Roger Moore, 1927–2017

On Film / The Daily — May 23, 2017

“He was the epitome of the suave English gent, quipping sweatlessly in a bespoke three-piece suit, who enjoyed an acting career spanning eight decades,” writes Benjamin Lee for the Guardian. “On Tuesday, Roger Moore’s children announced his death at the age of 89 in Switzerland, saying: ‘he passed away today ... after a short but brave battle with cancer.’ Moore was best known for playing the third incarnation of James Bond as well as his roles in hit shows The Saint and The Persuaders. He also devoted a lot of his time to humanitarian work, becoming a Unicef goodwill ambassador in 1991.”

“After George Lazenby was one and done as Bond in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969),” write Mike Barnes and Duane Byrge in the Hollywood Reporter, “Moore took on the guise of Agent 007 in Live and Let Die (1973) and stayed for The Man With the Golden Gun (1974), The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), Moonraker (1979), For Your Eyes Only (1981), Octopussy (1983) and A View to a Kill (1985), which hit theaters when he was nearly 58. He said it was his choice to leave the franchise. His Bond was more of a charmer than a fighter, more of a stirrer than was the shaker embodied by the first Bond, Scotsman Sean Connery. . . . ‘I’m not that cold-blooded killer type. Which is why I play it mostly for laughs,’ he once said. Moore’s devilish smile and famously cocked eyebrow made his Bond a more polished, albeit less pugnacious, chap than former bodybuilder Connery’s robust warrior.”

“Moore continued to appear in other films during this period, with notable releases including wartime actioners The Wild Geese (1978) and The Sea Wolves (1980) and the South Africa-set thriller Gold (1974),” notes the BFI. “Later roles tended to play on Moore’s debonair image as a English gentleman, notably opposite Michael Caine in the con-artist comedy Bullseye! (1990). His final cinema role was in the festive 2011 release A Princess for Christmas.

“Born in Stockwell, London on 14 October 1927, he studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts [RADA], where he was a classmate of future costar Lois Maxwell—the original Miss Moneypenny,” notes Roisin O’Connor in the Independent.

“Moore embraced the Bond legend for decades afterward; none of the other Bonds burnished the legend as lovingly as he did,” writes Jacki Lyden for NPR. “He published four books about his time as Agent 007, all of them with a sense of humor . . . Throughout his long life, Moore appeared to lead a charmed existence—he even titled a memoir One Lucky Bastard.

Updates: “Mr. Moore had definite opinions about playing heroic adventurers long before he became Bond,” notes Anita Gates: “‘I would say your average hero has a super ego, an invincible attitude and an overall death wish,’ he told the New York Times in 1970. ‘He’s slightly around the twist, isn’t he? . . . In theatrical terms, I’ve never had a part that demands much of me,’ he added. ‘The only way I’ve had to extend myself has been to carry on charming.’”

In 2012, Michael Sragow spoke with the actor for the New Yorker and noted that, reading Moore’s book, Bond on Bond: Reflections on 50 Years of James Bond Movies, “you realize how much the filmmakers’ reading of Moore’s own personality contributed to the charm of The Spy Who Loved Me. He is genuinely delighted with gadgets, like the Seiko watch with the ticker-tape pager that alerts 007 to his assignment. He is alternately courtly and waggish with women; he confesses in his book that he called Barbara Bach ‘Barbara Back-to-Front.’ Moore can also be infectiously droll. We discover that when Anya and 007 drove out of the sea in their souped-up Lotus Esprit (which can turn into a submarine), Moore was the one with the nifty idea to drop a little fish out of the car’s window.”

For Time, Lily Rothman recounts the story of how Moore landed the role and recalls him telling the magazine in 2012: “For 50 years it’s gone on and people go back because it’s an old friend. Their fathers may have taken them to see it the first time, and then they take their grandfathers. And Christmas never seems to be Christmas without a Bond movie showing on a television screen somewhere.”

“He tended to make light of his own acting abilities—over decades of interviews, self-deprecation is the one constant,” writes Isaac Chotiner for Slate. “Moore’s approach—to interviews and to acting—is perhaps best captured in a revealing remark to the Telegraph: ‘My James Bond wasn’t any different to my Saint, or my Persuaders or anything else I’ve done. I’ve just made everything that I play look like me and sound like me.’ This is certainly simplified, but it isn’t entirely wrong.”

For the Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw, “his performance in what I think is his best film, Basil Dearden’s terrific 1970 doppelganger thriller The Man Who Haunted Himself, showed the world that he was actually a skillful and effective actor with an instinctive feel for how to play to the camera and how to undersell a line. This is a brilliant Jekyll and Hyde nightmare, and Moore cleverly conveys the creeping terror of a respectable professional man who is astonished to find that he has an exact double who is going to destroy his life.”

“Sir Roger,” writes Gene Seymour, “though certainly not carrying Richard Burton’s gravitas or Michael Caine’s range in his quiver, had the stuff in him to be even spikier in the Bond role than he was. One example will do: Ffolkes, a 1979 action thriller in which Moore, sporting a ‘schweppervescent’ beard and a chesty, blustery countenance, played a free-lance anti-terrorism expert recruited to dislodge a North Sea oil rig and its inhabitants from the clutches of mercenary kidnappers led by Anthony Perkins and (the also-recently-deceased) Michael Parks. Moore nailed down this cat-fancying grouch with no love for women or any other human being with such confidence that one wonders why he had few other opportunities to show his quirky side, unless you want to count the faultlessly suave self-parodying turn in 1984’s Cannonball Run II where he plays a deluded billionaire named (yeah I know) Seymour, who undergoes plastic surgery to make himself look like Roger Moore.”

At RogerEbert.com, Peter Sobczynski takes an in-depth look at the life and career of Roger Moore.

Update, 5/24: For the New York TimesA. O. Scott, “Mr. Moore’s blithe efficiency has always struck me as a truer expression of the Bond ideal. . . . My James Bond is not macho compensation for lost imperial power, like Mr. Connery, or an anxious avatar of globalization, like Mr. Craig. He is a cartoon superhero in evening wear, a man whose mission is to embody—and, therefore, to transcend—a secondhand, second-rate age, to be cool and clever in a world determined to be as lame and dumb as possible. Nobody did that better than Roger Moore.”

For the Guardian, Martin Pengelly presents an annotated collection of clips.

Updates, 5/25: “He may have preferred to lean on his easy charm but he could also bring it with the big dogs,” writes Mark Sarvas in BLARB, the blog for the Los Angeles Review of Books. “His 1973 Bond is already fully formed, and although he wobbles a bit throughout the rushed follow-up The Man With The Golden Gun, his turn in 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me is widely regarded as his finest, the perfect mix of charm and danger. It’s the movie that gives us the underwater car, pyramids and nuclear submarines, but you had me at the Union Jack parachute.”

“Moore sent in the manuscript for his last, as-yet-untitled book just two weeks before his death, his publisher has revealed.” As Katherine Cowdrey reports for the Bookseller, publisher Michael O'Mara described the project as “a ‘typically amusing and self-deprecating’ look at old age, expressing Moore's experience of growing old. . . . It includes sketches by Moore, who was also an artist.” Neither a title nor a release date has yet been confirmed.

Update, 5/26: “It is hard to know whether Moore really believed what he said about his own acting,” write Kevin Lyons and Patrick Fahy for Sight & Sound. “His endless and often very funny mocking of his own perceived lack of talent became very much a part of his public persona . . . But the affection in which he was held is undoubted. For many he was the definitive James Bond, his version of the character being voted Best Bond by an Academy Awards poll in 2004. It was a role that he never escaped, but he never gave the impression that he particularly wanted to. ‘I would love to be remembered as one of the greatest Lears or Hamlets,’ he once said. ‘But, as that’s not going to happen, I’m quite happy I did Bond.’”

Update, 5/30: “Only on reflection do I see how much of an influence Roger Moore had on me as a young Irish immigrant lad from the banks of the River Boyne,” writes Pierce Brosnan—yes, Pierce Brosnan—for Variety. “I guess the combination of Bond and the Saint ignited a flame for fame in my heart of innocent wonder. I wanted to be up there. Roger as the Saint made me believe in his world. And before I knew it, the man who was the Saint transformed into James Bond, an even greater hero to me as a boy.”

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