Roger Moore, an appreciation

Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman pose with Roger Moore during the filming of Live And Let Die.

Roger Moore as James Bond wasn’t the physical specimen that Sean Connery was in his early 007 films. Moore’s best moments in the role occurred when he didn’t try to be.

One of the actor’s best Bond scenes occurred in 1983’s Octopussy. Bond takes on Kamal Khan (Louis Jourdan) in a crooked game of backgammon.

Bond exercises “player’s privilege” and opts to use Kamal’s “lucky dice.” Bond can only win with a double six.

Bond throws the dice. “Fancy that,” Bond says, without looking down. “Double sixes.” Bond has out-cheated the cheater.

Octopussy is a movie with a lot of outrageous action as well as a hot-air balloon with a Union Jack design. But it also had a quiet, dramatic moment in the middle of all this.

Moore was 54 when Octopussy began production in the summer of 1982. In the story, Bond befriends a younger MI6 agent, Vijay (Vijay Amritraj). Bond almost becomes a mentor to Vijay.

One part of the Bond formula is the “sacrificial lamb,” an ally of Bond who is killed. The chemistry between Moore and Amritraj helped give the film a little emotional oomph when Vijay is killed by goons working for Kamal.

Moore doesn’t overplay the scene. He says, “No more problems,” while looking at Vijay’s body, a reference to Vijay’s catchphrase throughout the film. Later, while in Berlin, Bond is reminded of Vijay when a driver for MI6 says, “No problem.” There’s a little John Barry music to emphasize the point.

“Bond and Holly” by Paul Baack

The Moore films have various examples of this sort of thing if you know where to look. Bond visiting Tracy’s grave in For Your Eyes Only. Bond admitting to Anya he had killed her lover in The Spy Who Loved Me. Bond discovering Tibbett (Patrick Macnee) has been killed in A View to a Kill. They’re brief but effective.

The actor was mostly known for bringing a lighter tone to the series. In reality, the series was already going in this direction, starting with Diamonds Are Forever.

Screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz introduced the tone when he took over for Richard Maibaum on Diamonds. The scribe said in an interview for the documentary Inside Live And Let Die it accelerated when Moore became aboard because “you wrote differently for Roger” than Sean Connery.

Some fans still hold Moore accountable. Some argue the producers “indulged” Moore.

Once, I was on a conference call at work. Somehow, the subject of Bond came up. When Roger Moore’s name was mentioned, someone on the call said, “I don’t think you can count Roger Moore” as being James Bond. I briefly registered a protest but gave up.

The actor never seemed to mind. In his public comments, he always acknowledged Connery’s popularity as Bond. After he left the role, Moore spoke fondly of his successors.

While some fans complained — in some cases, *still* complain  — you got the impression Roger Moore was fine with it all.

Post-Bond, Moore was an unofficial ambassador for the series. He also performed humanitarian work for UNICEF.

Perhaps that’s why, when Moore’s family announcing his death via Twitter on May 23, people around the globe expressed sorrow.

Roger Moore lived a long, full life. He died famous and wealthy. Still, his passing resulted, for many, with an enormous sense of loss.

Here’s one such expression.

 

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Roger Moore, 7-time film 007, dies at 89

Roger Moore in Live And Let Die

Roger Moore in Live And Let Die

Roger Moore, who played James Bond in 007 films in 12 years, has died at 89. His family announced his death via his Twitter account.

Moore died following “a short but brave battle with cancer,” according to the statement.

The actor was the third film Bond, following Sean Connery and George Lazenby.

During his tenure, from 1973 to 1985, the Bond films took a more lighthearted tone. But his films established, once and for all, the series could survive — and more — without Connery, the original film 007.

Moore’s first Bond film, 1973’s Live And Let Die, was an international hit. Its worldwide box office totaled $161.8 million, the first Bond movie to exceed Thunderball’s $141.2 million. The U.S. box office was more modest, $35.4 million. That didn’t match the U.S. take for Connery’s Eon finale, Diamonds Are Forever ($43.8 million).

Regardless, both Eon Productions and its feuding producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman along with studio United Artists were satisfied. Moore would continue.

The Man With the Golden Gun, released in late 1974, was a letdown with audiences, with the global box office falling 40 percent compared with Live And Let Die. The series, though, faced a larger crisis. The Broccoli-Saltzman partnership was about to fall apart because of Saltzman’s financial problems.

UA bought out Saltzman, leaving Broccoli in charge. But the next film, The Spy Who Loved Me, would tell the tale whether 007 still had a future in the cinema.

The answer was yes. Spy had magnificent sets designed by Ken Adam, an Oscar-nominated score by Marvin Hamlisch and photography by the well-regarded Claude Renoir. Director Lewis Gilbert determined to play up the actor’s strengths. With Moore as the headliner,  James Bond once again was an undisputed hit.

The actor remained 007 for four more films. Eventually, Moore negotiated his Bond movies one production at a time. Broccoli would test screen potential replacements, including American James Brolin in 1982.

Roger Moore in a 1980s publicity still

Roger Moore in a 1980s publicity still

But Broccoli kept returning to Moore, long after the actor turned 50.

Moore returned for 1981’s For Your Eyes Only. It was a much more grounded Bond outing following 1979’s Moonraker, which saw 007 go into outer space. The pre-credits sequence was filmed as if it the movie was intended to introduce a new Bond, with 007’s face not initially revealed.

Eyes was the first film in years to extensively use Ian Fleming story lines, utilizing two short stories from the author’s 1960 For You Eyes Only collection. While things beccame more serious, Moore showed himself up to the task.

Two years later, Moore was back again for Octopussy. Sean Connery was starring in a rival Bond film, Never Say Never Again, a remake of Thunderball. Broccoli eventually went with Moore.

The 1983 movie was more uneven than Eyes. But Moore gave off a “I know exactly what I’m doing” vibe. The “Battle of the Bonds” generated big publicity but the actor appeared as if he were unfazed by it all.

Many fans felt Moore, now nearing 60, stayed for one 007 adventure too many with 1985’s A View to a Kill. Fans who never warmed to Moore — and there are some who’ve spent decades decrying the actor — felt vindicated. For those who enjoyed Moore’s performances, it felt like the end of an era.

For more than three decades, Moore continued to be the Bond franchise’s best ambassador. He expressed support for his Bond successors, Daniel Craig in particular. 

Moore lived to a ripe old age. So long, he outlived and said good-bye to a number of colleagues. Among them: director Guy Hamilton (who helmed his first two 007 films), Ken Adam and fellow actors Christopher Lee and Patrick Macnee.

The actor, of course, did much more than Bond. He had become a star playing The Saint on television in the 1960s. He followed that up with another television project, The Persuaders, with Tony Curtis as his co-star. And he was a goodwill ambassador for years for UNICEF.

From a 007 perspective, he helped establish the longevity of the Bond franchise. As late as 1972, people could ask in all seriousness whether Bond could survive Connery’s departure. After Moore’s 12 years as Bond, that wasn’t a question anymore.

Here is the Twitter post from the Moore family:

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Dina Merrill dies at 93

Dina Merrill, center, with Jeffrey Hunter and Efrem Zimbalist Jr. in a publicity still for the debut of The FBI.

Dina Merrill, an “actress and heiress to two fortunes,” has died at 93, according to an obituary posted by The New York Times.

Merrill was the daughter of Wall Street stockbroker E.F. Hutton and “cereal heiress” Marjorie Merriweather Post died Monday, according to The Times.

Her acting credits included the first episode of The FBI, where she played Jean Davis, a woman being stalked by a psychopath played by Jeffrey Hunter; The Controllers, a two-part Mission: Impossible story, where she played a woman operative in the show’s fourth season; an academic manipulated by Wo Fat in the 1976 Hawaii Five-O episode Nine Dragons; and Calamity Jan, the girlfriend of cowboy villain Shame (Cliff Robertson, her then-husband) during the final season of Batman.
An excerpt from the obituary:

 

As a child, born into the American aristocracy of money and high society, Ms. Merrill wished she could take the bus “like the other kids,” she said, instead of being driven to school by the family chauffeur. After she became a successful actress, she told Quest magazine, “It’s fascinating to lead someone else’s life for a while.”

Merrill also appeared on game shows, such as To Tell The Truth. Here is an example.

A sign Mendes (hopefully) won’t direct Bond 25

Sam Mendes

Director Sam Mendes is in talks to direct a live-action version of Pinocchio, the Deadline: Hollywood website reported.

An excerpt:

EXCLUSIVE: Sam Mendes is in early talks to direct Disney’s live-action Pinocchio. The move would push forward yet another live-action reboot of the old tried and true animated classic for the studio.

Walt Disney Co. relies on its Marvel Studios and Lucastfilm Ltd. units much of its movie output. Outside of those brands, Disney has been investing in live-action versions of its classic cartoons.

Mendes has directed the last two Bond films, Skyfall and SPECTRE. This blog has argued that having Mendes back for a third 007 effort would not be a good idea.

That’s because, in the blog’s view, another examination of Bond’s past would be akin to a proctology exam.

Anyway, we’ll see.

 

Joss Whedon takes over post-production for Justice League

Justice League movie logo

Joss Whedon, who directed two Avengers movies for Marvel Studios, is overseeing Justice League during post-production, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

That’s because director Zack Snyder and his wife, producer Deborah Snyder are taking time off to “deal with the sudden death of his daughter.”

The Snyders, according to THR, are focusing on “the healing of their family.”

Here’s an excerpt:

Stepping in to shepherd the movie through post and the shooting of some additional scenes will be Joss Whedon, the Avengers filmmaker and creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. With Whedon’s help, the movie is still on track for its Nov. 17 release date.

Snyder’s daughter, Autumn Snyder, died by suicide in March at age 20. Her death has been kept private, with only a small inner circle aware of what happened, even as the movie was put on a two-week break for the Snyders to deal with the immediate effects of the tragedy.

Justice League is a follow-up to last year’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Justice League is the main super hero group of DC Comics. The league made its debut in 1959 (and was a successor to the 1940s Justice Society of America).

“The demands of this job are pretty intense,” Snyder told THR. “It is all consuming. And in the last two months I’ve come to the realization …I’ve decided to take a step back from the movie to be with my family, be with my kids, who really need me.”

According to the entertainment news website, “Snyder, after screening a rough cut of Justice League for fellow filmmakers and friends, wanted to add additional scenes, so he brought Whedon on board to write them.

“But as he prepared to shoot the scenes in England, Snyder realized it was not the time to leave home.”

Rich Buckler, comic book artist, dies at 68

Rich Buckler

Rich Buckler, part of the second-generation of Marvel Comics artists, has died, according to an announcement by Marvel on Twitter. He was 68.

In the 1970s, writers and artists who had been fans a decade earlier, were brought on by Marvel. Buckler was among them, as well as artists such as George Perez and writers such as Len Wein, Marv Wolfman and Steve Gerber.

Buckler, during the 1970s. was the artist on the Fantastic Four, the title that began the Marvel revival in 1961. Buckler also created a cyborg character, Deathlok, as well as doing work for DC Comics, according to the Bleeding Cool website.

Cover to Fantastic Four (vol. 1, No. 142), drawn by Rich Buckler

In the 1970s, Marvel was in transition. Stan Lee moved to an executive position. Jack Kirby, who created or co-created much of the Marvel Comics Universe, was away. Roy Thomas, initially Stan’s successor as editor-in-chef, would soon give up the post.

During this time, younger talent took on many of Marvel’s main titles.

Sean Howe, author of Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, provides many more details in his book. Suffice to say, former fans were now actually coming up with the new stories that would sustain Marvel.

Buckler (born in 1949 in Detroit) was among those newcomers who made a mark. The Fantastic Four was among Marvel’s flagship titles, and in 1974 (13 years after the FF’s debut) Buckler was its artist.

His run on the FF lasted about two years. Still, it was a sign that Marvel — and comics in general — were now in the hands of a new generation.

Why this blog posts obituaries

Guy Hamilton

The tragic death of Chris Cornell this week was a reminder why this blog publishes so many obituaries.

Cornell’s death by suicide was sudden. To be honest, the blog’s obit was published so quickly because the Spy Command was up in the middle of the night and saw the news.

Obits are as much about lives led as they are the deaths that ended them.

Essentially, obituaries are a very rough first draft of the biographies of prominent people.

A little over a year ago, the blog began writing “prepared obituaries.” In the first part of 2016, the likes of George Martin, Ken Adam and others had died. They were in their 90s.

So the blog began writing prepared obits. The first one published was for Guy Hamilton, a four-time 007 film director whose credits included Goldfinger. The blog’s obit for Hamilton was, literally, written two days before his death. That was, admittedly, a little spooky.

If this sounds ghoulish, it’s not. The New York Times first wrote an obit for Fidel Castro in the 1950s when he was hiding in the jungles of Cuba. The idea is that the rough first-draft biography be as good as it can possibly be.

The blog has posted other prepared obits when those involved died. They included actor Mike Connors and television producer Bruce Lansbury.

Still, the blog is a hobby. This isn’t a major news organization that has an obituary desk. From time to time, there are sudden deaths, such as actor Robert Vaughn and Chris Cornell, that had to be written quickly.

Given that a lot of what the blog writes about originated more than a half-century ago, this is the way of the world.

It’s not fun by any means. But those who’ve departed deserve an appropriate send off. And that’s why the blog spends as much time on obits as it does.