Once more into the breach dear friends, as we dare to defy the odds and delve into yet another chapter in the life of our favoritest secret super special British English agent, James Bond 007. We are now past the dark days of A View To A Kill and Die Another Day, aren’t we? Seems like things are getting good now, right? Well, at least a little better.
If there’s one thing that Ian Fleming loved to do was well…you know…uh…I mean we’re all adults here right? I mean I hope there aren’t any kids reading this. Don’t get me wrong, I love page views as much as anyone else, but really a bit of decorum must be maintained. I mean this material isn’t for everyone. If you think the movies are pretty steamy at times, take a look at the original novels. Whoa, now that’s beyond steamy, I tell you!
Part of the thrill of growing up in the Lutheran parochial school system is that you end up being one of the few people that know how to spell parochial right on the first try. Another part is encountering a mode of censorship that is quite odd and sometimes selective in its application. For instance, I couldn’t wear t-shirts that had rock bands on them. Of course this was in the heyday of grunge, so chances are I had several layers of flannel to cover everything up anyway.
Another interesting part of this system was that certain books were allowed on our shelves and others weren’t. I remember when the grade school library received a copy of Tom Clancy’s The Hunt for Red October. I was pretty jazzed for this because I liked the movie and was getting rather sick of reading nothing but World Book Encyclopedias and Hardy Boys mysteries. Upon cracking the cover though, I found that someone had taken a marker to black out every single cuss word in the book. I might have only been 11 years old, but even us nice kids in the Christian schools knew what word was missing when a character said, “What the **** do you think you’re doing?!”
Why do I bring this up? Well, somehow I managed to slip under the radar because I was blatantly reading Ian Fleming in a 6th grade classroom. I guess the teacher just saw the Goldfinger title and chuckled to himself because he remembered the movie. After all, what could possibly be in this book, right? It’s just a story about James Bond going against a guy that is obsessed with gold and that’s it, correct? Well, I can report from the 11 year-old me that never left my psyche: oh, there was so much more and Pussy Galore!
Speaking of which, Fleming loved to throw sexual situations in his books as he enjoyed many dalliances throughout his own life. The name of Pussy Galore is a bit over the top, but he got away with it and more surprisingly the movie version in 1964 did so as well! They did try to censor the name and change it to Kitty or some such nonsense, but Fleming’s version stayed. Then the double entendre floodgates opened up and future Bond girls would be christened with such names as Xenia Onatopp, Molly Warmflash, Holly Goodhead, and Chew Mee.
So with that long context in mind, let us jump into the world of Octopussy! Yes, that’s right all that Goldfinger talk was misleading, but I wanted to brace you for this stunning title. I guess people who have forgotten to smirk at immature things found the title rather offensive back in 1983. But Ian Fleming did use it as a title of short story and part of that story is mentioned in the film version by Maud Adams, who played Octopussy‘s title character. The story even involves an octopus, so you see, everything’s just fine and you can relax.
Back in 1983 there was the promise of a new Bond movie coming and audiences were thrilled! After all, who wouldn’t want Sean Connery back as Bond in Never Say Never Again? At that same time, EON productions was kinda sorta looking for a new Bond since Roger was arguably getting long in the tooth even after Moonraker. Plus Roger’s original contract was for three films and that ended with The Spy Who Loved Me. He came back to do Moonraker and then For Your Eyes Only both as single picture deals. Would the producers want to pony up the cash to keep Rog around or get a new Bond? (“Golly, that Dalton fellow looks good. But what about James Brolin?” Yes, incredibly, Brolin was screen-tested.) However, with the announcement that Sean was coming back caused incredible worry, so the decision was made to go with the safe choice, proven Bond star Roger Moore.
It was going to be the battle of the Bonds that year at the theater and who would win? Well surprisingly, Bond fans did. Connery was great in Never Say Never Again and Octopussy turned out to be one of the better Roger pictures. Oh, by the way, Octopussy beat the other one at the box office as well if that sort of thing matters to you.
Roger is in good form as Bond for the sixth time. His face is starting to be pulled in goofy angles, but the truth is that he still looks good for the role. There was a lot of goodwill carryover from For Your Eyes Only turning out so well and fortunately it wasn’t squandered by either Moore or the producers. Also this Bond film gave Roger some range as well, especially in the dramatic chase to stop a nuclear device from detonating.
For our main baddie we have the affable and charming Louis Jourdan playing Kamal Khan. He definitely enjoys playing the villain and has the right level of menace. Jourdan is a good actor for Roger to play off of as well. His accent is just right for hearing him say the word “Octopussy” over and over again. No seriously, try rewatching him saying it at home. It’s fun! I also love it when he tells Bond “You have a nasty habit of surviving.“
Playing Kamal Khan’s henchman, Gobinda, is Kabir Bedi. Gobinda is right up there with the legion of henchmen in the Bond series. He is ridiculously strong and a great threat as well. (He crushes some dice into powder! Oddjob could only crush a golf ball.) Also wading around in the baddie pool is Stephen Berkoff playing a Russian general who is trying to instigate World War III because he believes the West to be weak. He’s also tired of hearing how much blue jeans cost in the USSR.
The main female lead is played by Maud Adams, making her second appearance in a Bond movie. Adams was also the mistress of Scaramanga in The Man with the Golden Gun. As Roger aged, the task to find women that could hook up with him without it becoming laughable was quite daunting. Maud Adams was a great choice because not only is she a good actress but was also quite lovely as well. Plus she got to play a character called “Octopussy”. How often does that chance pop up? We learn that her father studied octopi and his pet name for her was Octopussy. (Her own father gave her that nickname? Seems kind of disturbing to me. Surely he knew what it sounded like, right? Yeah, that’s not weird at all.)
The script is kind of a hodgepodge of assorted Fleming story items, unused ideas from other Bond films, and the fact that they went to India. For some reason it all relatively works. The Fleming stories that had parts used were Octopussy, The Property of a Lady, and a moment from the novel Moonraker where Hugo Drax, after losing thousands when playing bridge with Bond, warns Bond to spend the money quickly. Hearing that line from Jourdan is a delight.
One unused story item from Moonraker’s pre-production that was used was the pre-credits teaser sequence where Bond manages to sabotage a Cuban hangar with a mini-jet. Yes, this is a real plane and yes, the building it helps blow up is a real model. Now that I think about it, apparently Castro had a lot of horse shows in Cuba because…he played baseball? I have no idea why there’s a horse show in Cuba.
There are some moments of real drama in this one too. The beginning of the movie shows 009, disguised as a clown, being hunted across East Germany. There is definite tension in the air even up to the moment where he is killed. Later on in the movie, Rog ends up in the exact same clown makeup in a situation that is even tenser: trying to prevent a nuclear bomb from going off. It is a scene that should be totally ridiculous and yet Roger manages to convey some real edge of your seat moments in it.
On the other hand, there is a moment that is almost spoiled because the producers don’t know when at times to just stop. During an effective scene that basically reenacts The Most Dangerous Game, we see Bond being hunted by Kamal Khan’s hunting parties. As he is on the run, facing leeches, tigers, and spiders, Bond manages to find a vine to swing from and…well…there’s a damn Tarzan yell as he swings. It is this movie’s slide whistle. It is this movie’s “California Girls”. It is still embarrassing even 30+ years later. I still reflexively cringe every time I watch it, even though I know that it’s coming.
To that end, there is a moment where Bond sneaks into Octopussy’s palace whilst commandeering a fake crocodile that is a one man sub/boat. And Q Branch wonders why their budgets are questioned. This croc thing was also featured on the wall as a callback in Die Another Day. Alls I know is that it is a long way to go for such a weak visual joke.
But for the most part the stunts are quite remarkable. The aerial stunts with the mini jet as well as Bond and Gobinda’s fight on the outside of Khan’s plane are good. And they manage to do all of this without Gobinda’s turban coming off! Also there were some dangerous gags with the stunt team running in, out, under, and over a moving train as well. Stuntman Martin Grace shattered his hip when he hit a concrete wedge that passed by while he was hanging on the outside of Octopussy’s moving train for a shot. He remarkably survived but the footage that was taken that day was truly gruesome. But he held on after getting hit! No joke here, that is simply incredible.
The score by John Barry isn’t bad, but doesn’t rise to the heights of his earlier Bond outings. The title song by Rita Coolidge has grown on me slightly, but “All Time High” still isn’t a Bond theme. I think they were trying to emulate “Nobody Does It Better” from The Spy Who Loved Me and just came up short. This is not the main beef I have with the title song however. I cannot tell you how disappointing it is that the song never uses the film’s title in the lyrics. Think about hearing Shirley Bassey singing “Face the danger, don’t be a wussy. Sooner or later, you’ll face…Octopussy.” I know, right? Opportunity knocked and they never even bothered to get off the couch to answer the door.
At the end of the day, Octopussy is a nice ride and it is certainly fun to type repeatedly. Despite Tarzan screams, fake crocodiles, and even a hot air balloon that is used to aid the final assault on Kamal Khan’s palace, the dodgy parts do not destroy the whole. And even though I like Roger, he should have definitely left the series after this entry. It would have been a good one to go out on, but there you have it.
C’mon, you want to come up with your own Octopussy theme song lyrics, don’t you? I completely understand the impulse! Here’s some more: “Put your back into it, and don’t be fussy. Don’t worry about anything, you’re with…Octopussy.”
I’d better stop now.