Octopussy (1983)

Posted: February 10, 2020 in James Bond
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You’ll know by now that I’m a big fan of Roger Moore. In many ways he can do no wrong as 007, or at least he couldn’t. As we reach 1983—the year let us not forget that saw Sean Connery and Roger Moore in direct, Bondian competition as Never Say Never came out—Rog is in his mid-fifties and it’s starting to show. I mean maybe, it was showing before, but his boyish enthusiasm always kept it at bay. For a while there’d been a fine line between charm and smarm, and 1983 is the year that line was crossed. Not that we can wholly blame Moore for this.

It’s evident from the pre-title sequence how things have changed. Just check out his leer when he’s trying to distract those two guards. And talking of them, who the hell wears a parachute as a matter of course? Not even paratroopers. Makes it handy for 007 to escape that’s all. It’s an oddly hollow pre-title sequence. Yes the little Aerojet is cool but it doesn’t do a lot, and where is he? Argentina? Could be, there’s the polo, and this was around the time of the Falklands War. Except he’s suddenly in a southern American state asking some old geezer to fill her up. Cuba? Unlikely given the polo/wealth on show. Mexico? Maybe its best to imagine it’s some imaginary country. The Republic of Isthmus perhaps? The best bit is probably Moore’s judo chop!

After the titles the film settles down a little and goes Cold War on us. First off there’s 009, dressed as a clown, being pursued to the British embassy by knife wielding goons. He makes it, but soon succumbs to his wounds, dropping a Faberge egg on the floor.

Back in London 007 arrives to find Moneypenny has a new assistant, Miss Penelope Smallbone, who’s sexually harassed by Bond right from the off, though clearly it’s mutual given her longing sigh. I mean Roger Moore is cool and all but he’s old enough to be her grandad. And the side-lining of Moneypenny isn’t great.

The auction scene is fun, though maybe surrounding Rog with antiques isn’t a great idea….

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“I’m sorry Steven, could you just ratchet it up a little more?”

We meet our first villain of the piece now. The always understated Steven Berkoff as General Orlov. Gotta love that Politburo war room set though.

Having switched the eggs at the auction Bond is off to India and things go even more off the rails. I mean this is probably as close to becoming a Carry On style parody as the franchise gets (unless A View to a Kill is somehow worse than I remember). Say what you like about Moonraker, it’s not as ridiculous as this.

Where to start? How about Bond recognising his own theme tune courtesy of former tennis star Vijay Amritraj disguised as a snake charmer (damn I missed him off my Bond/Trek list! He’s in Star Trek IV). Somehow having a camera with 007 on it doesn’t seem so bad.

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“It’s all in the wrist.” Are you sure you’re talking about backgammon Roger?

Next villain, the wonderfully suave Louis Jourdan as Kamal Khan. The backgammon game is presumably a nod to Goldfinger, complete with Bond showing off the egg the way Connery showed off the gold bar, and having Gobinda, Khan’s bodyguard, crush the dice the way Oddjob crushed a golf ball. Yet again Bond walks away with a bundle of cash, and unfortunately advises his Indian colleagues that it’ll keep them in curry for a few weeks. Oh 007…

The auto rikshaw chase should be fun, but turns out to just be an excuse to stick as many Indian stereotypes in one sequence as possible. Sword swallowers, fire jugglers and fire walkers and of course fakirs sleeping on beds of nails.

Then we’re into Q’s lab where the misogyny goes into overdrive. Q offloads Bond’s jacket to a woman to sew up, before Bond focuses a camera on a young woman’s cleavage to ‘hilarious’ comic effect. I’ll defend the franchise a lot, but this is a really poor show. He’s James Bond not Sid James!

Bond gets a shag next, and I suppose the best thing one can say is that Magda is only doing it to get the egg. Her escape from Bond’s room is fun, but why go to all that trouble when Gobinda is going to clock Bond anyway?

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“I was Dracula you know.”

Cue dinner at Kamal’s palace, complete with stuffed sheep’s eyes. Really, I’m surprised they didn’t get chilled money brains from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Despite his hospitality Khan is going to kill Bond so he makes his escape.

And what an escape. First he pretends to be a ghost (which did make me laugh against my better judgement) then he impersonates Barbara Woodhouse with a gag I imagine less than 1% of viewers these days will get. He tells a snake to hiss off and then throws in a Tarzan cry for good measure. I mean, Jim Dale might as well be 007 by this point.

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“Are you sure we haven’t met before? You look oddly familiar.”

Finally Bond heads for Octopussy’s island in a crocodile submarine (I mean why not right) and meets up with a familiar face as Maud Adam returns for her second outing as a Bond girl. Not the first woman to return as a different character, but the others were fairly minor, she’s the only woman to play two different top tier Bond girls as it were. On the plus side she’s only just young enough to be Roger’s daughter. On the downside she isn’t the greatest actress (I think she’s better as Andrea Anders) and the scene with Bond as they discuss her father should be great, given as it’s lifted from Fleming, yet feels dull.

Poor old Vijay is killed and Bond narrowly escapes being buzz-sawed in Octopussy’s bed.

The film them scoots off to Germany and oddly goes all spy thrillery as it becomes apparent that Orlov is using Octopussy’s circus to smuggle a nuclear bomb onto an American airbase where he plans to detonate it, blame the Americans and encourage nuclear disarmament across Europe, thus leaving the continent vulnerable to Soviet takeover. It’s a neat plan, one that probably deserves to be in a better film. In fact it’s so similar to The Fourth Protocol that I wonder if the Bond producers ever thought of suing Frederick Forsyth?

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After some hijinks aboard a train Bond breaks into the USAF airbase (ridiculously easily it must be said) and disguises himself as a clown (the jokes write themselves by this point) before trying to warn the Americans about the bomb. Surprisingly they think he’s joking but luckily Octopussy believes Bond and reveals the nuke, which James defuses while still dressed as a clown. To be honest I think the clown thing gets a lot of bad press, it actually works quite well and given he was disguised as a gorilla about ten minutes earlier, is it really that bad?

Cue a ridiculous circus inspired attack on Kamal Khan’s palace by Octopussy’s all girl circus, with Bond dropping in via a Union Jack hot air balloon piloted by Q…I mean by this point you have to wonder what the writers were smoking.

There’s time for a final confrontation atop Khan’s plane between Bond and Gobinda, worth it if only for the Sikh’s “Out there?” when Khan tells him to clamber outside the plane to kill Bond. Like much of the film it’s a set piece I remember liking a lot more when I was younger.

It isn’t a completely terrible film, almost but not quite. Most of the train scenes are good and I do genuinely like Bond defusing the bomb. Roger sliding down a bannister with an AK47 is really cool as well, but this feels tired and it feels tawdry. In many respects I wish For Your Eyes Only had been Roger’s final film (not that this is his final film but we’re into a law of diminishing returns now.)

Jourdan and Berkoff make for decent villains. Gobinda is a nice spin on the tough henchman, and while Adams isn’t great, Octopussy does have a bit of agency, and you have to like that they added several ideas from Fleming into the book (Major Dexter-Smythe, Property of a Lady etc) but overall this is a poor Bond film, and in fact might well be my least favourite so far. That it was still probably the best Bond film of 1983 is damning with faint praise. Still, it’s almost time for Tim, but first we have a View…to a kill!

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“What have I done?”

 

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