To mark the 50th Anniversary of one of the most successful movie franchises of all time and with filming almost complete on James Bond’s 23rd official outing in Skyfall due for release later this year, I have been tasked with taking a retrospective look at the films that turned author Ian Fleming’s creation into one of the most recognised and iconic characters in film history.
For Octopussy, the thirteenth official James Bond film, 1983 proved to be rather unlucky. After a lengthy court battle with the co-writer of Thunderball, Kevin McClory, Albert R. Broccoli’s EON Productions had lost the right to use Bond’s nemesis Blofeld and his organisation SPECTRE in any of their films. McClory had been trying since 1974 to get his own rival Bond film made but due to a lack of financial backing and legal action from United Artists and the Fleming Trustees his project failed to get off the ground. However in 1983 after a two year court case with the backing of Warner Bros. McClory was given full rights to both the novel and original scripts to Thunderball by the British High Court leaving him free to begin production on his own remake. Shortly after filming commenced on Broccoli’s Octopussy, McClory’s rival picture Never Say Never Again also began shooting with Sean Connery taking the lead role.
With the pressure on Broccoli to outdo the rival film inspiration was once again drawn from Fleming’s original work, in particular the short story collection Octopussy And The Living Daylights, the screenplay while mostly original still used elements from the collection such as the background of the Octopussy character and a portion of the story The Property Of A Lady for the initial plot of the film. Regular Bond scribe Richard Maibaum returned to write the screenplay with Michael G. Wilson and George MacDonald Fraser also contributing to the script. Following his success in the director’s chair with For Your Eyes Only, John Glen was invited back to direct with locations including India and Germany being used for the first time in a Bond film.
Roger Moore had only ever been contracted for three Bond films, a contract that expired after The Spy Who Loved Me, but continued to play Bond renegotiating his contract on a film to film basis from then on. After For Your Eyes Only he had accepted that he was getting too old to play the character and was keen to step away from the role. The search began to find his replacement with actors Timothy Dalton and James Brolin auditioned and screen-tested for the role, however when it was announced that Connery would be returning for McClory’s film Broccoli was keen to keep Moore believing that audiences would prefer the already well established star of the previous five films in a head to head battle with the original Bond.
M: Remember, 007, you’re on your own.
James Bond: Well, thank you, sir. That’s a great comfort.
Octopussy showcases the best and worst of Moore’s portrayal of the character. Where the film follows the brief of the previous film to remain grounded in reality Moore is at his best. While everything he does features a trace of his trademark sense of humour, he still manages to handle the more serious aspects of the film mostly thanks to his natural charm and charisma. However, it is during the scenes where the humour becomes the main focus that the film falls flat. The silliest moments of the film come during a sequence where Bond is being chased through the jungle. In the space of several minutes Bond attempts to calm a tiger by telling it to “sit” in the style of famous dog trainer Barbara Woodhouse, he tells a snake to “hiss off” and swings through the trees mimicking Tarzan’s famous cry. While humour has always played a big part in the make up of Moore’s Bond these scenes really grate and undermine how good Moore actually is in the role.
Pre-Credits & Theme Song
In the tradition of great Bond pre-title scenes Octopussy features another masterful sequence opening the film with a literal bang. After a failed attempt to set an explosive device inside a Cuban aircraft hanger Bond finds himself held prisoner on the back of a military transporter held at gun-point by two guards. When Bond’s female companion distracts the two guards by driving alongside Bond seizes the opportunity to release the rip-chord on the guard’s parachutes sending them into the air leaving him to make his escape in the female’s convertible Range Rover pulling a horsebox. As Bond says his goodbyes he makes his way into the trailer disconnecting it from the car. As it comes to a standstill, the rear of the box opens to reveal a fake horse’s back end which lifts out of the way as Bond reappears in a small jet aircraft with fold-up wings. Taking flight in the tiny jet, the enemy forces launch a heat seeking missile which pursues Bond as he attempts to make his getaway. After several near misses he flies the jet through the aircraft hanger narrowly avoiding the closing doors before the missile hits the hanger completely destroying it in the process.
The aircraft used in the film was a Bede BD-5J, a single seat homebuilt airplane that still holds the record as the lightest jet aircraft weighing a mere 162kg and provides Bond with the perfect toy to make his escape. The jet is the natural successor to Bond’s gyrocopter, Little Nellie from You Only Live Twice. Piloted by Hollywood stunt pilot J.W. “Corkey” Fornoff, the spectacular opening sequence was achieved through a combination of physical stunt-work and special effects trickery. To fly the plane through the hanger, the aircraft was mounted on top of a large pole attached to a high powered Jaguar XJS sports car. By positioning the plane’s wing in front of the pole and having numerous people and objects in the foreground, the effect was hidden from view and Roger Moore was even able to sit in the pilot’s seat for the stunt.
This opening scene is a superb entry in the series and has all the elements of action and humour we have come to expect from a Bond pre-credits sequence and in the tradition of the best of the series has little or no relation to the rest of the film.
After missing out on scoring duties for 1981’s For Your Eyes Only, regular Bond composer John Barry made a welcome return for Octopussy. The film’s score is another excellent contribution from Barry capturing the essence of the locations and the film’s Cold War plot. The film’s title proved to be a challenge for the writing of the theme song. Working in conjunction with lyricist Tim Rice it proved near impossible to write a credible song with the words Octopussy in the lyrics. Instead it was decided for the first time, not to mention the title in the theme song. Multi-Grammy award winning singer Rita Coolidge was chosen to perform the song, All Time High, which went on to spend four weeks at number one in the US despite being one of the weaker Bond songs of the series.
When a British secret agent is found dead carrying a fake Faberge egg in East Berlin, James Bond is assigned to investigate. After attending an auction for the real egg, Bond’s attention is drawn to exiled Afghan prince, Kamal Khan who pays $500,000 for the egg. Following Khan to India, Bond discovers he is working with Orlov, a renegade Soviet general with plans to expand Soviet borders into Europe. Using his connections with rich businesswoman, Octopussy, Khan is involved in smuggling priceless Soviet treasures supplied by Orlov into the West, replacing them with replicas and using Octopussy’s circus as cover. When the circus is due to perform at a United States air base in West Germany, Orlov and Khan replace the treasures with a nuclear warhead timing it to detonate on the air base leading everyone to believe the bomb was a US one triggered by accident leaving the borders open to Soviet invasion. Bond has to convince Octopussy of the conspiracy and put a stop to Khan and Orlov’s plans before it starts World War III.
Following in the footsteps of For Your Eyes Only, the film wisely remains grounded in reality with a topical, at the time, Cold War plot. The way the Soviet government is presented harks back to Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 film Dr Strangelove. The Soviet meeting room designed by production designer Peter Lamont, closely resembles Kubrick’s “war room”, a set that was designed by long-time Bond designer and Lamont’s former colleague, Ken Adam. The room features an elaborate marble, revolving desk with brightly lit world maps and grand paintings of Lenin around the walls. The set is clearly in the tradition of some of Adam’s more elaborate contributions to the series and although it only features for a few minutes it leaves a lasting impression.
With much of the film taking place in India it proves to be a memorable and unique location unlike any other used in a Bond film so far. Bond is a real fish out of water, not just in the way he dresses but also in his slightly dubious attitude to the people and culture of the country. At one point, after handing one of his Indian associates a large sum of money he says, “That’ll keep you in curry for a few weeks.” Despite this Bond relies on the help of Indian MI6 agent Vijay, played by former tennis player Vijay Amritaj, to guide him through the countries customs. Vijay is an instantly likeable character essentially fulfilling the role of Bond’s regular associate Felix Leiter. When we first meet him he is working undercover as a snake charmer only identifying himself to Bond when he plays the James Bond Theme to get his attention, another slightly misjudged moment in the film.
James Bond: Vijay, we’ve got company.
Vijay: No problem, this is a company car.
One of the standout sequences of the Indian locations is a Tuk-tuk chase through the centre of Udaipur. After beating Kamal Khan in a game of backgammon, Bond and Vijay are pursued by Khan’s men through the busy streets of the city in the small three-wheeled taxis that have become synonymous with the country. The open sided vehicles are perfect for the thrilling chase sequence with Khan’s men attacking Bond from all sides as he races through the narrow people filled streets. The scene also finds time for a brief pursuit on foot through a busy market featuring sword swallowers, hot coals and a bed of nails. While continuing to highlight many of the stereotypes associated with this very English view of India, the scene remains one of the highlights of the film.
When the story moves to Germany it features another excellent action sequence, this time involving the Octopussy circus train. As Bond races to catch the train to warn Octopussy she has been duped by Khan and Orlov into transporting a nuclear weapon rather than priceless jewels, he steals Orlov’s Mercedes and makes his pursuit of the train by driving the car along the railway line. As he pulls alongside the train on the parallel tracks he makes a leap through the sunroof just as an oncoming train ploughs through the car sending it off the rails and into a river. Bond then makes his way along the roof of the train fighting off Khan’s henchmen with the action taking place on top, hanging onto the side and even under the train.
Filmed at the Nene Valley Railway in the UK the sequence proved to be a huge challenge and nearly cost the life of Roger Moore’s stunt double Martin Grace. During the second day of filming Grace was critically injured when he hit a trackside concrete pole while hanging from the side of the train as it travelled along an untested piece of the rail network. Fracturing his left leg, he spent the next six months in hospital with fellow stuntman Richard Graydon stepping in to double Moore for the remainder of the sequence. While there have been a number of memorable train sequences in previous Bond films this one has to be the best so far with the danger of the situation permeating the carefully choreographed action.
Immediately following the train sequence Bond finds himself in a race against time to reach the American air force base before the nuclear bomb detonates. Building the scene brilliantly as Khan flees and Bond races towards the potential disaster the pacing is expertly handled to wring every ounce of tension from the situation with Bond fighting off military personnel and police to get to the bomb before it goes off.
The final climactic scene sees Bond pursuing Khan as he tries to make his getaway with Octopussy in a twin-engined propeller plane. Bond leaps from a horse onto the tail of the plane just as it takes flight. When Khan realises Bond is on the outside of the plane he sends his henchman, Gobinda to get rid of him. In another exhilarating aerial sequence the stunt work is absolutely mesmerising. With very little use of studio cutaways featuring the actors, the scene is played out with the stunt doubles crawling around the outside of the plane as it climbs, rolls and dives through the air. Performed by the same aerial stunt team that had provided the superb opening to Moonraker, B.J. Worth and Jake Lombard, the sequence was filmed over Utah in the United States and offers a thrilling climax to the film’s action packed final reel.
With this his second time in the director’s chair, John Glen cements his position as a director who fully understands the Bond dynamic. Octopussy fulfils all the elements that have become associated with the character and despite the competition from a rival Bond film it never loses sight of the most important factor, fun. Something that has remained vital throughout all the EON produced Bond films.
The Bond Villain
Octopussy benefits from having two very different but equally strong villains. French actor Louis Jourdan, who had appeared in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Paradine Case as well as putting in a memorable performance as one of cinema’s greatest bad guys Dracula for the 1977 BBC television production, was chosen for the role of Kamal Khan. Khan has the manners and quiet reserve of a classic Bond villain in the Dr. No mould. His true feelings simmer inside as he becomes more and more frustrated as Bond thwarts his plans at every step beginning with their encounter at the London auction house right through to the final aerial showdown. Jourdan brings to the role a delicious sense of sportsmanship and is the perfect foil for Moore’s aging Bond. Their confrontations are more cerebral than physical with both enjoying a certain level of one-upmanship throughout the film.
Kamal Khan: You seem to have a nasty habit of surviving.
The film’s other villain, General Orlov, is a crazed megalomaniac bent on World domination. Brought to life by Steven Berkoff, Orlov shows no restraint with his plans motivated purely by greed and the opportunity to make a name for himself in the annuls of Soviet history. Berkoff’s trademark scenery chewing is perfect for the role making the character larger than life without overshadowing Khan. The two villains are different sides of the same coin and perfectly compliment each other.
General Gogol: A common thief. A disgrace to the uniform!
General Orlov: Yes, but tomorrow, I shall be a hero of theSoviet Union.
Khan’s lead henchman Gobinda, played by Kabir Bedi, a veteran of over 60 Bollywood films, is an imposing character whose blind loyalty to Khan places him in the heart of many of the film’s standout action sequences including battling Bond on top of a moving train as well as the climactic fight scene outside Khan’s plane which sees Gobinda meet his death. While not quite as iconic as Odd Job or Jaws, Gobinda still proves to be a memorable addition to the series and a strong, well written character with more depth than the average henchman.
The Bond Girl
Initially the lead role of Octopussy was expected to be played by an Indian actress however the search proved difficult in the predominantly white Hollywood and the producers instead focussed on the usual big names to fill the role. Faye Dunaway, who had been linked to Bond girl casting before was deemed too expensive and Barbara Carrera chose to take a role in rival Bond film Never Say Never Again. In 1982, Roger Corman favourite Cybil Danning was announced in the lead role by the press but Broccoli finally settled on Swedish-born Maud Adams for the role.
Maud Adams had previously appeared alongside Roger Moore in The Man With The Golden Gun as Scaramanga’s ill fated mistress Andrea Anders. In that film she had demonstrated an effortless chemistry with Moore and while it might prove unusual for her to return to the series playing a different role she was the natural choice for the part. As Octopussy, Adams exudes a natural charm and continues to gel with Moore to create a believable relationship. While her character is not particularly strong she still proves to be noteworthy if not least for her name alone.
Vijay: Is he still there?
Q: You must be joking! 007 on an island populated exclusively by women? We won’t see him till dawn!
The other significant female part went to another Swedish actress, Kristina Wayborn who was offered the role of Khan’s assistant Magda after Broccoli had seen her play screen legend Greta Garbo in the 1980 TV movie The Silent Lovers. Bringing an agility and physicality to the role she thoroughly convinces as a member of Octopussy’s circus performing a number of her own stunts and as a former Miss Sweden she also brings the requisite beauty and alluring seductive qualities expected of a Bond girl.
Following the same brief as For Your Eyes Only, the film is relatively gadget free, the main exception being Bond’s crocodile submarine. The sub is a full size replica of a crocodile covered in authentic crocodile skin and controlled from the inside by Bond laying flat looking through the electronically operated mouth. Bond uses the sub to stealthily infiltrate Octopussy’s island and to make his escape when attacked by Gobinda’s thugs. While not the most dignified mode of transport it is certainly practical for the conditions and not as embarrassing as the Bondola from Moonraker.
Bond’s other significant gadgets in the film include a new Seiko digital watch which has a radio directional finder linked to a miniature homing device hidden in the Faberge egg. It also includes a tiny LCD television monitor in the screen. Bond is also presented with a fountain pen by Q which sprays corrosive acid from the nib capable of dissolving through metal while the lid houses an earpiece which is also connected to the bug in the Faberge egg.
James Bond Will Return…..
Octopussy was released in the summer of 1983 with Never Say Never Again following just four months later. Despite a strong opening weekend from the rival film, Octopussy won the battle overall taking $27million more at the box-office from a smaller budget than the McClory film. Bond had proven that he could see off competition from all-comers including himself but with Moore heading towards his 56th birthday could he really continue in the role for much longer?…..
To catch up on previous installments of the James Bond Retrospective click here:
Dr. No, From Russia With Love, Goldfinger, Thunderball, You Only Live Twice, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Diamonds Are Forever, Live And Let Die, The Man With The Golden Gun, The Spy Who Loved Me, Moonraker, For Your Eyes Only
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