The 007 Collective is a bi-monthly column in which I revisit every official feature in the James Bond franchise and review how they hold up today. Along with a review of each film, each article in this 10-month-long series will dive into the historical place and production of each film in question. It will also feature a dossier i.e. a fact sheet with superlatives, ratings, rankings, best, worsts and other fun stuff in line with the format you’ve seen in my annual Year in Superlatives articles. This project isn’t meant to be the final word on the Bond franchise. It’s merely my take on the series. For previous entries, click here.
The 007 Collective returns this week with my Birth Bond i.e. the Bond movie that came out the year I was born, and the first and, to date, only Bond movie to be primarily set in India. Roger Moore’s penultimate outing as Bond, it’s the one and only OCTOPUSSY.
Mission Title: Octopussy
James Bond: Roger Moore
Release Date: June 10, 1983
Source Material: Based on the stories “Octopussy” and “The Property of a Lady” by Ian Fleming
Tagline: James Bond’s all time high.
When agent 009 turns up dead at the American Embassy in Berlin (wearing a clown suit and with a fake Faberge Egg in hand no less), MI6 puts 007 on the case. Although Bond suspects a smuggling operation, his interest is piqued when exiled Afghan Prince Kamal Khan buys the real egg for an exuberant price at a London auction. As Bond begins to investigate Khan at his hideout in India, he realizes that the smuggling ring, which involves a mysterious smuggler named Octopussy, is simply a front for a far worse scheme involving the Soviets and the Americans.
Let’s face it… the only reason anyone remembers Octopussy today is because of its title. Not only is it a bastion of juvenile humor – an Ian Fleming creation, naturally – but it’s also as on-the-nose as they come, at least for this franchise. Still, some good use has come of the actual word itself, especially when used in a game of Charades. God knows I’ve used it more than my share of times. Just the experience of watching the opposing team squirm as they come up with non-vulgar ways to perform the title is awkward fun! Turns out watching Octopussy itself is a lot like that too.
After fulfilling his three film contract with EON Productions in 1977 with The Spy Who Loved Me, Roger Moore renegotiated his contract on a film-by-film basis. But by the time For Your Eyes Only came along in 1981, Moore made it clear to Bond producer Cubby Broccoli that he was done. Reluctantly accepting Moore’s semi-resignation, Broccoli performed screen tests with both Timothy Dalton and James Brolin as replacements. But when Kevin McClory, the biggest heal in the franchise’s history, was able to successfully move forward with his own adaptation of Ian Fleming’s Thunderball novel, thanks to a legal deal that gave him the rights to make a movie featuring many characters from that novel (including Bond, Blofeld and SPECTRE), the EON folks found themselves competing with another Bond film titled Never Say Never Again. To rub salt in Broccoli’s wounds, McClory nabbed Sean Connery to star as Bond. Since a Bond movie starring Connery would almost certainly decimate a Bond movie starring a newcomer at the box office, Broccoli was able to lure the then 56-year-old Moore back to the role for his sixth, and what should have been his last outing.
As I noted in my review of A View to a Kill in March, Moore wasn’t just too old for the part, he was practically ancient. He was slow, unconvincing in action scenes and flat-out dull. Although his age is much less of a distraction in Octopussy, it’s still a noticeable problem – especially considering his female co-stars were 18 years and 21 years his junior respectively. Barring the glaring issue of his age, Octopussy also suffers, like many of Moore’s Bond outings, from wild tonal shifts. One moment it’s a serious espionage thriller, the next, it’s a campy, casually racist comedy aimed at teenage boys. But then again, with that title, I should have known better.
Director John Glen, who had previously served as film editor and second unit director on three Bond films (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker) before being promoted to direct For Your Eyes Only, once again brings his top-notch editing and second-unit experience to his direction of Octopussy’s action scenes. The pre-title sequence in which Bond escapes a military base in Cuba using an Acrostar mini jet is arguably one of the tightest action set-pieces of the Roger Moore era; a chase and fight atop a train in Germany, which also involves a tire-less Mercedes running on rails parallel to a train, is a true James Bondian showstopper; and the film’s climactic fight outside a flying airplane is a showcase of the series’ loyalty to jaw-dropping stunt work. Similarly, Glen’s pacing of the film is top-notch. Taking a cue from Raiders of the Lost Ark – which had invigorated the action genre just two years earlier – Glen moves breathlessly from one big action sequence to the next, blending thrills with silly fun. The best example of this takes place during one of the final scenes of the movie in which Bond has to find a way to diffuse a nuclear weapon at a circus seconds before it goes off, all while wearing a clown suit. The scene is suitably tension-heavy, even if the sight of Moore in full clown makeup has been a point of contention for many longtime Bond fans.
But all of the movie’s fantastic action sequences are undermined by its confusing plot and the filmmakers’ insistence on stuffing it with witless comedy and casual racism. The story of Octopussy, which gives The World is Not Enough a run for its money as the most convoluted of the series, makes very little sense if you think about it… and I was really trying hard not to! Many characters serve no purpose, waltzing in and out of the picture adding nothing to move the story forward. For example, who the hell were those German guys in the underground bunker that General Orlov kept visiting? Moreover, the connection between the fake jewelry smuggling ring and Steven Berkoff’s mad Russian General Orlov is trivial at best.
As half-baked as the plot is, it’s the “comedic” sequences where the film truly loses its way. The inanity begins the moment Bond lands in India. After being greeted by a snake charmer, playing the James Bond theme on his flute at that, Bond and friend get into a rickshaw chase in a busy Indian street market. Among the assortment of characters at the market are such racist Indian caricatures like a fire juggler, a hot-coal walker, a man who swallows swords and another who sleeps on a bed of nails. As you’d expect… all these characters are used by Bond to defeat the bad guys in supposedly “funny” ways. Later on, Bond is served a goat’s skull for dinner – making me realize that it was Octopussy and not Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom that first popularized that racist stereotype.
But the icing on the cake is the jungle chase sequence – a scene in which Bond first scares a couple of superstitious Indians by pretending to be a ghost, then tames a wild tiger by telling it to “sit,” then tells a snake to “hiss off,” and finally, swings through the jungle’s hanging vines literally howling like Tarzan. What on Earth is James Bond, a British super spy, doing swinging from vines hollering like Tarzan for? Doesn’t he realize it’s going to give away his location? It makes no fucking sense! And it’s utterly stupid too. Despite its plethora of problems, Octopussy manages to be somehow rather watchable, even enjoyable. I’d give a lot of credit to Glen’s superb handling of the film’s action sequences and for Moore’s effortless charisma. It’s far from the best Bonds, but it’s not unwatchable like Die Another Day or A View to a Kill either. In fact, it’s exactly like its title – ridiculous but worth a few chuckles.
The Bond cold opens really took off during the Roger Moore era and Octopussy’s cold open is one of his best, only paling in comparison to the cold opens of The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker. It kicks off with Bond getting captured while trying to plant a bomb on a new jet in an aircraft hangar at a Cuban military base. With the help of a sexy companion, Bond flees his captors and escapes in an Acrostar Jet – still the world record holder for lightest single-engine jet aircraft. But the Cubans launch a heat-guided missile after the Acrostar. After several close calls with the missile, Bond flies the jet through the hangar while the Cubans try to block the aircraft in by shutting the doors of the building. But Bond narrowly makes it out, thereby leaving the villains woefully exposed to the speeding missile which blows them, Bond’s original jet target and the entire hangar itself to kingdom come. Cue title sequence.
Title Designer: Maurice Bender
Title Song: “All Time High” by Rita Coolidge
Famous Quote: “All I wanted was a sweet distraction for an hour or two.”
Ironically, an all time low for the Bond franchise, Rita Coolidge’s snoozer of a tune is the dullest title track of the entire series, and this includes clunkers like Madonna’s God-awful “Die Another Day,” Jack White’s “Another Way to Die” and even Lulu’s “The Man with a Golden Gun” track. As terrible as Madonna’s track is, at least she went all out and flamed. But this track, with its porn-worthy saxophone base and cringe-worthy chorus is the epitome of not giving a shit. I’d have preferred if they went all out and at least attempted a ludicrous song that matched the film’s title, or at least something that rhymed with it. On second thought… no.
As for Maurice Binder’s title design – it’s a typically-sleek piece that incorporates everything you’d expect in a Bond title sequence – naked women, guns, bullets and the numbers 007, along with some of the film’s themes and characters – circus gymnasts, ballet dancers and the Octopussy tattoo in the form of a laser being projected over the naked bodies.
The Big Bad:
The vain, smug, arrogant and greedy exiled Afghan prince Kamal Khan (Louis Jourdan) who lives in his large estate in India like a king, with no care or worry about the poverty around him. While Jourdan’s quietly macho performance is perhaps performance in the film, he’s undone by a poorly-written character that functions as little more than a common thief. Boring!
The tall and intimidating Sikh thug Gobinda (Kabir Bedi) whose hobbies include: rarely leaving the side of Kamal Khan, crushing dice into powder and trying to kill Bond. Alas, Gobinda’s slavish dedication to his master is also what leads to his downfall (literally).
Steven Berkoff’s mad and power-crazy Soviet General Orlov would have made menacing central nemesis if this were a Bond movie starring say, Timothy Dalton or Sean Connery. Alas, he just feels out of place in this universe. Berkoff, who is no stranger to overplaying parts, gives a performance so heated and full of fury that I worried that he would spontaneously combust into a hailstorm of blood and guts. Nevertheless, it’s a performance that somehow manages to straddle the line between satire and scary quite well.
Twin assassins and knife-throwing circus performers Mischka and Grischska (David Meyer and Anthony Meyer). First introduced in the post-title sequence ruthlessly hunting and stalking agent 009 through the woods before killing him, the duo don’t make another appearance until the last 45 minutes of the movie, which is a shame because it would have been nice to see them used in sequences in India.
Organization: Soviet Russia
World Domination Plan:
To set off a nuclear weapon in U.S. occupied West Berlin using a train operated by Octopussy’s circus, and then blame the explosion as an accident caused by the United States. The ensuing disaster will force the United States’ exit from Europe thus leaving Russia to conquer the rest of the continent. The end game for Kamal Khan is the millions he’ll gain from the scheme. Yes, money.
Charming jewel smuggler and businesswoman Octopussy (Maud Adams) who owns an all-female circus and uses it as a front for her smuggling operation. Based in India, Octopussy’s headquarters are on an island populated solely by women where she trains them in the art of business and weaponry. Octopussy’s relationship with Bond is a complicated one. Bond was responsible for apprehending her father on fraud charges but she forgives Bond because he allowed the guilty man to decide his own fate. Despite this, she deems him an enemy – that is, until she realizes that Kamal has betrayed her. Not one of the best Bond girls of the series but certainly one that’s independent and smart enough to be wary of Bond’s charms (even though we all know that no one – save for Camille Montes – is immune to them). Interestingly, this was Maud Adams second go as a Bond girl after her performance in The Man with the Golden Gun as Andrea Anders. The two characters are not one and the same person which made her one of the handful of actors to play two major roles in different Bond movies.
Others: Magda (Kristina Wayborn)
Vijay (Vijay Amritraj), Bond’s MI6 man in Mumbai. Well, not really Mumbai but I liked the sound of that. A peppy and resourceful agent, Vijay helps Bond get acquainted with his surroundings in India, especially during the comical rickshaw chase sequence in which he wields a tennis racquet to fend off villains. But once you realize that Vijay was played by tennis pro Vijay Amritraj, all the tennis references feel ham-fisted.
The uber-British Minister of Defense Sir Fredrick Gray (Geoffrey Keen) who appeared in every Bond movie from The Spy who Loved Me in 1977 to The Living Daylights a decade later. He’s a bland old man who always looks down at 007’s methods with disdain.
M (Robert Brown) – who took over from Bernard Lee after the later passed away. Brown had previously played General Hargreaves in The Spy Who Loved Me although it’s not clear or not whether he’s the same character who has now taken up the title of M or not.
Moneypenny. In her penultimate appearance as the character, Lois Maxwell’s part involves the typical sexual banter before introducing Bond to Miss Penelope Smallbone.
Q (Desmond Llewelyn) who has a larger part in this film than some of the previous entries in the Roger Moore era. This was partly due to the fact that with Bernard Lee gone, he was one of the few stalwarts of the franchise still left. He plays a major part in the finale, even rescuing a bunch of woman from being mowed down by machine gun fire.
Acrostar Jet: Used in the film’s exciting opening sequence to escape the military base in Cuba.
Company Rickshaw: Vijay’s vehicle of choice to outrun Kamal Kahn’s goons at the street market in India.
Faberge Egg Homing Device: Q and team implement a homing device into the center of the egg in order to pinpoint its whereabouts.
Acid Pen: A pen which spews acid strong enough to melt metal.
Acid Pen Earpiece: The pen also comes equipped with a earpiece that picks up sounds recorded from the homing device inside the Faberge egg.
Seiko Digital Watch: Perhaps the most shameless product placement in the movie, the then new Seiko Digital Watch is used by Bond to monitor the location of the homing beacon and also to monitor the nuclear weapon’s countdown clock.
Crocodile Submarine: Bond uses this machine to infiltrate Octopussy’s island.
ODDS & ENDS
Most Memorable Quote:
After Vijay asks him if Bond has returned from scoping out Octopussy’s female-only island headquarters.
Vijay: Is he still there?
Q: You must be joking! Double-0 seven on an island populated exclusively by women? We won’t see him till dawn!
Most Embarrassing Quote:
After winning 200,000 by beating Kamal Khan in a backgammon game, Bond divides his winnings with his two Indian accomplices.
James Bond: This should keep you in curry for a few weeks.
Ladies and gentlemen… Casual racism at its finest!
Most Memorable Moment:
The cold open sequence in which Bond narrowly escapes from a Cuban military base using the Acrostar Jet.
Most Cringe-Worthy Moment:
I was tempted to go with the casual racism during the rickshaw chase sequence or even the “curry” quote from above. There was also the trifecta of Bond pretending to be a ghost, telling a tiger to “sit” and then a snake to “hiss off.” But the scene in which Bond swings from the trees, with the Tarzan howl playing over the soundtrack, takes the cake! What were they thinking?
Bond’s forced, awkward and unintentionally hilarious sex scene with Octopussy. Glen must have been so repulsed by watching the languid Moore attempt a sex scene that it looks like he shot the two actors rehearsing the scene and ran with it.
Most Shocking/Outrageous Moment:
As someone of Indian descent, I’d probably veer toward the plethora of casual racist scenes across the movie but once again, the Tarzan scene is untouchable in terms of sheer stupidity… at least where this Bond movie is concerned.
Best Pun/Double Entendre:
Bond striking up a conversation with Magda at a bar.
Magda: You have a very good head for faces.
James Bond: And figures.
Worst Pun/Double Entendre:
After seeing a snake sliding over his leg in the middle of the jungle
James Bond: Hiss off
Best Stunt/Action Scene:
The lengthy train chase in which Bond escapes General Orlov and his army by driving his Mercedes onto the railway tracks, boards the train, and then gets into a fight with Gobinda and one of the twins on top of the train.
Most Dated Reference:
The Seiko Digital Watch
Number of Times Bond Has Sex: 3 (once with Magda, twice with Octopussy)
Number of people Bond kills: 14
Bond’s Best Kill: After falling off the train, Grischka stalks Bond through the woods in a scene echoing the one at the beginning of the film where the knife-wielding assassin stabbed 009 in the back and killed him. Trapping Bond at a dead-end and then pinning him to a door by throwing knives at him, Grischka thinks he has the upper hand. Just as he’s about to throw the final knife into 007, he states, “This is for my brother.” But Bond outwits him by opening the door, thereby disorienting the assassin who falls into the adjoining room. Not hesitating for a moment, Bond pulls one of the knives from the door, and throws it into Grischka’s stomach, instantly killing him. “And that’s for 009,” replies Bond.
Locations visited (In order of appearance): Cuba, London, Udaipur, East Berlin, West Berlin.
Misogyny Meter: 8/10
Two points for the juvenile scene in which Bond gets behind a camera and then proceeds to zoom in and out of the cleavage of a female secretary in Q’s lab. Talk about sexual harassment. Another two for the scene in which Bond states, upon finding out that Octopussy’s island is off-limits for men: “Hmm, sexual discrimination! I’ll definitely have to pay a visit.” Two more points for the scene in which Bond forcibly comes on to Octopussy and forces her to have sex with him. The only reason this isn’t Connery-level rape is because it’s, well, pacifist Moore. And finally, for that fucking title!
Homophobia Meter: 0/10
Racism Rating: 8/10
Where do I start? Okay, how about the market scene? I’ve visited India more times than I can remember but I have never visited a market in which snake charmers, coal walkers, fire jugglers, sword swallowers and men sleeping on a bed of nails all parade themselves in a single alley. We also have the racist ethnic stereotypical depiction of most Indian characters as slavish simpletons. Let’s not forget the scene in which Bond is served a Goat’s head for dinner or the cringe-worthy “that should keep you in curry for some time” one-liner, a line even Moore seems embarrassed to utter.
Box Office: $67.8 million domestic total ($176 million, adjusted for inflation; 14th highest overall but more importantly, Roger Moore’s highest grossing Bond movie).
007 Chronological Listing: Unlucky 13/24
Director: John Glen
Screenwriter: George MacDonald Fraser, Richard Maibaum, Michael G. Wilson
Cast: Roger Moore, Maud Adams, Louis Jourdan, Kristina Wayborn, Steven Berkoff
Producer: Albert R. Broccoli
Running time: 131 minutes
Companies: EON Productions, MGM
The 007 Collective will return in:
Previous entries in The 007 Collective:
- Goldfinger (1964)
- A View to a Kill (1985)
- Diamonds Are Forever (1971)
- The World is Not Enough (1999)
- Die Another Day (2002)
- Quantum of Solace (2008)
- On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)