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Bond Blog: Octopussy – A James Bond Retrospective

How can I put this? Octopussy is shit. There’s really very little to redeem it. It’s boring, poorly plotted, badly acted and features an aging Roger Moore who is beginning to sleepwalk his already somnambulant acting style towards Bullseye. But let’s see if we can find anything worth talking about.

The song ‘An All Time High’ coyly avoids the actual title of the film – in an alternative universe you can imagine Tom Jones banging out a Thunderball style ‘Oc-to-pussssssy! She’s the one…’ but alas – and one could be forgiven for thinking the song refers to the quality of the movie you’re about to see. The best of the Bonds. Personally, I like to think that lyric writer Tim Rice might have been referring to the drug-induced euphoria of the writers when they come up with this shit.

It’s 1983 and Roger Moore having finished his contract after The Spy Who Loved Me has let it be known he’s had enough of Bond. The producers start looking around for another but then the dreaded Kevin McClory rounds the corner once more – didn’t we drop him down a chimney in For Your Eyes Only? – with Never Say Never Again, a rival Bond movie starring Sean Connery. They can’t put up a newbie against the original, they think and so Roger needs to lie back and think of England. Obviously, retrospect is 20-20, but I would have thought a young Bond would have been perfect at this point to show up the ridiculousness of Connery, toupee securely fastened, at it again. Instead, they go back to the Moore well, despite the fact he’s older than Connery and looks it.

The short story is robbed of its title and never bothered again. A pre-title sequence is set in Cuba just outside of Pinewood and features some nifty flying from a mini-aircraft. In fact, the film is book-ended by two excellent pieces of stunt work involving aircraft: the latter anticipating Tom Cruise at his most suicidal. But enough of the good stuff. The story soon settles down to some confusing nonsense about art forgeries of Faberge Eggs being used to fund a plot by an evil communist general, played with scene-chewing exuberance by Stephen Berkoff. Writer George MacDonald Fraser, the novelist who created the wonderful Flashman series, decided to set the film in India for the reason that Bond hadn’t been there yet. It isn’t a bad reason. Bond had essentially morphed into a travelogue caper and India was becoming increasingly interesting to filmmakers. Gandhi had come out the year before and the Indiana Jones sequel would be set there. But the cosmopolitan racism of 007 was beginning to get hard to stomach, if it had ever been easy. ‘This’ll keep you in curry for a week,’ says Bond as he hands an Indian sidekick a wodge of cash.

And then there’s the alleged humour. Anyone who has followed this blog will know that this is a particular gripe of mine. I just don’t like groaning at awful jokes. And in Octopussy they never rise above the level of a really really poor school play. Witness the Tarzan yell 007 gives us as he swings through the trees. Or sternly giving an obviously stuffed tiger the Barbara Woodhouse instruction to ‘sit!’ And if you don’t know who Barbara Woodhouse is, she was a dog trainer who became indiscriminately famous in the 80s on UK television. There’s also a mock tennis match fight because Cubby Broccoli had dinner with Vijay Amritraj, a famous tennis player and decided it’d be fun to have him in the movie. When Roger Moore disguises himself as a clown – first having tried a gorilla suit for a while – it’s hard not to see this as a moment of painfully lucid self-realization. Note he is the kind of clown that is crying as well.

Octopussy exists in the state it is in primarily as a spoiler for Never Say Never Again. John Barry returns and uses the Bond theme frequently in order to highlight that the Connery film doesn’t have the rights. There’s even a snake charmer (Vijay) who plays it on his flute as a way of drawing 007’s attention. Think about that for a second. In this movie, James Bond knows there’s a theme called the James Bond theme and so do other people!? But there are two great stunt sequences. At the very beginning and at the end. The final one is exceptional and daring and deserves a much better movie to surround it. This should have been the end of the Moore Bonds but he would stagger through one final outing.

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