(c) Eon Productions
I believe that as you get older, and if you possess even half of a conscience, you find yourself brooding more and more on the sins that you committed in your past. You can never forget the cruel, spiteful and hurtful things that you’ve done over the years. The memories of those things hang around, lurking in the recesses of your soul. And as you move through life, and inexorably approach your final destination, they become ever-more restless and vocal – like ghosts moaning and rattling their chains and psychically knocking the furniture around with increasing volume, agitation and violence. I’m sure there comes a point when, in your old age, your guilt tortures you to the point where you’re absolutely desperate to atone for those dark and distant misdeeds.
No doubt that’s the reason why, lately, I’ve found myself dwelling uncomfortably on a sin I’ve committed during the years that I’ve written this blog. Yes, I’ve been beastly to Roger Moore.
If you’re familiar with this blog, you’ll know how it goes. I write an entry about James Bond – of whom I’m a big fan, both in his literary incarnation written by Ian Fleming and in his cinematic incarnation masterminded by the Broccoli family – and something gives me reason to refer to the third actor to play 007 in the movies, from Live and Let Die in 1974 until A View to a Kill in 1985. And then I make a comment likening Roger Moore’s acting ability to that of a plank, or a floorboard, or a block of wood, or a sheet of mahogany, or a slab of teak, or a lump of concrete, or a vat of dried cement, or an Easter Island statue, or one of the monoliths that were featured in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Or, still on the subject of his acting ability, I give vent to an unkind pun about ‘Roger Mortis’. Or I say something snarky about Roger’s left eyebrow being the most expressive part of his entire body. Or I crack an ungentlemanly joke about James Bond getting ‘Roger-ed’ in the 1970s and 1980s.
(c) Eon Productions
Well, I have decided that the time has come to make amends. I realise that my Crimes Against Roger are of such a magnitude that I can never fully cleanse myself of the bad, anti-Roger karma I’ve created, but I will at least have a go. Here is a blog-entry dedicated to being positive about the crinkly, safari-suit-wearing, eyebrow-elevating James Bond Number Three. Here is an account of all the good things that Roger has done over the years.
There are some good things… I know there are some good things… I just have to search around a bit to find them… Oh yes! Here they are.
The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970)
Cited by Moore as his favourite among the films he’s made – he agreed to star in it for much less than his usual fee – The Man Who Haunted Himself is a bizarre psychological-horror-cum-ghost-story. It was also the final film directed by Basil Deardon, who’d worked on the legendary supernatural anthology movie Dead of Night back in 1945.
The Man Who Haunted Himself is a tale of a well-to-do businessman called Harold Pelham, played by Moore, who’s badly injured in a car crash and undergoes a weird incident during the subsequent emergency surgery – he briefly seems to die on the operating table and then two heartbeats appear on the monitoring machine rather than one. Thereafter, the supposedly-recovered Pelham finds himself being stalked by a sinister doppelganger. Pelham never encounters this doppelganger himself; but, behind his back, it ingratiates itself among his family, friends and colleagues and does things, like making important business decisions and having an affair, for which he gets the credit / blame. Pelham is so unnerved by this that his behaviour becomes alarming to his friends, family and colleagues. Indeed, he acts so out-of-character that they begin to wonder if he might be, you know, an imposter.
I saw this movie on TV when I was a kid and was extremely freaked out by it – probably because by then I was accustomed to seeing Moore play suave and unflappable characters in TV shows like The Saint (1962-1969) and The Persuaders (1971-1972). So I wasn’t ready to see him play someone who spends a film in a state of increasing mental disintegration and becomes a gibbering, possibly insane ruin by its end. It got bad reviews and made little money at the time of its release, but it’s now regarded as a cult classic – championed, I suspect, by people my age who also first saw it as kids and also found the sight of Roger Moore cracking up seriously disturbing. Its admirers, incidentally, include Pulp singer, cultural commentator and raconteur Jarvis Cocker.
The Persuaders (1971-1972)
Okay, I’m cheating a little when I cite The Persuaders as a good thing. This comedy-action TV series Moore made for Lew Grade in the early 1970s, in which he and Tony Curtis played a pair of jet-setting playboys / adventurers who constantly get into and out of scrapes, is really pretty vacuous. But what makes it unforgettable is its theme music – a marvellous composition by John Barry that’s mysterious, swirling and rather gothic. Hearing it at the start of each episode, you’re led to expect a completely different type of TV show, a far darker and edgier one, from what you actually get. I think the fact that no less a personage than Johnny Marr, the former guitarist with The Smiths, plays The Persuaders theme when he and his band come onstage these days is an indication of its quality.
John Barry, of course, would have much more to do with Roger Moore in the years ahead – for Barry was also James-Bond composer numero uno. In fact, if I had to have some music played at my funeral, it would probably be a toss-up between the Persuaders theme and Barry’s instrumental from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1968). Though knowing my luck, someone would probably hit the wrong track on the John Barry compilation CD, with the result that my remains were carted away to the sound of Lulu singing The Man with the Golden Gun.
The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
Say what you like about the quality of Roger Moore’s other James Bond films – and in my opinion they range from the underwhelming to the atrocious – but you can’t deny that The Spy Who Loved Me is the one that deserves its place in the premier league of great 007 movies. On paper it looks as lazy as all the other Bond movies being made around that time – a car that travels underwater, a villain who kills people by dropping them into shark-pools, a giant henchman with steel teeth and a plot that’s been copied from 1967’s You Only Live Twice (only with stolen submarines instead of stolen spacecraft). But it’s done with such style and élan that Moore, writers Christopher Wood and Richard Maibaum, producer Cubby Broccoli and so on get away with it. And of course, the pre-titles sequence – the one that made it a rule that the opening scene of each new Bond film had to contain a big stunt – is a corker.
No wonder that in season two of I’m Alan Partridge (2002), Steve Coogan gets immensely upset when he discovers that Michael-the-Geordie has taped over his copy of The Spy Who Loved Me with an episode of America’s Strongest Man. “Now you’ve got Norfolk’s maddest man!” he rages. Quite.
His humanitarian work
Moore has been a Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund, since 1991; and, sweetly, he once lent his voice to a UNICEF-sponsored cartoon called The Fly Who Loved Me (2004). He has also been involved in the campaign by PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, against the gruesome practices used in the making of foie gras and he helped to persuade the department store Selfridges to stop stocking the stuff.
No other actor is capable of doing Roger-stuff
Yes, there are plenty of moments during Moore’s seven Bond movies when, as a serious fan of Ian Fleming’s superspy, I’ve wanted to hide behind the sofa in embarrassment. But if I switch off my brain’s critical faculties, I have to admit there’s a certain, if facile, charm in seeing Roger Moore go through his paces – silly though the situations are.
And I doubt very much if the other actors who’ve played James Bond since the 1960s could go through the same escapades and emerge from them with their dignity intact, the way that Roger Moore – somehow – manages to do. I suspect Timothy Dalton would look a bit of a dick if he performed a corkscrewing car-jumping stunt, accompanied by comedy noises and with Sheriff J.W. Pepper in the passenger’s seat – but Roger did just that in The Man with the Golden Gun (1975) and nobody thought less of him. (They certainly thought less of the film, though.) And I’m sure Daniel Craig would look a right fanny if he escaped from some villains in a gondola that turned into a speedboat and then turned into a hovercraft – but Roger did so in Moonraker (1979) and nobody accused him of being a fanny.
Why, even the mighty Sean would have difficulty keeping his poise and self-esteem if he had to dangle from a ladder on the back of a speeding fire engine (driven by Tanya Roberts). But – you guessed it! – Roger did that in A View to a Kill (1985) and got away with it. Just about.
Yes, when it comes to doing Roger-stuff, nobody does it better.
Glang! Glang-a-lang, glang-a-lang, glang-a-lang… Glang-a-lang!
(c) The Belfast Telegraph