Here’s a review of Octopussy by Richard of Kirkham: A Movie A Day.
After having run through most of Ian Fleming’s titles for novels, The EON company began to exploit the titles of his short stories. Octopussy is a short story that appeared in Playboy magazine and Bond is really a peripheral character in it. So far it marks the only Bond film to feature a woman’s name which is interesting considering some of the names they could have used. If you were alive in 1983 and you were a James Bond fan, you anticipated this year with extra glee. Two 007 films were due to battle it out that summer. The “Official” film from the Danjaq company and the renegade remake of “Thunderball” by the McClory company that had secured some rights to the character in a settlement in the 1960s. “Never Say Never Again”, featuring an Albert Broccoli spit in your eye appearance by original Bond Sean Connery, ended up being moved from the scheduled July opening back to October. While both films were successful, the Roger Moore version of Bond did better at the box office and still gets royal treatment by aficionados of 007. “Never Say Never Again” comes off as dated despite the fact that the Cold War premise of “Octopussy” is more of it’s time. This is largely a function of the technology used in the Connery remake and the very 80’s sounding score.
Octopussy has a number of elements in it form other Bond stories. The Ian Flemming collection of short stories “From a View to A Kill” had been exploited for material in the previous 007 film, “For Your Eyes Only”. The story of “Octopussy” is barely mentioned in this film that bears it’s title, but “Property of a Lady” , form the “view to a Kill” collection is integrated nicely into the set up of this movie using a Faberge Egg.
After the over the top, Multi-Billionaire villains of “Moonraker” and “The Spy Who Loved Me”, Director John Glen, who had been an editor and second unit director, took over the series and filmed all of the official EON Bond movies of the 1980s. He and the producers made a deliberate effort to return Bond to a more pragmatic hero in more realistic stories. There were still moments of humor, some of which are cringe worthy, but overall the stakes are realistic and the stuns don’t require a degree in astrophysics to accomplish.
The story here involves a plot to manipulate the U.S. out of it’s theater nuclear weapons to make a Soviet invasion of Western Europe practical. In the geo-politcal world of the times, Soviet conventional forces far outnumbered NATO resources and the main deterrent was the threat of U.S. Nuclear retaliation. There was a “Nuclear Freeze” movement to try and stop the U.S. from deploying it’s “Peacekeeper” MX missiles which had multiple warheads. The idea here was to smuggle a nuke weapon onto an Air Force base in West Germany, set it off and then let the repercussions force the U.S. to withdraw on the assumption that there had been an accident. Renegade Russian General Orlov secures the assistance of a weapons trading Indian Prince and the talents of a mysterious thief and smuggler known as “Octopussy”. The Prince knows the real plan, the troop of smugglers who operate under the cover of being a circus are largely in the dark. To finance the plot, Orlov has been selling treasures from the Russian cache of pre-revolution Czarist jewelry. The British tumble onto the black market sales and thus Bond is thrust into the mix.
007 first appears in another mission, pre-title, in Cuba as he impersonates a Cuban general and engages in all around sabotage activity. There is a nice sequence where he escapes using a mini jet plane that is delivered to him in a trailer disguised so as not to draw any attention. After some lively air combat he succeeds in destroying his objective and finishes the sequence with a traditional Bond film visual joke, landing the jet and getting gas at a local service station.
So you can see that there will be some sly jokes and some corny ones, but there is also going to be some solid action and the story develops nicely along the way. Bond takes the Faberge Egg that the deceased 00 agent delivered, and attends an auction where the real egg is to be auctioned.
This is where he discovers a link to Kamal Kahn a supposed Afghan potentate who is actually the middle man for the smuggling operation. Following his lead to India, Bond confronts Khan over a game of backgammon instead of baccarat, then seduces Khan’s associate (or so he thinks), and then escapes being murdered by Khan’s henchman a a group of assassins who infiltrate the palace of the woman known as “Octopussy”, played by Bond veteran Maud Adams.
There are a whole lot of cool and silly pieces of business in the sequences set in India. Bond and his Indian station agent, played by tennis pro Vijay Amritaj escape in a chase through the market place in a hopped up golf cart. He crosses the river to the smuggler’s palace in a one man submersible disguised as a crocodile.
He also manages to escape being killed by someone using a weapon that I’d only heard of in a martial arts movie title, The Flying Guillotine . As is typical, one of Bond’s allies does not escape and later on he will have more than enough motivation to get vengeance on Khan. Having discovered Octopussy, he also learns that he has an new ally to back him up. This is where the short story from Playboy shows up and gives us a connection to the title. Bond shares a bed with Octopussy and a meal with Khan, where the same gross palate that will be the subject of an extended dinner scene in “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” shows a a year early. There is a weak jungle chase which has an embarrassing Tarzan joke in it and it is capped off by a contemporary reference to TV celebrity Barbra Woodhouse and her dog training methods. People seeing this movie today will have no idea why telling a tiger to “sit” is funny, but if you watched TV in the early 1980s you will get the joke.
The movie gets serious again with a move to West Germany and an atomic device secreted in the circus, unknown to Octopussy herself. An elaborate switch is pulled with train cars being replaced and a chase on the tracks of the train by an automobile as part of the stunt. Bond fights twin brothers who have a knife throwing act but also are stooges for Orlov and Khan.
A very effective fight on the train and some stunts that go along with it are the highlights of the last third of the picture. A race against time and Bond is forced to approach the circus as a suspect pursued by U.S. M.P.s . He eludes them the same way his dead counterpart at the start of the movie tried to hide, as a clown. This is one of those moments when it is clear that this is a Roger Moore vehicle. I don’t think any of the other men who have portrayed James Bond could have carried this off and still be seen as credible. Connery would never have gone for it, and Daniel Craig might have given up the role if forced into this costume and make-up. Roger Moore though is a good sport and had a light touch when it came to some of the absurd humor in his 007 features. He pulls this one off with aplomb and makes us forget the embarrassing moments and feel like he is just doing anything that will help him save the day.
Had this been Moore’s swan song in the role, I think he would be more fondly thought of as 007 by later audiences. Unfortunately he came back two years later, a little long in the tooth, and slummed through “A View to a Kill”, one of the worst Bond films ever made.
There is a big finale with Bond infiltrating Khan’s palace to rescue Octopussy and catch Khan. The climax is a fight on board a plane in flight, on the roof of the plain, with Khan’s main henchman. It is another bravura stunt sequence and finishes the movie in fine form. Some may not care much for Roger Moore’s version of Bond but he acquits himself well in this film and managed to outshine his predecessor at the box office in their nearly head to head match up. Thirty one years later it can still entertain us and it has enough punch to it that fans of more gritty Bond films will be able to find it an undiscovered gem.
Richard Kirkham is a lifelong movie enthusiast from Southern California. While embracing all genres of film making, he is especially moved to write about and share his memories of movies from his formative years, the glorious 1970s. His personal blog, featuring current film reviews as well as his Summers of the 1970s movie project, can be found at Kirkham A Movie A Day. His review of the year 1984 is located at 30 Years On :1984 A Great Year for Movies.