R.I.P. Sir Roger Moore, Who Played James Bond as the Happy Warrior

Written for Acculturated

May 24th, 2017

There are certain people whom you simply cannot imagine ever dying. For fans of the James Bond film series, Sir Roger Moore was one of them, and his passing on Tuesday was a bitter blow. While I can’t remember the specific film, I recall watching my first James Bond film many years ago and seeing Roger Moore on screen. Like many others, I was fully taken in by his smooth elegance and witty one-liners. For years, he was the Bond to me. My Bond opinions have changed slightly over the years—I now argue that Pierce Brosnan is, in fact, the best Bond, though he starred in some of the worst Bond movies—Moore’s Bond is the one I’d still most like to be. The engaging conversationalist, the charming dinner guest, the sunny optimist—the changes Moore made to the character may have moved Bond away from the darker, more ruthless character Ian Fleming created, but during Moore’s tenure Bond was closer to the heroic ideal of a happy warrior than he’s ever been.

In his first big screen iteration, Bond was ruthless. Connery played him as a man who could be charming, but was also very much a killer. He oozed masculine charisma, and today would be the poster child for so-called “toxic” masculinity. Connery’s portrayal laid the groundwork for most of the future Bonds. Daniel Craig plays the role in a similar fashion, with a touch more vulnerability and emotion, while Timothy Dalton went even further into the abyss of brooding, playing a far more serious Bond than even Connery. Immediately succeeding Connery was George Lazenby, who didn’t attempt to distance himself from Connery and came off as a rather wooden replacement.

By contrast, Moore was a completely different type of Bond, an easygoing playboy who killed, sure, but only when he wasn’t showing off his bantering skills. Only Brosnan followed in his footsteps, also playing a suaver and more humorous Bond than Fleming probably would have liked. Moore summed up the difference between his Bond and the others once by quipping, “Sean looks as though he wants to kill the villain. Daniel you know is going to kill the villain, whereas I look as if I want to hug them, or bore them to death.”

Connery’s and Craig’s hard edges have endeared them to audiences, but it was Moore’s lack of cruel posturing that made him such an exciting screen presence. He seemed so amicable that it is impossible not to like him and share in the happiness and zest for life he brought to the role. Moore carried these admirable characteristics into his real life as well. In his post-Bond days, he became heavily involved in charity, and, thanks to his friend Audrey Hepburn, was introduced to UNICEF, for which he became a Goodwill Ambassador. His work with the charity was so prolific that Moore was made a Commander of the British Empire in 1999, and was promoted to Knight Commander of the British Empire in 2003, not for his movie roles, but for his charity work. Ever humble, Moore was happy he’d received the honor for his humanitarian work rather than his acting, saying the award “meant far more to me than if I had got it for acting… I was proud because I received it on behalf of UNICEF as a whole and for all it has achieved over the years.”

Moore was once asked how he had sought to portray James Bond. “The same as all of my roles,” Moore responded, “I played him as myself.” I imagine Moore saying this with the same playful smile and raised eyebrow he’s so famous for. He really was every bit the hero he played on screen, and at a time when our silver screen heroes are angsty, vulgar, or just plain terrible Moore’s brand of sunny heroism will be sorely missed.