Seven times did Roger Moore wrap himself in the mantle of James Bond ... do I have to look up the titles? Hell, no, not a wretched Bondgeek such as I -- I could do it blindfolded: Live and Let Die, The Man With The Golden Gun, The Spy Who Loved Me, Moonraker, For Your Eyes Only, Octopussy, and, the absolute all-time nadir of the series, A View to A Kill. Let's see, 1973-85, a 12-year-long fashion violation, a veritable limbo game in which the image of Our Hero was pitched lower, ever lower. And finally Bond literally turns up in clown makeup in Octopussy.

One dozen years of vacant bimbos, horrendous puns, and obsolete gadgets ... remember the pretitle sequence of Live and Let Die? Behold, o mortals! The futuristic wonder of ... the digital watch! Oh, how the God of Bond Movies tested our faith during those years. Sometimes, it's hard to remember how good Bond films can be when they're at their best, following a Moore marathon (or, if you will, a Mooreathon). All those twtichings of what Anthony Lane described as "Roger Moore's stunt-eyebrows ... " Now that these terrible films have been dredged up for DVD, they're worsened by commentary tracks by public-school accented second unit directors, reminiscing about "Dear Wodger's" sense of humor, like the time he hid Bernard Lee's Metamucil, or something ...

But today, let us praise seven moments during Moore's tenure. It wasn't all bad, was it? 1.For Your Eyes Only. When Moore faces that Big Film Critic in the Sky, he'll have this 1981 movie on his resume. Taking the novel tactic that Bond should be a commando who uses the occasional gadget -- versus being a walking Sharper Image catalogue -- director John Glen leads Moore through his most plausible Bond adventure. On the trail of a stolen computer, 007 teams up with the vengeful Melina (ex-Bunuel star Carol Bouquet) whose parents have been killed by the thief. Taking the novel step of actually using plot elements from the Ian Fleming novels, this one retrieves the discarded climax from the novel Live and Let Die: a slayride over a coral reef. Except for the horrible pre-title sequence, during which Blofeld is dumped down a smokestack, the film is consistently high-class, with locations at Corfu and Cortina, and a gripping, no-FX finale rock climb up the ancient monastery of Meteora. Roger Moore is seasoned rather than gaga, for a change. And in one scene we'd all been waiting for, he actually gently wards off a girl for being too young for him (she's played by champion ice skater Lynn-Holly Johnson.) Plus Janet Brown makes mockery of Margaret Thatcher in the finale.

2. The Octopussy opening sequence: How 007 fought the Falklands War, before getting down to business with a stolen nuke, filched by Stephen Berkoff as a crazy Soviet general trying to start World War Three. To retrieve the bomb, Bond uses all of his forces, including martial arts, weapons, gadgets, and a clown suit. (If it helped stop World War Three, I'm sure a lot of us would dress like Bozo, even though clowns are evil incarnate.) However, after For Your Eyes Only, Octopussy is the one Moore Bond worth rescuing from a burning movie theater. Have a look at the pre-titles, and you're likely to be hooked through this one; the opening has Bond in the Acrostar/Bede jet (piloted here by Corkey Fornof) escaping an aircraft hangar by flying sideways. When the hangar gets it with a missile, it's an example of the best miniature work this side of Toho Studios. (There are outstanding miniatures in the Venice sequence in the new Casino Royale, by the by. Some effects, you just can't trust to CG.)

3. Hanging from a guy wire on Christopher Walken's dirigible, Moore's Bond in A View to a Kill -- what the hell does that title mean? -- is towed over the skies of San Francisco. He has to raise up to avoid getting a whack in the plums from the tip of the Transamerica Pyramid. A Buster Keaton-worthy joke, and an anticipation of the geni-torture to come in the new Casino Royale.

4. In the same film, Moore tries to wrestle fearsome Amazon Grace Jones into the sack, and she flips him onto his back like the 57-year-old tortoise he was. Not every movie star would sacrifice his dignity like that ... supposing Moore had any dignity left after the clown suit.

5. Anyone would look good in a Royal Navy officer's uniform. We don't see Bond in his uniform very often. The obituary photo of Connery's 007 in You Only Live Twice is what comes to mind, but I'm sure there are bigger and better geeks out there who can prove me wrong. However, in The Spy Who Loved Me, Moore in uniform is posed outside the Faslane Submarine Base (or so the locale is identified in Steven James Rubin's Complete James Bond Movie Encyclopedia). Give the old ham credit: He dressed up nice.

6. Hear that scraping sound? That's what the bottom of the barrel sounds like. Let's give Wodger credit for a seriously cold-blooded hit. Which movie was it, where he drops a Tor Johnson-sized assassin off a roof, after holding the same by his necktie for purposes of interrogation? Ah, The Spy Who Loved Me; and the dropped one was bulky Milton Reid, who had an impeccable spy-movie pedigree. He'd been in the 1967 Casino Royale as one of Mata Bond's guards, and he had henched for none other than Dr. No. Reid was on The Man From U.N.C.L.E. once, and the Flemingized remake of Bulldog Drummond, and had turned up the Jason King TV series (the foppish Jason was the model for Austin Powers ...). Taking out Reid was a truly Bondian effort, and a suitably ruthless one. Of course, Bond didn't kill him, it was really gravity that did it.

7. If Moore was a frowzy Bond, let's face it, it was a frowzy era. The 1970s and early 1980s were an ugly time of economic wobble and strife, and anti-heroism was the order of the day. In this commercial climate, when the mass public was turning its back on cinema, anything other than an escapist, kid-friendly Bond might not have survived. By playing a clown called Bond, Moore spread the hero's image to parts of the world that didn't take themselves as seriously as we do in the English-speaking nations. If Moore's regime was a time of horrible chagrin for us serious Bond fans, the rest of the world enjoyed the camel doing a double-take, the beeping robot in A View To A Kill, the terbacky-chewin' southern sheriff, and a dozen other completely embarrassing images I've managed to wash out of my brain with substantial amounts of Sierra Nevada Pale. By proving the utter crapness of Bond at his most crap, Roger Moore drove me to more serious and challenging movie watching, and I owe him. By giving the Bond filmmakers an example of what not to do, he helped make the marvelous new Casino Royale possible, so we all owe him, Here's to you, Wodger.
categories Features, Cinematical