I’m probably one up on the redoubtable Mr Simpson. I’ve seen ‘Octopussy’ three times. Once at the cinema when I was eleven. It made the kind of impression on me that anything in ‘Scope and with a notable quotient of buxom women would have made on me at that age. Second time, it was on TV when I was probably in my late teens or early twenties. I thought that Roger Moore looked kinda old and the back projection was dodgy. Sliding the DVD into the player a few nights ago, I wasn’t holding out much hope. “It’s the clown one,” I remember saying desultorily to Mrs F; “see you in a couple of hours.”
Turns out third time was the charm. With only a couple of minor quibbles, I really enjoyed ‘Octopussy’: it strikes a decent balance between the globe-trotting élan audiences had come to expect of Bond movies and a (for the early-to-mid 80s) timely Cold War narrative. John Glen, helming the second of his five consecutive 007 opuses, retains much of the grittiness of ‘For Your Eyes Only’ and again keeps the gadgets to a minimum (though he does throw in a painfully laddish scene where Bond uses some of Q’s surveillance equipment to check out a nubile young woman’s décolletage).
Like its predecessor, ‘Octopussy’ takes an Ian Fleming short story as its starting point; well, two actually. Bond’s attendance at a Sotheby’s auction, attempting to sniff out the buyer of a fake Faberge egg is a fairly faithful rendition of ‘The Property of a Lady’, while the short story ‘Octopussy’ provides the backstory that connects Bond and the mysterious jewel smuggler and circus owner of the title. Fleshing out these disparate elements, the script – ‘Flashman’ legend George Macdonald Fraser throwing in his talents with Richard Maibaum and Michael G Wilson – divides its time between India and Berlin as Bond unravels the connections between rogue communist General Orlov (Steven Berkoff), playboy millionaire Kamal Khan (Louis Jourdan) and Octopussy (Maud Adams) herself.
Other niggles: the horrible “Tarzan” moment; the stunt casting of tennis champion Vijay Amritraj (necessitating a visual pun that you can see coming like the QE2 on a duck pond); a slight slackening of the pace during the India sequence; and the overplotting that links the jewel smuggling, the faked objets d’art and Orlov’s plot to detonate a nuclear device on an American air force base in Germany, make it look like an accident and thus force Europe’s hand over unilateral disarmament, thereby leaving the borders open for Russian invasion.
But this really is me being picky. That a Bond movie – moreover, a Roger Moore Bond movie – can be this bothered with plot, character interaction and the tangled-web machinations of its villains is something to be applauded. The fact that it can do this whilst retaining the arch and slightly camp humour that best suited Moore, as well as permitting him a genuinely badass moment comparable to the Mercedes/cliff face moment in ‘For Your Eyes Only’, just adds to the enjoyment. In this regard, the pre-credits sequence sets the tone nicely: it starts low-key with 007 disguising himself in order to infiltrate a military base, ups the stakes with his capture before he can complete his mission, develops into an audience-pleasing large scale action-fest, all duelling planes and big explosions, and concludes with an archetype Roger Moore nod to the gallery and a one-liner that manages not to be as groan-inducing of most of humour in a Bond movie of this era.
And yes, Moore is a bit long in the tooth for all this; and yes, the cynicism of Orlov’s plot is sugar-coated somewhat by the (quite literal) three-ring circus that goes on around it; but ‘Octopussy’ is never less than entertaining. It was Moore’s penultimate appearance, and it’s a shame really that he didn’t bow out on it. Then we’d have either had ‘A View to a Kill’ configured around a younger actor or been spared it altogether.