Octopussy (1983)

Director: John Glen
Starring: Roger Moore, Maud Adams, Louis Jordan, Kabir Bedi, Kristina Wayborn, Steven Berkoff, Vijay Amritraj, Robert Brown as M, Desmond Llewelyn as Q, and Lois Maxwell as Monneypenny
Music: John Barry
‘All Time High’ performed by Rita Coolidge
Based on a short story by Ian Fleming

Christmas 1983 was a tense time for Bond fans. Octopussy was released starring Roger Moore as Agent 007, and soon to be released was Never Say Never Again, an independent film starring Sean Connery as Bond. Now with James Bond, there is no fence sitting. You are either a ‘Moore’ man, or a ‘Connery’ man. Fans had to decide. In the end, they voted for Moore. Octopussy was a huge success. But it wasn’t just Moore’s charm that won over the crowds. Octopussy, in every way was a superior film to the clunky, and trouble plagued Never Say Never Again.

The pre-title sequence takes place in South America. Agent 007, James Bond is sent to destroy a military installation. During the mission he is caught. He is bundled into a jeep with two armed guards and driven off to be interrogated and tortured (Actually they don’t tell us where they are taking Bond. I just guess it’s to be interrogated and tortured – after all, they are the ‘bad guys’.) Bond’s leggy assistant, in this un-named South American country is Bianca (Tina Hudson). She is following the vehicle transporting Bond to his doom. She is driving an open four-wheel-drive towing a horse float. As she pulls her 4WD alongside, she hitches up her dress exposing a generous amount of flesh. Bond’s guard’s attention diverts to the beautiful brunette, and Bond takes the opportunity to escape from custody. He leaps into the 4WD, snatching a machine gun on the way. As they drive past, Bond disables the jeep. It appears that Bond and Bianca are in the clear, but not so. A fleet of military vehicles give chase. At this point, Bond and Bianca pull over to the side of the road. Bond unclips the horse float, lightening the load so Bianca can speed of to safety. But Bond stays put. With reason. The float isn’t quite what it appears.

Rather than a horse, it actually houses a Acrostar jet – a really tiny, one man jet, with wings that fold up. Bond speeds off in the jet and it looks like he can easily fly across the border to safety. But that would have been too easy. The bad guys fire a heat seeking missile at Bond’s jet and a wild chase takes place in the sky overhead. Bond leads the heat seeking missile back the military installation he was sent to destroy and flies his miniature jet into a hanger. Naturally the missile follows. Bond flies out of the other end. But the missile detonates, sending the complex up in a ball of orange flame.

Like so many Bond, pre-title sequences, this one has nothing to do with the main story. It is simply a mini-movie before the main story takes place. As is Bond tradition, we are then treated to the main title sequence. The visuals are once again provided by Maurice Binder, and John Barry is back on soundtrack duties, after Bill Conti had scored the last movie. The title song, ‘All Time High’ is sung by Rita Coolidge. It is not one of my favourite Bond tunes, but I have a few friends who rate the song very highly. I seem to be the exception, so, I guess it is another successful opening to a Bond picture.

When we return, we get into the movie proper. We are in East Germany, and a clown is being chased through a forest by a set of twins, who happened to be expert knife throwers. The clown happens to be agent 009. Eventually the twins catch up to 009 as he tries to cross a river. One of the twins, accurately throws a blade and 009 falls into the river and drifts off dead. Or so we think. Most Double ‘O’s are pretty resilient, and 009 is no exception. Down river, he pulls himself from the water and makes his way to the British Ambassador’s residence, where he gate crashes a party and drops dead on the floor. From his lifeless hand, rolls a Fabergé egg.

For those not familiar with ‘what’ a Fabergé egg is; a Fabergé egg is any one of fifty Easter eggs (or fifty-two if you count the two that weren’t finished) made by Peter Carl Fabergé for the Russian Czars. The eggs were made between 1885 and 1917 and each is decorated with enamel and gem stones. In short they are decorative, jewelled eggs.

As you can imagine, Fabergé eggs are very valuable and not easy to come by. The movie moves back to London and to M’s office. This time M is played by Robert Brown, who had taken over from Bernard Lee who had died a few years previous. It is never mentioned whether Brown’s character is the same one as played by Lee, or if he is the ‘new’ head of MI6. Coincidentally, Brown played Admiral Hargraves in The Spy Who Loved Me, and a part of me likes to think that he is the same character. After all, Lee’s M, Sir Miles Messervy was a nautical man (or the prints on the wall of M’s office, indicate he has an affinity with the sea). And James Bond himself was/is a Commander in the British Navy. So it makes sense that the ‘new’ M would come from the same stock. A Navy man!

But I digress. M is briefing Bond on his new mission. It appears that a Fabergé egg identical to the one recovered by 009 is being auctioned at Southerby’s in the afternoon. Obviously one is a fake and something is not above board. Bond is to attend the auction in an attempt to spot the seller. This is where the mission starts and this is where I leave the synopsis. Bond’s mission takes him to India, and then to East Germany and the dubious jewellery items are only the tip of the tentacle.

But who and what is Octopussy? Ian Fleming’s short story, Octopussy, concerned Major Dexter Smythe, a military man who had absconded with a shipment of Gold and set up a nice little life for himself in Jamaica. Bond’s mission is to kill him. The film has nothing to do with that short story. But the character Octopussy (Maude Adams), is the daughter of Dexter Smythe. In the film she lives on her own island in India, completely surrounded by women. She has built her fortune as a smuggler, and has also set up a circus, the ‘Octopussy Circus’ which travels from country to country. The circus acts as a cover for her smuggling activities. Maude Adams is quite good as the title character, but for fans of the series, who value continuity, Adams had appeared previously in The Man With The Golden Gun as Andrea Anders. It may have been good to see a fresh face in the role.

As always, Bond has a group of friends who help him through the mission. His allies include tennis player Vijay Amitraj, who plays a character called (funnily enough) Vijay. Vijay has a memorable scene, where I fights off some attackers with a tennis racquet. Also from Station I in India, is Sadruddin (Albert Moses). Debatable because her loyalties change, but Magda (Kristina Wayborn) is also one of Bond’s allies. At the climax of the film, she leads the performers of Octopussy’s Circus in a deadly assault upon Kamal Khan’s Monsoon Palace. And even old ‘Q’, Desmond Llewelyn gets into the action in this film, piloting a balloon at the climax of the film.

Along the way, Bond encounters the usual amount of villains and thugs. This time he goes up against an exiled Afghan Prince, Kamal Khan (Louis Jordan), a power crazy Russian, General Orlov (Steven Berkoff), and an impossibly strong henchman, Gobinda (Kabir Bedi). Bond also has to contend with the knife wielding twins (David and Anthony Meyers). But as always, Bond comes out on top.

Louis Jordan as Kamal Khan is the last of the great sophisticated Bond villains. These days, the Bond villains tend to be physical equals of Bond, or psychopaths. But the early villains, like Dr. No or Goldfinger were cultured refined gentlemen. These days Bond is pitted against younger men who have power but no class – such as Alec Trevallyn or Gustav Graves. But Jordan is old school, and he is great. Particularly memorable is the scene where Bond and Khan are dining in the villain’s palace, and Khan outlines how he is going to extract information from Bond (Sodium Pentothal and Curare).

No discussion about a Bond film can be complete without a look at the gadgets (love em, or hate em) on display. In my synopsis I have mentioned the Acrostar miniature jet, but there are a few other gadgets on display throughout the film. During the mission, Bond uses a pen with acid cartridge inside. Confined to quarters, he uses this to cut through the metals bars protecting the window. Silliest gadget of them all, is a submersible Alligator, which Bond uses to escape from Octopussy’s private island. Not all of the gadgets belong to Bond, though. A henchman wields quite a lethal Yo-Yo Saw, which functions as a normal yo-yo does, the difference being that the sides are circular saw blades. Quite dangerous, and quite imaginative.

On the new Ultimate Edition DVD, there is some interesting test footage of American actor James Brolin preparing to take over the role of James Bond from Roger Moore. While I am hardly in a position to speculate about this (if you’re interested watch the DVD), I am glad common sense prevailed and the role of Bond didn’t go to an American. Bond is quintessentially British. And Roger Moore, even though he is possibly too old for the role, gives one of his better performances in one of the better Bond movies. Number 13 is an unlucky number for many people, but not so the Bond franchise. Octopussy the 13th film in the series was a resounding success. Not only was it a good film, it did well at the box office, and even had the strength to stand toe to toe with Connery and win.

For trivia fans, Ingrid Pitt is the voice of the Galley Mistress – “In – Out – In – Out!”

This review is based on the MGM/UA Australia DVD.

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  1. Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now keep it up!

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