This feature originally ran in November 2015 and is being re-published in honor of Roger Moore’s passing.
Bond. James Bond. This week, Consequence of Sound is celebrating the legendary secret agent with five days of unique features leading up to the release of Sam Mendes’ highly anticipated Skyfall follow-up, Spectre. Yesterday, Sarah Kurchak explored the Bond Girl’s strange place in pop culture, and today, six staff writers argue for each of the six actors who portrayed Bond. Read on and see who you agree with…
“The name’s Bond. James Bond.”
A number of actors have delivered that line in the long-running 007 series, but who is your Bond? The arguments have been raging on for decades, and with so many different takes on the same character leading to captivating and occasionally off-the-wall performances, how do you choose? Do you want subtlety, or do you want a wink to the camera? Do you want a killer, or do you want a lover? Do you want all of these characteristics in your Bond?
Each of us was given the task to champion a specific Bond. You read that right. All six Bonds are defended here, with each actor representing something unique. Read on to see who stands where and with whom, and please let us know your choice for the #1 007 in the comments section below.
For Your Eyes Only,
In Defense of Sean Connery
by Cap Blackard & Eleanor Edwards
Sean Connery is invariably the most argued best-of-the-best Bond. The rationale generally boils down to he was the first; he defined the role. Heck, in many cases, Connery’s Bond likewise defined Connery. Unless you’re shouting “you’re the man now, dog!”, a bad Sean Connery impression is moreso an impression of Connery as Bond. Even after hanging up the PPK twice, Connery inevitably returned to his most iconic role and learned to Never Say Never Again.
But in the ever-changing visage of James Bond through the ages, it just so happens that against all odds they got it right the first time. Connery’s portrayal of 007 is the ultimate embodiment of the gentleman spy and truest to author Ian Fleming’s source material. In authenticity and iconism, Connery kills the competition.
Fleming’s books are a product of their time, and Connery’s Bond is the only Bond of that time. In fact, all later iterations of James Bond make an effort to undo much of what makes the Connery/Fleming Bond tick: masculinity to a fault, prejudices, and the cavalier Cold War vibe of the ’50s and ’60s. The vary nature of what spies are in the popular consciousness was defined by Connery’s Bond, and it’s an image that persists to this day. As soon as Bond started changing with the times, the campy spirit was retained, but the essence of Fleming’s character was irrevocably changed.
In the novels, Bond is described as “good looking in a dark and rather cruel way” — dark hair, rugged, plus his father was Scottish. Though Fleming had his own fanciful ideas of who should play Bond, Connery captures his literal descriptions sharply. He’s handsome enough to soften a woman’s guard and chilling enough to be a killer who henchmen fear. Bond is very much a product of his time, where the cunning killer can be admired in not just his dashing exploits, but his sociopathic attention to fashion, food, and finer things while reveling in the “sweet tang of rape.” In nearly every instance that Bond saves a woman, it’s easy to read Connery’s inner monologue as “I’ll shave her sho I can have shex with her laetar.” This might sound horrible to modern audiences, but it’s this unapologetic masculine fantasy that fueled Fleming’s Bond and remains ever the basis for all modern incarnations of the character.
Yet in spite of Book Bond being the stuff of Fleming’s self-indulgent daydreams, Connery’s Bond is more relatable — he’s fallible. He’s coldblooded certainly, but he shows signs of pain and struggle unlike later iterations who amount to little more than impermeable, super-heroic quip-factories. The only other Bond close to the mold is Craig, who makes good on Connery-style subdued puns and taking the punches that a life of spying doles out. However, Craig’s 007 is grounded in realism to a fault. Connery’s Bond would sooner die in the field than show signs of PTSD or be motivated by trauma and a brooding past. The only motivation he needs for risking life and limb while laying ladies is the satisfaction of knowing he’s in service of Queen and Country.
Connery is Ian Fleming’s James Bond.
In Defense of George Lazenby
by Justin Gerber
Sometimes what makes or breaks an actor’s career comes down to an exact science. In the case of George Lazenby, a perfect formula was concocted. One miscast here, a bad director hire there, and maybe people don’t look back so favorably on the sixth entry in the Bond series, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
After warranted salary disputes, Connery was out as Bond. Producers Albert “Cubby” Broccoli and Harry Saltzman were insistent that they would be able to carry on without him. After a shave, a haircut, and a visit to Connery’s tailor, Lazenby convinced them that he was the next Bond. The Australian model had little to no experience in front of the camera, aside from his modeling gigs, but this was purely an attempt by Broccoli and Saltzman to show Connery how little he mattered in the grand scheme of Bond.
If we took a trip back to swingin’ 1969, we’d get a sense that Connery was the victor. OHMSS was a failure critically and commercially, with Lazenby getting most of the blame. Fortunately for him, and in turn we the audience, the years have been more kind to Lazenby’s solo effort than any other Bond movie from the ‘60s. It showcases the directorial debut of longtime Bond editor Peter Hunt, the best “Bond Girl” of them all in Dame Diana Rigg, amazing stunts, and gorgeous locations. It’s a scaled-back affair compared to most Bond movies, but it is what Lazenby does with the role that sets OHMSS apart. In a good way.
Connery’s Bond had become Superman. Once he flew off in a jetpack (Thunderball), the sky was the only limit. “A martini, shaken not stirred, and a mini-helicopter for my next entry. Thanks, Q!” His movies are still great fun, and in some cases they’re simply great, but upon his departure, the producers toned it down. Blofeld’s massive, hidden volcano lair from YOLT seems a genre away from his remote mansion in the Swiss Alps in OHMSS. Like the set pieces around him, Lazenby’s Bond is also toned down. He’s human again.
The argument that critics have about OHMSS is how much better it would be with Connery and that it works in spite of Lazenby. I disagree. We saw where Connery stood with the character in 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever, a performance he obviously sleepwalks through for his then record-setting payday. I’m not entirely sure that fed-up 1968 Sean Connery would have convinced us that Bond had fallen in love with a countess and was prepared to bid adieu to bachelorhood.
Lazenby does. His chemistry with Rigg is unparalleled.
I don’t think Sir Sean could pull off the denouement, where we find a defeated Bond holding his dead wife in his arms, lips pressed against her hair, barely able to suppress the tears.
Lazenby nails it. It’s arguably the best ending of any Bond movie (see also: Casino Royale).
You can’t say what will stick around forever and what will fade away (James Cameron made a movie called Avatar). That OHMSS is actually more popular today than it has ever been has a lot to do not only with the capable crew that surrounded George Lazenby, but the actor himself. Hate all you want, but you have all the time in the world to get on board.
In Defense of Roger Moore
by Blake Goble
“You know what’s the best thing about you British? Octopussy! Why I must have seen that movie … twice!” – Homer Simpson
See? People like Roger Moore’s Bond.
This is too bonkers not to acknowledge, but here’s some trivia that goes a long way in defending the legacy and craft of Roger Moore. When an increasingly expensive and ornery Sean Connery hung up his Walther PPK after 1971’s dopey Diamonds Are Forever, Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman were left struggling to find a new actor to play James Bond in their enduring action espionage franchise. They’d already promised Live and Let Die, that James Bond would in fact return. George Lazenby was met with scorn thanks to Connery’s popularity in 1969, and the thought of having to re-cast Bond again was likely terrifying. Actor after actor was tested; William Gaunt, John Ronane, Jeremy Brett, Simon Oates, countless unknown and forgotten names. There were even a curious amount of American options considered, including Clint Eastwood, Paul Newman, Robert Redford, and god help us, Burt Reynolds.
All that is to say, we could have done much worse, much more unusual and strange, than Roger Moore’s moled mug. Moore was considered for Bond in Dr. No and even in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. So it was inevitable that Roger Moore would be Bond, but Moore didn’t want to be Sean Connery part two. He brought his own light heart and cutesy sense of humor to the Bond franchise. After all, at the end of the day, this is a franchise about a womanizing, gun-toting, toy-breaking English alcy with a license to do whatever the hell he wants. If you can’t have some fun with that, or not feel guilty watching his stories, what’s the point in having a Bond movie? Roger Moore saw the amusements and freedom in Bond’s bad boy ways.
Yeah, Roger Moore’s Bond films are relatively easy to take potshots at. He’s the corny Bond. The bell-bottom Bond. The James Bond that gradually turned 58 on screen and could barely do anything without the secret service of a stuntman.
But damn it Roger Moore always got his man, always kept the Bond films fast on their feet, and kept the franchise alive and steady for 12 bloody years. With his raised eyebrows, blue eyes, and sandy brown hair, Moore’s Bond may have been a prep-school spy, smirking all the way, but the popular notion that he was a lame Bond is rubbish. Live and Let Die was a cracking crime Bond with shades of voodoo mysticism, and Moore made for a nimble action star right off the bat. He could go steely like in For Your Eyes Only or damn near vaudeville like in Moonraker and Octopussy. Moore was whatever the series needed.
And, despite conventional wisdom, Moore gave a totally perfect Bond performance in The Spy Who Loved Me, displaying charm, charisma, tension, and a then-perfected simper for Bond. Dalton and Brosnan never had a perfect Bond performance … Roger Moore viewed the Bond films for the escapisms that they are, and while it may have rubbed diehards the wrong way, his take on the Bond persona was certainly not wrong. Moore was more tongue-in-cheek than cloak-and-dagger. Moore, above all, looked like the actor having the most fun playing James Bond, constantly happy to put on a smile and get into international treaty-breaking trouble throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s.
In Defense of Timothy Dalton
by Clint Worthington
In many ways, it’s harder to evaluate the Bonds with shorter tenures (your Lazenbys, your Daltons) due to the sheer lack of material you have to work with. Even Roger Moore took a couple entries to find his footing; how can we expect that of poor widdle Timmy Dalton?
Dalton’s Bond, or “pre-Craig” as I like to call him, brooded and glowered long before Daniel Craig spiced up 007’s pathos with a sexy speedo in Casino Royale. With piercing eyes, clenched teeth and a square jaw, Dalton’s Bond was brawny and efficient, taking a much more no-nonsense approach to espionage. Critics complain about his muting of Bond’s womanizing nature, which I actually think ages his films better: The Living Daylights shows Bond as a monogamous protector, while Licence to Kill has him maintain a professional partnership with his Bond girl to the very end. No empty misogyny here – just a professional going about his job, with his walls occasionally broken by the right woman.
Dalton threw himself into many of the stunts in his two films, and it shows. His Bond carries a tremendous physicality and dynamics that the goofier Bonds lacked. Whether Dalton is hanging from the top of a speeding army jeep, fighting off a henchman on the back of a cargo plane, or rolling a semi onto two wheels to dodge a missile, his Bond’s lean, intimidating demeanor lent his set pieces a needed intensity.
People unfairly accuse Dalton (and Craig, if we’re honest) of taking the fun out of James Bond, to which I heartily disagree. While he doesn’t have the winking-at-the-screen cheekiness of Moore, Dalton’s sense of humor as Bond is a bit more enigmatic, using his signature grumpiness to his advantage. The Living Daylights makes great use of this, turning the womanizing Bond into a hen-pecked boyfriend to hilarious effect — such as when he’s forced by Kara to turn back to grab her cello from her apartment, despite being on the lam (“Why couldn’t you have learned the violin?”). Dalton’s Bond quips grimly to amuse himself, which ironically makes his terrible puns more palatable. Moore quips to desperately show off to the audience.
It’s a shame that the late ‘80s rejected Dalton, since hindsight shows he was made for that era. 1989’s Licence to Kill, a more violent film clearly meant to cash in on the era’s love of bloodier revenge thrillers like Commando and Lethal Weapon, would simply not have worked with a campy Bond like Moore.
Even though he only had two entries in the series, Timothy Dalton is the best Bond. Sitting at the tail end of Bond fatigue, following an extremely popular (and long-running) Bond in Moore, and taking a dramatically different take on the super-spy, Dalton faced an uphill battle. Despite these challenges, his two entries offered a welcome change from the overt, tired camp of Roger Moore’s run into something a little meaner.
In this time of taking Bond a little more seriously, it’s worth it to take a look back at Living Daylights and License to Kill to see a Bond that predicted his stoic successor by nearly 20 years.