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Was Roger Moore The Best James Bond? The Case For Sean Connery's Older, Cornier Successor

Culture | October 14, 2020

Actor Roger Moore on the set of "Octopussy". (Photo by Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images)

Is Roger Moore "your" James Bond? Or is Sean Connery the quintessential 007? What about Dalton, Brosnan, Craig? (Wait... Lazenby?) There are few things in pop culture that are divisive as querying a group of people on the best Bond. There are legions of viewers who would fall on their swords for Sean Connery because as the first James Bond he formed the viewer's vision of this iconic character, but does that make him the best?

On the other hand, Roger Moore played the character longer and many of the films in his 12 year run are legitimate classics. The Spy Who Loved Me, Live And Let Die, and The Man With The Golden Gun not only have some of the most memorable sequences of the entire franchise, but they've become ingrained in the public consciousness as what a Bond movie is - over the top action infused with a knowing wink, cool gadgets, and an incredibly debonair actor in the lead role.

Like Connery, Moore's Bond embodies an era, and if you came to the character a little before or a little after he held the role it's likely that you just don't get why he really is the best Bond.

Contrary to popular belief, Moore wasn't in the running to be the first Bond

source: United Artists

Before we get into why Moore is the best Bond we've got to look at a fascinating bit of folklore. There's long been a story that Moore was the first choice to play Bond but he couldn't take the role because of his commitments to The Saint. There are a few reasons that this is incorrect, the first is a question of logistics.

Moore couldn't have been in the running for Bond thanks to his role on The Saint because The Saint didn't even premiere until the day before Dr. No was released in theaters. Even though Moore was on television is the role of a debonair spy before The Saint, he just wasn't on Ian Fleming's radar.

Fleming wanted the 007 adaptations to be successful, so he became a student of the behind the scenes machinations of what makes a film a hit. He researched actors and felt that the best bet was to go with someone famous in order to get the most butts in seats. At the time, he was looking at Richard Burton and David Niven for the role, but his first choice for the role was Cary Grant.

While the narrative that Moore was in the running for Bond long before he actually took the role is great, it's just one of those myths that won't go away. While he was alive Moore felt that the story was ridiculous, he said, "Ian Fleming didn't know me from sh*t. He wanted Cary Grant or David Niven."

Roger Moore is who we think of when we think of James Bond

source: United Artists

So much of the James Bond mythos has been built over decades of films and a variety of very different actors, but most of the pieces of Bond that have solidified were formed by Moore's time in the tuxedo. Every version of Bond is suave and self-assured, but it's Moore's Bond who brought the audience to far flung locales, ridiculous gadgets, and villains who are closer to characters in a comic book than anything else, which is exactly who Bond needs to be working against after seven movies.

By 1973 the specter of the Cold War was still hanging over the world, but telling those stories in the same way as they were told in the '60s just wouldn't work. With the new decade a new Bond needed to grow into something bigger or disappear along with the rest of the spies who came out of the cold.

Moore's version of Bond (not just the character, but the films and the feeling that they embody) is what every subsequent version of 007 is reacting to, whether they're embracing it like the Pierce Brosnan era or directly trying to undo it like the underwhelming Timothy Dalton couplet. When audiences go to a Bond film they expect a debonaire, quipping spy who uses mind boggling gadgets while he fights an enemy that's so big he can't even grasp how large the organization is. We got that from the Roger Moore films and it's never going away.

Moore's action sequences are something else

source: United Artists

You could cut together an entire feature film out of iconic action moments from across the spectrum of Bond films: Goldfinger being sucked out of an airplane window, an entire opening sequence taking place on a ski slope, Daniel Craig's parkour glory, but it's the Roger Moore films that take the concept of a big, flashy action sequence and turn them on their heads.

Moore was 45 when he took the role of James Bond, which even by standards of the 1970s meant that he was out of his prime for delivering judo chops to 20-something year old stunt men who were built like brick houses. But that's what makes his action sequences so fun to watch. Moore and the filmmakers know that what they're doing is ridiculous, they know that you know they're ridiculous, so why not have fun with the whole thing?

Where else can you see a guy past the prime of his life pretending to be in the prime of his life while fighting on top of a train, speeding down a ski slope, or going into outer space? Moore's over-the-top action sequences are laughable, but you can't make fun of them because everyone involved knows how silly the whole endeavor is, and yet they play it straight. The films aren't meta by any means, but it's clear that everyone knows the score which makes each film bulletproof in its own way.

"Live and Let Die" is the most important Bond theme 

source: United Artists

It would be ridiculous to argue against any of the Bond themes prior to A-Ha's stab at The Living Daylights, but is there any better way to announce that a new era of Bond is upon us than with a song by an effing Beatle? Paul McCartney's "Live and Let Die" gives audiences that big, orchestral thing that all of the songs from the Connery era had while being unequivocally a Wings song.

The song doesn't just rip from moment one, but it informs all of the Bond theme songs that follow. It's the first theme that really showcases the artist without backing them into the corner of sounding like a Las Vegas lounge act. The previous theme songs are all good, but it's McCartney's entry into the fray that gave artists like Rita Coolidge, Jack White, and Billie Eilish to make this branded theme song their own.

Roger Moore may not have had anything to do with the Bond themes, but like his characterization of 007, the theme to Live and Let Die set a new standard that every song in the franchise would seek to meet.

Moore perfectly captured the spirit of the era

source: United Artists

Connery's Bond is a character that we're never going to see again unless it's dripping with irony. He's all mid-century cool, blithely chauvinistic and he-man brawny (Connery was a bodybuilder prior to acting). Everything about Connery's version of 007 is cool, but it's Moore that was able to make the character speak for a generation of filmgoers who were coming of age between 1973 and 1985.

Moore's version of Bond is a handsome spy who doesn't seem to know how handsome he really is. He's not the most agile, or the smartest guy in the room, but he does have a knack for getting himself out of trouble. Whether that's because he's suave or because he knows it's all just a two hour long dream in the cinema is up for debate.

There's a sense of humor in Moore's run as Bond that's never been matched, which is maybe for the best. Moore famously said that he "only had three expressions as Bond: right eyebrow raised, left eyebrow raised and eyebrows raised when grabbed by Jaws," but it's those limitations that make his version of the character so watchable. He's not an everyman, but he's aware of his limitations, and it's that self awareness that makes him the best James Bond.

Tags: James Bond | Movies In The 1970s | Movies In The 1980s | Roger Moore | Sean Connery

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Jacob Shelton

Writer

Jacob Shelton is a Los Angeles based writer. For some reason this was the most difficult thing he’s written all day, and here’s the kicker – his girlfriend wrote the funny part of that last sentence. As for the rest of the bio? That’s pure Jacob, baby. He’s obsessed with the ways in which singular, transgressive acts have shaped the broader strokes of history, and he believes in alternate dimensions, which means that he’s great at a dinner party. When he’s not writing about culture, pop or otherwise, he’s adding to his found photograph collection and eavesdropping on strangers in public.