“He is never going to be as good as Connery!”
That was the blunt declaration by my father when I sat watching my first James Bond movie, For Your Eyes Only. I had just entered my teens and I have no idea how my parents convinced the doorman of that theatre in Coimbatore that I was an adult. But there I was watching a Bond film. To be dreadfully honest, it was a bit of a let down. I hadexpected a fair bit more in terms of outrageous violence and at times I felt that Bond himself seemed a little laboured in his physical exertions, The gadgets were kind of fun, but this was the eighties andthey appeared more unreal than anything else.
And of course, making things worse for the man playing James Bond in the film, Roger Moore, was my father, who kept insisting that Sean Connery was so much better. It was a cross that I suspect Roger Moore bore for quite a while in his career. It was not his fault that his career as Bond coincided with some of the most-hyped films that did not quite deliver on expectations – the space-oriented Moonraker and India-flavoured Octopussy being prime examples. But for many people – and they were unfortunately very vocal – Moore was the slightly “prissy” James Bond. He was not as great at action sequences as his predecessor Connery, not as devastatingly good looking as Brosnan and of course had none of the raw rugged physicality of Daniel Craig. Moore himself did not seem to mind the comparison, calling himself “a bit behind George Lazenby,”who is considered by almost everyone to have been the worst actor to have ever wielded a licence to kill on the silver screen. Moore was always outspoken in his admiration of Craig and Connery, whom he ranked as the best actors to have played the British secret agent.
And yet, the stark fact is that no actor has had a longer tenure or more films as James Bond than Moore does. He started with Live and Let Die in 1972 and called it quits thirteen years later with a View to a Kill. He was elder than Connery when he took over the Bond mantle and closer to sixty than fifty when he handed it over. He acted in seven Bond films – a figure matched only by Sean Connery, and that too if one includes the less than official Never Say Never Again. And while Daniel Craig has close to a dozen years as Bond, he has acted in only four films so far. For all this faults, the stark fact is that Mooreseems to have been a very prolific and long-serving Bond.
Part of the reason for the less-than-overwhelming support for Moore as Bond seems to have been, ironically, his typically British personality. Of all those who have essayed the role, Moore was perhaps the most understated and soft spoken. And while he did have charm by the truckful, it did not quite hit you as dramatically as it did coming from the more spectacular Connery/Brosnan/Craig trio. And yet, the more one watches his films, the more quintessentially British he seems – trying to play fair, speaking softly, seldom losing his temper and never too comfortably with physical violence. Of all Bond characters, perhaps no one fussed over his wardrobe as he did. And his pursuit of the fairer sex always had more banter in it than the others.
To use a moḍern term, Moore did not have swag. What he did have was a slightly older world charm and a lot of wit. Yes, he could do stunts and did more than his fair share of action sequences but unlike Craig or Connery, he did not really seem to revel in them. He could look dangerous – ask Scarananga when Moore hissed “It would ve a pleasure to kill you…” in Man with the Golden Gun – but Moore actually represented a Bond who was more a spy than a man with a licence to kill. More gentleman officer than soldier of fortune. More Lawrence of Arabia than John Rambo. I remember a lot of people gasp in shock when he kicked the car in which a villain was trapped off a clif in For Your Eyes Only. It was a Connery Bond thing to do. But not a Moore Bond thing. Moore was unabashedly masculine, but never macho.
And for all the derisive comparisons between him and the other across who played Bond, Moore did have his supporters. The sheer outpouring of grief that followed his demise proved that. The problem, I suspect, was that – like him – they too preferred a quiet word to a loud shout. So you were more likely to hear criticism of the man than support. Not that he seemed to mind. But yes, speak to those who liked him and you will hear adjectives people normally do not associate with secret agents: elegance, charm, calm, dry humour, and fair play. Attributes that do not grab attention instantaneously but which grow on you. Moore was (ironically) not a Martini, but a fine wine that had to be savoured. He was more likely to leave you stirred than shaken. Which maḍe him perhaps the most British of the Bonds. And if ny father had the first word about him, my mother had the final one. On hearing of his demise, she shook her head and said: “He was such a gentleman…”