Monday, April 24, 2017

Ask JKM a Question: Who is the Most Important Cinematic James Bond?


A reader named Ben writes;

“Hello there. I am really enjoying your writing. I read your Bond movie review last week and wanted to ask you a question that you have not answered yet.

Historically, whose interpretation of 007 is the most important to the franchise’s longevity?”


Ben, thank you for the question. I actually have a stock answer for this question, which is the same one I have used before, in regards to the Doctor, on Doctor Who (1963-1969).

Before I get to that stock answer, I’ll give a few options.

I could write, quite persuasively, that the most important Bond interpretation is Sean Connery’s, because he was the first actor to take on the role for the movies. Had he not “clicked” as 007, the franchise would not have taken off.

So from one viewpoint, Connery’s interpretation of the James Bond role is certainly the most important, and the one most responsible for the film series’ longevity.

I could also make arguments for other Bond performances.

Timothy Dalton re-grounded the role, when audiences began to seek more realistic action, during the late 1980s.

Pierce Brosnan brought the character back to life after a six year absence from the screen, and thus is responsible for “reviving” the franchise. 

And Daniel Craig, of course, shepherded the film franchise “re-boot” of Bond to its most successful financial incarnation.

So you could probably make a plausible argument for any of those actors. Of course, those arguments may not be very strong, because by the time of Dalton, everyone was used to the idea of Bond changing actors.

But if you read my blog regularly, you know I prefer to think unconventionally, or at least outside conventional wisdom.

So here is my official answer: the most important Bond actor is Roger Moore.


Why?

Allow me to explain.

When people ask me who the most important Doctor on Doctor Who is, I always go with one answer: Patrick Troughton, the second doctor.

Had he not thoroughly made the role his own, Doctor Who -- while beloved during the William Hartnell Era -- would never have lived to see a second decade on air.


In other words, the era of greatest jeopardy for Doctor Who occurred when Hartnell, the First Doctor, wished to leave the role, and a new actor had to assume the mantle of the Time Lord.

If that actor had failed, we would likely have had no Doctor 3 – 12.

So, Troughton nailed the role at the time of greatest danger for the franchise, and the franchise endured.  Hence, his importance.

I would make the same argument for Roger Moore.  George Lazenby’s brief tenure as Bond -- just one film appearance in 1969 -- likewise hints at the importance of the second actor to catch-fire in a beloved role. 

After Lazenby’s only film (which I love, by the way), the producers went running back to Connery for Diamonds are Forever.  

It was not a certain thing, at all, at that point, that the James Bond movie series could endure in the seventies, and outlive Connery’s star presence.

But then along came Roger Moore, the Bond actor I grew up with, and one I think very highly of. His take on Bond -- while undeniably different from Connery’s -- re-popularized the character, and proved that the 007 film series could transcend one well-loved performer.

Like Patrick Troughton in Doctor Who, Moore came along at the time of greatest danger for the franchise, and gave it the second life 007 needed.  Moore was the first talent who proved that Bond could survive the passing of the torch in terms of actors.

If Moore had failed to catch fire, as Lazenby had failed, we would likely never have gotten the Dalton, Brosnan, or Craig eras.  James Bond in the cinema would have been remembered as a product of the 1960’s, not as an iconic character who has transcended his original cinematic context.

So I think you can clearly make a case for Connery as the most important 007. If he had failed to make Bond so appealing, the movie-going world might never have known the name Bond, James Bond. 

On the other hand, Moore came in after Lazenby’s failure to succeed -- at the point of greatest jeopardy for the franchise -- and had to deliver a popular interpretation of the role when everyone already pictured 007 as Sean Connery.

He did, and the rest is history.


Don’t forget to ask me your questions at Muirbusiness@yahoo.com

3 comments:

  1. Sheri1:35 AM

    I have to agree, John, Roger Moore made it possible for t he franchise to continue. I think Moore gets discredited for flaws in the franchise that were not his fault--the subject matter, screenplay, overall execution, etc. It wasn't HIS fault Moonraker was made, or that Octopussy was so nondescript, or that A View to a Kill emphasized all the wrong things. But Moore does plenty to make those films, or parts of them, watchable enough to justify spending the money.

    It no doubt helped that they had his body of screen work as The Saint as a template, but some credit goes to the fact that the producers adjusted to accommodate Moore's take on Bond--a wink and wit that made the character his own and freshened it. His relaxed style, coupled with some more far-out cinematic sequences (that boat chase in Live and Let Die!) put a sardonic, jet-setting 70's twist on the franchise. The writing, the approach, got a little wacked-out at times, but I think that was an attempt to counter the trend of gritty realism in cinema during that decade. We didn't want or need a 007 who resembled Charles Bronson in Death Wish just because the movies were supposed to be action thrillers!

    I've never understood people who think one can't appreciate both takes on Bond. Or several takes on Bond.

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  2. I am guilty of liking MOONRAKER because it features the N.A.S.A. Space Shuttle Orbiters: Drax, U.S. Air Force/Marines in all of their glory two years before the Columbia actually went into space. Moore was good in this film and I often wonder how Connery would have been. If Moonraker was made today with Craig, then I am sure Drax space station would be more like the real International Space Station currently in orbit.

    SGB

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  3. Wow, an unexpected answer (in a way), but I appreciate your approach to the question. I'm not the biggest Connery fan, but I'd have to answer that his was the most important portrayal for many of the reasons you mention. But your strong case for Moore is a good one (and glad you mentioned Dalton as well).

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