40 YEARS LATER! REEL RETRO CINEMA: New looks at old flicks — and their comic-book connections…
By ROB KELLY
Playing James Bond looks like a lot of fun—unless, of course, you’ve actually done it. It seems like every actor who has joined that select group announces their plan to quit just one or two films into their tenure. Sean Connery quit playing Bond twice. George Lazenby quit after just one outing as 007. Even the good-natured Roger Moore, as of 1981’s For Your Eyes Only, decided he’d had enough.
The Bond producers were well under way into recasting the part—even considering American actor James Brolin—when they got news that Connery was, after more than a decade away, returning to play James Bond in Never Say Never Again, produced by a rival studio thanks to some arcane rights issues involving the original Thunderball novel. Connery had a long-standing feud with the keeper of the franchise, Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli, so this was his way to stick it to him. A box-office standoff was on the horizon.
Not wanting to subject audiences to a new actor in the part, and risk being outshone by Connery, the producers went back to Roger Moore and asked (begged?) him to suit up one more time. He agreed, and the resultant film was June 1983’s Octopussy.
Based very loosely off the Ian Fleming short story collection Octopussy and the Living Daylights, the film concerns itself with Bond following a power mad Russian general named Orlov (Steven Berkoff), who is stealing art and jewelry in a plot to expand Soviet domination in Europe. Orlov is working with an exiled Afghan prince named Kamal Khan (the legendary Louis Jourdan), who in turn is involved with Octopussy (Maud Adams) — a jewel smuggler and businesswoman who heads a clandestine group of female assassins, all of whom bear a blue-and-gold octopus tattoo.
After a pre-credits sequence set in Cuba featuring a fantastic aerial stunt, Octopussy proper opens with a second wonderfully paced and tense scene of twin assassins chasing a circus clown, who ends up with a knife in his back. He manages to stagger into the home of a British ambassador, clutching a counterfeit Faberge egg. This gets MI-6 involved, and they assign Bond to find out the identity of the seller of the real egg, being put up for auction at Sotheby’s.
Bond swaps the real and fake eggs, and places a listening device inside the real one. The trail leads to India, where Bond seduces the statuesque Magda (Kristina Wayborn), who is working with Khan. He allows her to think she has stolen the real egg away from him. Magda is a member of the Octopus cult, which brings Bond and Octopussy together. We then move to East Germany, where a circus is performing at an Air Force base. Hidden inside one of the circus’ train cars is a nuclear warhead, part of Orlov’s plan. Bond has to dress as a clown to disarm it, under the Big Top in front of thousands of innocent people.
Octopussy’s reputation over the last 40 years has not been great. Bond in his clown makeup makes for an easy gif if you want to dunk on the movie, and there are some pretty unforgivable gags — Bond using a spy camera to zoom in on a woman’s breasts, Bond dressed up as a gorilla, and, worst of all, a “Tarzan” yell added to the scene where Bond is swinging on some jungle vines; all are pretty dire attempts at comedy.
That said, I think Octopussy is a lot of fun, features some diverting action scenes, and is populated with interesting adversaries. Besides the aforementioned opening sequences, there’s a car chase down the narrow confines of a marketplace, a fight scene atop a train, and a fantastic final stunt extravaganza featuring Bond and one of Khan’s henchmen on top of a plane in mid-flight. All of this is helped by the knowledge that this stuff is being done by real people in real places; it’s not just a bunch of 1s and 0s in a computer.
Louis Jordan is wonderfully hammy as Khan, and the striking Maud Adams (who was a Bond Girl in The Man With The Golden Gun) brings a Catwoman-esque energy to the 007 universe. Sure, Octopussy isn’t exactly on Bond’s side, but she’s not a megalomaniacal super-villain, either. The film lays enough track involving her and her octopus cult that I could picture her being spun off into her own film, had the Bond producers been thinking along those lines back then.
Despite the mixed critical reviews, Octopussy was another hit for the series, and it made more money than Never Say Never Again. Moore would be Bond one last time in 1985’s A View To A Kill; Connery would never again play the role he originated on the big screen.
As we have discussed in this column before, I’ve always been fascinated by how little the comic book industry bothered with the James Bond franchise, considering its massive popularity and subject matter that you’d think would appeal to younger readers. DC Comics made a half-hearted attempt to adapt Dr. No, and then almost 20 years later, Marvel got in the Bond business with a two-issue adaptation of For Your Eyes Only, probably the least comic book-y installment of the Bond films to that point.
When it came time for Octopussy, Marvel tried again, in a roundabout way. Instead of hiring a writer and artist on their staff to adapt the movie, Octopussy ran in Marvel Super Special #26, written, drawn and edited by an all-British creative team (writer Steve Moore, artist Paul Neary, and editor John Barraclough). Try as I might, I could not find any details as to why they went this route, or if this adaptation was originally commissioned for some other, UK-specific purpose and then Marvel bought it to publish in America.
I vaguely recall having this issue of Marvel Super Special when the movie came out (my local newsstands only sparingly carried Marvel’s magazines), and being confused as to why it looked so strange to my then 12-year old eyes. The coloring (which is uncredited) is an odd collection of golden hues and highly saturated reds, blues, and greens. It gives the proceedings a weirdly unreal feel, even with the recognizable actor likenesses throughout. But it’s not unattractive, and Paul Neary uses the comic book format to tell parts of the story in an effective way (like when Magda leaps off a balcony to escape Bond with the stolen egg). As you might expect, it streamlines the plot and focuses on the action beats.
Sadly, this would be it for Marvel’s dalliance with James Bond. They would not adapt A View To A Kill, or any of the subsequent Bond films featuring Timothy Dalton or Pierce Brosnan. Of course, James Bond comics are not unusual nowadays, thanks to Dynamite Entertainment taking over the license in the 2000s. But as a kid, I loved comics, I loved James Bond, and I would have gladly handed over my hard-earned quarters to read his adventures in comic-book form.
Is Octopussy top-tier Bond? No. Its plot is too convoluted, it has a few too many bad guys, at 131 minutes it’s a bit too long, and that Tarzan yell! Additionally, there’s no way to hide the fact that Roger Moore, as charming and game as ever, was, at 56, just too old for this silliness. Octopussy has more women characters than a usual Bond film. Seeing so many of them, probably half Moore’s age, constantly giving him bedroom eyes just seems a little sad. At least Maud Adams was (almost) Moore’s contemporary, and that helps Bond and Octopussy achieve a believable on-screen chemistry.
But, despite those flaws, like the opening lyrics to the title theme, All Time High, spell out, “All I wanted was a sweet distraction for an hour or two.” On that scale, Octopussy delivers.
— DOCTOR NO: That Suave Time JAMES BOND Joined DC Comics. Click here.
— FOR YOUR EYES ONLY and Its First-Rate MARVEL Adaptation. Click here.
ROB KELLY is a podcaster, writer, illustrator and 13th Dimension film columnist. He is the host of various podcasts on The Fire and Water Podcast Network, including Fade Out, The Film and Water Podcast, Pod Dylan, TreasuryCast and M*A*S*HCast.
If you want to hear a full-length commentary track on Octopussy, please check out the latest episode of The Film and Water Podcast!