AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY AND DVD
RUNNING TIME: 131 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
British agent 009 is found dead at the British embassy in East Berlin, dressed as a circus clown and carrying a fake Fabergé egg. When the real egg appears at an auction, M sends James Bond to investigate and find out the identity of the seller. He swaps the real egg with the fake and engages in a bidding war with exiled Afghan prince Kamal Khan, forcing him to pay £500,000 for the fake egg. Bond follows Khan back to his palace in Rajasthan, India, where he permits one of Khan’s associates Magda to steal the real Fabergé egg fitted with listening and tracking devices by Q, and discovers that Khan is working with Orlov, a Soviet general, who is seeking to expand Soviet control into Europe….
One that many fans seem to be divided on, I used to consider Octopussy to be one of Roger Moore’s best Bonds, but of late it’s slipped a bit in my estimation. For the most part, it continue the back to basics, more serious approach of For Your Eyes Only, albeit with a few more gadgets [though they certainly don’t take over] but every now and again throws in some Moonraker-style goofiness which seems mostly out of place. The result is a tonally very uneven film and it’s not helped by a plot that aims for complexity but ends up getting too dense for its own good and not making much sense. It’s quite a slow one too, being the most leisurely 007 flick since The Man With The Golden Gun until its final quarter where it becomes a real thrill ride, but like that one does feature some stunningly beautiful Eastern locations. In fact this is one of the most exotic and lush Bonds and probably the last in the series to really emphasise the glamour and the feel of its settings. There’s a nice emphasis on more fighting too, something which tends to be downplayed in the Moore Bonds compared to the Connerys, though rather lackadaisical staging holds some of the sequences back. Octopussy is overall a good film, but just a bit messy.
Ian Fleming’s short story had Bond allowing a Major to commit suicide rather than be captured when his crimes of embezzlement and murder were discovered. This became Octopussy’s family background, the Major being her father, while The Property Of A Lady became the auction scene. Some unused ideas from previous films turned up too, the backgammon game from The Spy Who Loved Me and the knife throwing twins and the Acrostar jet from Moonraker. Writer George Macdonald Fraser’s first script had Octopussy as a villain, getting Bond into joining her vendetta against SPECTRE, but the ongoing legal battle with Kevin McClory over the rights to some Bond material put paid to that, and Richard Maibaum and Michael G. Wilson’s rewrote it. Moore turned down the film and James Brolin, Oliver Tobias, Michael Billington, Timothy Dalton and Ian Ogilvy were all considered. Then Never Say Never Again was announced from McClory starring Sean Connery, and Moore accepted when asked, again though Barbara Carrera turned down the role of Octopussy to appear in the other film. Sybil Danning was announced but never actually cast and Faye Dunaway was deemed too expensive. Northholt Airport near London doubled for Cuba, and the Nene Valley Railway near Peterborough and RAF Oakley became Karl-Marx-Stadt, Germany and its surrounding areas. Most of the film was shot in Udaipur, India in temperatures so hot that Moore often needed a new shirt for each take. Kristina Wayborn broke several toes when she kicked what was supposed to be a plastic model bazooka, but which was actually a metal one out of a thug’s arms, while a concrete pole fractured stuntman Martin Grace’s left leg when the train entered a section of the track which the team had not properly surveyed. With the rival film much delayed, Octopussy soared to the top of the box office without the expected competition.
The pre-credits scene starts mediocre, then turns rather awesome when Bond pilots a tiny jet out of a truck and dodges a missile which conveniently then blows up the exact base which 007 had been sent to destroy in the first place. By now Maurice Binder’s titles were basically rehashes, and the Bond silhouette throwing women about and neon Bond stencil gliding over blue-lit girls are nice but little more. The John Barry/Tim Rice-written Rita Coolidge-sung song is the same – pleasant but forgettable. Octopussy then sets quite a dark tone with the clown-disguised agent stalked by the knife-throwing twins and his body crashing suddenly through the windows of the home of the British Ambassador. We now have a new ‘M’ in Robert Brown and he carries the right authority though is a little dull when compared to Bernard Lee. At least Bond’s encounter with Moneypenny and a much younger aide is amusing. Bond’s auction bit is nicely played by Moore and Douglas Wilmer, then it’s off to India and in a way this really is a fantasy, not to mention slightly imperialist [Bond’s comment: “This’ll keep you in curry for a few days” would get passed now”!], India, all colour and big palaces. Bond’s meeting with his Indian contact Vijay is an absurd low point, Bond recognising his theme being played on a flute [it’s just too much], but eventually we get a nice tuk-tuk [three wheel taxi] chase through the streets with some great gags, some of them referencing actor Vijay Amritaj’s other job as a tennis pro, though the cyclist seen passing in the middle of a sword fight was in fact a bystander who passed through the shot, oblivious to the filming.
Despite an elephant hunt [planned for an early version of The Man With The Golden Gun] and various Indian thugs menacing Bond, it’s all quite laid back and breezy, though most certainly not unenjoyably so. Then we get to Germany, and one cannot help but ask questions, like General Orlov taking it for granted that the Western forces will pull out of Europe to avoid a war when the bomb he’s smuggling into an airbase in West Germany goes off [then again, he is mad], or why is there all this faffing around with these fake Faberge eggs in the first third considering the large amount of real treasures both Orlov and Kamal seems to have? The idea of Octopussy’s traveling circus, formed largely from female drop-outs who live with her on a lake palace, unknowingly taking the bomb where it needs to be, is good, but the exact nature of the relationships and ambitions of all these characters remains vague. Oh well, at least the pace increases as the urgency of Bond’s mission increases too, with much train action, Bond doing the Diamonds Are Forever two wheel car act [and the water dripping from a potential murder weapon while Bond’s in bed from You Only Live Twice is rehashed too], and one of the tensest bomb scenes in the whole series, given an effective blackly comic touch by Bond being dressed as a clown and nobody taking him seriously. And then it’s back to India for a nice twist on the usual battle as Octopussy’s women attack Kamal’s palace, and even a horseback chase and Bond hanging on a plane twisting and turning as Kamal tries to shake him off! They really pile it on in the final reels.
There are some moments which just seem “off”. Bond recoiling at the stuffed sheep’s head he’s presented with for dinner when a gourmet like him should relish it. ‘Q’ telling Bond that Vijay was alive when he found him, suggesting that Q either left a badly injured man to die on his own or actually killed him himself. Bond zooming in on a woman’s cleavage with a video camera: he’s a smarmy, slightly misogynist womaniser but not a ten year old [though at least ‘Q’ tells him off]. And yet there are also some really elegant bits like Bond’s first conquest Magda’s lovely window exit which Wayborn [a real stunner, but one who cannot act for toffee] performed herself, swirling down to the ground, her dress acting as her support and being unwound as she alights safely to the bottom. Some of the gags work – I love Bond’s silly, pointless but great exchange with ‘Q’ – Bond, “I trust you can handle this contraption”, ‘Q’, “It goes by hot air”, Bond, “oh then you can” , and isn’t it cool to see ‘Q’ get out into the action? However, other supposedly comic moments, like Bond telling a tiger to “sit!” Barbara Woodhouse-style and swinging through vines while Tarzan’s yell is played, feel out of place in what is basically a serious story. And the writing of the Bond/Octopussy affair is sometimes quite poor, notably the scene when hostility turns suddenly to passion just because they both admit they’re “two of a a kind” and Bond roughly smooches her.
At least Maud Adams from The Man With The Golden Gun shines in a both more mysterious and older Bond girl part than normal. Moore is Moore, showing his age but still full of that panache us fans love. Louis Jourdan matches him as the elegant Kamal – their scenes together are some of the best – but Steven Berkoff seems to be trying his best to unbalance proceedings, going totally over the top as Orlov and actually becoming rather comical. Some of the production design is this one is fantastic, from the huge white Soviet war room to Octopussy’s octopus-like bed, certainly Norman Lamont’s best work in the series. Octopussy really is a feast for the eyes, if not quite to much for the ears, with John Barry’s score being his weakest Bond effort. Very reliant on the James Bond theme, often heard together with a different action theme, it has the class but feels just a bit half-hearted, with only the very vague suggestion of India by the use of the bansuri flute. The lush orchestral version of the song is lovely though, as is Octopussy’s theme. At times Octopussy feels slightly tired, not to mention not properly worked out in terms of its plot, but all in all it’s still a really fun show and nothing to be ashamed of.