The Critics: Cries And Whispers: The real Bond is Moore, Roger Moore
Sunday 21 December 1997
The contemporary climate of Moorephobia has gone too far. Of all the reviews that accompanied the release of Tomorrow Never Dies, few could resist a tangential kick at 007 Mk III, whether it were an all-out attack or a simple comment that Pierce Brosnan is "the best Bond since Sean Connery". And each of these kicks has wounded me personally. For people of my generation, who first went to the cinema in the Seventies and early Eighties, Moore is the real Bond, and the mean-spirited Scotsman who turned up on television in the series' earlier films was nothing but an imposter. Our Bond was suave, urbane, unfailingly polite: everything a gentleman spy who went to Eton and Cambridge should be. He may not have been as tough as Connery, but this was one of our Bond's defining characteristics. He didn't rely on brute strength. Paving the way for Harrison Ford's action heroes, he could be thrown across the room by a man with metal teeth - but he still had it in him to kick a Mercedes over the edge of a cliff when the need arose.
Harder to defend is the fashion sense of Moore's 007. Having had the misfortune to fight for Queen and country during some of history's less stylish years, he could be identified by the flap of his flares as he strode across the screen during the opening gun-barrel sequence. But does this really make him less well-dressed than Connery, who wore a trilby during equivalent segments? Well, yes, it probably does. All I can plead is that fashions change, and given time, the elasticated waistband and cuffs of Moore's jerkin will be seen on the catwalks once again.
The other charge against Moore is that he kept blowing up megalomaniacs' undersea bases long after he should have been pensioned off. And true enough, by A View To a Kill, the sight of the wrinkled roue kissing a girl young enough to be his granddaughter did have an Alan Clarkish repulsiveness. However, Commander Bond must have been getting on a bit himself, having served in the Second World War, and by ageing with him, Moore made him more human than any other actor has done. At the start of For Your Eyes Only, Bond is at his wife's grave when the vicar hurries out to pass on a message from the "office". "Some sort of emergency," says the priest. "It usually is," mutters Bond, with a fitting air of world-weariness. This was a secret agent who had grown pensive and caring, while Connery's Bond regarded a girlfriend's murder as less of an inconvenience than losing his car keys.
I don't believe Moore is any worse an actor than Connery, either. The two men just interpreted Bond in different ways: Connery saw 007 as being exactly like Sean Connery. Moore saw him as a Roger Moore-ish sort of chap. Basically, this meant that, whether faced with a gun, a beautiful woman or a voodoo ceremony, his reaction was to be mildly perplexed. And why not? That's just the way Bond was. He didn't telegraph his emotions in the way Brosnan does. Less is Moore.
But for the most compelling evidence of Moore's under-rated acting skills, just observe his way with an awful play on words. He was the master of the double entendre, as you'd have to be with a name like his, and we shouldn't assume that all his quips served the same purpose. "He just dropped in for a quick bite" was worlds apart from "no sense going off half-cocked". Moore could invest his words with a lasciviousness, a grim steeliness, a reassuring levity, an insouciant twinkle, and enough other nuances to fill a film student's dissertation. Truly, he was the man with the golden pun. And, as far as Cries & Whispers is concerned, that makes him the best Bond since Sean Connery.
Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes
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