Tuesday, November 17, 2015

My Favorite Bond

Roger Moore was my first Bond, and, decades later, he remains my favorite version of the iconic British spy. The first 007 movie I ever saw was a cable television edit of Live and Let Die (1973); I remember being delightfully terrified by Geoffrey Holder's Baron Samedi, and I was young enough that the exploitation aspects of the film went right over my head, along with most of the sexual innuendo. To me (I was about nine years old at the time), James Bond was exciting, funny, and fun. I still prefer that version of Bond today, even though most hardcore 007 fans seem to like the darker, more brutal incarnations of the character. Watching the Moore films again in 2015, thanks to a collection of Bond pictures currently streaming on Hulu, I'm reminded why I like Moore's tenure in the role so much.

Moore's Bond movies never take themselves very seriously; they might as well come with a disclaimer up front that says, "The following movie is just for larks." Everything that already existed in the Connery films - the megalomaniac villains, the naughtily named nymphs, the non-stop action - gets turned up to eleven in the Moore pictures. They are unabashedly over the top, and they know that we know it. Call that camp, if you like, but it makes the movies like a roller coaster ride, with the audience laughing and whooping through every twist and loop. Is fun the highest aim of cinema? No, but the Bond movies never set out to win Oscars. Roger Moore's Bond is fun to watch, and that's all he means to be. If things get rather silly at times - and they do, indeed, get very silly - that's part of the appeal.

Moore himself plays Bond as a charming cad, not at all the "blunt instrument" that Ian Fleming originally imagined in his books. He has real feelings, too, and he isn't afraid to acknowledge them. He delivers his endless double entendres with a knowing smirk, and he certainly has an eye for the ladies, but he can also be quite sentimental. We find him visiting his wife's grave at the beginning of For Your Eyes Only (1981), showing that he hasn't forgotten her in the arms of other women. The scene also sets up his empathy with the film's heroine, Melina Havelock, in her quest for revenge against the villains who murdered her family. He might be a cad, but he has his limits; in one very amusing scene, Bond finds the tables turned on him as the teenage Bibi Dahl tries to seduce him.

There are other delights in the Moore Bond outings, including outrageous settings and serendipitous reversals. In Moonraker (1979), Bond becomes a sci-fi hero, cashing in on the popularity of Star Wars (1977) and other late seventies hits in the genre. Of course, what everyone remembers about that film today is Jaws, the oversized, metal-mouthed henchman played by Richard Kiel. He's a crazy example of the Bond bad guy type, but even better, he's not all that bad. He actually changes sides and helps Bond after he falls for a pig-tailed blonde. It's ridiculous, yes, but it's awfully heartening to think that even scary bad guys can have a change of heart. Grace Jones does the same turnaround in A View to a Kill (1985) when she realizes that Christopher Walken's evil psychopath doesn't care what happens to her. Along with Baron Samedi, those characters help to make the Roger Moore run stranger but also more fun. They're kooky, weird figures, and cartoonish in a Dick Tracy way, but the movies wouldn't be the same without them.

Everyone is entitled to like the Bond that works for them; I really enjoy Timothy Dalton in The Living Daylights (1987) and Pierce Brosnan in GoldenEye (1995), but I haven't been a fan of the Daniel Craig films. They're too dark for my taste, and not nearly as much fun. (I wanted Judi Dench and Albert Finney to run away together at the end of Skyfall. Hey, I like happy endings for older women characters.) So, instead of seeing Spectre in the theater this month, I think I'll stick with my Roger Moore marathon on Hulu. At least that way I know I'll have fun.