James Bond Evolves, But Just A Little Bit - Roger Moore Takes Over

Submitted by Guest Post,

James Bond is more than just a character in a media franchise: he is an emblem of a particular aesthetic, a particular tone, a particular style of filmmaking, and as a result he is a promise of a particular set of expectations that the viewer carries into the theater with them when he or she goes to see a James Bond movie. As proof of this point, the iteration of James Bond that is least like the rest, 1969's On Her Majesty's Secret Service starring George Lazenby in his singular appearance as agent 007, always finds itself a footnote in the franchise's history as far as most fans are concerned, and is generally regarded with negativity by Bond-lovers. Unfortunately, the very same departures from tradition that make On Her Majesty's Secret Service such an interesting and wonderful film are what caused contemporary audiences to react to it with such negativity; in fact that the very next Bond movie, 1971's Diamonds Are Forever, opens with a sequence that not only entirely ignores the significant dramatic events of On Her Majesty's Secret Service but seems precisely calculated to say to audiences "forget that last movie, here's the James Bond you remember!"

That all being the case, when we talk about the evolution James Bond, we have to talk about more than just the qualities of the character. The six Sean Connery films, despite their gradual increase in spectacle, scale, and campiness, are easily viewed as a cohesive unit with similar aesthetics and tones. In general, the Connery films are a burly good time, with not too much energy spent on fleshing out genuine espionage plots but tons of energy spent on brawling, gadget-based action scenes, and animalistic sexuality. As for Connery's portrayal of 007, he imbues the spy with a rugged physicality, a smarmy self-awareness, and a healthy dose of bull-in-a-china-shop brutishness. By the time Connery permanently retired from the role, his James Bond character and his James Bond movies series were iconic. When Roger Moore was hired to replace Connery in the early 1970s, producers had to be careful to not repeat the "mistakes" of On Her Majesty's Secret Service and keep this new Bond from feeling so new as to alienate the legions of Bond fans. Of course, there would inevitably be changes in characterization and film style during the Moore era, but these were mostly superficial and occurred only slowly and over time.

Let's first examine the ways in which Moore's portrayal of Bond differs from Connery's. Possibly the most notable difference is in their sexual charisma. Connery, a former model, bodybuilder, and athlete, was a remarkable masculine specimen who was often depicted on-screen without his shirt or with form-fitting clothing, and his sex scenes usually emphasized his physicality with him appearing to physically impose himself on women. Moore, on the other hand, has the screen presence of a classical playboy, looking more dapper than rugged and seeming most natural with a cigarette and martini glass in hand. His Bond's language and sense of humor may be even bawdier than Connery's, but his sexuality reads as more sophisticated.

Another significant difference in Moore's characterization is his greater capacity for politesse. Don't be fooled by Connery's Bond's love of high-culture, his sophisticated hobbies, and his sommelier tastes; he is not a gentleman, being prone to mockery, rudeness, and chauvinism. Moore's Bond, on the other hand, is an impeccable smooth-talker and ladies' man, seemingly more likely to solve problems and get his way through words than he is through punching. Both Bonds participate in equivalent amounts of violence and sex, as audiences wouldn't want it any other way, but the screen presence of the two are distinctly different.

Perhaps even greater difference is noticeable when looking at the way the film style and tone of the series evolves as it moves through the 1970s and into the early 80s. While the emphasis on spectacle and silliness is never abandoned, the Moore movies do possess traits that distinguish them from what came before. Most pleasurably, the Moore films, especially the ones from 1977 onward, indulge in spectacular action scenes done with real stunts on real locations. The greatest action sequences in the Connery era were the fist-fight scenes and the vehicle chases, which were often achieved through rear-screen projection effects. Moore's Bond, on the other hand, participates in no fewer than four mid-air fight scenes and even a few elaborately staged underwater action scenes that outdo Thunderball's. No doubt owing a bit to improvements in effects technology, but mostly as a result of the emphasis on real stunts and real staging, the action in Moore's films feels invigoratingly real and dangerous.

The Moore films also generally possess an even greater devotion to campy humor than Connery's, often utilizing referential gags; for example, musical cues from Lawrence of Arabia and The Magnificent Seven are heard in The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker, respectively, to garner laughs. Even sillier is the use of The Beach Boys' hit "California Girls" when Bond snowboards away from bad guys in A View to a Kill. The series hits its zenith of preposterous humor when evil henchman Jaws, a seven-foot-tall giant murderer with metal teeth, falls in love-at-first-sight with a dainty blond woman to the strains of Tchaikovsky's ubiquitous Romeo and Juliet Overture Fantasy composition.

Though Moore was the first actual Englishman to play Bond, the first light-haired Bond, and the oldest Bond, his arrival to the series didn't cause any particularly seismic changes to the Bond formula and as such his films are nearly as treasured by Bond fans as Connery's.

In the second segment of the film series Celebrating James Bond The Dryden Theater will be screening all seven James Bond films starring Roger Moore in chronological order during the month of May, beginning with 1973's Live and Let Die on Tuesday the 3rd.

Brett Scheuermann,
Masters student in the Selznick School of Film Preservation

Monday, May 2, 2016