

(Interestingly, Connery told Playboy magazine in 1965 – at the height of his Bond fame – about his attitude on the subject of hitting women. “An open-handed slap is justified – if all other alternatives fail and there has been plenty of warning,” he said. He repeated the same basic opinion to Barbara Walters in a 1987 interview.)

Moore’s Bond, to the contrary, is never intimidating. He relies strictly on his charm, whether with women or adversaries (who were often one of the same). With a raised eyebrow and mischievous grin, Moore’s Bond practically winks at the camera in scene after scene. “This may be ridiculous, but isn’t it fun?” he seems to be saying to the audience.

Thanks Roger, for making Bond what Bond and other superheroes should be – fun and entertaining, but never to be taken too seriously.

Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or by email at [email protected]

By Gary Abernathy

[email protected]