There’s certainly not much wrong with Octopussy. But then again, there’s not a huge amount about it that especially excites me either. Perhaps because there’s no ‘ticking clock’ for the first half of the film – Bond is investigating some smugglers because of nebulous rumours they might be raising money for the Soviets – there’s no real motor driving the story. We’re also, sadly, back to a very quip-heavy and flippant script – co-written by Flashman novelist George MacDonald Fraser. No situation or bad guy’s death can pass without some tiresome pun. Mitchell and Webb could easily have has this movie in mind for their Moneypenny’s friend sketch.
As we’re in India for a large clunk, we get cliché after cliché: snake-charmers, curry, a bed of nails, hot coals to be walked across, sahris, elephants… And, although it does all make sense, I found trying to keep track of which Fabergé egg was which distracting. It’s not a disaster, by any means, and at times very enjoyable. But it is one of the series’s weakest entries, I think. Six Miss Penelope Smallbones out of 10.
Bond: Bless him, Roger’s starting to look a bit long in the tooth now. (From 1979 to 1985, James Bond 007 was in his fifties. Before and since, he’s always been younger.) Before production, out-of-contract Moore said he didn’t want to do another one – so American actor James Brolin was courted and screen-tested. Brolin talks warmly of the experience on Octopussy’s DVD extras. But Rog then changed his mind and played Bond for a sixth time.
Villains: General Orlov is the main threat: a total fruitloop of a Russian agitator played, um, rather theatrically by Steven Berkoff. His ally is Afghan smuggler Kamal Khan (Louis Jordan, who was Dracula in my favourite adaptation of the novel). He has four main lieutenants: turban-headed Gobinda, who crushes some dice to powder when Bond out-cheats Khan at backgammon; nameless twins who know a lot of circus tricks; and sexy Magda, who flirts with and beds Bond with super-model elegance. Octopussy herself is played soft-spokenly and with sympathy by the striking Maud Adams (who was also in The Man With the Golden Gun).
Girls: Bond’s Hispanic helper in the not-related-to-the-main-story opening sequence flashes side-boob and legs to distract a goon. Moneypenny has been given a one-film assistant, a Slone Ranger called Penelope Smallbone – shame she has no personality. There’s also the cute girl in India who shows Bond to his hotel room. In Q’s lab, James childishly plays with a video camera, zooming in and out of a conveniently nearby cleavage. And, of course, there’s Octopussy’s all-female army.
Regulars: As mentioned, Moneypenny has a secretary herself now. The Minister of Defence appears again. General Gogol has a vital role in the story; his secretary returns too. Q’s lab is on tour again – this time, they’ve decamped to India (do all double-O agents get this back-up?) – while his assistant Smithers is back from the previous film. Most notably, we have a new M (actor Bernard Lee had died in 1981). There’s no acknowledgement on screen that this is a replacement so it could be simply a recasting of the same man – but he is now played by Robert Brown, who appeared as a navy bigwig in The Spy Who Loved Me (the kind of position from which an M could be promoted). He comes out to Berlin to brief Bond – would the real head of MI6 in 1983 escort one of his secret agents to within 20 yards of Checkpoint Charlie? Isn’t that asking to be rumbled?
Action: Bond uses a cool, fold-up mini-plane in the pre-titles. The resulting action includes some excellent model work. There’s a well-staged chase through downtown Dehli with Bond and the bad guys both in three-wheeled tuk-tuk taxis. Bond is the prey in an Indian hunting sequence – he must tackle elephant, a tiger and a snake as well as blokes with rifles. Bond and Octopussy are attacked in her palace and one of the heavies ends up with an octopus attached to his face. Bond escapes some Russians in a car; the tyres are all shot off, so he drives onto a train track, chases after their train and jumps onto the last carriage. A good sequence follows in which 007’s on top of, hanging off the side of, and underneath a speeding train. During the climactic battle, Bond slides down a bannister, legs akimbo and firing a machine gun. Then he climbs on top of a plane as it takes off and hangs on for dear life.
Comedy: Lots. Too much, frankly, though some of it works well. Bond pulls into a petrol station in his mini-plane. “Fill her up please,” he smiles. There’s a nice moment in the auction scene when James bids on the Fabergé egg just to piss off Khan. MI6’s man in India (tennis star Vijay Amritraj) plays The James Bond Theme on his snake-chamer’s whistle to get 007’s attention. (As my friend Robert Dick points out, what’s odder: that he plays it, or that Bond recognises it?) During their post-coital scene, Magda says to Bond, “I need refilling.” He pauses and she holds up her empty glass. He has a similar reaction when he says of her tattoo, “Oh, that’s my little octopussy.” As mentioned, I think the surfeit of corny one-liners and silly gags gets quite tedious – see Bond telling a tiger to “Sit!” He later hides from some baddies by putting on a gorilla suit (him checking his watch when the bad guy specifies the time the bomb would go off made me laugh). Bond having to hitch-hike and then steal a car in order to get to the bomb in time is well mined for humour (and tension and frantic driving). There’s something pleasingly oddball about James Bond dressing up as a clown so he can sneak into a circus to tell people they’re in mortal danger. (Although, when you analyse it, he paused his mad-cap dash to the ticking time bomb in order to apply some pretty damn detailed clown make-up…)
Music: Rita Coolidge (no, me neither) sings the cheesy theme tune. It’s called All Time High: they baulked at a title song. Pulp’s 1997 cover version is much better. John Barry’s back on incidental-music duty.
People I’ve met: One of the Hooray Henrys who slow down as if to give hitch-hiking Bond a lift then drive off laughing before he can get in the car is played by my friend and former boss Gary Russell. We shared an office for four years and, every single day, I miss him.