2012 marks the 50th anniversary of James Bond on the big screen. To celebrate, SFX’s Nick Setchfield revisits each and every 007 adventure in a week by week countdown to Skyfall…
MISSION 13: OCTOPUSSY (1983)
KEEPING UP WITH THE JONESES If Moonraker had chased the rocket trail of Star Wars then Octopussy was a landgrab for another corner of the Lucas empire. 1981’s Raiders Of The Lost Ark had redefined the modern action film, resurrecting the knuckle-bruising, globe-spanning spirit of Saturday matinee adventure and fusing it with a slick, film brat generation understanding of cinema to build the ultimate celluloid thrill machine. In an irony that Cubby Broccoli must have found especially wounding, Spielberg made Raiders to exorcise his frustration at being refused the chance to direct a Bond adventure (“I told him I wanted to do a Bond picture more than anything else in the world and he said, ‘We only hire British, experienced directors,’ Spielberg later recalled). And so Octopussy pickpockets Indy’s pulp mojo: India’s exotic, hustling marketplaces and spider-haunted jungles bring a Gunga Din sense of colonial period adventure and there’s a distinct hint of Belloq in the silky, urbane menace of Kamal Khan. We have a character who declares “I hate snakes!” and a shameless swipe as a taxi vanishes behind a hastily erected awning, just like the truck in Raiders. But Octopussy foreshadows as much as it steals: 1984’s Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom finds the two-fisted archaeologist trailing Bond in the subcontinent, and its queasy banquet menu of chilled monkey brains isn’t that far removed from Khan’s favoured dish of stuffed sheep’s head (please, help yourself to an eyeball…). Octopussy’s cinematic roots run deeper than the Jones boy, though. The safari hunt for Bond summons 1932’s The Most Dangerous Game while the fight on the roof of a thundering train feels like an homage to the earliest daredevilry of the big screen.
BOND WARSOctopussy is Roger Moore’s sixth Bond caper – an unbroken run that now equalled Connery’s interrupted tally – but the renewal of his licence to kill was far from a formality. By now he was negotiating on a strictly film-by-film basis, and this time his return was locked perilously late in the day. Broccoli had a substitute 007 in mind, of course: The Amityville Horror’s James Brolin, an American warhorse of an actor whose screentest reveals an improbable beef-flank of a Bond, incarnating Fleming’s fastidious Etonian hero with what producer Michael G Wilson charitably spins as “a mid-Atlantic style.” Broccoli needed Moore, though. Alongside the thirteenth official Bond entry, 1983 would also see the release of Never Say Never Again, the long-threatened challenge to the franchise by rival producer Kevin McClory. Legally McClory could only rehash Thunderball, but he was armed with the screen rights to such iconic parts of Bond’s heritage as Blofeld and SPECTRE, not to mention the ultimate intimidation of flaunting Sean Connery as his leading man (returning to secret service for the first time in 12 years). To many the 53 year old Scotsman endured as the once and future Bond and, as the press prepared to feast on the clash, Broccoli realised that Octopussy had to retaliate with the established starpower of Roger Moore. His instincts were right: Octopussy outgrossed its ultimately underwhelming rival and Connery’s return proved more of a footnote in film history than planet-quaking second coming.
FULLY BOOKED Once again the film-makers plunder Fleming’s untapped short stories for inspiration. Octopussy had been published posthumously in 1966, a final attempt at milking the creator’s canon for a Bond-hungering marketplace after the previous year’s patchy, palpably unpolished The Man With The Golden Gun. Originally it gathered together two stories: the previously unpublished title tale and “The Living Daylights”, written for The Sunday Times in 1962. The paperback added a third story, “The Property Of A Lady”, penned by Fleming for The Ivory Hammer, the yearbook of Sotheby’s auction house (neatly, we glimpse that title on the Sotheby’s catalogue as Bond prepares to bid for the Faberge egg in the movie). Told in flashback, Fleming’s story is more morality tale than thriller, telling of 007’s pursuit of disgraced military man Major Dexter Smythe, whose unlikely death by pet octopus is referenced in one of the movie’s grislier, most pulpy moments.
“THAT’S MY LITTLE OCTOPUSSY” Maud Adams is the first (and, to date, only) actress to have two bites of the Bond girl cherry (not counting Eunice Gayson’s Sylvia Trench, whose encore in From Russia With Love is more of a cameo). The Swedish-born former model played the fated Andrea Anders in 1974’s The Man With The Golden Gun and – 11 years after receiving Scaramanga’s deftly delivered bullet in a Bangkok boxing stadium – returns as Octopussy herself, discreetly tattooed smuggler and queen of a kick-ass circus sisterhood. It’s revealed that she’s the daughter of the doomed Major Smythe from Fleming’s original short story but the film-makers shun the all too obvious revenge angle by having Octopussy thank Bond for allowing her father an honourable exit from the world. Adams plays Octopussy with a dependable sense of European exotica but the filmmakers originally sought an East Indian actress for the part and briefly considered Persis Khambatta, best known for her strikingly bald turn as Lt Ilia in 1979’s Star Trek The Motion Picture. While Adams expressed reservations about the ever-so-winky name of her character, she was happy to return to the Bond world: “Looking back on it, how can you not really enjoy the fact that you were a Bond Girl? It’s pop culture and to be part of that is very nice.”
INDIAN SUMMER BLOCKBUSTER Roger Moore suffered for his art on Octopussy. The imperishably louche star sweltered on location in India, forced to endlessly change shirts in a bid to preserve 007’s unruffled image. Tailoring crises aside, the subcontinent proves an intriguing new backcloth for Bond, accenting his origin as a post-colonial fantasy for a Britain struggling with the crumbling of empire. The days of the Raj were an ongoing preoccupation for the country in the early ‘80s, one that chimed with a yearning for an imperial dream of a past that infiltrated everything from the fops and picnics of Brideshead Revisited to the jodhpurs of the New Romantics (future title song creators Duran Duran upheld the tradition of the dapper English traveller descending on the undeveloped world, blitzing Sri Lanka for a series of glossy promo vids). A year after Octopussy ITV would adapt Paul Scott’s Raj-set novel The Jewel In The Crown to huge success, making a star of Art Malik, who would enter Bond’s orbit in ‘87’s The Living Daylights. More Mind Your Language than Midnight’s Children, Octopussy is a Hollywood cartoon notion of India, brimming with every reliable cliché from snake charmers to sword-swallowers to hot coals and beds of nails. Q’s even perfecting the Indian Rope Trick.
CLOWNS, CAMP AND THE COLD WAR Tonally, Octopussy is a distinctly strange entry in 007’s big screen canon. For Your Eyes Only explicitly grounded Bond but only the ghost of that creative mission remains in its successor’s Cold War concerns and glimpse of a cheerless East Berlin. Mention of mutual disarmament talks hint that the eternal Cold Warrior is rapidly edging towards a new world but elsewhere this is the Bond franchise at its most wildly, outrageously camp: Octopussy’s slave-boat feels like it’s drifted in from a Sinbad flick while her personal island of harem-clad honeys is pure Wonder Woman. Not only is Roger Moore back in the faithful safari suit but the humour dial is heading remorselessly into the red again: Bond swings from a vine with an authentic Tarzan yell and stops a tiger with a wincingly topical nod to TV dog-wrangler Barbara Woodhouse. He even tells a snake to “Hiss off!”. Ironically, what threatens to be the movie’s dumbest moment – Bond in clown suit, red nose and greasepaint slap, attempting to stop a warhead at a circus – becomes a brilliantly tense, quasi-Hitchcockian highlight. Octopussy also brings some interesting new flavours to the mix. There’s a marvelous echo of The Avengers in the early sequence where a clown and his balloon are chased by knife-throwing twins through the spindly, mist-coiled trees of a storybook forest. The moment the clown crashes through the French windows of the British embassy and a Faberge egg rolls from his dying hand remains one of the greatest visual non-sequiturs in Bond history.
TRIV AND LET DIE
Steven Berkoff arrived for his audition as Orlov in a full samurai suit.
Faye Dunaway was in the frame for Octopussy while Barbara Carrera claimed that she turned down the role to star opposite Sean Connery in Never Say Never Again.
George MacDonald Fraser – author of the Flashman books – was brought in to develop the story and came up with the idea of the razor-edged yo-yo.
Moneypenny actress Lois Maxwell was dismayed by the presence of MI6 assistant Penelope Smallbone, who she imagined was being set up as her replacement.
The pre-credits stunt with the miniature jet was originally intended for Moonraker.
Stuntman Martin Grace spent six months in hospital after shattering his hip during the train sequence.
Vijay is played by Vijay Amritaj, real life professional tennis player (you can also glimpse him as a Starfleet captain in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home).
Midge is played by former Pan’s People dancer Cherry Gillespie.