Dawn Dabell examines Octopussy (1983), starring Roger Moore, Maud Adams and Louis Jourdan in the latest instalment of Our Word Is Our Bond.
Roger Moore returns to the role of Bond for the sixth time. After the serious tone of his previous offering – For Your Eyes Only – Bond is back in a more light-hearted style of adventure, much of which takes place in bright and beautiful India. Octopussy is based on Ian Fleming’s novella Octopussy and The Living Daylights, although this is in name only. The plot is almost entirely changed, and the film is effectively an all-new original screenplay.
A 00-agent turns up dead in Berlin clutching an immaculate fake Faberge egg. James Bond investigates the death of his colleague, and quickly comes across suave Indian villain Kamal Khan (Louis Jourdan). Following Khan to India, Bond soon learns that the elegant villain is in cahoots with Octopussy (Maud Adams), a jewel smuggler who lives on a private island and has an army of skilled lady assassins at her disposal.
Octopussy believes she is in the final stages of smuggling a large jewel shipment across Europe. What she doesn’t realise is that Khan has betrayed her and is working with rogue Soviet, General Orlov (Steven Berkoff), to plant a nuclear bomb in the diamond cache. When Octopussy’s circus rolls into an American air base in Germany, the nuke will detonate and hundreds of thousands of people will die. Wrongly considering the explosion an accident, the Americans will disarm leaving Europe free for the Red Amy to march across the borders unopposed. Only Bond can stop the nefarious plot before it’s too late.
Maud Adams had previously starred in the Bond film The Man With The Golden Gun (1974) as Andrea Anders. Although she wasn’t the main Bond girl in that film, she did have a significant role as the villain’s girlfriend… although she was ultimately killed off in the movie. In Octopussy, Adams, aged 38, was one of the oldest women to play a Bond girl. She joins the likes of Honor Blackman who was almost 40 when she played Pussy Galore in Goldfinger (1964) and Serena Scott Thomas who was 38 when she appeared in The World Is Not Enough (1999). More often than not, the Bond girls are at the younger end of the spectrum, but the women just named prove that they have what it takes to make many a man’s pulse race. Adams wasn’t the first choice for the role, however. Originally Octopussy was to be cast with an Asian actress in the role, or at least a white woman who could pass for Asian ethnicity. Barbara Carrera was offered the role but turned it down to star in the film’s direct competitor Never Say Never Again, scheduled for release in the same year with Connery making a highly-touted return to the role of 007. As they struggled to find a suitable leading lady, Cubby Broccoli announced he would bring Adams back to assume the role – a move which proves successful, as it’s hard to visualise any other actress playing Octopussy once you’ve seen Adams’ portrayal.
Kristina Wayborn as Magda, one of Octopussy’s chief henchwomen, is a perfect choice. As a child watching the Bond films, I thought she was breathtakingly beautiful and by far the prettiest Bond girl I’d ever seen. Obviously everyone has their favourite, and the relatively unknown Wayborn was certainly mine. When Magda leaves Bond’s balcony, using the material from her outfit to glide down to the ground, it is a beautiful and graceful scene in which Wayborn performs the rather athletic stunt herself. Wayborn is also prominent in a wonderful climactic action sequence which sees her fighting a number of Khan’s men. Unfortunately for her, she was left with a number of broken toes as this sequence didn’t quite go according to plan. As well as these wonderful stunts, she utters one of my favourite lines from any Bond movie: after some sexy-time with Bond, she holds out her empty glass and says “I need refilling!” Just watch Moore’s reaction – it’s a perfect double entendre if ever there was one! It’s a pity Wayborn hasn’t had a more prolific film career, with only 16 acting credits to her name – she definitely showed potential to have a solid film career. Although Wayborn is technically the lesser Bond girl in Octopussy, it’s interesting to note just how much screen time she has compared with Adams. We briefly see Octopussy while she talks with Khan but we don’t actually see her face until just after the hour mark, which is halfway into the feature, whereas Wayborn is constantly involved throughout, with lots of good scenes and certainly the better outfits.
As in the previous film, Moore wasn’t expected to return as our beloved British agent in Octopussy, so the studio looked into casting other actors such as Timothy Dalton and James Brolin. Once it was announced Connery would be making a comeback in a rival film, it was decided that the idea of introducing a new, untried actor in the role could prove a costly mistake… so Moore was convinced to return once more to go head-to-head with Connery’s Bond. This proved to be the right decision, as Octopussy grossed considerably more than Never Say Never Again. Moore doesn’t seem to have the same energy this time around, though; no doubt the fact he wasn’t keen to return to the role was part of the reason for this, not to mention his advancing age (he was in his mid-50s by this point). He is still good in the role and provides us with plenty of one-liners but his heart isn’t in it quite as much in this, his sixth entry, and at times it shows.
Octopussy marks the first time Robert Brown took over as M, a role previously played by Bernard Lee. Brown does a fine job here, and secured the role right up until Licence To Kill (1989). Villain Steven Berkoff is extremely underwhelming throughout and doesn’t make much impression as the renegade Russian general. Luckily, Louis Jourdan is perfectly cast as Kamal Khan and has some great and memorable scenes… one being the moment he eats the sheep’s eyeball (which has freaked me out since I was a kid).He’s silky and sinister in an almost James Mason-like way.
The Bond casting team sometimes liked to find roles for women from that other great British film studio, Hammer. Some of the Hammer glamour ladies to feature in Bond films over the years include Caroline Munro, Martine Beswick, Eunice Gayson Valerie Leon and Maddie Smith (among others). In Octopussy, scream queen Ingrid Pitt does an uncredited cameo as the Galley Mistress who we hear saying “In and out” at the end of the film, just before Bond and Octopussy presumably make love in the boat’s in-built boudioir. So if the voice sounds familiar, that’s why: it’s none other than Ms Pitt.
Octopussy receives very mixed reviews, with some citing it as the best of the Moore Bonds while others declare it to be one of the worst of the entire canon. At the time it was made, the title caused a degree of controversy due to its risque double meaning. Even Adams herself felt Broccoli went too far with the choice of title/character name, although in fairness it is merely lifted from Fleming’s novella. When Magda tells Bond her tattoo is her “little Octopussy”, he raises his infamous eyebrow to show just how cheeky he knows the phrase is.
The pre-credits sequence is entertaining, as one has come to expect from a Bond film. After a thrilling plane sequence, Moore’s cheeky edge shines through when he pulls up at a petrol station and says ‘fill her up please’ while sat in his micro-plane. Unfortunately the titles aren’t as well made and exciting as the best in the series, although the song All Time High is a beautiful number by Rita Coolidge (unusual for not referencing the film’s title anywhere in the lyrics). I play Bond themes on CD quite often, and my kids particularly like this one.
After seeing Moore in a more serious Bond film in the previous For Your Eyes Only, certain scenes in Octopussy seem to hark back to the silly and comedic style associated with Moonraker. Among other moments of outright absurdity, we hear Moore doing a Tarzan yell as he swings through the jungle and, later, see him dressed as a clown whilst trying to stop a nuclear bomb from detonating.
Octopussy is one of the more colourful Bond films due to its luscious costumes and locations. It’s full of action and some amusing scenes to keep fans entertained. It’s not the best Moore offering, not even in the top three for me, but it does what it says on the tin… it thrills and entertains and, really, what more can you ask for?
MoM Rating: 6/10