Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Bond Is Forever: “Octopussy”

MI6 agent 009 is killed in the course of an assignment, but manages to reach friendly territory before collapsing, where a Fabergé egg is found on his person. The egg is a “near perfect forgery,” while the genuine item is scheduled to be auctioned. James Bond (Roger Moore) and an art expert attend the auction with the hopes of locating the seller. Their intrigue is piqued, however, by Kamal Khan (Louis Jourdan), a notoriously shady seller, who is overbidding for the item in question. Bond bids against him before eventually succumbing and, for good measure, swaps the real egg with the forgery. The agent follows Kamal to Delhi, India, where Bond initiates contact and flaunts that he possesses the real Fabergé egg at a backgammon table. Not surprisingly, Bond incurs Kamal’s wrath and sidesteps bullets, throwing knives and the occasional scimitar. With the belief that the forgeries are funding the Russians, 007 ultimately finds his way to an island of exclusively women, part of a “cult” with members signified by a blue-ringed octopus tattoo and ruled by an enigmatic jewel smuggler known as Octopussy (Maud Adams).

Octopussy (1983) was the second film of the series for director John Glen and also the second appearance for actress Adams, who first starred in 1974’s The Man with the Golden Gun. Octopussy is best remembered -- aside from a title that makes most people blush -- for its release in the same year as an “unofficial” Bond film, Never Say Never Again, starring Sean Connery as 007. The latter film was brought to the screen by producer Kevin McClory, who had worked with Bond creator Ian Fleming and Jack Whittingham on an original story for 007’s cinematic debut. The project was abandoned, resulting in Fleming’s Thunderball, which, in turn, resulted in seemingly endless legal disputes. McClory and Whittingham received credit for additional printings of the novel, as well as the 1965 Broccoli/Saltzman adaptation, and McClory was allowed to make his own version of the movie. The year of 1983 became known as the “Battle of the Bonds.” Both movies performed well, although Octopussy ended with a slight lead, making it into the Top 10 films that year in the U.S. Never Say Never Again performed well and reached the Top 20. (For more on the Thunderball legal wrangling, read about the 1965 film.)

A substantial entry in the series, Octopussy retains a energetic style throughout, and Moore, in his sixth turn as the beloved spy, is just as diverting as when he first stepped into the role. Following the previous Bond film, For Your Eyes Only, in 1981, Moore had technically fulfilled his contract, and EON Productions searched for an actor to portray 007. American actor James Brolin filmed screen tests, including one with Maud Adams (in a scene from 1963’s From Russia with Love) and another with Vijay Amritraj, who stars in Octopussy as Bond’s ally in India. Moore, however, was reportedly asked to return to battle any competition from Never Say Never Again and Connery, the cinematic Bond original. Like the solid For Your Eyes Only, Octopussy keeps the gadgets to a minimum -- the highlight of Q’s (Desmond Llewelyn) anticipated “presentation” of gadgetry is a simple tracking device. In a particularly entertaining sequence, Bond manages to board a speeding train, conceal himself inside a compartment to attain details of a criminal plot, and combat a henchman atop the train still in motion, with nothing more than his expertise and a little savoir-faire.

Louis Jourdan is a charming villain as Kamal, a ferocity teeming just below his handsome exterior. His casual discussion of the manner in which he would torture Bond for information, all while Kamal enjoys a souffle, is both alluring and darkly humorous. Bond’s initial contact in India is Vijay, who’s posing as a snake charmer and plays the Bond theme on the recorder to catch the agent’s attention. Vijay is a delightful supporting character, adept and, like 007, not unaccustomed to fashionable attire. Actor Amritraj was a professional tennis player (as were his brothers, Anand and Ashok), and, in one of the film’s better scenes, he drives an auto rickshaw (with Bond as his passenger) in a high-speed pursuit down Indian streets while simultaneously keeping villains at bay with a tennis racket. Actor Llewelyn is, as per usual, irresistible as Q and has one of the film’s best lines, spoken to Bond after the MI6 agent asks Q to repair a hole in his jacket: “They missed you. What a pity!”

In spite of its ingenuity, Octopussy does stumble before making it to the closing credits. The most significant drawback of the film is its length. It might have benefited from an abridgement, especially considering that the basic plot is finished with approximately 40 minutes remaining, almost giving the impression that the filmmakers were biding their time until they made it to an excess of two hours. There is additionally a rather asinine sequence of Bond being hunted in the jungle, facing such perils as spiders, a snake and a tiger, and all of it culminating in 007 swinging on vines with the Tarzan cry.

Bernard Lee, who had played M in the first 11 movies of the Bond series, died while For Your Eyes Only was being made. M was written out of that film, and Octopussy marks the debut for Robert Brown in the role. Michaela Clavell plays Penelope Smallbone, apparently intended to succeed Miss Moneypenny. However, Lois Maxwell, who’d played Moneypenny in all Bond films up to and including Octopussy, would reprise her role (with no Penelope in sight) for the 14th and final time in A View to a Kill (1985), retiring from the series along with Roger Moore. (Clavell was the daughter of author and filmmaker James Clavell, whose work included writing, directing and producing 1966’s To Sir, With Love.)

The song that opens the film is “All Time High”, sung by Rita Coolidge and written by composer John Barry and award-winning lyricist Tim Rice, who is a frequent collaborator with Andrew Lloyd Weber. It’s a lovely number, reinforced by Coolidge’s warm and resonant voice. At the film’s end, a disclaimer insists that “James Bond Will Return in ‘From a View to a Kill.’” He did indeed, but with a minor title revision.

The title of the movie was taken from a Fleming short story, appearing in the collection, Octopussy and the Living Daylights (sometimes published with a condensed title of Octopussy). In the film, Octopussy reminds Bond of a previous mission involving a Major Smythe (her father), and the assignment to which she’s referring is the plot of Fleming’s short story. The film’s dramatic jumping board -- villains securing funds during auctions -- was taken from another short story, “The Property of a Lady”, which is included in the same collection (although not in the original 1966 edition). The title of said story is referenced in the film as the anonymous seller of the Fabergé egg. Additionally, Bond exposes Kamal’s loaded dice at backgammon and uses them to win a hand, to which Kamal responds by suggesting that he spend his winnings quickly. A similar scene and similar warning occur in the novel, Moonraker, when Bond swindles the cheating Hugo Drax at a card game.

Certainly not as strong as other Bond outings with Moore, such as The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) and For Your Eyes Only, Octopussy will nonetheless quench a 007 thirst. Along the way, fans will find accomplished stars and noteworthy action scenes. And most viewers will welcome the opportunity to watch Octopussy’s girls employ their skills as circus performers or a villain treat a circular saw like a yo-yo.

Bond Is Forever will return next month with Die Another Day (2002).


  1. Fabulous review, Sark, of a very solid entry in the Bond series. OCTOPUSSY isn't in my top tier of 007 films (for one thing, it's too long, as you noted), but it's still quite appealing. I especially enjoyed your awesome background info on the film's literary origins. I wish Roger Moore would have ended his Bond run here on a high note (not being a fan of A VIEW TO A KILL). OCTOPUSSY is definitely superior to NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN. Indeed, my only qualms about OCTOPUSSY--besides the extended ending--are Maud Adams and the song. While Maud looks the part of the leader of a cult of beautiful female criminals, I've always felt she was kinda bland. As for the opening song, it's pleasant enough...but it doesn't have the film name in its title. That violates the Bond's just cheating! Hey, didn't Duran Duran have the title of the next film changed to fit its lyrics? Anyway, thanks for another marvelous monthly entry of Bond Is Forever.

  2. "All-Time High" is my favorite Bond theme song, and one that should be revived more often. (I'd love to see some producer try to arrange it in a mock-Spector style.)

  3. Sark, boy are you right about that name! Not classy! It's funny, because my 14-year old grandson saw the title when he was surfing around the Netflix site and, being 14, thought it was the funniest thing he ever heard!

    I too thought Maud Adams was miscast, although she is a beautiful woman. I really didn't care for Octo-hmm-hmm (LOL!) But, believe it or not, I didn't like Never Say Never Again! I can't believe I think that, since I'm such a rabid Connery Bond fan. But you know, Connery should have left his legacy alone, and not tried to come back as Bond-with-a-bad-toupee!

    Thoroughly enjoyable and interesting Bond review, as usual, Sark!

  4. Come on people! Maud is great in "Octopussy." She and Moore make a good team. Interesting to learn that "Octopussy" was based on a Bond story. I knew there wasn't a book, so thought they made it up.

  5. Interestingly I just finished watching "It Came from Beneath the Sea" about a giant octopus caused by an H-bomb. What a tie in to this movie! I really like the theme song from this Bond film. I am glad that "All Time High" didn't discuss an octopus in its lyrics, much less title. What I remember most of all was the bed in her lady's chamber. Most unique. Sark, your Bond profiles are always eagerly anticipated and expertly delivered. Great job!