It’s time to revisit the dubious charms of Octopussy. Halfway there!
Bond, ever the imperialist running dog, causes havoc somewhere in Central America, buzzing around in some kind of collapsible jet, and luring a heatseeking missile to blow up a hangar for some reason. None of this is adequately explained, although some guy who looks like the dictator from the Tropico games seems to be running the place.
Pretty much in the usual Binder style, although this includes some laser projections on the nekkid ladies.
John Barry is back in action, trying to make of what happened to the piano the locum destroyed in For Your Eyes Only, and eventually deciding to stick to what he does best. There is a bit of ethnic forgery going on, for instance during the elephant hunt. The opening song, “All Time High”, with words by Tim Rice and sung by Rita Coolidge is perfectly serviceable but marks the end for torch songs for now.
After the opening in Banana Republic and then the Old Dart for the setup, most of the action takes place in two main theatres, Rajasthan in India and the wilds of what was the frontier between East and West Germany. I think it’s kind of weird the 007 films haven’t seen much these places so far, particularly with Germany was where you’d set more than a few Cold War thrillers. Just not enough ski slopes, I guess.
Another British agent, 009, dressed as Pennywise escapes from a circus somewhere in the Ost, pursued by two knife wielding freaks called Mischka and Grischka; while they mortally wound him, he manages to crawl to the British ambassador’s doorstep with an bejewelled golden egg in his hand, where he carks it. What’s it all about?
Actually, there’s sort of two guys driving the plot this time around.
I’ll start with General Orlov. Played with lurid bellicosity by Steven Berkoff, Orlov first appears at a meeting with the other Soviet generals including Gogol, and Orlov is basically all “we have all the tanks! why can’t we just invade the rest of Europe!” and Gogol just sighs.
And then we don’t see Orlov again until some time later in the film when we’re all “who is this guy? Oh right, the crazy Russian general”.
In effect the main antagonist is the exiled Afghani prince Kamal Khan, played by the European Louis Jourdan, and his hook is, I dunno, smuggling I guess. As it turns out the game is that Orlov is having fake replicas made of all the Soviet treasures (like the Faberge egg) and smuggling the real shit out, with Kamal as the fence. Anyway, they’re in cahoots, and they’re up to something.
We have about three metric tonnes of creepy guys hanging around the film. Most notably, Kamal’s bodyguard Gobinda, played by storied Indian actor Kabir Bedi. Gobinda is pretty much all business, no gimmicks and is well’ard.
Nevertheless, the gimmick goons aren’t far away, as I mentioned there’s Mischka and Grischka and their steak knives, as well as some proper thugs, one of whom has a highly implausible contraption consisting of a couple of circular saw blades on a chain. Wonder if you can pick those up at Bunnings.
Octopussy is the first film to be named after the “squeeze”, played by Maud Adams making her return to the series as a completely different character after playing Scaramanga’s ill-fated mistress in The Man With The Golden Gun.
Octopussy has a lot more agency though; a smuggler like her father (who’d been brought to heel some years earlier by Bond himself) but also trying to go legit through enterprises like, well, circuses. In addition, she’s set up a refuge for the Octopus Cult in the midst of India where she takes in lost girls with names like, err, Gwendoline and Midge, encouraging them to be badass enterpreneurs and circus performers. Cool!
It’s pretty much All-Girl Island, but when Bond turns up, Octopussy makes an exception.
There’s a but, though.
Octopussy is all tied up with Kamal’s smuggling operation, since it’s “her” circus that operates as a front for the trafficking, as it’s allowed to cross the Iron Curtain with impunity, as apparently when stationed in West Germany, there’s nothing US airmen enjoy more than a circus.
She is kept out of the loop in one very important respect, though. Kamal and Orlov ain’t just smuggling jewels.
Yes, Orlov and Kamal decide to do a switcheroo, and instead of hiding the jewels in the human cannon (can I mention at this juncture what a goddamn preening showboat the Human Cannonball guy is? Yeah. OK.) they’ve put a nuclear device in and set it to go off at the US base.
Orlov’s dangerous idea is to cause a nuclear incident in the West that’ll be blamed on a faulty US warhead, the NATO countries will decide to disarm unilaterally, so the Soviets can walk right in, sit right down, and let their hair hang down or something.
Basically speaking, Orlov is setting U.S. up the bomb so all their base are belong to Russia.
Bond manages to figure out that something’s going on, since there was a handy flyer for the gig at Karl-Marx-Stadt (it’s now Chemnitz again) while on Octopussy Island, so he makes his way there, overhears all he needs to know, and sets off in pursuit of the circus train which has pulled up its pegs and already on its way to “Feldstadt”.
Orlov himself ends up being shot up by his own men at the border crossing as they think he’s defecting. Gogol walks up to him and says “you idiot” or words to that effect.
Bond catches up with the train and of course has to fight EVERYONE on it and eventually falls off somewhere in the countryside, meaning he has to find another ride to the show. So he steals one and for his troubles, he’s pursued by the Polizei to the circus site, which has already set up and is primed to go off with a bang.
Yes! You knew it was coming to this!
Bond has basically chained dozens of German johnnyhoppers to a US military base, so he has a hell of a time making it into the Big Top before the Big Pop because of all the interference from cops and air force guys. After leading everyone a merry dance he sneaks into the circus ring disguised as a clown, tries to convince the air force bigwigs that there’s a bomb, and everyone just laughs at him because LOL funny clown.
He finally defuses the thing, happy ending, etc.
The Last Bit
Well, no, they still have to clean up Kamal and Gobinda, because they weren’t hanging around and are already back in India. Octopussy and her acrobats infiltrate Kamal’s fort, soon enough Bond turns up in a bloody Union Jack balloon with Q (who actually gets to do a lot more stuff this time around), and whatever, after some mucking around on a plane Kamal and Gobinda are dead and Octopussy and Bond are doing what usually happens at the end of a 007 movie.
Of course I’m running out of new things to say about the production side of things, the movies were being churned out every second year by this stage, so at this point while the producers would try to push the envelope in every movie, there’s an increasing sense of a well oiled machine in action.
The Other Fellow
Now, of course, Moore had pretty much had his fill of Bond after the last one, and as far as the portrayal of the character goes, a fifty-something secret agent doing stupid things was stretching credibility a bit too far. Bond, having made it to this age, could well be excused if he was just going to take the government pension and flop out in Nassau playing baccarat, drinking martinis, and being a dirty old man.
Instead, in 1983, we had two Bond movies that were stretching the character’s credibility in that fashion. Timothy Dalton, amongst others, was emerging into the frame as the next new Bond, but he’d have to wait because putting a first-time Bond up against Sean Connery probably seemed too much of a risk.
I didn’t think this at the time, however. As young kids, brother and I were stupidly into 007 at the time, so TWO NEW BOND FILMS IN THE SAME SUMMER what could be better. I didn’t even know who this Connery guy was, to me Moore was Bond, but when they came out we saw both and we thought they were both amazing. Which shows you how discerning I was.
So of course I will be going over Never Say Never Again next. Obviously it’s not an “official” Eon production, but since Connery puts in a solid performance and there’s interesting things to write about it, I will. Notice I didn’t use this privilege for the first Casino Royale.
But that’s for next time.
I should also mention what else was happening in the film world. For instance, Raiders of the Lost Ark came out the same year as For Your Eyes Only and absolutely slaughtered it in the action-adventure stakes. (I cannot tell you how much the melting face scene freaked the crap out of me, though I got over it.) Temple of Doom, the same again, although I was merely icked by the icky things because I was a leetle bit older. And funnily enough, when Connery got his turn in that series a few years later, his role was suitably mature and this time he didn’t have to wear a wig.
In all honestly I do think it was a step up from For Your Eyes Only, if only a minor one. On the downside, we have some problematic casting, a mild manifestation of the Kipling complex, and too many fucking clowns. On the upside, the Indian scenery makes a nice change, and for some reason the train and car chases around the German countryside pleased me as well. And even with the awkward casting, Adams, Jourdan and Bedi do a good job in their roles. As for Berkoff, well, it’s a performance.
As far as I can remember, this is also the first 007 that actually puts the Cold War front and centre – although it’s always been in the background, it’s been SPECTRE or some rogue weirdo as the main antagonists rather than the USSR per se. At the same time, it also mixes things up with a jewel caper, so we’ve got that interesting combination for a plot. And it’s really weird that I hate the clowns but I didn’t mind so much that last sequence when Octopussy’s troupe is beseiging Kamal’s palace.
Such a strange Bond movie. I don’t like it as much as I did when I was a dumb kid, but I’m still giving it 14 out of 20 face-humping molluscs.