Commentary: My favourite James Bond? Roger Moore. Nobody played the British spy better
It’s the seventies 007’s recognition of the character’s ridiculousness that makes Roger Moore the best James Bond of all time, says Christian Barker.
SINGAPORE: “I’m the worst Bond, according to the internet,” the late, great Sir Roger Moore once said. “Generally hated! I was too funny, too light. Didn’t take it seriously enough.”
It’s true that Moore’s sense of humour and playful approach to portraying agent 007 struck an off note with some viewers.
But to me, they’re high among the attributes that make him the best James Bond ever.
MOVE OVER SEAN CONNERY
Surveys attempting to officially rank the greatest cinematic Bonds unfailingly place Sean Connery as the fans’ favourite, the Scottish actor who played Bond in six of the earliest films sometimes reaping more than half the votes.
The current Bond, Daniel Craig, is generally moviegoers’ second most popular choice, and Pierce Brosnan often takes third place on the podium.
Without question, Connery, Craig and Brosnan are very good. In my opinion, though, they’re each bested by Moore — not least because, while the others took Bond all too seriously, Moore recognised and revelled in the absurdity of the role.
“To me, the Bond situations are so ridiculous, so outrageous. I mean, this man is supposed to be a spy and yet, everybody knows he’s a spy,” Moore once pointed out.
“Every bartender in the world offers him martinis that are shaken, not stirred. What kind of serious spy is recognised everywhere he goes? It’s outrageous. So you have to treat the humour outrageously as well.”
HE’S SO ‘UN-ACTORISH’
Despite having been classically trained in theatre at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, Moore self-deprecatingly described his acting style as “left eyebrow raised, right eyebrow raised”.
That cocked-brow expression was a signature, appearing countless times throughout Moore’s seven Bond movies, produced between 1973 and 1985. It serves as the perfect encapsulation of Moore’s wry take on 007.
His strength was acknowledging with a sly wink the silliness of the character — who, when it comes down to it, is basically a comic-book superhero, merely clad in a tuxedo rather than a cape and lycra tights.
Nevertheless, while conceding how literally unbelievable 007 is, Moore’s portrayal of Bond seemed entirely natural. Britt Ekland, his co-star in 1974’s The Man with the Golden Gun, said, “He’s so ‘un-actorish’. What you see on the screen is the Roger Moore you see if you have lunch with him. He doesn’t put on that character."
Indeed, Moore was every bit the rakish Bond-style bon vivant, a dapper dresser, fond of fine wines and cigars, and exceedingly popular with the ladies.
When Moore first played Bond in 1973’s Live and Let Die, he was a seasoned 45-year-old playboy and already on the third of his four marriages — the perfect fit for the part of the dissolute spy.
Many who’ve read the literary source material say Moore’s look, personality and bearing are closer than any of the other actors’ to the James Bond described by the character’s creator, author Ian Fleming.
In fact, when rough-edged Edinburgh bodybuilder Connery was cast in the earliest Bond films, Fleming griped:
I thought we were getting Commander Bond, not an overgrown stuntman.
There’s a brooding sense of menace to James Bond as channelled by Connery and Craig (the latter’s burly musculature fairly bursting the seams of his Tom Ford suits).
They’re highly believable as ruthless assassins on Her Majesty’s Secret Service, but the veneer of seductive sophistication seems just that — purely superficial, a mask.
Moore, meanwhile, takes to the clothes, the cars, the cocktails and the comely companions like a duck to water. Unlike some of the other Bond actors, he seems utterly at home in the Savile Row tailoring, luxury locales and sleek sports cars that are 007’s natural habitat.
The same could be said of Pierce Brosnan, an excellent Bond, credible both as a sophisticate and a killer. But the ludicrous material he was given to work with let him down terribly. Face-swapping villains and invisible cars? Honestly!
As Quentin Tarantino recently remarked, “I didn’t care for the movies that they put [Brosnan] in, which I always thought was a bit of a tragedy, because I thought he was a very legitimate Bond.”
Single-shot Bond George Lazenby? Too Australian, and if there’s one quality integral to James Bond, it’s Britishness.
As for Timothy Dalton … Bland, James Bland, double-oh-spare-us.
THE NEXT BOND
Coming to screens in April 2020, the next Bond movie, No Time To Die, will be Daniel Craig’s last. Rumours abound over who will assume the mantle. Henry Cavill has been suggested, but he’s already so closely associated with that other hero frequently called upon to save the world, Superman.
Tom Hardy is Venom and Bane — could he be Bond, too?
Idris Elba is the bookmakers’ favourite, however at 47, he’s a little long in the tooth and would make his debut at an even older age than Moore did.
My preferred pick is Richard Madden, star of The Bodyguard and Game of Thrones’ tragic hero Robb Stark. He’s 33, meaning he’d have the potential to play Bond for a four- or five-movie run.
He looks great in a tux, boasts a rich Scottish burr, has ample experience fighting and fornicating on film, and apparently even drinks vodka martinis in his free time — sharing one of Bond’s most famous predilections.
Icing on the cake: Madden’s in possession of a superb set of eyebrows and has frequently demonstrated his skill at cocking one of them independently, à la Moore. He’s the full package.
STILL, NO ONE DID IT BETTER THAN MOORE
I doubt Madden would outdo Sir Roger though. Even the man’s name was perfect for the Bond franchise — brimming as the series is with double-entendre monickers such as Plenty O’Toole, Pussy Galore, Mary Goodnight and Honey Ryder.
Roger Moore by name and by nature, was the series’ most prolific Casanova, enjoying 17 romantic assignations over the course of his seven films. Bond’s skills as a seducer are among the attributes his overwhelmingly male fanbase most envy and admire him for.
As The Guardian’s film critic wrote following the actor’s death in 2017:
The Connery Bond was feared and admired, and the same went for the Brosnan Bond or the Craig Bond. But the Roger Moore Bond was loved.
Much loved, one might even say (with a cocked eyebrow).
The knowledge that Moore was something of a saint in real life — tirelessly campaigning for UNICEF causes and receiving his knighthood for services to charity — only deepens our respect for this brilliant Bond and outstanding human being.
Forgive the cliché, but to paraphrase Carly Simon’s theme song for 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me - nobody did it better.
Christian Barker is a journalist and editor with two decades' experience writing about men's style and luxury for publications including The Rake, Forbes Asia, Robb Report, GQ and Esquire.