On Roger Moore And How One Kick Changed The Course Of The James Bond Franchise
‘For Your Eyes Only’ would’ve been a lot different if not for one seemingly small choice.
For Your Eyes Only was a turning point for the James Bond franchise. They felt they’d gone too far off the rails with 1977’s Moonraker, a film in which Bond wrestled a snake, went to space, and shot lasers. So yeah, I’d say they were right about that one. The producers felt they needed to bring the character back to earth —damn right pun intended — and remind people he was a spy with a license to kill, not to fly space shuttles. The 1981 movie needed to restore faith in the franchise, adjust it for the ’80s, and possibly…maybe…introduce a new James Bond.
Obviously they didn’t and Roger Moore, who was 54 at the time and thinking of retiring from the role, was convinced to renew his license to kill. But something needed to be done to freshen up the role, as Bond is often reinvented every decade. How could the guy who’d played him for most of the ’70s be the one to provide something new? How would Moore, known to play his Bond with his tongue firmly in cheek when it wasn’t playing tonsil hockey with his leading lady, show Bond’s hard edge after working so hard to smooth them out in four prior flicks?
Moore answered these questions with a simple kick, forever changing the course of the franchise going forward.
Without getting into too much of For Your Eyes Only’s plot, Bond connects with an ally on the hunt for a device that, if in the wrong hands, could cause British submarines to fire on each other and change the tide of the Cold War. The bad guy — technical term — hires someone to kill his ally and leaves his calling card to let Bond know exactly who did it. Bond mourns for a second but keeps going about the job because that’s what he’s always done. As luck would have it, Bond and the assassin, Locke, find themselves in a tense situation, with Bond on foot and Locke driving a Benz around a beautiful mountaintop in Albania.
That’s when this happened.
If this were any other Sir Roger Moore James Bond movie, a rock would’ve given way and the car would’ve fallen over. Locke would be dead and that would be the end of it. But as I said before, For Your Eyes Only needed to be a different beast. It needed to reassert that Bond is a cold-blooded killer. Yes, it’s for Queen and country, but the nature of his work requires a certain amount of detachment and, if killing an unarmed man is going to get the job done, then he’ll drink away the pain later.
Without that kick, there’s no James Bond in the ’80s, meaning we don’t get ‘The Living Daylights’ or ‘License to Kill’ and without those laying the groundwork, it’s hard to see how we get to ‘Casino Royale in 2006.
Moore’s Bond was not traditionally this cold or this vengeful, in fact when he drank, you got the feeling it was because he liked to drink, not because he needed to. For the sake of the mission, Locke needed to die as there was no other information he could give and he was a liability, but Bond made sure he knew this wasn’t about the mission. He took his life because he wanted to avenge the death of a partner and simply falling to his death wouldn’t be good enough.
Any commentary track or behind-the-scenes feature on the flick will tell you Moore initially resisted his Bond being this way. He didn’t have to do it either. He had more than enough sway to demand the scene be changed to fit his needs. But he realized this movie wasn’t just about him, but the future of the franchise. If Bond was to have a life after him, he needed to swallow his pride and put his back into it.
It’s crazy to think something so simple could be so radical. But look at it! There’s an anger on that man’s face we’d rarely seen in the four flicks preceding this one. Except for the time he beat up Maude Adams in The Man With The Golden Gun, but that’s a different article for a different day.
Moore has seven films under his belt, making him the longest tenured Bond in history. That’s a record that may never be eclipsed with the ways in which the industry has changed so much since 1973 and he had a loyalty about him you don’t get in most big franchise stars in 2017. It’s that loyalty that made him come back to a role he felt he was getting too old to play (“The girls were getting younger and I was just getting too old”) and to do a simple kick. Without that kick, there’s no James Bond in the ’80s, meaning we don’t get The Living Daylights or License to Kill and without those laying the groundwork, it’s hard to see how we get to Casino Royale in 2006. People had gotten used to Bond being a certain way and in 1981, Moore helped change that perception.
There’s going to be a lot of Bond fans singing his praises for the next few days. Everyone’s got their favorite Bond and, while he wasn’t mine, there are movies and moments with Moore that are some of my favorite in the entire series. Whether it’s the entirety of The Spy Who Loved Me, the detective work he does in Live and Let Die, or…well…A View to a Kill does have that incredible theme song, so it’s got that going for it. Point being, there’s always something that’s just as dope now as it was when I first discovered Bond two decades ago.
But this kick is everything. It says so much about the character but a lot more about the man behind the tux.
Props to Sir Roger and thanks for all the memories.
And now, for your listening pleasure, Duran Duran’s “A View to a Kill.”