Octopussy Review - by Luke Quantrill

Octopussy poster

"Mr Bond is indeed of a very rare breed... soon to be made extinct."

"What a small world," says Roger Moore with a fake mustache. "You're a Toro too!" In order to cheer myself up after Quantum Of Arse, I decided to pluck an old James Bond film from my collection and ended up with 1983's Octopussy, the thirteenth film in the ever enduring series. The plot of Octopussy (with input by the much missed George Macdonald Fraser) contains priceless Cadbury's Creme-, I mean Faberge eggs, jewel smuggling, female circus performers in colourful lycra, and a nutty Russian General (subtly underplayed by a restrained Steven Berkhoff) with dastardly plans for a strike against the West.

This cheeky smuggling racket has the potential to threaten the safety of Western Europe as James Bond takes on sarcastic and very smooth Afghan prince Kamal Khan (Louis Jordan) and the completely mad General Orlov who is two cheese baps short of a picnic hamper. Throw in Maud Adams as the enigmatic Octopussy and locations that include India and Germany and you have Roger Moore's last hurrah and a highly enjoyable two hours or so of entertaining cobblers. 

After the less exuberant but interesting For Your Eyes Only, Octopussy returned the series to widescreen spectacle. The plot has more holes than a garden invaded by moles in a gigantic mechanical digger specially designed for, er, moles, but Octopussy is a very lavish production intent on entertaining the audience. Take the PTS as an example, one of the most outrageous in the series. Bond takes control of a miniature Acrostar jet in an unnamed Central American country and dodges a heat-seeking missile before destroying an aircraft hanger in spectacular fashion. What's the word I'm looking for? Oh yes. Fun. Maurice Binder's (yes, you guessed it) octopuss themed titles and the naff but strangely enjoyable ditty 'All Time High', sung by Rita Coolidge, are both very acceptable.

For all its charming nonsense, there is an atmospheric enough start to Octopussy when a pursued 009 (played by Russ Abbott) tries to bring a fake Faberge egg across the Berlin wall to alert the authorities about a possible funding source for Russian agents. Roger of Moore is soon supplied with an amusing scene where he bids against Kamal khan at Sotheby's in an experimental ruse and the film speedily moves to India where the customary chases and jokes ensue. Bond and the urbane Khan are soon crossing wits over a game of Connect Four, I mean backgammon. "Double sixes. Fancy that!"

There is a lot of action in Octopussy. The chases through the streets of India sometimes become too comic (tennis sight gags are included as a nod to the presence of Vijay Amritraj in the cast as a contact of 007) but the Yo-Yo razor saws look very nasty, throwing an element of danger into the film. I do like the moment where Bond pushes a heavy into a giant fish tank. The romantic depiction of India in the film is very James Bond franchise with John Barry's lustrous score adding greatly to the overall charm.

Most people will probably recall the famous moment where Khan, still urbane and spiffily dressed for dinner, plucks and eats a sheep's eyeball as if it was a Tunnock's tea cake. I quite like the scenes where Bond is trapped in Khan's Palace because he actually has to escape and do some spying. There is also an amusing moment where Bond slides down a banister with a machine-gun and a big game hunt where 007 is the prey. On a trivia note this big game hunt is actually the only scene in cinematic history to reference both Tarzan and Barbara Woodhouse. "No, ma'am, I'm with the economy tour!"

The end of Octopussy features a rather camp battle sequence involving Q in a hot air balloon and the lycra clad gymnasts, a plane fight sequence with 007 battling Khan's henchman Gobinda (Kabir Bedi) on the wing and, oh yes indeed, a West Berlin circus scene where 007 is required to defuse a nuclear bomb dressed as a clown. I hate it when that happens! 

As Khan, Louis Jordan is very suave but retains a menacing quality just below the urbane exterior. He has some good lines ("Mr Bond is indeed of a very rare breed... soon to be made extinct") and makes a very polished and enjoyable villain. Maud Adams, who (of course) was also in The Man With The Golden Gun, and makes history by playing a female lead in two Bond films, brings a touch of class to the film although the Octopussy character remains a trifle vague. Adams is not Samantha Morton in the old thesping dept but she's a welcome addition to the film. Kristina Wayborn as Magda, a Khan assistant, I liked too.

Steven Berkoff camps it up as General Orlov and has a lot of fun. In a more serious film he might have stood out a lot more! Walter Gotell has a slightly expanded role as General Gogol, here the dove to Orlov's hawk, while the dependable Robert Brown takes over as M after the sad death of the great Bernard Lee. Lois Maxwell and Desmond Llewelyn are naturally on hand for some banter and gadgets respectively as Moneypenny and Q. "Double-0 seven on an island populated exclusively by women? We won't see him till dawn!"

David Meyer and Anthony Meyer are also a clever addition as twin henchmen from Octopussy's circus. Both are expert knife chuckers. There's a good circus train sequence in Octopussy that goes on a fair bit but does feature some very dangerous stuntwork. Regarding the cast, I also enjoyed Kabir Bedi's amusingly stonefaced henchman Gobinda a great deal.

Roger Moore, who was nearly replaced prior to shooting by everyone from James Brolin to Oliver Tobias to Larry Grayson, brings his usual suave sense of mischief to Octopussy. The film gives him some nice comic moments and jokes, if perhaps one or two too many. He's on his last legs as far as his 007 tenure goes but Octopussy serves as a final epic Bond. I actually think Roger is very good in the sequence where he has to defuse the nuclear bomb. A bit of tension is extracted and you are reminded of the actor staggering out of that centrifuge in Moonraker. He's not Marlon Brando but Roger Moore had an uncanny knack of keeping his head above water in very big, outrageous films, a quality that was sometimes overlooked.

Octopussy is typical of the lavish production and grand-scale mayhem that Cubby Broccoli brought to the James Bond series. Regardless of the tone/direction of any specific film, this widescreen sense of scope is something missed from the franchise these days.

For some reason Bond films just don't fill the screen the way they used to.

Now, if you'll kindly excuse me, I'm off to change into my Safari Suit for tea and biscuits at the Monsoon Palace.

- Luke Quantrill


c 2009 Alternative 007