This is a weird one, and not just because of this movie’s name. I first saw this movie as a teenager, when I was first discovering Bond. That same summer, one of the few channels we got on our antenna TV was having a Bond movie marathon, and this is one of the Bond movies we saw during that marathon. It was the second Roger Moore Bond movie I ever saw in full, and back then, I really enjoyed it.
However, since then I kept remembering this movie as being very silly. There are a few things I remembered quite vividly despite only seeing it once. First, the moment where Bond slid down a handrail with a machine gun, and he needed to shoot a large ball off the handrail to avoid it smacking him between the legs. Second, I remembered a jungle chase where Bond was ambushed by a tiger, he said “sit”, and the tiger obeyed. Third, I remember Bond disarming a bomb while dressed like a clown. Four, I remembered an Oddjob-like tough villain crushing dice to dust in his hands.
That’s not a lot to go by in terms of judging this movie by memory, but it did re-enforce my memory that this movie was a bit silly. I’m glad to finally see this movie again, even if I wasn’t sure whether I should look forward to it or dread it. But I will say that rewatching Octopussy after all these years confirmed that this movie is a bit off the wall.
The title Octopussy came from a collection of short stories called Octopussy and The Living Daylights, although the movie’s plot is almost entirely original. The only element from the short story kept in the movie is a family backstory for the Octopussy character. Following For Your Eyes Only, Moore expressed his desire to retire from the role. A public search for a new Bond actor began, and yes, they considered Timothy Dalton again. However, when a rival Bond production (Never Say Never Again) was announced, they re-contracted Moore, hoping he would stand up against Sean Connery better than a new actor.
The real search came in the form of finding the title Bond girl. B-movie queen Sybil Danning was considered, but producer Albert R. Broccoli found her personality too strong. They also considered Faye Dunaway, but decided she’d be too expensive. Barbara Carella said she turned down the role to instead take part in Never Say Never Again. Eventually, they landed Maud Adams, who also appeared as a Bond girl in Man With The Golden Gun. Since they first wanted an Indian actress for the role, Adams had her hair darkened, and they added a touch of the backstory where her father had been exposed as a traitor.
Octopussy is also the first movie in the franchise to star Robert Brown as M, following the death of original M, Bernard Lee, in 1981. Moore personally recommended Brown, having worked with him in the children’s Ivanhoe adventure series. They also hired Indian tennis player Vijay Amritraj as one of Bond’s allies, and he even used a tennis racket as a weapon in the movie. Broccoli also hired his friend Louis Jourdan as the lead villain, while his daughter Barbara Broccoli (who would eventually take over as producer) suggested Steven Berkoff as a Soviet general.
Fun fact – most of the crew, including Moore, suffered diet problems while shooting in India. Also, the “Property of a Lady” egg shaped jewel in the movie is actually the real life Coronation Egg, made in 1897 to commemorate Empress Alexandra Fyodorovna of Russia. Also, since Never Say Never Again couldn’t legally use the Bond theme, they made sure that composer John Berry (in his 9th Bond film) included the Bond theme frequently, re-enforcing that it’s the official Bond movie of the year. He also wrote the title theme, “All Time High”, one of seven music themes in the series that isn’t titled after the movie.
The general theme of that song, as well as the line “we’re two of a kind”, is another thing that I distinctly remembered after years of not seeing this movie. The theme spent four weeks at number one on the United States Adult Contemporary singles chart, and hit as high as 36 on the overall Billboard Hot 100. Not bad for a fairly slow, dramatic tune.
Octopussy released in June of 1983 to mixed reviews, and earned slightly less than For Your Eyes Only at $187 million. It did perform better than Never Say Never Again though (and that movie also succeeded). In general, the elegance of the filming locations in India and the airplane stunts were praised. On the other hand, critics complained about the performance behind the main villain, and how the story is a bit incomprehensible. Considering the story somehow leaps from Bond investigating a buyer for a rare jewel, and somehow stumbles on a plot for world domination, I can see that. GQ magazine described Octopussy as “one of the best ‘bad films’ of the franchise”, praising the entertaining characters but considering the silliness and Moore’s advancing age as major problems. One particular moment that critics almost universally complained about is when Bond swung on vines in a gorilla costume, while the Tarzan yell played in the background.
As for myself, I can’t shake the impression that this movie doesn’t know what it wants to be. On one hand, it features a lot of the silly humour that most previous Moore movies featured. There’s the previously mentioned “sit” command to the tiger and the very out of place the Tarzan yell. There’s a chase through an Indian market that somehow involves sword swallowers, a bed made of nails, and hot coals. There’s a group of gimmicky assassins, two of which work as circus stunt performers and incorporate their knife throwing act into their murderous techniques. Even when 009 is killed near the start of the movie, he’s running from a circus while dressed as a clown.
On the other hand, Octopussy’s backstory and her love story with Bond, the straight Cold War plot and the dramatic music themes are supposed to be taken seriously. And for the most part, they’re well told. I say most of it, because the villain who crushes dice in his hands – he doesn’t even get a proper fight scene. He ends up falling off the side of a plane after getting whipped in the face by the antenna. I get that Moore was getting old and probably couldn’t handle a tough fight scene anymore, but for a villain with such a physical presence and build-up, that’s a real chump way to kill him off. This clash of tone makes it hard to enjoy this movie unironically.
While rewatching the moment where Bond disarms the nuclear bomb while dressed as a clown, I couldn’t help but think to myself … “this is the point where the James Bond franchise officially jumps the shark.”
Now for the fun part of this blog post – the kill counter.
Bond kills – 15
Other’s kills – 43
Total kill count – 58
Sean Connery’s total kill count – 72
George Lazenby’s total kill count – 5
Roger Moore’s running kill count – 85
Timothy Dalton’s total kill count – 23
So at this point, Roger Moore is numerically the deadliest Bond of the bunch, and he’s still got one more movie left. That’s the case even though Man With The Golden Gun makes it clear that Bond is starting to get tired of the killing. That said, if you follow the idea that every Bond is the same person, just at different points in their lives, then it does kind of flow into Timothy Dalton’s hardened edge.
There is no movie in the franchise that is harder to explain than Octopussy. On the one hand, it features a straight cold war plot with a disgruntled Soviet general who wants to help his empire take over the world by using Nuclear disarmament deals to their advantage, against direct orders from his superiors. It’s got a genuinely compelling love story between two people who are very similar, except for their core allegiances. But you’ve also got so much silly humour that this might as well be a self-parody like Moonraker. It makes for a mess of a film that is by no means good, but it could be enjoyable if you’re in the right mood.
Next up is Roger Moore’s seventh and final outing as James Bond. I’ve pretty much decided that after that, I’ll wrap up this Bond blogathon with the Pierce Brosnan and the Daniel Craig movies in one chunk – I might even start the Brosnan movies this month. And some time down the line, after I get back to DreamWorks and strongly consider an MCU blogathon in the build-up to Infinity War part 2 (whatever it’ll be called) in the New Year. I will eventually return to my DreamWorks blogathon, but with NaNoWriMo coming up and a bit of a lack of motivation at the moment, it’s probably better to let it sit for a bit.