Still working my way through the Bond50 set that I brought back in October, I’ve just reached Octopussy, the thirteenth entry in the Bond franchise. A case of Unlucky Thirteen, it would seem, as this film, one of those several Bond films that I had not seen until now, is clearly one of the weakest Bond films I have yet seen- indeed possibly the worst. Which is curious, as after the typical Bond excess of The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker, the films turned towards a smaller-scale, more realistic (if you can ever use that word towards a Bond movie) approach with For Your Eyes Only, which I’d rank pretty high amongst the Bonds. I would have thought that any critical and commercial success of that film would have led to more of the same, but it evidently didn’t go that way. Well, no-one makes films in a vacuum, so perhaps Raiders Of The Lost Ark had something to do with that? Perhaps For Your Eyes Only was the wrong Bond film at the wrong time. As it is, Octopussy is neither the grand theatrics of The Spy Who Loved Me or the calmer For Your Eyes Only, but instead something in-between, floundering between the two camps and lost in limbo. The daft humour falls flat (Bond doing a Tarzan yell in the jungle, or crossing a river wearing a plastic crocodile disguise, or suffering the indignity of a silly clown costume) and the thrills are not remotely thrilling enough.
The plot -if the film even has one- is so weak I was puzzled for much of the film as to just what was going on and why Bond was doing what he was doing, a clear sign something is terribly wrong with the film. Its something to do with a fake Faberge egg and jewel-smuggling, a long-winded and dubious scheme in which a rogue Russian commander intends to smuggle a nuke from East Germany into West Germany using a circus (!), and explode said nuke in order to start some grand Russian invasion into Western Europe. Its all as daft as it sounds, and exactly why the film felt the need to relocate to India for much of the proceedings when the menace was back in East/West Germany just escapes me, other than the typical need to spice up a Bond film with an exotic location or two.
Steven Berkoff is very good as the crazy Soviet General Orlov, but is given too little do, as for much of the film Bond deals with Orlov’s partner-in-crime Kamal Khan, played by Louis Jordan with all the menace of a used car salesman. Likewise the titular character is played by Maude Adams in an utterly bland and oddly sexless performance that fails to live up to her name- I think she was simply miscast here, as the film needed a vamp to chew up the scenery and spice up the film and live up to the Octopussy moniker. Then again, by the time this film was being made Roger Moore was in his mid-fifties and obviously far too old for the role, so the lack of chemistry and passion here may not be Maude Adam’s fault, as casting a sexy mid-twenties vamp being seduced by Grandad Bond would likely look just as ridiculous. The fact that Moore still has another Bond film to go, 1985’s A View To A Kill, another film I have not yet seen, fills me with some trepidation- he must have been pushing sixty by then, threatening to descend everything into farce.
Its clear that the Bond producers slipped up during this period and nearly derailed the franchise. Had Moore left the role after For Your Eyes Only then his credentials as a fine Bond would have been assured, and he would have the franchise in good shape having proven you didn’t need to be Mr Connery to carry a Bond film. But even though Moore’s original contract was up the producers didn’t have a ‘new’ Bond waiting in the wings, which surprises me, as they had been caught out before, prior to Diamonds Are Forever, when they stuck with Sean Connery for one Bond film too many – and wound up repeating the mistake here with Octopussy. I don’t know what British actors were doing the rounds back then, but I was surprised to learn that the American actor James Brolin was being seriously considered for the role of Bond, and this disc includes some very interesting screentests of Brolin playing the character. His accent doesn’t work at all (I wonder if they would have had dialogue coaches erase that yank twang?) and just makes it feel uncomfortable, but Brolin giving it a shot -miscast as he was- would have been preferable I think to having Moore continue. Surely the character is the star, not the actor playing him?
But anyway, that’s Octopussy. The fact that the grand finale features Bond in a clown outfit disarming a nuke in a Circus tent says everything about a lacklustre and disappointing effort. Its the clear clunker of the Bond50 set (though with A View To A Kill to follow, I suspect that’s a title it may lose soon) and cannot possibly imagine anyone buying it as a single disc release- its a film that simply demands to be a part of a box-set. Still, I quite liked the theme song.