Welcome to your briefing 007. Your mission: Octopussy. Bond, we fear there is something much more serious than the discovery of jewel smugglers, which brought our man 009 to his death in East Berlin because of the Faberge Egg. Your mission is to get to the bottom of this unknown sinister plot.
We open in what is evidently Cuba with a man clearly in reference to Fidel Castro, beard, cigar and all. We are at a horse show and Bond shows up wearing a Cuban military disguise, mustache and all, to bring an end to an evil missile station nearby the horse competition “Casto” is attending. With the help of ally Corinna, Bond escapes the clutches of the communists and escapes in a nifty fold-up plane disguised as a horse’s rear end. It would appear that this opening scene is somewhat referencing the Cuban missile crisis that occurred over 20 years before the production of the film.
As always, the opening scene gives way to the title sequence and theme song, which this time is sung by Rita Collidge. A unique, and perhaps one of the only unique parts about the song, is the fact that it does not reference the title of the film, “Octopussy”. Instead the song is simply titled “All Time High” and is a mediocre Bond theme song at best.
Cuba; East Berlin; Delhi, India
Vijay is a fellow “Universal Exports” employee and Bond’s contact in India. What is unique about Vijay is that he is actually portrayed by tennis pro Vijay Amritraj, who won 16 titles in his career and rose as high as No. 16 in the world. The production of this film certainly play on Vijay’s past as a tennis pro, taking the chance at a few fun puns. In addition, Vijay has a great Bond moment when he plays the Bond theme while posing as a snake charmer in order to signal Bond upon his arrival. Vijay is a fun character with a great attitude/smile, even if he suffers the same fate as every Bond contact pretty much ever.
Corinna only appears in the film in the pre-title sequence as Bond’s contact in Cuba. She is used as a visual decoy, employing her beauty to distract the communists while Bond foils them and escapes. It is clear that, like pretty much every other girl in the world, she has some feeling for Bond, pleading for him to be careful on his mission as she plants a big fat… mustache…just above the lips of Bond.
Kamal Khan is the principle villain in this installment and is played quite well by Louis Jordan. Khan is a former Afghan prince and Octopussy’s right hand man, but with a bit of a hunger for power and evil. He is cunning and carries himself quite well, making him a worthy villain to Bond. He has plenty of money, a penchant for gambling, and paying high prices for wonderful Sotheby auction pieces, and also has a beautiful woman by his side.
General Orlov is a likewise power hungry Soviet general. Orlov is a bit off his rocker, going against the Soviet council and teaming up with Khan to set off a string of events that would allow Soviet tanks to devastate Europe in a matter of five days. His off kilter persona is played wonderfully by Steven Berkoff, who also played a great villain in the American film Beverly Hills Cop.
The nameless henchman, or at least I didn’t catch a name, of Khan is an intimidating figure, going so far as to crush the dice after Bond defeats Khan at a high stakes game of Backgammon. But really other than being big, quiet and intimidating, there is really nothing much to say of the man. He does more standing around than actually showing us his might, which is kind of a letdown, though I was reminded somewhat of Oddjob from Goldfinger, who was the main henchman in that film.
Razor on a String
Also reminding me of Oddjob is perhaps the strangest Bond villain we have encountered yet. Or at least the most ridiculous. Once again, I didn’t catch a name, but do I even need to when the man stands from safe, high places and uses a giant razor as a yo-yo to dispatch his enemies? I think not, but the character, and his main gadget, are both so weird, feeling completely out of place in what is otherwise a fairly grounded installment of the franchise.
Q Branch is actually a lot of fun this go around, and almost less because of the gadgets he produces. Sure, there is the ingenious fold-up plane that plays quite well in the opening, and there is the “company car” to which Vijay makes reference to in the chase. Also I would assume it was the work of Q Branch to successfully fabricate the Faberge Egg, allowing Bond to switch it out at the auction, and there are one or two other small inventions that are neat. But this go around what I loved about Q Branch was Q himself. Desmon Llewelyn is finally getting his chance to shine when he has had so little time before. He is at his absolute best so far in the series here.
Octopussy is a strange character because we actually don’t see her until well into the film, and because she is such a mysterious character overall. She runs a small island inhabited entirely by women, Bond’s paradise. She is also the head of a smuggling gang and has a past with Bond, in a couple ways. In one she is played by Maud Adams, who after Eunice Grayson who played the character Sylvia Trench in Dr. No and From Russia with Love, becomes the second repeat Bond girl. But this time she does not play the same character. Her first appearence was in The Man with the Golden Gun. This time her part is much more significant and actually has a past with Bond herself, as her father was a sour British agent who was brought to justice by Bond. I didn’t care much for Octopussy because it seemed like she didn’t know what she wanted to be: good or evil? And she didn’t know what to do with Bond: kill him or sleep with him.
The only other Bond girl in this picture is Khan’s beautiful woman, Magda, who is played by the beautiful Kristina Wayborn, who really did nothing else of note outside this film, which is somewhat surprising given how pretty she is, though perhaps understandable given her limited time on screen, which could have come from her limited ability to make anything out of the character which seemed completely conceived as another victim of the womanizing ways of James Bond.
The Car & the Chase
I have started to notice that the franchise hasn’t really utilized a great car in a while. The chases have been good, but there really hasn’t been much to oogle at since the Lotus in The Spy Who Loved Me, and that trend continues, but that is okay as the chases are still great. This time Vijay uses the “company car” a modified three wheel taxi in the crowded streets of India to get away from the bad guys and sneak into their secret hideout meeting with Q. I think it is fun that Bond is not the one driving and that one of his allies is given something to do, and the scene is nice, though not great. Later in the film, Bond also utilizes a car, a Mercedes, to pursue a train. In doing so he tilts the car on its side, a la Diamonds are Forever, and rides it right on the tracks after his wheels are shot off.
Despite my initial reaction to this film, which was not really all that favorable, as I sat down to write this extended review and replayed the film in my mind, it really does hold up fairly well, even if there are flaws and slow points. The Roger Moore era of Bond has been a complete mixed bag, full of extravagant adventures and much more grounded, small spy stories. My reaction to Moore in these films has really varied as well, and I think with this film, my opinion has solidified, although there is one more Moore to go in the series before we switch to Timothy Dalton. Moore is less tough, sillier and less believable as Bond, although I think he is the best example of Bond as a ladies man. Bottom line with Moore, way too inconsistent, but not too bad, just that I prefer the other iterations of the character from other actors, which surprises me for how long he lasted: longer than any other actor. That being said, Moore has some nice moments here as Bond, including getting into the bidding war with the governments money, calling Khan on his cheating at the game of Backgammon, essentially showing him his hand (wagering the real Faberge Egg), and the simple fact that Bond stole the real egg while at the auction!
I think the mixed bag conversation is important with this particular film because that is how I felt about the finished product. There are some things that are quite memorable and quite good, while others are sub par and, I felt, not handled very well. For instance, my favorite part of the film was Q, whom I grew up loving in the Bronson entries, and rediscovering in the Connery entries. He really has somewhat disappeared, and perhaps that is because of the writing, but in the Moore era, his character has not been as fun, and when he has been it was for far too short of a time, but this is my favorite appearance by Q in the Moore era. Also I was amazed at how much I liked Vijay, the tennis pro turned actor. He really was a fun addition because I was worried that him not being a professional actor he would be used as a gimmick, but I had fun with his character. Just one more character note: Penelope Smallbone, who appears briefly as Miss Monypenny’s assistant and appears to be the obvious replacement for her once she leaves, a la John Cleese’s “R” later in the series replacing “Q”. However, this never happens and we see Lois Maxwell in one more installment, and Miss Monypenny is all of the rest of them.
The character of Octopussy really did absolutely nothing for me, but the other “villains” were pretty good. I think the ridiculousness of the combination of Khan’s henchman and “Razor on String” was too fun to pass over and I did really like Louis Jordan as Kamal Khan. He was cool enough and threatening enough to be a Bond villain while being fragile and human enough to be believable. For a film being about smugglers, the film isn’t really that grounded, so having Khan be somewhat more believable was nice. But when I say it wasn’t grounded I am mainly talking about Orlov, who seemed to be kind of crazy, which is odd considering he was on the Societ council who unanimously declined the insane idea of Orlov that becomes the main threat to Bond, and Europe.
The action sequences throughout the film are strong, with the best easily being the train sequence when Bond is hoping around from train to train all the while trying to fight with the bad guys. But another outstanding scene is the first scene after the titles, the 009 clown chase. It works so well because it is weird with the clown being chased, but also mysterious because we don’t yet know who the clown is, why he is being chased, and who is chasing him. It is handled really well and I think it shows one of the strengths of director John Glen, who may have learned a thing or two about action scenes when he worked on the franchise as an editor.
I would have to say that this film’s parts are greater than their sum, however. There are good moments, good characters, but I never really got that much into the plot and never once did I feel threatened by the “screw-loose” General Orlov’s plan to dominate Europe. It just seemed implausible the whole time. And because of that I really felt like the film was too long, which could probably be said of most of the Bond films really, but I don’t object because the small things that are used to fill up the time are often fun little things that have become staples in the franchise. This installment, however, seems to have fewer of those, although the ones that do work, really worked for me this time. So I think, ultimately, my reaction to this film was “fair”. Not something I would come back to time and again, but something worth seeing, and essential viewing for any Bond fan.
James Bond will return in…