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Opinion: Roger Moore ensured James Bond’s cinematic survival

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(CNN) — Roger Moore will always be the subject of debate among fans of the James Bond franchise. But as the longest-serving bearer of that title, it’s fair to say that 007 wouldn’t be the force that it has remained without him.

Sean Connery, who launched the movie series, left after six films, interrupted by one attempt to replace him with George Lazenby. Finding someone capable of filling those sizable shoes — mixing Bond’s sense of menace with his wry one-liners and suave manner with women — represented no small challenge.

Enter Moore, who was perhaps best-known to US audiences for his role in the TV series “The Saint.” Picking up in 1973 with “Live and Let Die,” arguably the best of his Bond movies, he successfully owned the role for the next dozen years, over the course of seven films.

Those who saw Connery as the definitive Bond never entirely warmed to Moore, whose films brought more humor to the character, eventually slipping into what bordered on camp, with titles like “Octopussy.”

Moore, for his part, was unapologetic about the shift in tone, which reflected not only playing to the actor’s strengths but a reaction to trends in the movie business. When “Star Wars” helped usher in a new kind of blockbuster in the late 1970s, Bond got into the act as well, with the space-going “Moonraker.”

Yet even Moore’s detractors — or perhaps more accurately, Connery’s fervent loyalists — kept seeing the movies, as Bond remained enormously profitable. And many of those who took Moore’s work for granted earned belated appreciation for it as the producers sought to replace him, with Timothy Dalton and Pierce Brosnan both taking a turn before Daniel Craig put his stamp upon it, bringing a visceral quality to the character that more closely resembles Connery’s approach than anyone has sense.

Word of Moore’s death has inevitably renewed the discussion about where he rates on the roster of those who have braved the role, the same way people argue about the best quarterback or pitcher. But whether fans prefer their Bond shaken or stirred, Moore transitioned the franchise from an uncertain future into the enduring 50-plus-year-old film staple that it has become — an act of cinematic survival that was by no means assured without his time in her Majesty’s service.

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