I was a young lad in 1980-something when we got cable at the house, which included HBO. While I was excited at the prospect of seeing Star Wars and Star Trek II on the TV (they ran as a double-feature one night), my father had other interests, and I caught him watching a movie where a bunch of guys in black were jumping off a boat and attacking a warehouse full of other guys who used machine guns to beat them back. Of course these Johnnies in black were better at fighting than the machine gun Johnnies and pretty soon one in particular was chasing a guy in a car, shooting him through the windshield, and then kicking the car, with the baddie still alive inside, over the side of a cliff. What is this engaging wonderfulness? I thought, or whatever the equivalent would have been at that age. For Your Eyes Only, starring Roger Moore as some dude named James Bond.
Watching that movie with Dad started a tradition where we go to every new Bond movie as it comes out, though with the garbage being put out now with Thug Bond Daniel Craig in the role, we've decided it would be better to carry on re-watching the oldies on the 60-inch flat-screen my father recently installed. The follow-up was Octopussy, you may remember, and Dad had to go watch it first to make sure it was OK for me to see. I know some of you hate it, but I love the damn thing, clown disguise, Tarzan yell, and all.
Those movies are what started me on my obsession of all things spy-fi and the eventual writing of same. Once I discovered Bond was based on books and started collecting those, the course was set.
I've had such a love-hate relationship with Moore-era Bond, though. On one hand, the Moore Bonds are probably the most watchable Bond films ever produced, perfect for rainy days or lazy Saturdays, and you're surely going to be entertained. But when I was in my Serious Spy Fiction phase, thanks mostly to Donald Hamilton and his Matt Helm books (the American Bond), Moore Bonds became far too silly for me to take seriously.
Lately I've gone the opposite way, especially since the Craig era began, with all of its rubbish and nonsense and Super Serious stories; suddenly Moore doing a Tarzan yell or skiing away from Soviet troops to the tune of "California Girls" isn't so bad, and in fact preferable, to Super Serious Brooding Thug Bond Who Never Smiles Because He's Super Serious.
Sir Roger starred in more Bonds than any of the other chaps but he also played in some of the worst Bonds made. The Man with the Golden Gun--like the book, a mess of missed opportunities and plot holes you can drive a truck through. Moonraker--where do I start with this tragedy? If you ever suffer from insomnia, put on Moonraker and you'll be out in five minutes. A View to a Kill--great moments, probably the best Bond soundtrack ever, but it's too long and too slow and Moore was too old. However, even those bad Bonds are watchable because Moore could do what very few actors are capable of: make a bad script entertaining. Of the three, A View to a Kill is probably the best, even with Grandpa Roger fighting atop the Golden Gate Bridge. Try watching Sean Connery in his Bad Bond, Diamonds Are Forever, which is actually unwatchable even if you're drunk, and compare it to any of Moore's turkeys. There is simply no comparison. Moore's skill elevated those movies to a status Connery couldn't achieve.
It's hard to rank Moore's best, but For Your Eyes Only is for sure at the top, because it's almost the perfect spy movie. I'd put The Spy Who Loved Me up there too. Both titles compete for #1 and you can't go wrong either way. Octopussy had its rough spots, but I love the climactic exchange between Bond and Q, flying to the rescue of Octopussy in a hot air balloon:
Bond: Are you sure you can fly this thing, Q?
Q: Sure, it runs on hot air.
Bond: Oh, then you can.
I laugh every time. Moore's delivery of the punchline is perfect. Octopussy and Live and Let Die, which hasn't aged well but is still good (the boat chase in particular, and the bumpkin sheriff--love that guy), can compete for the bottom slots.
I've written so much about Bond--books and films--that I never considered that I'd eventually be writing about the passing of one of the actors. These are guys you grow up with, and it's awful to see them go, but they leave behind a body of work where they will always be with us again, even if for only two hours, and remind us of why we loved watching them over and over and stayed loyal even when the presentation wasn't as good as we'd have liked.
Sean may have been first, but Roger was the best.