The phrase “end of an era” is overused to the point of cliche. But when it comes to Sir Roger Moore, who died Tuesday in Switzerland at the age of 89, it actually applies.
Moore was the consummate British gentleman of a certain era, with all the good and the bad that implies.
He dressed impeccably, preppy enough to make a J Crew designer weep. His hair seemed tailor-made for the Brylcreemed pompadour style of the 1950s and 1960s. His jawline could cut glass. Not for nothing did he make his debut as a knitwear model before he became an actor.
Moore’s acting style could best be described as perpetual bemusement. In understated performance after understated performance, he showcased a wit that was as dry as James Bond’s favorite martinis.
The flip side of all this charm was a strong sense of something that today we call privilege — and it’s the main reason why we’ll probably never see his likes again.
Sean Connery didn’t exactly hide his working-class Scottish origins in his portrayal of Bond, which is why it has passed the test of time; there was always the rough layer of a real bruiser under his suave exterior. Daniel Craig has much the same quality in the role.
But Roger Moore looked like he was born in a tuxedo, even though he wasn’t (his dad was a London policeman, not a patrician). He did all the things an upwardly mobile kid was supposed to do in the heart of the British Empire: went to grammar school, got conscripted, became a captain in the army. Somewhere along the line, all his rough edges were buffed away.
And that left … what, exactly? A ramrod-straight action man who gave the appearance that the action was just an annoyance between afternoon tea and cocktail hour. He lived for the deadpan quip, the clever flirtation.
It wasn’t exactly true that Moore acted only with his eyebrows — but it was certainly enough of a meme that the 1980s satirical puppet show Spitting Image struck a national nerve with this sketch:
Your mileage may vary on whether this approach actually worked, whether it has passed the test of time. Conventional wisdom says no.
For many people — more than we remember — Moore’s brand of effortless sophistication matched the cartoon superhero spirit of James Bond to a T. For others, the unruffled approach grew old fast. If Bond isn’t even going to have a hair out of place when he skis off a mountain or dangles from a helicopter, what’s the point?
And with Moore pushing 60 by the time he did his last Bond film, the lines he used to lure women to bed became less charming and more the kind of thing you call HR about.
Whichever way you look at it, it’s fair to say that Hollywood has moved on from Moore. Way on. Look at the crop of Chrises that star in blockbuster films these days — Evans, Pine, Pratt, Hemsworth — and you’re looking at the polar opposite of what the longest-serving 007 represented.
They build their bodies for T-shirts, not suits; Moore’s Bond wouldn’t be caught dead pumping iron. He was clean-shaven; they don’t dare stand before a camera without at least a patch of stubble. He played it smart; they are proudly pig-headed. He was quiet and self-deprecating; they have their volume and self-regard turned up to 11.
As good as it is that we don’t idolize upper-crust privilege any more, we’ve lost something too — a certain old world charm — and it died with Sir Roger Moore.