Roger Moore was born to play James Bond. I realize we're supposed to caveat that and say: well, not the book Bond. But the produces of the Bond series knew it themselves, considering Moore for role in 1962’s Dr. No. But Moore was too youthful-looking and the role went to an even younger actor,, Sean Connery. When Connery left the series for a second time, Moore was cast and debuted in the role of Bond just eleven years after the first Bond film. And everyone knew this was coming, including Moore, who did skits on tv as James Bond and even an episode of the Saint where the debonair Simon Templar pretended to be James Bond.
For the Generation born in the late sixties and early seventies, Moore was Bond. The movies became bigger, more expensive, even more cartoonish. It's this last aspect-- the comic double-takes from passers-by when one of bond’s gadgets made an appearance, the overly broad secondary characters, that grates people most today. The quips became sillier and sillier.
At the height of the Cold War, Bond had gone the opposite direction and become an international spectacle. Even the Russians became less obviously the enemy-- in The Spy Who Loved Me, Bond joins forces with a kgb agent to stop a terrorist and avoid a war. Octopussy saw the head of the kgb working to stop an overzealous and war-hungry Russian general.
Bond himself became a super-hero, balancing atop trains and suspension bridges and shooting completely concealed snipers out of trees.
Never mind that Connery had given us some terrible quips and unlikely stunts; Moore gave us a Bond who was resolutely, completely unreal.
But no one one else could have done it. Trim in his white dinner suit or often his Navy uniform, Moore knew how to play this role, showing most emotions with the raise of an eyebrow and perfecting a smooth, unflappable voice that rarely varied.
That made the rare moments of Bond humanity all the more powerful, such as when Moore almost doesn't survive a centrifugal force machine in Moonraker, or when angrily kicking an assassin off a cliff in For Your Eyes Only.
Bond was more than the cold killer of the books-- the film Bond came into its own when it became something different and more reflective of a new and more cosmopolitan world. And the movies were strong-- I'd set For Your Eyes Only against Diamonds Are Forever in a heartbeat. He wasn’t a caretaker of the role-- he held it for twelve years and shaped popular culture.
Today we note the passing of Roger Moore, dead at the age of 89. He defined James Bond from 1973 to 1985. Those dozen years were immense.