After successfully breaking records at the box office with For Your Eyes Only, John Glenn had the utmost confidence on the part of ” Cubby” Broccoli to tackle the next Bond movie. A project that would face a few hiccups along the way. One of them being the possibility that Moore could abandon the role because of his age, and the other was a long-gestating project by Kevin McClory of remaking the novel Thunderball, to which he still had the rights, into an un-official Bond movie titled Never Say Never Again, with Bond played, once again, by Sean Connery of all people. A movie which would come out the very same year as Octopussy.
The return of Roger Moore ?
Roger Moore’s multi-picture deal with the Studio had already expired. It was expected of him to come back for the next one, but Moore wasn’t blind to the fact that he was getting a tad too old for the role. In the meantime, and in anticipation of Moore refusing to come back, screen tests were done with American actor James Brolin to take over. Surprisingly enough, Swedish actress Maud Adams, who’d previously played a Bond girl on The Man with the Golden Gun, was asked by Broccoli to come in to screen test against Brolin. Broccoli didn’t want an American actor playing the role of 007, and so ultimately, a deal between the Studio and Moore was worked out, and he stepped into the shoes of 007 once again.
As was the case with the previous Bond movie, the screenwriters took the title from one of Ian Fleming’s short stories, but little else. The crew had already scouted in India for possible locations for the previous movies, but had never managed to integrate it into the story. Going on from an original story by Scottish author George McDonald Fraser, better known for his Flashman novels, some of them taking place in India, and later on developed and re-written by both Richard Maibaum and Michael G. Wilson, they had now found a way to successfully integrate India into the story with both the main villain, Prince Kamal Khan, and the misterious Jewel smuggler known as Octopussy, both having their homes, and bases of operation there.
With Roger Moore set to come back as 007, so did the rest of the usual players like Lois Maxwell as Miss Moneypenny, and Desmond Llewellyn as Q. British actor Robert Brown, who’d previously played a Naval officer on The Spy who Loved Me, and who was an old acquaintance of Roger Moore’s, with whom he’d worked on the Ivanhoe TV show (1958-59), was to replace the late Bernard Lee as M.
A surprising twist in the series’ history saw Maud Adams returning to play a Bond girl; none other that the title’s protagonist; Octopussy. Just like it had happened before with Brit Eckland on The Man with the Golden Gun, Adams was to share screen time with another Swedish actress; Kristina Wayborn in the role of Octopussy’s right hand lady, Magda. In fact, a large number of beautiful actresses from all over the world were cast to play Octopussy’s band of female accomplices. For the roles of the main villains, Broccoli cast an old friend of his, French actor Louis Jordan, to play the role of Prince Kamal Khan. For the part of his faithful henchman Gobinda, the producers went with Indian actor Kabir Bedi. Bedi was better known for his role in the Sandokan TV show (1976). For the role of the other archvillain, Russian General Orlov, the producers went with British actor Steven Berkoff. Berkoff was a well known Stage and Big Screen actor who had worked with the likes of Stanley Kubrick on A Clockwork Orange (1971), and Barry Lyndon (1975). It was actually Dana Broccoli who suggested him for the role after seeing him on a play. German Actor Walter Gotell returned to play the role of General Gogol. Gotell had been a mainstay in the series playing the part of General Gogol since The Spy who Loved Me (1977). Another interesting addition to the series was that of famous Indian tennis player Vijay Amritraj, who plays the part of Vijay, Bond’s MI6 man on India.
A good old team
Having been content with the way things had run so smoothly for the previous movie, John Glenn was determined to keep the same crew he’d had for For Your Eyes Only. And so it was that Production Designer Peter Lamont, Second Unit Director Arthur Wooster, Cinematographer Alan Hume, and the usual stunt team with people like Martin Grace, Paul Weston, Richard Graydon, and Rémy Julienne, all came back. Unfortunately, Derek Meddings couldn’t, and so he was replaced by John Richardson, who would step up to the role for the next 007 entries.
The film is filled with amazing stunts; starting with the amazing pre-credits sequence in which Bond blows up a military air base using a one-man mini-jet. John Richardson was in charge of Special Effects this time around, replacing Derek Meddings. The mini-jet Acrostar belonged, and was piloted by Corkey Fornof, who flew the prototype plane for the big aerial sequences which were shot in the US by an aerial unit. The Southamerican military base was shot on an airfield outside London, with the hangar being replaced by a foreground miniature for the difficult sequence in which Bond flies through the closing hangar doors vertically, and comes out the other door, all the while being chased by an air missile, which ultimately destroys the base. For the shots in which Bond flies through the inside of the hangar, the mini-jet was attached with a pole to a Corvette, whose top side had been completely taken off. The pole was constructed in a way that could bank the small plane from one side to the other, if needed. It was actually Richardson himself who drove the Corvette with the small plane attached to it, through the Hangar; with the pole being concealed by the plane’s right wing, and the car underneath by a myriad of extras running around, vehicles, and props. Rémy Julienne and his stunt drive team were called upon once again for two crucial sequences; the three-wheel Indian taxi chase through the Indian marketplace and Bond’s desperate car chase to get to the train, and the American Military Air Base in East Germany. First off, Peter Lamont and his team modified and built six of these Indian three-wheel taxis, and shipped them off to India. It was then up to Julienne and hist team to perform the incredible stunt driving around an exceedingly crowded marketplace in which would always show up double the extras the crew had asked for. Another interesting action set piece was that of Bond being chased through the jungle by Kamal Khan’s hunting party. Everything from close encounters with tigers, spiders, leeches, and even jumping from tree to tree using vines, Tarzan-like; happens in this set piece. The actual jungle where the action takes place was the Maharana Bagwat Singh palace’s garden. He was the maximum authority in the area, and it was thanks mostly to him that the cast and crew got all the collaboration and support they needed from the local authorities. A stuffed Tiger in the Maharana’s collection caught John Glenn’s eye during a dinner invitation to the crew at the Maharana’s palace, and he asked his host if he could borrow it for the jungle chase sequence. The Maharana agreed. The cast, and most of the crew were guests’s at the Maharana’s palace, which was, at the time, being converted into a luxurious hotel. It was also thanks to him that the crew was provided access to a floating palace in the middle of a lake, outside the city, which served as Octopussy’s floating palace/fortress. It is on this location that one of the most dangerous fight sequences takes place between Kamal Khan’s men and Bond, with one of the henchmen wielding a jo jo-like buzz saw that he can flip around to shredd his victims to pieces. The stuntman who performed this stunt, took a nasty fall from a balcony onto a bed downstairs when he decided to remove some of the safety struts holding the balustrade together. The stuntman broke his left arm, but insisted nevertheless in finishing the fight scene. Striking too was Kamal Khan’s mountain top fortress, that happened to be The Monzoon Palace, place of residence of the Princess of Mewar, during the Monzoon season.
One stunt, however, almost resulted in a career-ending accident. For the sequence in which Bond jumps from a moving car on rails, driving alongside a moving train, hanging on for dear life, and almost falling over the side while trying to get to Octopussy’s compartment, the crew moved to Nene Valley railway, in Peterborough, England. The wide variety of tracks available allowed the crew to plan out, and shoot the sequence in relative safety. Unfortunately, when it comes to running on top of a train, or hanging off the side of one going at speed, accidents do happen from time to time. One of such accidents happened when Martin Grace, who was doubling for Moore for the dangerous stunt, was hit by a metal pole by the side of the tracks, when the filmmakers went off the pre-programmed railway they were supposed to be filming on. Second Unit Director, Arthur Wooster, who was in charge of shooting the sequence, was witness to the whole thing. Grace was immediately taken to hospital, having broken his hip and several ribs. Paul Weston filled in for Grace to finish the sequence, and although he made a full recovery, it took Grace a long time to do so. The close ups of Moore and Bedi for that sequence were shot at Pinewood, to where the train carts were transported, suspended over the ground by huge cranes, and a revolving platform,with mocap rails put on it, placed under it to simulate the train moving. The wheels of the carts were electronically moved by Richardson and his team to further sell the illusion that the train was moving. For the scenes in which Gobinda is trying to hit Bond while he’s holding on to the undercarriage, an electrical cable run underneath Kabir Bedi’s sleeve connected to a 12 V battery, so the sword’s blade would produce sparks everytime it touched metal.
Another amazing piece of stunt work is the one that has Bond jump from a horse onto Kamal Khan’s plane, before taking off, try to hang onto it, and fight off Gobinda, while trying to rescue Octopussy. The stunt was performed by famous skydivers B.J Worth, and Jake Lombard; who had been responsible for Moonraker’s amazing pre-credits sequence. Worth put a safety railing on the sides of the plane’s roof, so they could better hold on to it, while performing the stunt in mid air. All the aerial footage for this sequence was shot in the US, after which the plane was transported to the UK, to the back lot at Pinewood Studios, to be used for the close ups of Bond and Gobinda fighting on top of it.
Return of the gadgets
After having Bond resort to his own devises on the previous movie, it was time for the gadgets to come back in full force. Not abused, however, to the extent they had been on The Spy who Loved Me and Moonraker, the movie mostly retained the grounded and realistic tone of the previous entry. Gadgets like the fountain pen filled with acid, that Bond uses to escape from his room at Kamal Khan’s palace, the homing device detecting watch, and the crocodile/submarine Bond uses to infiltrate Octopussy’s island, are but a few of the reminders that 007’s world is something special.
Financial and Critical success
The movie, as per usual, was a smash hit. Unfortunately, from a critical standpoint, it didn’t fare as well as the previous movies had. And I’ll tell you why in a moment.
I hadn’t seen this movie in years, and I must say, age hasn’t improved it. As with all Bond movies, I tend to be forgiving of many of their shortcomings, but this one has several elements in it that just irk me.
First off, and this is the least of its problems, Moore was really starting to show his age. As I previously stated on my review of For Your Eyes Only, neither the Costume Design nor his pairing with vastly younger leading ladies is doing Moore any favours. On top of that, and this IS a problem, the goofy humour is back in full force. It’s not that it wasn’t present during the previous movie, but it was way more subdued. It also does the movie a diservice in scenes like the one in which Bond arrives in New Delhi, and identifies Vijray by way of a flute rendition of the Bond theme, and don’t get me started on the cheap jump scare Bond uses when, having disguised himself as a corpse shrouded in a sheet inside Kamal’s cold storage room, he’s about to be tossed out of the truck he’s being transported on with the rest of the corpses to be rid of, or the silly Tarzan yell that all but undercuts the highly dramatic hunt-through-the-jungle scene. These were John Glenn’s ideas, apparently. As openly admitted by him on the Audio Commentary. Bond disguising himself as a knife thrower with a horrendously red shirt, or a clown when he arrives at the American Military Air Base, can be somewhat justified, as he’s trying to avoid detection from both the baddies and the authorities. The plot, although not as indecipherable as many would let you believe, is unnecessarily convoluted. Enough with the nitpicking, though. Now for the good stuff.
The stunt work and special effects are top notch, so is the Production Design and Cinematography. Peter Lamont and Alan Hume are probably the best representatives of their generation in their respective fields since Ken Adam, and Ted Moore. Clearly understandable in the case of Peter Lamont, as he grew up artistically under Ken Adam’s wing, while Hume soft-filtered cinematography is a thing of beauty. The leading ladies in all the Bond movies lensed by him, especially benefitted from this. It is ultimately the great production values, and professionalism of the crew, that really rescues the movie from being a run-of-the-mill spy actioner. John Barry is back scoring the movies, providing another great Bond score. The title song All Time High sung by Rita Coolidge provides a beautiful Love Theme for the movie. Despite his age, Moore still brings charm and charisma to the role, but the age factor really lets him down in some of the action scenes. I did enjoy it, though. I always do. But Roger, as proved in A View to a Kill, stayed for one too many more Bond movies.
Thanks for reading.