Bond 25 – NO TIME TO DIE opens in September 2022. Until then, I’m re-watching every film in the franchise. Just past the half-way point and we are at Octopussy.
Bond films were now being released every two years, always making money – and seemingly unstoppable. But this time there was a problem. A rival production was also being made at the same time.
And that film starred the original James Bond, Sean Connery.
Not long after Ian Fleming had created Bond in the 1950s, he tried to develop one of his stories into a film with producer Kevin McClory. That project didn’t work out, but Fleming later wrote the book “Thunderball” which retained some of the ideas that he and McClory had created, but neglected to seek his permission or give credit.
The lawsuit that followed gave McClory the rights to the story of Thunderball including the use of James Bond, Spectre and Blofeld. Broccoli and Saltzman gave McClory producer credit on Thunderball, but for years, McClory had dreamed of making his own version of that film.
It’s 1982, and his perseverance has paid off – he lured Connery back. With The Empire Strikes Back director Irvin Kershner on board.
Roger Moore, whose original contract had expired and was now working on a film by film basis, could have left the part before Octopussy (but the producers, aware of Never Say Never Again, wanted to have his presence there as an asset).
The films were out the same year – and the newspapers were determined to ask the question “Who would win The Battle of the Bonds”?
The opening is arguably one of the best. Very simple, but with excellent execution. Bond is captured trying to destroy technology in a hangar in Cuba. His accomplice distracts the guards on the truck long enough for Bond to enter a horse box – which is simply a cover for his new toy, a microjet. Bond skilfully pilots the jet, avoiding the missile launched at him, yet leading it to destroy the hangar.
Check out how they filmed this scene, the use of miniatures for the hangar flight and explosion are virtually undetectable. A great opening.
The story is very straightforward – A rogue Russian general Orlov (Steven Berkoff) is offloading expensive Russian art to dealer Kamal Khan (Louis Jourdan) covering his tracks by creating expensive copies. Agent 009 discovers this but is killed at the beginning, after escaping from a circus dressed as a clown. Stay with us here – for the clown stuff works. Khan, based in India, is using Octopussy and her international touring circus to transport the goods. The double cross is that Khan and Orlov are switching the jewels for a nuclear bomb, which Orlov hopes will destabilise the West.
The opening in East Berlin (remember, this is prior to the Wall coming down) works very well 009, undercover as a clown, escapes from a circus but is stabbed in the back by knife-throwing circus twins. He makes it to British Embassy and smashes through the glass doors before dying on the floor, Faberge egg rolling out of his hand.
The auction of the real egg in London is a good scene which allows us to see Kamal Khan for the first time. Louis Jourdan looks great in the role. His composure is so absolute that you feel that nothing seems to faze him.
This manner is also seen when Bond plays him at Backgammon when in India. Bond spots Khan cheating using loaded dice and switches the dice to win. Khan calmly arranges the winnings but has the brilliantly sinister line:
“Spend the money quickly Mr Bond”
A large amount of screen time is devoted to locations in India, the cinematography plays up the colour and vibrancy of the streets (many have noted that it avoids the poverty – but in an 80’s Bond that would have been stunningly out of place).
THE ACTION SET PIECES
The set pieces in the film are generally well handled – and I’d argue that in many ways the set pieces work better than the other scenes in the film, more lovingly crafted perhaps.
ACTION! THE TAXI CHASE
Bond and his Indian contact Vijay (tennis professional Vijay Amritraj) escape Khan’s assassins in a motorised tuk tuk taxi. The action in the streets is great and looks risky – one notable shot is when a real cyclist pedals between the warring taxis during the sequence. There are a couple of cheesy but funny tennis jokes and a good stunt as the taxi “flies” after riding up a ramp. The sequence ends as the taxi bursts through a poster on a wall, and a new version of that poster falls into place making it seem like a dead end. Writers must have seen Raiders of the Lost Ark the year before.
Her first appearance hides her face to create some mystery, but it isn’t long before we finally meet her, and she is performed by Maud Adams (who played Andrea Anders in Golden Gun). The character is intriguing as is aware of Bond and his reputation, and while she seems to be the one in control for much of the film, a neat twist reveals that she is being played by Khan.
ACTION! THE JUNGLE HUNT
This chase is largely unnecessary as Bond had already escaped Khan’s place, but when in India, you must chase Bond on an elephant, have him bump into spiders, a tiger, a snake and leeches. Any attempts at tension are destroyed by Bond quipping continuously. He tells the snake to “hiss off”, tells the tiger to “Sit” (which is a very British reference to famous contemporary TV dog trainer Barbara Woodhouse), then of course he swings through the jungle to the sound of the Tarzan call.
Khan: “You have a nasty habit of surviving.”
Magda: “I need refilling”.
“Penelope Smallbone”. That’s all I’m saying.
Khan’s bodyguard (the very imposing and sinister Gobinda, played by Kabir Bedi) enlists local assassins to kill Bond, and one of them brings a unique murder weapon – a yo-yo saw. Vijay is the first to be attacked with it in a tense and bloodless but still chilling scene. Their attack on Bond and Octopussy is well staged too.
I love every scene set in Germany. It feels like a different film but does return Bond to a slightly more real-world spy setting.
Bond sneaks onto one of the circus trains and learns it carries a nuclear weapon timed to explode – the ticking clock storyline here works very well. The train chase sequence is very well handled, and the stunts are particularly strong. For starters, Bond chases the train in Orlov’s car, which ends up riding the rails.
While I complain regularly about back projection, it looks very good here, and there are some great practical stunts as Bond hangs from the side of the train, narrowly missing passing obstacles.
The sequence culminates in Bond having to alert the military about the bomb in the circus while disguised as a clown. Sounds ridiculous, but it is played just right, and there is a tense countdown before Bond stops the bomb with one second to go.
BACK TO INDIA
The structure of the story is such that we return to India for the conclusion which seems odd as, crisis averted, it should have been easy to have caught up with Khan in Germany.
ACTION: OCTOPUSSY ATTACKS!
The finale when Octopussy and her all-female athletic bodyguards launch an attack on Khan is fun to see with some decent action (although punchier editing would have made it even better).
Khan and Gobinda snatch Octopussy and try to escape on a small plane. Bond rides after the plane on a horse, and the jump onto the plane is great stunt worth noting. Bond and Gobinda fight on the roof of the plane and of course the henchman falls. As Khan fails to control the plane Bond and Octopussy jump out, nearly slipping off the edge of a cliff.
I didn’t see Octopussy in the cinemas, only on TV many years later, and my abiding memories are the Germany sequences. The film is good fun and while the stupid humour has returned, I think the film’s highpoints outweigh the bad.
But I can’t not mention the bad:
- Bond using Q branch’s camera to zoom into that woman’s chest.
- Bond passing money to his Indian colleagues: “That should keep you in curry for a few weeks”.
- A bloke looking at his wine bottle.
- Bond inside a fake crocodile.
- An assassin killed when an octopus sticks to his face. Writers must have watched Alien.
- Bond dressed as an ape. Trading Places had the fake ape suit joke too. Strangely, both Octopussy and Trading Places were released the same week!
- Q and Bond arriving to the final battle in India in a Union Jack hot air balloon. Ludicrous, and very odd given the history of the British in India!
BATTLE OF THE BONDS
Octopussy was released in June 1983, months before the rival Never Say Never Again. While Connery and Moore deliberately downplayed anyone’s attempts to make it a competition, the inevitable comparisons happened.
Never Say Never Again had its moments, made money, and delighted fans with the return of Connery, (it also has an amazing villain death by exploding pen) but Octopussy was the overall box-office winner.
The end credits promised “From a View to a Kill”, but would they ask Moore to return?
|Produced by: EON Productions|
Presented By: Albert R Broccoli
Director: John Glen
Screenplay: George MacDonald Fraser, Richard Maibaum and Michael G Wilson
Composer: John Barry
“All Time High” music by John Barry
Lyrics by Tim Rice
Performed by Rita Coolidge
Production Design: Peter Lamont
Cinematography: Alan Hume
Editor Peter Davies, Henry Richardson
London Premiere June 1983