Octopussy (1983) – Film Review
Director: John Glen
Cast: Roger Moore, Maud Adams, Louis Jourdan
by @Roger Crow
British agent 009 does not fare well in the 13th official James Bond movie. Unlucky for some? Well definitely for this 007 fan. Released within months of unofficial Bond offering Never Say Never Again, which saw a bewigged Sean Connery return to the role of MI6’s much loved agent, that Thunderball remake and Roger Moore’s offering were as humdrum as one another. However, there is a good pre-credits sequence here involving Bond and a mini plane dodging missiles. (The summer of 1983 saw Superman doing the same thing in his third outing, so at times it feels like the same movie).
But back to 009, who comes to a sticky end while trying to escape from East to West Berlin. He dies in the residence of the British Ambassador, dressed as a circus clown and carrying a fake Fabergé egg.
Could the Soviets be responsible? Well, at the time the Cold War was still very much a thing, so possibly. When the real egg appears at an auction in London, James Bond attempts to identify the seller. Exiled Afghan prince Kamal Khan winds up paying £500,000 for the fake egg, and Bond follows Khan back to his palace in Rajasthan.
The India locations look glorious. Naturally this is travelogue India, so it’s bursting with colour and vibrancy while 007 runs around tackling bad guys with his contact, Vijay. This bit always confused me, as it’s tennis player Vijay Armitraj playing a character called Vijay, who’s rather good at tennis. So there’s lots of tennis gags, and yet it’s not really him. Which is odd, because (spoiler alert) he winds up dead via that most impractical of weapons, a circular saw yo-yo. (At least ’the real’ Vijay had more credibility as a doomed Officer in Star Trek IV a few years later).
Eventually Bond heads to a floating palace in Udaipur, and finds its wealthy owner, Octopussy, a smuggler and associate of Khan.
“A bit dull”
Maud Adams, from 1974’s The Man with the Golden Gun, returns as the eponymous femme fatale, though she’s sold short by a dull script and seems to sleepwalk thought the movie. In fact the bulk of the film seems so by-the-numbers I’m glad I spent part of it watching on the treadmill otherwise I may have nodded off.
Louis Jourdan has a good time as the bad guy, and Steven Berkoff chews the scenery as a mad Russian.
There’s a throwback to Pussy Galore’s Flying Circus, only this one is obviously Octopussy’s and is set on a train. Like Trading Places, released around the same time, there’s also a scene involving a fake gorilla. Which is great in a knockabout comedy, but never in a Bond movie.
There was a real sense that the 007 franchise had lost its way by the early 1980s. With Bond films being turned out every two years, the stories were a bit dull, the scripts so-so, and as terrific as Roger Moore is, it was obvious another man should have stepped into the role. And at one point it looked like James Brolin would be that man, as we see in the Blu-ray extras. But he definitely wasn’t right for the part, despite lavish screen tests, so Mr Moore was rolled out for his penultimate turn as Bond.
Director John Glen does his best with the material, but the third act with 007 dressed as a clown trying to stop a bomb going off in a circus is just dreadful. The summer of 1983 was dominated by Return of the Jedi (which also featured now much missed 007 veteran Jeremy Bulloch), and though any Bond film was an event, it just couldn’t compete with that effects-laden blockbuster. So James clowning around felt completely at odds with the era. It was more Benny Hill than Bond, and even the finale on a plane couldn’t salvage things. The fact I couldn’t name a single standout John Barry track says a lot about the score, which at one point sounds like the generic Bond theme had just been used as a temp track and kept in.
So there’s plenty of glamour, and comic relief from a fragile-looking Q (Desmond Llewelyn), but like For Your Eyes Only, this is far from the ‘All Time High’ that the main theme suggests.
Though it looks fabulous in its restored HD version, just a shame the same tech that cleans up movies couldn’t have spruced up some of the dialogue.
Roger Moore had one Bond film left in him before he called it a day, and at least that was slightly better. ‘From A View to a Kill’, as the closing titles suggest, would be slightly altered when it was released in 1985. But that’s another story.