James Bond the Clown: Reflections on the Roger Moore Era

Moore, Moore, Moore! How do you like it, how do you like it?

Roger Moore Octopussy
Eon Productions

The name’s Bond. Bondathon. With 24 official James Bond films to conquer before ‘No Time To Die’ hits theaters, Bond fan Anna Swanson and Bond newbie Meg Shields are diving deep on 007. Martinis shaken and beluga caviar in hand, the Double Take duo are making their way through the Bond corpus by era, so hang up your hats and pay attention. This entry explores the Roger Moore era.


We’ve already covered Connery and Lazenby, which means it’s time for Roger Moore, baby! The silliest Bond, the most polarizing Bond, and the farthest thing from brooding imaginable — Moore is one of a kind. As far as that being a good or a bad thing, results may vary. Moore’s take on 007 has a lot going on. And by a lot, we mean two brain cells. Really, it’s a miracle that this man knows how to point a gun in the right direction.

With seven movies across twelve years, Moore has more Bond films under his belt than any other actor, which means there’s a lot to unpack. Some people classify his films as laughably bad and rather grating entries in the franchise. But is this fair? To consider all of Moore’s antics, we sat down for a wild ride of ’70s and ’80s clownery. But first, let’s remind ourselves of what goes down in these seven films.

  • Live and Let Die (1973) begins with three MI6 agents being assassinated and, naturally, Bond is sent stateside to investigate. This riff on Blaxploitation takes Bond to Harlem, Louisiana, and the fictional Caribbean island of San Monique hunting down the sinister and potentially supernatural Dr. Kananga.
  • The Man With The Golden Gun (1974) features the triumphant return of Sheriff J.W. Pepper, and that’s not all! The film also stars Christopher Lee as the titular golden gun-wielding assassin, Francisco Scaramanga. He’s a gun for hire who’s obsessed with taking down Bond before 007 can foil his plans to sell his solar power engineering to the highest bidder.
  • Eugenics…under the sea! The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) dunks Bond in the deep end of Russian-British relations: missiles are missing, microfilm plans are being sold to the highest bidder, and a hulking henchman with a metal mouth is on his tail! Bond must team up with an antagonistic Soviet spy (in all fairness, he did kill her boyfriend) to bring down the big bad shipping tycoon trying to incite a nuclear holocaust.
  • Eugenics…in space! Moonraker (1979) sees Bond jet setting to California, Venice, Rio, the Amazon, and beyond the stars. The Moonraker space shuttle is missing. And the company’s suspiciously megalomaniacal owner definitely had nothing to do with it. With his old nemesis, Jaws, in hot pursuit, it’s up to 007 to find the Moonraker and foil the plans of the baddie industrialist-du-jour (while destroying as many UNESCO world heritage sites as possible).
  • Soviet shenanigans are afoot in For Your Eyes Only (1981). A British intelligence ship has sunk, taking a fancy encryption device with it. It’s up to Bond to recover the device before the Russians do in order to keep those launch codes safe!
  • Octopussy (1983) features Bond hot on the trail of the smuggling ring responsible for the death of a fellow 00 agent. Throw in a Fabergé egg, nuclear weapons, and the women of a traveling circus, and you’ve got yourself a James Bond movie! To top it all off, Moore fulfills his destiny and dresses as a clown.
  • In what might be the Moore-iest of the Moores, A View to a Kill (1985) sees Bond face off against a bleach blonde Christopher Walken as the villain, Max Zorin, in a film that has everything: a second act devoted entirely to a horse sub-plot, a majestically campy turn from Grace Jones, genetically engineered foes, a butterfly-themed assassination, and a climactic battle on the Golden Gate Bridge.

The Spy Who Loved Me

What did you expect? What surprised you?

Bond Beginner:

One of the two Bond films I’d seen before embarking on the Bondathon was The Man With the Golden Gun. So I had an idea, going into this, that the Roger Moore Bond films were light, colorful, and relatively blood-free. Moore’s characterization left less of an impression on me than Christopher Lee’s third nipple and the other villain of the film, a boorish Louisiana parish sheriff who seemed to already know who Bond was. I wish I could go back to a time before I knew more about J.W. Pepper. Ignorance is — was — bliss.

Anyway, I was not prepared for the hard left turn to clown town. And I certainly wasn’t prepared for the “funny Bond” to be so boring. I fell asleep during two of these movies (I’ll leave it to you to guess which!). I’m all for silliness, I swear, but the Moore era didn’t do it for me. So in the interest of warning future viewers: getting through this era is a slog. Also: Moore’s lack of sexuality is honestly impressive. The man has the erotic presence of a possessed doll.

Bond Veteran:

Roger Moore isn’t for everyone. I get it. I understand the reasons why. But I sure don’t agree with them. Sure, this isn’t a classic, grizzled, greet-you-with-an-open-palm Bond, but he’s a fun Bond! He’s weird and campy and nothing makes sense!

I think of it like this: Connery is a Friday night Bond and Moore is a Saturday afternoon Bond. He’s a little cartoonish, but he’s very comforting. I love to return to these films partly because I know exactly what to expect: that I’m going to enjoy my time spent with Moore. That also means I’m not exactly surprised by these films. I know what I’m getting myself into and there’s nothing all that new. I will never pretend these are the most complex Bond films; there’s no deeper meaning gleaned from a tenth viewing. They are popcorn movies, and I love them for that. It also helps that based on all accounts, Roger Moore was a goddamned sweetheart and I wish I could have known him.


The Man With The Golden Gun

Do these films hold up?

Bond Beginner:

Comedy ages a lot faster than tragedy. So the enduring success of the Moore era depends largely on the timelessness of the gags and goofs. Some of Moore’s comedic appeal has stood the test of time. No one can do a double take without moving their head quite like Roger. But a lot of the material falls flat for me. If you like slow-paced, low-stakes gaffs that punch safety at low-hanging targets, you’ll have a good time. If you want anything compromising, ridiculous, or campy….well, there’s Moonraker. But that’s about it for Moore.

Bond Veteran:

Yes.

Ugh fine, real answer: they do, but not for everyone. Of course, certain things played differently in the ’70s and ’80s than they do now. But I tend to believe that if you’re the type of person who enjoys a pigeon doing a double-take in 2020, you probably would have enjoyed a pigeon doing a double-take in 1979. All the weird, ridiculous, and polarizing Moore moments probably didn’t make a whole lot of sense at the time, either. But with audiences then and audiences now, there are those of us who love it.

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(Senior contributor)

Three toddlers in a trenchcoat. Currently running The Queue, How'd They Do That?, and Horrorscope.