“James Bond actor Roger Moore…” Of course it’s the first line of his obituary, and he acknowledged good-naturedly that it was inevitable that it would be so, several times, in different interviews over the years. Roger Moore played James Bond in more movies than any other actor, he starred in some of the best films of the franchise (For Your Eyes Only, The Spy Who Loved Me) and the worst (Moonraker.) He was 007 to an entire generation, maybe two, inhabiting the role from 1973’s Live and Let Die to 1985’s A View to A Kill. The role casts such a giant shadow that it swallows any actor who takes it on.
But… Roger Moore’s not MY James Bond. Not even close.
Because for me, he was too letter-perfect as Simon Templar, the Saint. That’s all I can see; even when Moore’s in a Bond film, to me it looks like Simon Templar doing a Bond impression.
Moore wasn’t the first actor to play Templar, nor the last, but he was the best. He so perfectly inhabited the character of the roguish gentleman thief that I cannot even read the books any more without picturing Roger Moore in my head as I am reading.
The books, by the way, are great fun– at least the ones Leslie Charteris wrote himself. (1964’s Vendetta for the Saint and everything that came after were ghosted by various writers of varying talent. I’d say they are not really worth the bother, except maybe Vendetta— Harry Harrison did a nice job on that one– but I’m a bit of a snob about it.) Any of the genuine Charteris volumes are a good time but if you want a nice sampler you would do fine with this collection or this one.
As for the television shows themselves, there are a number of relatively inexpensive DVD collections. Or you can surf the internet and turn up a few episodes streaming here and there if you just want to see what it’s all about.
Moore did lots of other cool non-Bond stuff too. I’m very fond of The Persuaders, the television show he did with Tony Curtis– post-Saint, pre-Bond.
It was wonderful tongue-in-cheek fun from Brian Clemens, in the tradition of clever eccentric British crimefighters like John Steed and Emma Peel. Not surprising, since Clemens created Steed and Mrs. Peel as well. (It’s pretty obvious Tony Curtis was drunk for most of it but that just adds to its early-seventies grooviness.)
Moore also was Sherlock Holmes once, in Sherlock Holmes in New York. With Patrick Macnee as Dr. Watson. Not a GREAT movie, but by no means was it the worst Holmes done for cinema. The movie’s flaws are certainly no fault of the cast. John Huston has a nice turn as Moriarty, as well.
And of course, before any of that he was Beau Maverick.
But– other than the Saint– my very favorite Roger Moore effort is ffolkes, or North Sea Hijack, depending on where it was released.
The poster’s a bit of a cheat, trading on the Bond reputation. Ffolkes was actually playing against type for almost the entire cast. Really it was Die Hard before there was a Die Hard. Moore plays Ffolkes, a demolitions expert who hates people and loves cats, who’s recruited to save an oil rig that’s been taken over by Anthony Perkins and his band of terrorists. (You can tell that both Perkins and Moore are having the time of their lives playing hard-as-nails for once.)
The movie was a favorite of Moore’s and it’s not hard to see why– he actually got to ACT, to play a character rather than just arch an eyebrow and drop a one-liner. And the movie is a fine piece of macho adventure, very much in the tradition of movies like Gray Lady Down or Guns of Navarone, you know, that Alistair MacLean vibe. Moore must have liked making this kind of thing because he did a bunch… The Sea Wolves, The Wild Geese, Shout at the Devil, and others. But ffolkes is my favorite of them.
Moore also wrote an autobiography that I enjoyed quite a bit, My Word is My Bond.
He followed that up with One Lucky Bastard and Last Man Standing, both collections of Hollywood anecdotes. All of them are, like the man himself, not terribly deep, but still irresistibly charming and fun.
There is one Roger Moore project that I am dying to see and have been for YEARS now.
The rebooted Saint with Adam Rayner and Eliza Dushku.
It was a pet project of Moore’s, and he was a producer on it. The pilot movie’s DONE, it’s sitting in a can somewhere, and though the rest of the TV series didn’t get made it’s just criminal that no one has made this film available, at least. Even just direct-to-video. Hulu. Something. As a fan of the Saint for going on forty years, I can tell you that the teases in the trailer are beyond tantalizing for those of us who know the books. It’s the first ever Saint adaptation to feature both the Saint’s girlfriend Patricia Holm, who’s in a great many of the books and just as cool as Simon himself, and also Rayt Marius, the villain so bad that it took two whole novels’ worth of adventures to put him away. Marius was the only Saint bad guy to come back for a return engagement.
I wish whichever studio is hanging it up would get over it and release it. Roger Moore’s last project and it’s the SAINT, for God’s sake. The world deserves to see it.
But in the meantime, we have all the other cool stuff. And Bond, of course. But do yourself a favor and check out some of the other stuff too.
Rest in peace, sir, and thanks for the years of adventure.
Back next week with something cool.