Writer’s note: I realize the world lost Roger Moore back in May, so I’m a little late in writing this, but I had to write about something this week.
Roger Moore is my James Bond. When I was a kid his Bond was the first I saw in the theater. Because of that, I’ve always considered him to be my James Bond. I think a lot of folks my age (I’m 52) feel the same way.
I’m not saying he was the best. Just that when I think of James Bond, I see Moore in my mind’s eye. Of course, I have seen the other Bonds and they all brought something of interest to the character. But still Moore is my Bond.
It can be said that all the worst Bond films featured Roger Moore. Moonraker, Octopussy, and A View To A Kill were all dreadful. That’s probably due, in part, to the fact the actor had gotten so old that the notion that old fart could do all that super-spy stuff was too hard to accept. Moore was about 46 years old when he assumed the legendary role. Sean Connery was 41 when he gave it up! So, it’s hardly surprising that the spy really got to be so damn old, so damn fast. He had quite a head start, after all.
Be that as it may, Moore is my Bond.
Let me discuss my two favorite James Bond films, both from the Moore era: Live And Let Die (1973) and The Man With The Golden Gun (1974).
First off, both films are terribly tone deaf when it comes to their treatment of women. It’s more understandable that the Bond films of the 1960s would have a more limited view of women. However, the Moore era wasn’t much better. Even with Women’s Lib taking a prominent role, in the 1970s, in the movement toward equal human and civil rights for all, the Bond films were slow to change.
In The Man With The Golden Gun, Bond walks, unannounced, into a strange woman’s (played by Maud Adams) bathroom while she showered. When she realized he was there, she confronted him with the gun she had with her in the shower. Bond asked if she always showers with a gun. She should have replied, “Do you always just walk into strangers’ hotel rooms and watch them shower?”
Later, when he was ready to bed a young, inexperienced agent (Britt Ekland), they were interrupted by the appearance of the shower woman. Bond decided to hide his younger conquest in the closet, telling her not to worry, she’ll a chance to break off a bit the Bond herself soon, and then proceeded to have sex with the other woman.
In Live And Let Die, he convinces a Tarot card reader (Jane Seymour) to sleep with him because it was foretold she would in the cards. “You do believe in the cards, don’t you?” Well, she did and they did. The audience is let in on the “joke” when we see the deck was “slightly stacked” in Bond’s favor. It was played for a sly laugh in 1973, but as I watched it just recently with two males friend who are close to my age, one noted that “seduction” was pretty much rape. We all agreed. We also agreed that Bond was probably riddled with STDs.
When I watch these movies with my son I always pause them at those moments to explain that is not how to treat women. Some of you are probably saying I shouldn’t tout these two as my favorites. It’s a fair cop. I still like them and I find much to be entertained by, but I remind myself each time I watch either of them, to heed the same lesson I give my son.
The movie does make one advancement in race relations. It is the first Bond film to feature the super spy having sexual relations with an African-American woman played by Gloria Hendry. He still treats her as worthy of his penis, but not his respect. One step forward, several steps back.
Live And Let Die has James Bond looking rather trim, fit, yet slender as opposed to Connery’s more muscular version (Connery was a former body builder before he started his acting career). Moore looks good. He wears clothes well and he appears younger than 46. And it was a pretty good idea to make certain to get Golden Gun produced and released the next year to take advantage of Moore still looking fairly youthful.
The villain played by Yaphet Kotto isn’t bad. He plays a dual role. One as a Harlem gangster, Mr. Big, complete with the ’70’s blaxloitation patter and look so popular in cinema in those days. The other as a small time dictator of a fictional Caribbean island. This character was more refined and educated. But, like all Bond villains, he doesn’t just kill Bond when he has the chance.
Just shoot him! Don’t tell him your plan. Don’t have your henchmen do it. Don’t come up with some elaborate method to off the man. Just shoot him! Oh, they’ll never learn.
Live And Let Die also has a really good secondary villain. Not Tee Hee (Julius Harris), the villain with the mechanical arm, although he is good. I mean Baron Samedi (Geoffrey Holder). You might remember him from the 7-Up ads in which he touted the “uncola… hahahahaaaa.” He was great, if underused, in the movie. He was good and creepy and made quite an impression on me when I was a kid. However, Bond dispatched with him a little too easily though. Or did he?
Possibly the best part of this movie is its theme song by Paul McCartney and Wings. Say what you want about any of the other theme songs, none comes close to as great a theme song as this one. There are a few that aren’t bad, but this one is the best.
The Man With The Golden Gun is probably my favorite of all the Bond films. This is mainly due to its villain, Francisco Scaramanga. The best Bond films all have one vital thing in common: A good villain. This villain is wonderfully portrayed by Christopher Lee and you can tell he was really enjoying the part. Scaramanga is a high-priced hitman who gets a million dollars a hit. And in 1974, a million dollars wasn’t chump change.
Golden Gun also has its excellent, if creepy, henchman. The polar opposite of Live And Let Die’s Baron Samedi, Nick Nack, played by Herve Villechaize, delights when his boss dispatches of his target during the cold open. He also delights when he thinks he’s stymied his boss in the funhouse maze Scaramanga uses for his special hits. In fact, there is a likeness of Bond on display in the funhouse, because Scaramanga knows it’s inevitable he and Bond will face off against each other. He keeps the likeness as a reminder and as inspiration.
That sets up why I really like this one. As I stated earlier, the problem with Bond villains is they never just kill Bond. However, in Scaramanga’s case it makes sense. He believes himself to be the finest marksman and hitman in all the world, but he wants to test himself against the one man in the world who could give him a true challenge – James Bond. So, the one on one ending works, even with the talking about his evil plans and not just killing Bond when he had the chance. Where’s the sport in that?
Both films feature the comic relief character Sheriff JW Pepper played by Clifton James. That character gets so dangerously close to being straight up racist. Oh, hell. What am I saying? He’s probably the Grand Poobah of his local KKK chapter. I cringe every time he calls a black man “boy” in Live And Let Die. It is softened slightly by the fact he calls every adult male in the film “boy.”
These films are flawed. No doubt about it. They are of their time and are good examples of how far we’ve come as a society. No Bond film made in the last twenty years would come close to the chauvinism and racial insensitivity as seen in these two films. And that’s progress.
My social justice side urges me to shun and hate these films. The kid in me still wants to like them. Warts and all.
I guess I choose to follow the kid in me.
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