“You know what they say about the fittest.”
John Glen returns to the director’s chair following his debut with For Your Eyes Only. Octupussy is Roger Moore’s sixth and penultimate turn as Ian Fleming’s James Bond 007. The film had some unprecedented competition as it went into production. A rival company, Warner Brothers, had purchased the film rights for the story of Thunderball from Kevin McClory. McClory had his hand in the original Fleming novel and consequently had a healthy stake in the ownership. The dueling 007s headed to the box office for the summer of 1983. Roger Moore goes against versus Sean Connery with his vehicle, Never Say Never Again.
Bringing aboard a new scriptwriter, George MacDonlald Fraser, with a rewrite by familiar 007 scribes, Richard Maibaum, and executive producer Micheal G. Wilson, the new film would try to see a balance between the grittier storytelling. After all, it worked so well in For Your Eyes Only. And the gadget-laden world that Moore’s Bond had so heavily embraced before that.
The result is decidedly unbalanced with some truly solid sequences, and some that should have been left by the wayside. The pre-titles sequence is a brilliant example of what works. It lets the audience know that you are in for a 007 adventure.
The story as it ended up on the screen sees 007 investigating a jewel smuggling operation. Running it is a woman calling herself Octopussy (Maud Adams, previously seen in The Man With The Golden Gun). Kamal Khan (Louis Jordan) and a Russian general, Orlov (Steven Berkhoff), are using her. Both are also using the operation to smuggle a nuclear bomb onto a NATO base in the opening gambit of a Soviet power grab.
Joining the adventure is Walter Gotell as Gogol, Robert Brown assuming the role of M. Desmond Llewelyn returns as Q (and the film gives him an active role in the mission), Lois Maxwell as Moneypenny. Micheala Clavell is Moneypenny’s new assistant Miss Smallbone, Kristina Wayborn plays the devious Magda. Kabir Bedi plays the henchman, Gobinda, and famed tennis player Vijay Amritraj plays Vijay.
Moore had been on a picture by picture deal following Moonraker. This would lead to casting speculation before each film’s production. But there was word that Connery was returning to the iconic role for a rival studio. And he producers were intent to secure Moore (despite being in his mid-50s). He’s a recognized and beloved Bond in the role. That’s better than introducing the world to a new 007 opposite the man who created the on screen role.
There is some fantastic East/West Cold War tension playing out brilliantly across the top of a train track. That tension also plays out in a border crossing, a fantastic foot chase sequence with a twin reveal. There’s a stunt-filled fight atop an airborne plane that revs up 007 films to an all time high. But silly sequences including one with reactions to a tuk-tuks in India bring it down. There’s also a silly crocodile escape vehicle for Bond.
The film features some truly enjoyable moments. Moore, at times, appears tired (and a little creepy with his flirting). But he seems to be having a great time in the role, delivering quips, charm and action beats with aplomb. While some of the humour is incredibly juvenile, there is enough to keep most Bond fans entertained. Moore seems to be on par with his performances in Spy and Eyes Only. He’s having fun, and consequently the audience who is along for the ride, has fun as well.
The film looks wonderful. Predominantly shot to look like Cold War thriller, with hanging lights, dark shadows. There’s also the use of a lot of grey washed out colors especially in the European sequences. Alan Hume serves as the Director of Photography, while Peter Lamont delivered some gorgeous sets as Production Designer.
Embracing the Bond legacy, the production shot in numerous locations, including exotic India. They also shot in Germany, the U.S., and various locations in England including the 007 Stage at Pinewood.
John Barry is back to deliver a signature score, highlighting the Monty Norman James Bond Theme throughout the film. That includes a sequence when Vijay plays it as a snake charmer and Bond seems to recognize it. Barry collaborated with lyricist Tim Rice to pen the theme song, All Time High. It’s not my favourite 007 song, but better than Moonraker to be sure. Rita Coolidge would perform it over Maurice Binder’s titles sequence.
The further into the film one gets, the silliness factor increases. But by that time, the creative team figured you were so invested in the story, it wouldn’t make a difference. There’s some great moments though, including Wayborn’s tumble off the balcony, wrapped up in her dress. That’s something she did herself, a most dangerous game nod as Khan hunts Bond through the jungle. Although it also features some silly moments including a Tarzan yell.
Overall, it’s a fun film. It’s not on par with the sheer over the top joy of The Spy Who Loved Me. Or the more grounded For Your Eyes Only. But it is definitely a solid entry in Moore’s 007 oeuvre. While it embraced some of the titles of some of Ian Fleming’s short stories, it is very much it’s own thing. And Fraser’s initial tale, augmented by Maibaum and Wilson is very much a cinematic Bond story as opposed to a literary Bond story.
And yet, it’s easy to be fans of both, and embrace and celebrate those differences, something that would occur the further the series got away from the source material, and the ongoing series of novels headed by different authors. Octopussy kept Bond on top, soundly beating Never Say Never Again at the box office, and showing that Moore still had the chops, even though many argued, and rightly so, that it was time to hang up the Walther and let someone new slip on the dinner jacket.
As the film’s production drew to a close, it was time to set about marketing, a music video with Coolidge was produced, and Dan Goozee and Renato Casaro created a beautifully painted poster, getting back to art as opposed to photography which was used on For Your Eyes Only, and delivered a brilliant centrepiece image of Bond embraced by an eight-armed Octopussy.
The film opened on 10 June, 1983, in North America, having had it’s premiere a coupe of days earlier in England and while it didn’t necessarily wow the critics it deliciously served up more 007 to a very willing audience, and kept the franchise going even as Cubby Broccoli tried to figure out where to take the series next, and whether it was time to find a new 007.
Roger Moore would have one more outing in him as it turns out, and as Octopussy drew to a close we were reminded that James Bond Will Return, and this is the last time that we are told the title in advance, in A View To A Kill.
As always much thanks to DK Canada and their 007 library, including The James Bond Encyclopedia, James Bond: 50 Years of Movie Posters, and Bond By Design: The Art of The James Bond Films.