“OCTOPUSSY” (1983) Review

 

Below is a review of the 1983 James Bond film, “OCTOPUSSY”. Directed by John Glen, this 13th Bond film starred Roger Moore as the British agent:

“OCTOPUSSY” (1983) Review

While perusing some of the Bond forums, I have noticed that 1983’s ”OCTOPUSSY” is not highly regarded by many fans. Personally, I have always found this hard to understand or accept, considering that the movie has been one of my favorite entries in the Bond franchise for years. But after watching it recently . . . I still do not understand its low standing amongst the fans.

”OCTOPUSSY”’s pre-title sequence is merely a little teaser about Bond’s attempt to sabotage a missile system in the Banana Republic (aka Cuba). It was light, humorous and filled with plenty of solid action. I particularly enjoyed the fact that what started out as failure on Bond’s part after he found himself captured by enemy soldiers, ended up as a success partially through the actions of the enemy, when they attempt to shoot down the Acrostar Mini-Jet he used for a quick escape. Although entertaining, the pre-title sequence has nothing to do with the main story, which involves a power-hungry Soviet general, a mysterious and beautiful smuggler/circus owner and a duplicitous Afghan prince.

Written by George MacDonald Fraser, Richard Maibaum, and Michael G. Wilson, ”OCTOPUSSY” starts out in East Germany with 009 dressed as a clown and being pursued by a knife-wielding villain. The villain turns out to be a pair of twins (Mischska and Grischska) who want something that 009 has – namely a fake Faberge egg called Property of a Lady. One of the twins manages to fatally wound 009 with a knife. But before he can die, the British agent manages to reach the local British embassy and deliver the egg in dramatic fashion. James Bond is assigned to investigate his colleague’s death. The investigation leads to an auction at Christie’s where the real Property of a Lady egg is being sold . . . and Bond’s first meeting with the villainous Kamal Khan, his henchmen Gobinda and the lovely Madga. Bond’s investigations lead him to India, where he makes his acquaintance with Kamal Khan for the second time. He survives several attempts on his life and incarceration at Khan’s Monsoon Palace and eventually meet the mysterious Octopussy, who turns out to be the daughter of a former rogue agent whom Bond had met years ago. Bond’s encounters with Octopussy and Khan provides him with clues that lead back to East Germany and Soviet General Orlov and Khan’s plot to detonate a nuclear bomb on a U.S. Air Force base in West Germany. Fortunately, Bond (with Octopussy’s help) foils Orlov and Khan’s plans.

Roger Moore returned for the sixth time as British agent James Bond. At age 55 during the film’s production, he struck many Bond fans as too old to be portraying the super spy. Personally, I had no problems with Moore’s age around this time. He still looked handsome and healthy enough to star in the action-packed spy thriller. And he portrayed Bond with a world-weariness and style that seemed to befit his age. Even better, he managed to retain some of that gritty toughness that he utilized so effectively in his previous outing, ”FOR YOUR EYES ONLY” . . . and retained his sense of humor at the same. Speaking of that humor, I usually have nothing against Moore’s humorous style (unlike many fans and critics). But I can think of four occasions when I found it a bit too much:

-Chase sequence in Udaipur with street performers

-Bond focusing short circuit camera on Indian operative’s cleavage

-The Tarzan yell during Bond’s escape from Khan’s Monsoon Palace

-Bond using fake crocodile submarine to sneak into Octopussy’s estate

Despite the extreme silliness listed above, I still found Moore’s performance satisfactory. I enjoyed his sense of humor during his encounters with the West German citizenry, while trying to stop Orlov and Khan’s bomb. And I admired his dramatic skills in scenes featuring the discovery of Vijay’s body and his romantic scene with Octopussy. But I was especially impressed by his acting in the scene that featured Bond’s only encounter with General Orlov.

Maud Adams returned to appear in her second Bond film, this time portraying the leading female character – smuggler/circus owner, Octopussy. I cannot honestly say I would consider Adams to be among the best actresses that appeared in the Bond franchise. The nine years between ”THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN” (in which she portrayed the villain’s doomed mistress) and ”OCTOPUSSY” seemed to have shown no real improvement in her acting skills. But she seemed competent enough to carry the role. And her looks and screen presence certainly helped. The secondary female lead – Kristina Weyborn – portrayed Madga, Octopussy’s right-hand woman and personal liaison to Kamal Khan. Like Adams, Weyborn is a tall Swedish-born beauty with limited acting skills. And like the leading lady, she possessed enough looks and presence to carry her role. Although I do wish that someone had given her more lessons in performing martial arts on screen.

French actor Louis Jordan portrayed Kamal Khan, an exiled Afghan prince who desire for a piece of the Imperial Russian treasure leads him to take part in General Orlov’s plot to bomb a U.S. Air Force base and change the political landscape of Western Europe. Khan serves as the liaison between Orlov and Octopussy, who traveling circus/smuggling operation allows the two men to smuggle a nuclear bomb into West Germany.  Like Yaphet Kotto and Christopher Lee before him, Jordan seems to be a doppleganger of Moore’s James Bond – smooth, suave and very deadly. One scene in particular – Bond and Khan’s game of dice at an Udaipur hotel – reflects the mirror image of the two men in a very effective manner. Not only did Jordan perfectly portray Kamal Khan’s smooth style and sophistication, he did an excellent job of reflecting the Afghan prince’s darker nature – especially his cold-blooded tendency to betray anyone who stood between him and self-preservation. Including Octopussy and his men.

“OCTOPUSSY”‘s cast of minor villains include Steven Berkoff as the bombastic General Orlov, whose desire for completely Communist Europe and a higher position in the Soviet hierarchy sets off the movie’s plot. Although I found his scenes with Moore, Jordan and Adams effective and subtle, Berkhoff unfortunately revealed a tendency toward hammy acting in a scene that feature a meeting between the Soviet premier and several generals – including Gogol. And when I mean hammy, I mean . . . ham served with eggs. Indian actor Kabir Bedi portrayed Khan’s right-hand man, the silent and intimidating Gobinda. One of the Bond sites – “MI-6” Forum – stated the following about the character: “Kamal Khan’s faithful bodyguard, big and tough but none too bright.”. I do not know if I agree with that assessment. On second thought . . . I don’t agree. Gobinda’s flaw may have been that he was too devoted and loyal to Khan – after all, he actually obeyed the Afghan prince’s order that he climb out of a plane in mid-flight and kill Bond. But less than bright? No, I don’t agree. Gobinda struck me as a very observant and intelligent man. And the very handsome Bedi portrayed the henchman with a nice balance of intelligence and menace. In fact, Gobinda happens to be one of my favorite henchmen. Actors David Meyer and Anthony Meyer portray the knife-throwing assassins who killed 009, Mischka and Grischska. They did not say much in the movie, but both did a nice job of projecting competent and menacing killers.

With the death of Bernard Lee in 1980, the character of M did not appear in “FOR YOUR EYES ONLY”. The character returned in the form of actor Robert Brown, who began the first of his four movie run as the head of MI-6 in “OCTOPUSSY”. Brown portrayed M with authority, but very little imagination.  Personally, I think he was simply too young to be portraying an authority figure against Roger Moore, who was six years younger. Not until Timothy Dalton’s tenure will Brown show that along with Lee and Judi Dench, he could also be an interesting M. Lois Maxwell returned as Moneypenny in one of the most amusing Bond-Moneypenny scenes in the franchise. The scene involved a ‘Miss Penelope Smallbone’ and Moore and Maxwell managed to inject a lot of humor and charm into the scene, as befitting two old friends. Desmond Llewellyn had once stated that “LICENSE TO KILL” was his favorite Bond film. Which does not seem surprising, since he had a strong role in it. But he also had a strong role in “OCTOPUSSY” and I could tell that he had enjoyed himself. Especially in the scene that featured his rescue of Madga and some of Octopussy’s other followers. It seemed too bad that Q’s embellished role in this movie seemed just as unecessary as his embellished role in “LICENSE TO KILL”. General Gogol returned in the form of Walter Gotell. And he portrayed the Soviet KGB general with his usual competence. Tennis star, Vijay Amritraj made his screen debut as Indian intelligence agent . . . Vijay. Okay this is not exactly an example of original casting, but what the hell? He did a pretty good job, anyway. And he was rather charming.

“OCTOPUSSY” marked John Glen’s second time in the director chair. And like “FOR YOUR EYES”, he did an admirable job. I have to give the man kudos for once again, bringing a touch of realistic grit in Moore’s portrayal of Bond and in the franchise. Although I do feel that he made a misstep in allowing those silly moments I had earlier mentioned, in the movie. But I do wonder who had included those ridiculous little scenes? Was it Glen? Moore? Or were the screenwriters, Fraser, Maibum and Wilson responsible? If the writers were responsible, it was a misstep on their parts. Otherwise, they created an admirable script. One of the scenes highly criticized by critics was the sight of Bond disguised as a clown to infiltrate the circus where the bomb was located. I never understood this criticsim. Perhaps they disliked the idea of James Bond dressed as a clown. If so, I find their attitude extremely shallow . . . and rather stupid.

Also, I wonder why George MacDonald Fraser was included in this project? Was it because he was a British Army veteran who had served in India? Or that he had incorporated his experiences in India in his Harry Flashman novels? I do not know what to admire more – the screenwriters’ creation of the villains’ objectives and Bond’s efforts to stop the bomb, or Glen’s direction of those scenes. Perhaps both.

I wish I could say that I enjoyed the movie’s theme song, “All Time High”, which was sung by Rita Coolidge. But in the end, it simply bored me. However, I did enjoy John Barry’s lush and exciting score. And I must commend cinematographer, Alan Hume, for the film’s photography. His shots of India and the English countryside (serving as East and West Germany) made “OCTOPUSSY” one of the most colorful entries in the Bond franchise.

Despite the low opinion held by many Bond fans, “OCTOPUSSY” remains one of my favorite Bond films. In fact, I consider it to be Moore’s second best film (despite a few stupid jokes) and the franchise’s sixth best. I give it . . . 8/10.

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