Roger (Moore) & me
When I was a child, my father lovingly indulged my nascent love of movies by taking me regularly to the mall multiplex next to where he worked and by renting me videotapes. The videocassettes he rented for me gravitated disproportionally towards classical musicals of the 1930s and 40s (my father had quite an appreciation of the Freed unit over at MGM) as well as outliers like Mr. T’s self-esteem video for children or Run-DMC’s video collection.
But my father, recognizing, perhaps, that I was a little boy, also rented me a whole lot of James Bond movies. And while he had the good taste to introduce me to Dr. No, From Russia With Love and Goldfinger early, the Bond movies he rented were overwhelmingly from the Roger Moore era. And that was wonderful, because throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Moore charmed his way through tongue-in-cheek blockbusters that felt like they were made specifically for 10 year old boys like me.
Throughout most of my decades as a film critic, I used the word “movie magic” sarcastically more or less all of the time. But for the ten-year-old me, who was just starting to figure out that he liked a whole lot more than other people did, and also more than he liked anything else, the Roger Moore James Bond movies contained genuine movie magic. Girls, guns, gizmos: what’s not to love if you’re a pre-pubescent boy?
Looking back, I never realized how lucky I was to grow up in an era where James Bond movies and superhero flicks were used to baby-sit and entertain children and entertain nerdy adults, and not illustrate the deafening despair of God’s silence in a world gone mad the way they do now. Roger Moore subscribed to the now-inexplicable belief that James Bond movies should be good, campy fun and not bleak action melodramas about a man alone.
Moore played Bond with the winking, twinkly-eyed ironic detachment of someone with an exquisite appreciation of life’s ridiculousness. He was game and open for anything and during his time as Bond the franchise traveled down some crazy paths. There was, for example, the Blaxploitation Bond, 1973’s Live And Let Die. And then, in the late 1970s, when Star Wars had kids going nuts over outer space, the franchise decided to send James Bond into outer space as well for 1979’s Moonraker. Just in case that wasn’t campy or over-the-top enough, they brought back towering monster-man heavy Jaws from 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me for optimum silliness.
Hell, Octopussy even had the audacity to stick James Bond—James Bond!—in a literal clown suit for an infamous set-piece and Moore somehow decided that that was somehow not beneath the dignity of the character. By the time Moore was ready to pass the Bond baton to Timothy Dalton he was 58 and had never cut the most imposing figure in the first place.
As a child, I don’t think the concept of “too campy” existed for me. I loved camp, and James Bond, the Monkees and the Batman TV show were three of my earliest and most important introductions to the concept of camp. So I loved that Moore’s version of Bond was so campy and over-the-top, so goofy and in on the joke.
The world of James Bond, and the world outside of James Bond, seems to have gotten icier, scarier and more humorless since the days when Roger Moore played 007. His death at 89 means one more beloved little part of the world that I grew up in is gone forever. But while Moore was here he made the world a little more fun for children and the young at heart, and in the end, that’s an impressive legacy for a James Bond who was always more of an entertainer than an actor, something that distinguished movies that were almost always ridiculously over-the-top, and to my ten-year-old eyes at least, consequently always just right.
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