Thursday, February 9, 2012

Bondage, Pt. 13: Octopussy

Is this not the silliest name ever?

In this, the 13th installment in the Bond series, Roger Moore returned for his penultimate outing as 007. He actually wanted to get out after For Your Eyes Only, but fate intervened. Sean Connery was back as Bond that same year - 1983 - in the non-Eon Productions film Never Say Never Again, which was essentially a remake of Thunderball. The reason there was a non-Eon Bond film is due to a lawsuit between Ian Fleming and a collaborator over who really owned S.P.E.C.T.R.E., Blofeld, et al, which has been detailed in previous posts in this series. The producers were ready to find another Bond to replace Moore, who wanted out, primarily because he felt he was getting too old to be taken seriously in the role, and required stunt doubles more and more frequently. But when word came down about Never Say Never Again, the producers felt that the well-established Moore would fare better against Connery. More on this in "Other Facts," below, including a link to an odd screen test for an American Bond.

So let's just jump right in, for the 13th time.

Synopsis: Continuing on with the more low-key approach of For Your Eyes Only, Octopussy follows Bond as he investigates a stolen jewelry ring. After Agent 009 is found dead, dressed as a clown and carrying a Faberge egg, Bond is tasked with tracking down a Russian general who is stealing precious relics and jewels out of the Soviet Union. This leads Bond to an exiled Afghan prince, Kamal Khan, and his partner Octopussy, who owns a circus that helps him smuggle the stuff. Through various convolutions, Bond's investigations reveal a plot by a Russian general to force Europe to disarm, when a nuclear bomb is detonated inside a U.S. Air Base. But GUESS WHAT? Bond thwarts him and saves the world. Again.

The Villain: It appears at first that Octopussy is the villain, and Kamal Khan her underling. But as time goes by it becomes clear that Khan is the true villain of the film. Played by the French actor Louis Jourdan, he's smooth, handsome, and relatively young compared to some Bond villains. He's even sort of funny in a few places. His partner is General Orlov, played by always-creepy Steven Berkoff. Berkoff has a plan to detonate a nuclear bomb inside a U.S. Air Base; this will look like an accident, and Europe will force disarmament in the West. Then, in Orlov's view, there will be nothing to stop Russian tanks and troops from invading Western Europe. So in some ways he's just as much of a villain as Khan is. Khan is facilitating this for the good old-fashioned reason of getting even more fabulously wealthy than he already is. Interestingly, Louis Jourdan (who is much older than he looks in this movie) was a French Resistance fighter during World War II. His father was arrested by the Gestapo.

The Henchman: The first henchmen we see in the movie are twins, Mischka and Grischka, who kill 009. But Khan's main henchman is the towering, be-turbaned Gobinda, played by Indian actor Kabir Bedi. He can crush dice in his bare hands, and is pretty relentless in pursuing Bond in a great chase scene through the crowded streets of India (one of the better chase sequences in all of the Bond movies, actually). Gobinda is totally loyal and obedient to Khan, and only questions his orders when, during the climax, Khan orders him to crawl out onto the wing of a plane, where Bond is hanging on in pursuit of them. But, Gobinda does it. And this leads to my favorite thing about him: the method of his demise. Bond snaps a wire antenna on the side of the plane into Gobinda's face, and he falls to his death. That move is classic Roger Moore era Bond.

The Bond Girl: Swedish actress Maud Adams is back in this one. She appeared in The Man With the Golden Gun as Scaramanga's mistress who helps Bond and gets killed for it. Octopussy is somewhat more self-reliant than many other Bond girls. She has the circus, and a rather large organization, and is the head of a vague Octopus cult of some sort that was never totally clear to me. She is colluding with Khan and Orlov in the beginning of the movie, using her circus to help smuggle relics into the West. But as Bond investigates, she falls for him (imagine that!) and ends up as one of the Good Guys. Maud Adams was not the first choice for the role, it being first offered to large-breasted German action-film star Sybil Danning (who genre geeks will remember as the only thing about the movie Battle Beyond the Stars that is worth remembering). They also considered Faye Dunnaway, who was deemed "too expensive." They offered the role to Barbara Carrera, who, ironically, turned it down to star in Never Say Never Again with Connery. They also looked at a few Indian actresses, but there were apparently very few of them working in the West in those days. They ended up going with Adams, darkening her hair and skin to make her appear to have at least some Indian ancestry, and making up some story about her father being British (they did this again with a Caucasian actress in one of the Pierce Brosnan films). I've never cared much about Maud Adams one way or the other, but it's nice to see Roger Moore's Bond paired up with a woman who is at least within a 25-year range of his age.

The Sidekick: Vijay is a charming Indian contact of Bond's, who helps him establish initial contact with Khan and joins him in some action sequences. Unfortunately, as so often happens to Bond sidekicks, he is killed. He lives long enough to pin his murder on Khan's men, speaking to Q, who shows up for a larger-than-usual part in this movie and can be considered a sidekick, too.

Gadgets: Speaking of Q, the gadgets for this movie are subtle but effective. Q gives Bond a nice gold writing pen that actually secretes acid that can dissolve metal. Bond uses it to escape from his cell in Khan's palace later in the movie. Bond also has a raft made to look like a crocodile, which he uses to infiltrate Octopussy's "floating palace." Finally, the bad guys have a gadget of their own. Kamal Khan hires some assassins to kill Bond, and one of them has a yo-yo with saw edges on it. He misses Bond with this, but manages to kill Bond's hapless sidekick Vijay.

Music: The posters for this movie clearly reference the theme song for The Spy Who Loved Me, "Nobody Does It Better" (the poster's tag line was "Nobody does him better"). I think the reason they used this phrase, though, wasn't meant to indicate that nobody does Bond better than Octopussy, but that Roger Moore plays Bond better than Connery (remember, Never Say Never Again was out that same year). The theme song for Octopussy, "All Time High," is a song in a similar vein - that is, a woman singing about how awesome it is to make love to James Bond. It's a good song, though, written by longtime Bond composer John Barry, with lyrics by Tim Rice of Broadway fame. Rita Coolidge performs. As for the symphonic score, it's Barry, so it's good. But one gets the sense he's sort of recycling by this point.

The Director: John Glen returns for his second Bond movie as director, and continues his overall approach of having Bond be more reliant on skill than gadgets, with plots that are a little more down-to-earth. The producers obviously liked what he did: he directed more Bond films than any other director.

Fun Facts: Vijay, Bond's sidekick, was played by Vijay Amritraj, who was a professional tennis player in India. In the movie, he's a member of the same tennis club as Khan, and when Bond asks him if he's learned anything, he says "Well, my backhand has improved," which was a reference to his off-camera tennis career. Another fun fact has to do with the great chase scene through the streets of India, when there is a sword fight and a bicyclist interrupts the scene. That was not planned - there was actually a bicyclist coming through who didn't know what was going on. The actors and stunt men reacted well, so the producers left it in. See "Other Stuff" for more fun facts about Bond casting.

Favorite Lines: At one point it is suggested to Bond that he trade the Faberge egg central to the plot for his life. He quips, "Well, I heard the price of eggs was up, but isn't that a little high?" When Bond is staying at Octopussy's palace, he asks her associate, Magda, if she wants to join him for a nightcap. She refuses, and Gobinda, the henchman, continues escorting Bond to his room, at which point Bond asks Gobinda, "I don't suppose you'd care for a nightcap?" It's funnier than it sounds.

Other Stuff: It should be noted that this was actor Robert Brown's debut as M. He replaced Bernard Lee, who was very ill and died during the filming of For Your Eyes Only (the character was left out of that film in respect for Lee, who'd been on board since the beginning). In Octopussy, M returns, but it's never made clear whether he's supposed to be the same character, or another guy code-named M. Brown would play M until GoldenEye, when he was replaced with a female version (more on that when we get to the Brosnan era).

Finally, here's something kind of fun. For some reason, the producers at one point thought that James Brolin would make a good James Bond. And guess what? Those screen tests survive. It seems odd, though, in that he seems to have no British accent - or it's so subtle I'm not getting it. I'm not sure what they were thinking. Brolin is pretty cool, and may have done a good job as Bond, if he could have gotten the accent down...anyway, here's a screen test of Brolin's "American Bond" and here's another. He looks great. Doesn't sound right, though.

Next time, we look at the final Roger Moore Bond film, A View to a Kill. It's not the best, but hey, it's got Christopher Walken as the villain. That counts for a lot.

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