How The Saint Saved Bond
When Sean Connery declined an invitation to return after Diamonds Are Forever, Eon knew they were in very dangerous waters again. The first non-Connery Bond, George Lazenby, was not overwhemingly accepted purely because he wasn't Sean Connery. The second non-Connery Bond was supposed to be American actor John Gavin; but Connery's suprise return ended Gavin's tenure before it even began. Relief for Eon who knew Gavin was another huge gamble.
The next Bond would make his debut in 1973's Live And Let Die, and either carry it through the seventies - or go down as the man who sunk the franchise. Broccoli considered young British actor Michael Billington. Billington would become a perennial contender up until For Your Eyes Only in 1981. Darkly handsome in a Lazenby-esque way, the young UFO star promised a meaner take on the character. Meanwhile the studio were thinking about Hollywood stars: Eastwood; Mcqueen; Burt Reynolds. All ludicrous: except director Guy Hamilton returned from a trip to America and announced that Reynolds was his man. Perfect. The problem was Cubby who didn't like the idea of an American Bond. The Studio said: well, if you don't want Reynolds, find us a viable British Bond who has name recognition.
With no obvious British Bond on the horizon, Cubby resurrected a name that had cropped up more than once in their Bond casting discussions all the way back to 1962. The name was Roger Moore. Moore was suggested by Fleming to be the first Bond, and was contacted again to discuss replacing Connery in the late sixties. On both occasions, Moore's commitments to television precluded him from advanced negotiation. Moore was nearly 45 now and his chance seemed to have gone; but Cubby wasn't so sure. Roger was now finally available and free from television entanglements.
On the plus side Moore was 6'2, still handsome and well known from the television series The Saint. He was adept at heroic roles with a penchant for light humour. He could conceivably be a compromise choice and carry Bond into the seventies. On the minus side he was almost 45 and would be seen by purists as lightweight and a departure from the Connery/Lazenby model. Saltzman wasn't keen; but when Cubby advised Roger to cut his hair and lose weight he began to relent. Roger's excellent performance in the The Man who Haunted Himself was another plus. A Hollywood star as Bond was unpalatable; and young Billington would carry the major risk of a repeat of the Lazenby affair. Pragmatism triumphed. Roger Moore would be the third James Bond.
Roger's first two Bond films failed to strike gold at the box-office. They were both so-so entries in the Bond canon. They were dubious in tone and featured topical elements that would date them quickly. Roger was fine without being great. Ok without being terrible. If anything the series was sliding into an abyss of apathy. Far from saving the series, it looked like Roger would be the man at the helm when the ship ran aground. After The Man with The Golden Gun stalled at the box-office and met with bland reviews, it seemed like James Bond was almost finished. When Saltzman sold out his share in the franchise and left Broccoli as the sole producer the writing was on the wall. But a curious thing happened that would lay the ground for the future of Bond. Cubby took this as a personal challenge. He resolved to make the biggest Bond ever and restore 007 to his former glory.
The Spy Who Loved Me, a ludicrously fantastical and lavishly produced epic, finally cemented Roger as Bond and revived the franchise. Not only was the seventies assured but the eighties now looked certain to see James Bond too. At the age of 49 Moore had done the impossible: a non-Connery Bond had proved popular and viable. Cubby too had proved he could go it alone. Roger would go on to make one or two films too many and never be a favourite with purists, but he did all that was asked of him.
Including probably saving a franchise.
- Robert Fossil
c 2006 Alternative 007