“You must be joking! 007 on an island populated exclusively by women? We won’t see him till dawn!” – Q
Welcome back to 00 Saturdays here at Film Seizure. This is our weekly walk through the Bond saga. We continue with the film that draws snickers each time the title is uttered – Octopussy from 1983.
1983 is an odd year for James Bond. After the release of For Your Eyes Only, the collective 12 films of the Bond series makes franchise is now the highest grossing film series ever. However, there are a few things hovering over the series that start to look like storm clouds. First, Roger Moore’s contract has expired. Going forward, everything would be negotiated one film at a time. Each of Moore’s final three films was promised to be his last. Certainly, as mentioned with For Your Eyes Only, age was starting to show and a new decade brought new ideas and new sensibilities that might require a new star. However, as long as the audiences was showing up, it’s hard to not ask for Moore to keep coming back for as long as he wanted.
The main reason why it was absolutely necessary for Moore to return is the fact that later in 1983, Warner Brothers was planning a rival film. Not just another spy film of significance… James Bond himself. Not just James Bond… Sean Connery. Kevin McClory is back yet again. After working with Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman to make Thunderball, McClory made plans as early as the 70s to adapt Thunderball again. The film Never Say Never Again would challenge Broccoli’s EON Productions and the long-established Bond franchise.
Never Say Never Again was a success, but Octopussy was a bigger success despite Connery’s return to the role would score the largest opening weekend to date for any Bond film. Fantastically, McClory planned to remake Thunderball yet AGAIN in the 90s, but with Timothy Dalton in the role, but it never materialized. McClory always seemed to try to be a thorn in EON Productions’ side and felt he had a stake and right to a Bond series of his own. However, and this is my own personal commentary on this, it’s hard to build a long lasting franchise when you’re just making the same damn film over and over and over again.
But I’m not here to talk about that rival film. I’m here for Octopussy. By the by, shouting that in a crowded bar will get you either beaten up or tossed out or both. Best to wait until around closing time to see what leftovers are cool with that statement and willing to humor you.
The film opens with one of those great opening sequences featuring Bond trying to blow up a fancy jet in what I think is supposed to be Cuba. He’s disguised as a general who he looks an awful lot like, but gets caught. Thanks to Bond’s spicy contact, Bianca, he’s able to get away fro his captives and complete his mission with the smallest jet-powered plane ever created at the time. Originally, this was going to appear in Moonraker, but it was held over until now. Bond gets targeted for a missile, but is able to lead the missile into the hangar where the jet Bond was originally trying to blow up and wipes out the whole damn thing. It’s a fun opening, and pretty classic use of high action, a couple laughs, and gets you ready for the ride.
Film proper changes gears on us with the assassination of Agent 009 in East Germany. He’s dressed as a circus clown and carrying a fake Fabergé egg. Bond is sent to replace the fallen agent to figure out if the Soviet Union is trying to sell fake eggs to get some extra money. While Bond goes to the auction to investigate, we meet one of the primary villains of Octopussy – General Orlov, played wonderfully evil by Steven Berkoff. Orlov wants control over East Germany with an idea of a swift invasion to take over most of West Germany and the Netherlands. This doesn’t go over well with the assorted other Soviet generals as they know the reprisal by NATO will be swift and severe, possibly even nuclear.
Berkoff is fantastic in the role. When he’s scolded for his plan to invade the west, he slumps back to chair with a pout like a child. He’s an opportunist trying to take control and glory by way of waging war like a rabid dog. He’s one of those over the top villains that can easily stand out in a series like this. I also get a little bit of that Cold War, early 80s action exploitation from him. He’s the boogeyman we were always afraid of during that decade of nuclear fear and threat of invasion.
Our primary villain is Kamal Khan, played by Louis Jourdan. Khan is an exiled prince from Afghanistan. He is aiding Orlov in his plan and often supplies forgeries of Faberge eggs and other priceless items to help transfer money back and forth to eventually smuggle a nuclear warhead into West Germany and detonate to kick start Orlov’s invasion plans.
If Berkoff’s General Orlov is the rabid dog of the villains, Louis Jourdan’s Khan is meant to be the opposite to Bond. He’s calm, cool, and sophisticated. He’s also surrounded by resources. For most my childhood, if I ever saw Jourdan in a movie, he was a bad guy. I think if the 80s came to a close and he hadn’t been chosen to play the heavy in a Bond film, it would have been a terrible missed opportunity. The only unfortunate thing is that Jourdan is kind of a forgettable portion of the movie. He is mostly lost in the lovely Indian setting, the Russian general who is foaming at the mouth to start a war with NATO, and his own henchman, Gobinda (Kabir Bedi), who is a huge physical threat throughout the movie.
The stand out element of this movie is Octopussy and her team. Octopussy is played by Maud Adams who is making a return to the series after playing Scaramanga’s ill-fated lover in The Man with the Golden Gun. She is a jewel smuggler who is connected to Khan. She’s also a very well-connected businesswoman.
Octopussy has a complicated role in all this. She has a very close connection to Bond. 007 was sent to kill her father for treason, but he allowed him to commit suicide as opposed to being brought in for trial. It was an honorable death over the scandal of a Major who became a turncoat. In some ways, she feels obliged to Bond for that courtesy. She’s mysterious, has an island for women only, and has a circus that is filled with those women who are part of her “octopus cult”. Naturally, all those women are incredibly pretty and usually outfitted in either skin baring Indian suris or skintight leotards.
Casting Maud Adams is actually pretty brilliant. She got here because she was used to screen test a potential replacement for Roger Moore should he not return. That possible replacement was one James Brolin. She remained on board when Moore did return because they were friends and had great chemistry. Not only that, but I feel her more mature looks, and relative complex character was a great match for Moore’s aging 007. Remember, the last movie, he was paired with a 24 year old Carole Bouquet and an even younger Lynn-Holly Johnson. It might be a good idea for him to be cavorting with a woman who was a little closer to his age. More importantly, though, and in all seriousness, Adams was able to appropriately play that more complicated role for a Bond Girl. In fact, I’d say that Octopussy comes about as close as anyone ever has to recapturing Diana Rigg’s Tracy with her criminal background and sordid affairs. You get a feeling that she and Bond really do have a pretty deep connection and that is a real benefit to having Adams in the part opposite Moore.
One of Octopussy’s girls is another big highlight for me – Kristina Wayborn as Magda. Wayborn was a Swedish actress and model who had a little bit of an athletic background to her as well. In this, she brings all of that to the role of Octopussy’s primary henchwoman. There was something about Magda that I always found intensely sexy. It is mostly the fact that she is very sensual in the way she moves and talks. She has a slightly deeper voice and the way she reveals her little Octopussy is just hot. It also doesn’t hurt that she could come dressed as a circus ringmaster to any party I have any time she wants.
Magda is also part of several very important sequences. She’s present when Bond comes face to face with Khan. The morning after sleeping with Bond, she has a super cool stunt in which she ties her suri to the rail and tumbles over the balcony and letting it unwrap her slowly so she can land gracefully. She’s at the circus when Bond disarms the nuclear warhead sent to kick off Orlov’s war. She’s part of the final battle at Khan’s palace. Magda is pretty much as much of the plot and story as Octopussy and Bond are, and actually more interconnected with all the important stuff happening than the two main villains!
The film has that great opening. It’s got a good, exciting scene on a train with Bond fighting Khan’s various henchmen. The intensity is cranked up with Bond disarming a nuke similar to how he disarmed a bomb in The Spy Who Loved Me. The scene with all of Octopussy’s sexy circus ladies fighting Khan’s guys is fun and just about as Bond as it gets. Q (Desmond Llewelyn returning yet again) gets a sort of increased role where he assists Bond in the field for once. An exciting stunt with Bond and Gobinda fighting on top of an airborne private plane is pretty exciting.
There’s all that and, if I’m being fair, the film isn’t exactly very good. The most memorable stuff is the title itself. Maybe the part where Bond is dressed as a circus clown is remembered by casual fans of the series, but that’s part of the issue. It’s said Roger Moore didn’t like the idea of Bond being dressed up as a clown, but I don’t disagree it’s a good disguise. I just disagree that Bond should ever be a clown. The movie relies a little too much on some of the lighthearted stuff like the Tarzan yell when he swings on a vine while escaping Gobinda or how his contact, Vijay, plays the “James Bond Theme” on his snake charming flute when Bond arrives in India. There’s being cheeky and there’s being a little too much. This movie tips over to the “little too much” side of the gauge too often.
It’s got a lot going for it with the Octopussy side of the movie and the casting of Maud Adams and Kristina Wayborn. It also has some good action scenes. However, where it misses, it misses the mark widely. Khan isn’t very exciting and it’s one of the better possible actors to be a villain in the series in Louis Jourdan. Steven Berkoff is great as Orlov, but he’s not in the film long enough to make the impact he could have with all his insanity.
Maybe I’m also starting to tire of Moore in the role as well. That’s so unfortunate because he’s a great James Bond. He made the role his, but I’ve been saying it now for two films… He’s starting to show his age. What was great for the 70s isn’t working well for the 80s. It’s a real conundrum too because with Never Say Never Again right around the corner, the film needed Moore in order to fight back the other film bringing Sean Connery back. It’s not an entire loss, and not totally at the bottom of the barrel, but it leaves much to be desired.
If nothing else, it’s more of a nostalgia appreciation of one of the films of my youth more than anything.
Join me next week for a look at the music of Octopussy. In two weeks, I’ll be taking a look at the fourteenth Bond film, and the conclusion to the Roger Moore era, A View to a Kill.