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Roger Moore Was the Most Honest Bond

Remembering the unflappable British actor, who turned a preposterous spy into pure entertainment

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Sir Roger Moore died Tuesday after a battle with cancer, according to his family. The unflappable British actor, whose career was defined by his seven-film run as the MI6 spy James Bond, was 89.

As long ago as the 1980s, critics deemed Moore "too old" to play the iconic Bond. In the Bond film franchise’s 55-year history, he was the oldest of his peers — an elite group including Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan, and Daniel Craig — to take on the role, at the age of 46. Of all these men, Roger Moore was also considered the silliest Bond — the Bond whose wild and campy tenure would later inspire the Austin Powers spy-spoof franchise that effectively mocked, but certainly never eclipsed, its source material. In Moonraker, Moore fought evil henchmen with laser guns in space. In Live and Let Die, he emerged from a shark tank to inflate and kill a man with an oxygen pellet. As recently as 2015, GQ described Moore as "the sexiest octogenarian in the world." Moore was young in spirit, if not in fact.

On paper, the Bond franchise has always been patently ridiculous — it’s about a jet-setting sex addict who fights exceedingly convoluted criminal enterprises, after all — but Moore’s second Bond film, 1974’s The Man With the Golden Gun, is an especially, delightfully preposterous film. Moore-as-Bond attends a circus; the bare-chested dilettante Francisco Scaramanga, played by Moore’s fellow Englishman Christopher Lee, exposes his three nipples; and both men spend a whole film chasing each other through a fun house and then a treacherous island retreat. It’s the most preposterous take on The Most Dangerous Game that mankind will ever enjoy. I can only hope Moore and Lee will dine again like this in the afterlife:

Roger Moore leaves a score unsettled. For much of the actor’s career, critics dismissed Moore for reducing the Bond franchise to pure frivolity. This is unfair on several levels: first, because it was actually Sean Connery who set the stage for this goofiness in 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever, (which, for the record, is not a good film) and second, because Roger Moore gradually elevated the Bond franchise from dry spy tourism to its rightful form. Under Moore’s guidance, Bond films became a serialized Cold War romp about how the Brits, the Americans, the Soviets, and the Germans were all divided by money and ideology but inevitably united by sex. Moore’s Bond was the truest representation of how deeply stupid the Cold War was.

Moore’s final Bond movie was A View to a Kill, released in 1985. There Bond faces off against the super soldier and tech mogul Max Zorin, played by Christopher Walken, and Zorin’s henchman May Day, played by Grace Jones. Moore’s Bond climbs to the top of the Golden Gate Bridge and eventually destroys Walken’s doomsday blimp. (Sure.) In her recent memoirs, Jones fondly recalls Moore as "a softie" with "incredibly hard legs and the stiffest hair." Jones also recalls frightening Moore on the set of A View to a Kill just by staring at him. Maybe Grace Jones, a legendary troll, was just screwing with her onscreen foe-slash–romantic interest Roger Moore like she screws with everybody. Or maybe she saw what I see every time I watch Moore’s last outing as Agent 007: a man who had climbed to the top of San Francisco Bay, and then to outer space and back. A hard man, but a charmer. He was James Bond, after all.