Roger Moore: More than just a Bond
Simply put, there was more of an actor in Sir Roger Moore, who died May 23, 2017, at 89, than required for the roles with which he became attached. He occasionally won an opportunity to prove that he had a range beyond portraying secret agent James Bond in seven motion pictures and the modern-day Robin Hood named Simon Templar, otherwise known as The Saint, in 118 episodes of a beloved TV series of the 1960s. One wishes he had more such opportunities arise during his interesting lifetime.
True, the action-adventure image Moore ably filled both on the large and small screen fit in with the relaxed, witty man of the world he most often played. From unlikely American western lead in his younger days to distinguished United Kingdom noblemen, Moore brought charm with authority, in addition to likeability to roles he essayed that didn't seem to warrant the effort. He may always be thought of as Bond, Ian Fleming's iconic espionage warrior with a license to kill, and that's inescapable. Others will fondly recall what be brought to the different roles in film and TV that peppered his career.
One of the more involving and satisfying performances Moore offered came in the period following the original run of THE SAINT (1962-1969). In THE MAN WHO HAUNTED HIMSELF (1970), directed by Bryan Forbes, Moore works wonders with the role of Harold Pelham, successful Londoner whose seemingly perfect world is up-ended by a double who slowly takes over Pelham's life, reducing the real Pelham to near-insanity by the closing reel. Moore himself said it was really the first time he was allowed to act, and the move paid dividends as the calm, cool exterior Moore projected in previous roles cracked to reveal layers of his character's panic as he literally loses the life he had come to enjoy.
The source short story for THE MAN WHO HAUNTED HIMSELF, "The Case of Mr. Pelham" by Anthony Armstrong, had been dramatized in 1955 as a first season entry in the CBS-TV series ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS. Tom Ewell brought his usual drily deceptive everyman approach to the lead, offering a chilling characterization as his hold on reality dissolves due to the double's machinations to seize Pelham's existence. Whereas Ewell played Pelham as a rather regimented soul, Moore brought a certain ease and glamor to THE MAN WHO HAUNTED HIMSELF that makes his Harold Pelham's disintegration all the more disturbing. It was the most distinctive portrayal of Moore's career.
The easygoing charm Moore brought to Simon Templar translated well to the quips and one-liners Moore was provided as Bond when he made the first of his seven starring roles in that movie series, LIVE AND LET DIE (1973). Those features remained a Moore trademark through to his last Bond, 1985's A VIEW TO KILL and beyond. Not that Sean Connery, who originated the screen 007, wasn't provided a laugh or two in his films; Moore's delivery of the irony-laden passing thoughts on an action sequence were light on the intensity offered by Connery. And those set-pieces were at times tailored to Moore's good-humored approach, such as his slapsticky escape from an alligator trap in LIVE AND LET DIE and the car chase in THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN (1974). Serious when he had to be as Bond, Moore offered a certain solemnity to his portrayal in FOR YOUR EYES ONLY (1981) that fit well with the famously minimalist strategy the producers brought to the film.
Moore made several films during the Bond years and one, SUNDAY LOVERS (1980), a multi-part romantic comedy, gave him an opportunity at broad comedy that he fully embraced under the direction of Bryan Forbes, who oversaw Moore's performance in THE MAN WHO HAUNTED HIMSELF. Moore's and Forbes's sequence, "An Englishman's Home," cast Moore as Harry Lindon, a chauffeur who utilizes deception about his station in life to romance an American tourist (Priscilla Barnes). The ruse soon blows up in Harry's face when he brings the young woman to his employer's residence, which he expected to be unoccupied on that particular Sunday.
Described as "old hat farce" by Leonard Maltin and friends, "A Englishman's Home" also starred Lynn Redgrave and Denholm Elliott, and provided Moore with a change of pace from the action parts that had come to mark his screen resume. Other stories in SUNDAY LOVERS, cited as the last of the once-popular international portmanteau movies, were directed by Gene Wilder, Eduardo Molinaro and Dino Risi, and set respectively in the U.S., France and Italy.
At this point of his career, Moore had become seasoned enough to tackle anything, although he wisely stayed with what he knew best. This makes his first appearances in Hollywood product interesting to appraise, as seen in viewings of THE LAST TIME I SAW PARIS (1954) and DIANE (1956) for M-G-M, and THE MIRACLE (1959) and THE SINS OF RACHEL CADE (1961) during his contract period at Warner Bros. His work as the lead or co-star in such rugged TV series of the period -- IVANHOE (1958-1959), THE ALASKANS (1959-1960) and the final season Of MAVERICK (1961-1962) -- contributed to his development as an actor.
He took a well-deserved rest from cinema in the years after announcing his retirement from the Bond movies, but Moore re-entered the fray and remained active for the last two decades of his life, including a gag voice cameo as a BBC announcer at the close of the big-screen version of THE SAINT (1997) with Val Kilmer in a re-imagining of the role.
Nobody ever expected Roger Moore to attempt King Lear or other serious undertakings, and Moore himself knew the brand of adventure hero with which he became identified was what audiences desired. He was indeed capable of deeper characterizations and when the occasion called, he delivered to add another dimension to a screen image that will be missed.