How Roger Moore saved the James Bond franchise
This year marks 50 years since Moore's first appearance as Bond in Live and Let Die.
This year marks 70 years since Ian Fleming’s first James Bond novel Casino Royale was published in 1953 – but that’s far from the only 007 landmark we’re celebrating in 2023.
This summer will also mark half a century since Roger Moore first appeared as the iconic double-00 agent in Live and Let Die, which kicked off a seven-film run that has divided the franchise’s fanbase ever since.
Indeed although Moore appeared in more films than any other 007 before or since, some Bond aficionados have often dismissed much of his tenure – writing him off as an actor who too often played up the corniest aspects of the character at a time when the franchise was putting out some of the worst of its 25 films to date.
And sure, even the most ardent admirer of Moore’s stint would be prepared to admit there are at least a couple of duds in that seven-film stretch. Despite boasting a memorable villain in Christopher Lee’s Francisco Scaramanga and a brilliant Hall of Mirrors final showdown, much of his second outing The Man With The Golden Gun is fairly disposable, for example, while several of the more outlandish efforts from later in his run do take the series’ more silly aspects to rather embarrassing heights – Moonraker serving as perhaps the most commonly cited example.
But even if not all of his films stand as bonafide classics today, Moore’s importance to the franchise should not be underestimated. Quite apart from the fact that the high point of his tenure – specifically the terrific 1977 flick The Spy Who Loved Me – is among the very best films the series has to offer, perhaps his greatest significance is that he finally offered proof that there was life in Bond outside Sean Connery.
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It’s easy to forget that immediately prior to the release of Live and Let Die the franchise was in rather a poor state. The previous attempt to replace Connery with George Lazenby for 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service had been considered something of a disaster - even if Lazenby’s sole film is now regarded by many 007 devotees as the Bond film par excellence – and so it was absolutely vital that the perceived mistake could not be repeated.
Continuing to lure Sean Connery back with ludicrous sums of money, as had been the case with 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever, was not going to be a sustainable practice for keeping interest in the franchise alive, and so it had to be proved once and for all that this was a character and a series capable of evolution and reinvention.
And say what you like about Moore’s films, it can’t be denied that great efforts were made to move the franchise in new and interesting directions. Not only was Moore’s take on the character notably more light-hearted than Connery’s interpretation, but several of the films tapped into existing trends considered appealing to cinemagoers of their day – from the nods to the ‘Blaxploitation’ genre throughout Live and Let Die to the more sci-fi-orientated hijinks in Moonraker (released just two years after the monumental blockbuster success of Star Wars).
In other words, these films proved that the Bond formula was more flexible than might previously have been imagined, showing that they could still deliver all the gadgets, scenery-chewing villains and exotic locales that existing fans of the franchise knew and loved, while also offering something a little different. And so even if the lighter tone that most of these flicks adopted might not have been everybody’s cup of tea, they were undeniably instrumental in establishing the franchise as more than just a one-trick pony.
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Of course, regardless of your takes on the films themselves, there are many other things that can be said in praise of Moore. It’s worth noting, for example, that he had always been the first preference of Ian Fleming himself, who had originally not been particularly sold on the idea of Connery as Bond (although he did eventually come round to the Scot’s portrayal).
But it’s in proving that Bond could be more than just one thing and managing to move the focus away from Connery that Moore’s greatest success lies. With the series having successfully – and sometimes not so successfully – reinvented itself on numerous occasions since, Moore’s pioneering stint should be remembered as the one that first really moved the dial.
It’s arguably because of that reinvention that Bond remains relevant today – and with producers once again working tirelessly to find the next man to carry on the 007 mantle, that ability to evolve the character into something different should be kept in mind. In fact, after the largely very serious Craig era, perhaps it's time for the franchise to lean into its silliness a bit more once again – the world needs another Roger Moore.
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