Friday, October 26, 2012

Octopussy - Bollywood Bond

Octopussy - 1983

Bond:  Roger Moore
Directed by: John Glen
Produced by: Albert R. Broccoli
Theme: "All Time High" performed by Rita Coolidge

Roger Moore originally signed a 3 movie contract to play Bond, which he'd fulfilled by The Spy Who Loved Me. He made Moonraker and For Your Eyes Only signing contracts one movie at a time. After FYEO, he expressed interest in no longer playing the part. Producers looked at Timothy Dalton once again, but extensively tested James Brolin for the part. If you google "James Brolin James Bond Screen Test", you can watch some of his auditions. They're strange because he speaks with an American accent. I'm not sure what they were thinking.

Then Scott McClory moved forward with plans to produce his own Bond film using his rights to Thunderball, and Sean Connery was signed to reprise the role after 12 years. The film would be released the same year as Eon's next Bond film. Fearing that a new actor couldn't compete with Connery head-to-head, Eon talked Moore into returning.

This was the first Bond movie I saw in theaters. My sister took me. I was young. She was in High School. I'm sure the sexual references completely went over my  head, although perhaps not the nudity. Nearly every Bond film has back-lit  silhouetted, naked ladies dancing in the title sequence. They can get pretty explicit in outline, but you never really see anything, except in Octopussy. With that name, it's not surprising that the title sequence has the least thinly veiled nudity of all. I can only imagine (and try to remember) the amount of detail you could have seen on the big screen. Then there's a shot of Maud Adams' naked in the distance emerging from a swimming pool that must have looked magnificent on a 22 foot screen. (One also imagines that the shot of Barbara Bach showering in TSWLM is wasted on the small screen.)

What could be a more perfect movie for a young boy? You've got small amounts of nudity, the world's smallest jet plane, alligator submarines, elephants, snakes, tigers, a circus, knife throwers, a yoyo saw, and nuclear weapons.

This movie is a pretty typical Roger Moore Bond film. It does a few things really well. It takes a few thing too far. It taps well into early Eighties nuclear war paranoia. For those of you with no memory of the Cold War, we really did live with this linger background level of fear that at any moment there could be a flash of light and you'd be vaporized by a nuclear blast. The idea that there could be a rogue Russian general manipulating things behind the scenes to be able to invade Europe was not outside the realm of possibilities. This movie, perhaps more than any other Bond film, tackles the Cold War head on as it's main plot point.

And then builds an atypically complex plot around that plot point. The movie has 3 villains (General Orlav, Kamal Kahn, and Octopussy) and 3 henchmen (Gobinda, Mischka, and Grishka)! Louis Jordan is great as Kahn, and Bollywood film star Kabir Bedi as Gobinda gives one of the most memorable henchman performances of the franchise. A highlight of the film is the fight sequence on the outside of the plane between Bond and Gorbinda. While a little truncated, it still feels like something right out of the Dark Knight Rises.

After appearing as Andrea in the terrible movie The Man With the Golden Gun, Maude Adams gets a chance to redeem herself by playing title villain, who of course turns good in the end. Producers originally didn't want to user Adams because her character had died in TMWTGG, but she landed the part in the end and plays it well. They even play around a little with her familiarity in her reveal.

Large portions of the movie was filmed in India and are beautiful, if verging on a little racist. This is where the movie starts to derail a bit. The humor starts to verge on the ridiculous and masturbatory. Bond recognizes his contact in India, Vijay, when Vijay plays the Bond theme on his recorder while charming a snake. To be fair, the Monty Norman based the Bond Theme on a song from a never performed musical adaptation of an Indian novel, so the song does have vaguely Indian roots. Maybe it's popular with snake charms. You can hear the original, with lyrics here.

But like a bad stand-up act, the cheap jokes just keep on coming. Vijay was played (quite well) by tennis pro Vijay Amritraj, so they gave him a tennis racket as a weapon during one of the chase scenes. Bond give a Tarzan call while swinging through vines in the jungle. Bond pulls a jet plane up to a gas station and tells the attendant to "fill her up." All of these things I'm sure I loved as a small boy, but now they just make me cringe.

You may have noticed, even if I didn't mention it, that M wasn't in FYEO. Bernard Lee died just as filming began, and rather than replace him right away, they wrote M out of that film. He's back in Octopussy and played by Robert Brown, who previously played Admiral Hargreaves in TSWLM. It's never stated whether or not he's supposed to be the same character played by a different actor or if Admiral Hargreaves was promoted to M. Still, I didn't realize just how good Bernard Lee was until he was gone. Not that Brown is bad by any means, but Lee really had some charm.

Q has an extended roll in this film, helping Bond beyond his usual job of demonstrating new toys. He actually does some field work, and does it well, showing that Q and Desmond Llewelyn were underutilized by the producers and Bond.

"All Time High" is the first Bond theme not to reference the movie title in anyway, for obvious reasons, but maybe for a less obvious one as well. Another Bond title is referenced several times in the film: "The Property of a Lady". Like FYEO, Octopussy is actually the name of a short story collection Octopussy and The Living Daylights. "The Property of a Lady" is another story in that collection, elements of which are used in the auction sequence in the film. The way it's referenced so strongly makes me wonder (and I can find nothing to back this up) if the writers emphasized it just in case they couldn't get away with calling the movie "Octopussy". In that way "All Time High" would have worked as a theme song for a movie of either title.

Personal Rankings: While funnier and not as boring as Dr. No, it's just not as good of a film. 
  1. Goldfinger
  2. From Russia With Love
  3. The Spy Who Loved Me
  4. Live and Let Die
  5. You Only Live Twice
  6. For Your Eyes Only
  7. Dr. No
  8. Octopussy
  9. Diamonds Are Forever
  10. Thunderball
  11. The Man with the Golden Gun
  12. Moonraker

1983 Context
President: Ronald Reagan
Queen: Elizabeth II

Return of the Jedi is released

Best Picture Nominees:

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