The good, the bad, and the Bond: Re-evaluating 007 – Octopussy
AS WE NEAR the end of the Roger Moore era – perhaps mercifully – at SCM, we take a moment to languish in the doldrums. This is where it really starts to hit the fan: It is, with THAT name and all, Octopussy.
Jozef Raczka: Octopussy. Octo. Pussy. This is a film called Octopussy. It features a character called Octopussy. This is an actual film that was made and I have found myself drawing the short straw of having to do positives. So I have to do around four-hundred words on the positive aspects of Octopussy. This isn’t exactly my easiest review to write.
Let’s start with some context. Google provides me with the synopsis of Octopussy:
James Bond (Roger Moore) may have met his match in Octopussy (Maud Adams), an entrancing beauty involved in a devastating military plot to destroy détente. From the palaces of India to a speeding circus train in Germany and a mid-air battle on the wing of a high-flying jet, only Agent 007 can stop the nightmarish scheme!
This is, to the best of my memory, the plot. It also involves a Russian nuclear weapon planted in a circus, Bond dressed as a clown, Faberge Eggs and, mercifully, no J.W Pepper.
So there are a couple of positives, I can take from this film: For one thing, it looks beautiful. The Bond films almost always have great cinematography (none quite as good as Skyfall but we’ll get to that) and Bond’s adventures in India are no exception with some vibrant, colourful, languid imagery that contrasts well with the high energy escapades on screen.
Steven Berkoff is enjoyably hammy as General Orlov (in much the same performance as the far superior Berverly Hills Cop) and provides a nice counterpoint to the standard cold, calculating Bond Villain. He also has a villainous henchman with a saw yo-yo so that’s fun. And Desmond Llewelyn is still Q at that point and he’s always a highlight of anything. I’m not looking forward to watching him hand over the reins to John Cleese again. Those are dark days.
Of course this is the point where I sing the praises of the true hero of the Bond series – John Barry. The man’s scores are always fantastic, there is pretty much at least one song per film he’s done that is effortlessly beautiful. Even with as naff an opening theme as ‘All Time High’, he still manages to give scenes that might not deserve them a sweeping dignity that no one, not David Arnold, not George Martin, not Thomas Newman could recreate. I’m just going to say it now; there isn’t a bad word to be said about John Barry. Except maybe that slide whistle in Golden Gun, but that’s the past. We can move on.
Okay that’s me over the four hundred word mark. Dan, hit ‘em where it hurts.
Daniel Abbott: From memory, I had always remembered A View to a Kill as being the inexorable low point of Roger Moore’s James Bond. There, as we will soon elucidate, a 58 year-old Moore would wheeze his way through Christopher Walken and Grace Jones while Duran Duran desperately tried to assert 007’s modern relevance. Octopussy (fucking OCTO-PUSSY) harbours no such delusions – this is standard, insouciant Moore shenanigans with none of the enjoyable camp that preceded it.
It’s especially grating when we consider how restrained For Your Eyes Only was. John Glen, also director on that film, brings none of that film’s charm or grit to Octopussy, relying on old, tired scenarios for an old, tired Bond. In truth, there are so few memorable moments in the film that I can’t even recommend the scant chase sequences, if and when they appear. The villain (Louis Jordan) is your typical smooth-talking, impeccably-mannered mega-mind with an eye on nuclear exchange; his large, gimmick-weapon-wielding henchman (Kabir Bedi) is large and wields a gimmick weapon. Roger Moore says quips. Maud Adams’ titular strong-woman-turned-Bond-conquest smoulders.
That’s it. I don’t remember much from Octopussy beyond writhing embarrassment for Moore and John Barry’s lovely score. Steven Berkoff is a delicious ham as General Orlov, a clinically insane Russian official who enthusiastically endorses throwing tanks at European borders to the bafflement of his peers. “The West is decadent and divided!” he spits with a straight face, looking for all the world like he’s swallowed a speedball. Jozef cites Beverly Hills Cop – I reference his turn in Rambo II. It is hilarious.
Much unlike the rest of the film. Perhaps an intentional mirror to Jaws’ descent into the Big Top in Moonraker, Moore manages to out-stupid anything in that film by dressing as a clown while defusing a nuclear bomb. Bond was, presumably, painstakingly applying his Doink make-up while Armageddon ticked ever closer. Even worse is the appearance of Octopussy’s menagerie of scantily-clad ladies in the climactic battle, a moment which I will always remember through my Dad’s beautiful, succinct description: “Pathetic.”
Octopussy is just that: pathetic. An irritating, embarrassing mess that’s also probably quite offensive in its depiction of Indian culture (but this is hardly new for the series). By Moore’s own admission, he was too old for the material; Timothy Dalton and James Brolin were both heavily courted, but Connery’s Never Say Never Again forced Eon to plump for the safer alternative. Moore, for his part, was tactful enough not to mention how old the material was too. But is it his worst offering? We’ll find out soon enough.
P.S.: Rita Coolidge’s theme, ‘All Time High‘, doesn’t even reference the movie by name. We couldn’t even get that? Fuck this.