Octopussy’s 35th: Battle of the Bonds, round 1

Octopussy poster with a suggestive tagline.

Poster with a suggestive tagline.

Adapted from a May 2013 post with an epilogue added at the end..

Thirty-five years ago, there was the much-hyped “Battle of the Bonds.” Competing 007 movies, the 13th Eon Productions entry with Roger Moore and a non-Eon film with Sean Connery, were supposed to square off in the summer.

Things didn’t quite work out that way. In June 1983, Eon’s Octopussy debuted while Never Say Never Again got pushed back to the fall.

Producer Albert R. Broccoli was taking no chances. He re-signed Moore, 54 at the start of production in the summer of 1982, for the actor’s sixth turn as Bond. It had seemed Moore might have exited the series after 1981’s For Your Eyes Only. Broccoli had considered American James Brolin, and Brolin’s screen tests surfaced at a 1994 007 fan convention in Los Angeles. But with Never Say Never Again, a competing 007 adventure starring Connery, the original screen Bond, the producer opted to stay with Moore.

Also back was composer John Barry, who been away from the world of 007 since 1979’s Moonraker. Octopussy would be the start of three consecutive 007 scoring assignments, with A View To a Kill and The Living Daylights to follow. The three films would prove to be his final 007 work.

Barry opted to use The James Bond Theme more than normal in Octopussy’s score, presumably to remind the audience this was the part of the established film series.

Meanwhile, Broccoli kept in place many members of his team from For Your Eyes Only: production designer Peter Lamont, director John Glen, director of photography Alan Hume and associate producer Tom Pevsner. Even in casting the female lead, Broccoli stayed with the familiar, hiring Maud Adams, who had previously been the second female lead in The Man With the Golden Gun.

Behind the cameras, perhaps the main new face was writer George MacDonald Fraser, who penned the early versions of the script. Fraser’s knowledge of India, where much of the story takes place, would prove important. Richard Maibaum and Broccoli stepson Michael G. Wilson took over to rewrite. The final credit had all three names, with Fraser getting top billing.

As we’ve WRITTEN BEFORE, scenes set in India have more humor than scenes set in East and West Germany. Some times, the humor is over the top (a Tarzan yell during a sequence where Bond is being hunted in India by villain Kamal Khan). At other times, the movie is serious (the death of “sacrificial lamb” Vijay).

In any event, Octopussy’s ticket sales did better in the U.S. ($67.9 million) compared with For Your Eyes Only’s $54.8 million. Worldwide, Octopussy scored slightly less, $187.5 million compared with Eyes’s $195.3 million. For Broccoli & Co., that was enough to ensure the series stayed in production.

Hype about the Battle of the Bonds would gear back up when Never Say Never premiered a few months later. But the veteran producer, 74 years old at the time of Octopussy’s release, had stood his ground. Now, all he could do was sit back and watch what his former star, Sean Connery, who had heavy say over creative matters, would come up with a few months later.

2018 epilogue: Over the past five years, Octopussy has continued to generate mixed reaction.

One example was an article posted this month the Den of Geek website. 

While the site said Octopussy deserves another chance with fans, it also levied some criticisms.

It’s a funny old film, Octopussy, one used as evidence by both Moore’s prosecution and his defense. Haters cite the befuddled plot, an older Moore, some truly silly moments (Tarzan yell, anyone?), a Racist’s Guide to India, and the painfully metaphorical sight of a 56 year-old clown trying to disarm a nuclear bomb (rivalled only by Jaws’ Moonraker plunge into a circus tent on the “Spot the Unintentional Subtext” scale.)

At the same time, Den of Geek also compliments aspects of the movie, including its leading man.

Moore also submits a very good performance, arguably his strongest. Easy to treat him as a joke but the man really can act. Sometimes through eyebrows alone.

Thirty-five years later, Octopussy still has the power to enthrall some and to generate salvos from its critics.

I know someone, now in his 40s, who says it’s his favorite James Bond film. I have a friend who refuses to buy a home video copy of it (and every other Roger Moore 007 film) on the grounds that none of the Moore entries are true James Bond films. So it goes.

Octopussy’s script: ‘What happened to Vijay?’

Octopussy poster with a suggestive tagline.

Octopussy poster with a suggestive tagline.

Note: Octopussy was always a suggestive title. Near the end of this post, there’s a stage direction in the script that’s even more suggestive.

When Eon Productions made Octopussy, the 13th film in its James Bond series and the sixth starring Roger Moore, the production company sought out George MacDonald Fraser to be its writer.

Fraser conferred with producer Albert R. Broccoli, director John Glen and executive producer Michael G. Wilson. He then commenced to turn the ideas discussed into a screenplay, whose locations included India — a place Fraser was familiar with and would be new for the series.

However, Broccoli evidently felt a veteran Bond writer was needed to take over. Thus, once again, Richard Maibaum was brought in, writing with Wilson as the paid had done on For Your Eyes Only.

Bond collector Gary Firuta supplied a copy of a June 10, 1982 draft by Maibaum and Wilson. The title page says it’s “based on a draft screenplay by George MacDonald Fraser.” It’s very similar to the finished movie but with significant differences.

The biggest: there is only one MI6 operative in India in the story, Sadruddin. In the June 10 draft, Sadruddin basically does everything that agents Vijay and Sadruddin do in the finished movie. Presumably, once tennis player/novice actor Vijay Amritraj caught producer Broccoli’s eye, the Sadruddin part got split, with Amritraj’s character becoming the “sacrificial lamb.”

When Bond meets Sadruddin in the draft script, it plays in a similar fashion to the Bond-Vijay meeting in the film. The stage directions even specify that as Bond is looking for his contact, “OVER SCENE COMES SOUND OF PIPE PLAYING JAMES BOND THEME.” The script specifies the next shot is from Bond’s point of view and he sees, “Barefoot SNAKE CHARMER in native dress sits cross-legged on mat, playing pipe as HOODED COBRA sways before him.” Thus, it’s clear the film makers early on had the idea of the contact playing The James Bond Theme.

Sadruddin occasional says “no problem,” but not as often as Vijay does in the film. For example, when Bond says, “Call me James,” Sadruddin replies, “Fine,” rather than “No problem!” In the final film, “No problem!” became a catchphrase for Vijay, coming into play when Vijay is killed.

Meanwhile, the script suggests — but not specify — a gag that many fans found irritating. During the later tiger hunt sequence, the stage directions says Bond “swings out over marshy river like Tarzan.” The Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan yell isn’t mentioned.

There are some other interesting items of note in the draft. Among them:

–Kamal Khan, the villain is described as being in “his early forties, darkly hansome and self-possessed, his body is lithe but athletic.” Eon ended up casting Louis Jourdan, 61 when Octopussy began production, for the part.

–There’s this description of how Bond has Kamal followed to the airport following an auction. “Stepping out to kerb and nodding to ZEC, MI6 undercover man, who is in driver seat of taxi parked across street. ZEC drives cab after limousine.” One of Broccoli’s friends was Donald Zec, who was ghostwriter of the producer’s autobiography.

–Not in the script is how Gobinda, Kamal’s bodyguard/thug crushes the dice used in a backgammon game after Bond outcheats Kamal. Gobinda’s feat is similar to Oddjob crushing a golf ball with his bare hands in Goldfiner.

–Instead of saying “Sit!” to a tiger during the tiger hunt sequence, Bond says, “Nice kitty–“.

–After Bond escapes the tiger hunt, a “BEAUTIFUL INDIAN MASSEUSE” gives 007 a rubdown back at MI6 Station I. Sadruddin remarks, “That should put you back in shape.” Bond tells the masseuse, “Thank you, my dear. You have an exquisite touch.” The masseuse “giggles, exit.” In the finished film, Bond would have to settle for a rubdown from Vijay.

–While talking to Sadruddin there’s this stage direction for when Bond displays his knowledge of an particular type of Octopus:

BOND
(ever The Expert)

–In the climatic fight at Kamal’s headquarters, Octopussy’s women fighters sometimes are referred to in the stage directions as “OCTOPUSSIES.” Example: “TRIBESMEN have surrendered. OCTOPUSSIES round them up.”

–Bond’s line after saving Octopussy: “I knew you were a swinger — ”

–In the final scene, the stolen Romanv Star is “nestled in Octopussy’s cleveage, it hangs from a necklace around her throat.” The stage directions say Bond’s unneeded sling, bandages and “traction contraption” can be seen tossed into the water from the Octopussy barge. “Oh, James!” Octopussy says, as in the final film.

Octopussy’s 30th: Battle of the Bonds, round 1

Octopussy poster with a suggestive tagline.

Poster with a suggestive tagline.

Thirty years ago, there was the much-hyped “Battle of the Bonds.” Competing 007 movies, the 13th Eon Productions entry with Roger Moore and a non-Eon film with Sean Connery, were supposed to square off in the summer.

Things didn’t quite work out that way. In June 1983, Eon’s Octopussy debuted while Never Say Never Again got pushed back to the fall.

Producer Albert R. Broccoli was taking no chances. He re-signed Moore, 54 at the start of production in the summer of 1982, for the actor’s sixth turn as Bond. It had seemed Moore might have exited the series after 1981’s For Your Eyes Only. Broccoli had considered American James Brolin, and Brolin’s screen tests surfaced at a 1994 007 fan convention in Los Angeles. But with Never Say Never Again, a competing 007 adventure starring Connery, the original screen Bond, the producer opted to stay with Moore.

Also back was composer John Barry, who been away from the world of 007 since 1979’s Moonraker. Octopussy would be the start of three consecutive 007 scoring assignments, with A View To a Kill and The Living Daylights to follow. The three films would prove to be his final 007 work. Barry opted to use The James Bond Theme more that normal in Octopussy’s score, presumably to remind the audience this was the part of the established film series.

Meanwhile, Broccoli kept in place many members of his team from For Your Eyes Only: production designer Peter Lamont, director John Glen, director of photography Alan Hume and associate producer Tom Pevsner. Even in casting the female lead, Broccoli stayed with the familiar, hiring Maud Adams, who had previously been the second female lead in The Man With the Golden Gun.

Behind the cameras, perhaps the main new face was writer George MacDonald Fraser, who penned the early versions of the script. Fraser’s knowledge of India, where much of the story place, would prove important. Richard Maibaum and Broccoli stepson Michael G. Wilson took over to rewrite. The final credit had all three names, with Fraser getting top billing.

As we’ve WRITTEN BEFORE, scenes set in India have more humor than scenes set in East and West Germany. Some times, the humor is over the top (a Tarzan yell during a sequence where Bond is being hunted in India by villain Kamal Khan). At other times, the movie is serious (the death of “sacrificial lamb” Vijay).

In any event, Octopussy’s ticket sales did better in the U.S. ($67.9 million) compared with For Your Eyes Only’s $54.8 million. Worldwide, Octopussy scored slightly less, $187.5 million compared with Eyes’s $195.3 million. For Broccoli & Co., that was enough to ensure the series stayed in production.

Hype about the Battle of the Bonds would gear back up when Never Say Never premiered a few months later. But the veteran producer, 74 years old at the time of Octopussy’s release, had stood his ground. Now, all he could do was sit back and watch what his former star, Sean Connery, who had heavy say over creative matters, would come up with a few months later.

JUNE 2011 POST: OCTOPUSSY, A REAPPRAISAL.

Octopussy, a reappraisal

Octopussy, the 1983 James Bond film, doesn’t get love from some 007 fans, particularly those fans who first got the Bond habit from the Sean Connery films of the 1960s. That includes editors from our parent site, HMSS, where a survey of editors gave it no higher than a B letter grade, with mostly Cs and Ds.

Watching it again recently reminds us the film is hardly a lost cause. Granted, it doesn’t have much Ian Fleming content. The author’s Octopussy short story provides the backstory of the movie’s female lead (Maud Adams). An auction scene, is based on another short story, The Property of a Lady.

Still, there are sequences that evoke Fleming. The best example is a sequence right after the main titles, set in East Berlin, where a double-O agent attempts to pass along vital information.

For star Roger Moore, who was 54 when filming began in the summer of 1982, Octopussy was an opportunity. Under other circumstances, Eon Productions might hired a new Bond. Indeed, Eon did screen test American James Brolin for the Bond role.

But going into production, Eon knew it was going to have 007 competition in the form of Never Say Never Again, a Thunderball remake starring Sean Connery. Eon eventually concluded this wasn’t the time for a new actor and brought Moore back. And the “Battle of the Bonds” was underway.

Some actors may have wilted under such pressure. But Moore seems to be thriving. The actor exhibits a kind of cockiness, a confidence that he knows exactly what he’s doing. He out-cheats Kamal Khan (Louis Jourdan) is a game of backgammon. He later seems to be having a great time fighting off Kamal’s thugs along with MI6 operative Vijay (Vijay Amritraj):

At the same time, when Vijay ends up being the film’s “sacrificial lamb,” Moore/Bond doesn’t laugh it off; he seems quite touched by the loss of a fellow agent. Up to that point, Bond and Vijay had demonstrated good chemistry. As a result, Vijay is one of the best “sacrificial lambs” of the Eon-produced series. Even after the character’s death, Bond is reminded of him while in Berlin. John Barry’s sad music adds to the scene without overpowering it.

Is Octopussy a perfect Bond adventure? No. Its comic elements get too strong at times, in particular a Tarzan yell Bond makes while being hunted in India by Kamal’s men. Later, he gets in and out of a gorilla suit impossibly quickly. Still, there is a sense of adventure, even joy at times. Sequences set in Germany, including an extended action sequence on a train with Bond constantly in peril, tend overall to be more serious than the ones set in India.

A viewer does get the impression that Eon, because of Never Say Never Again, pulled out the stops. At one point, both the two Bond films were scheduled to come out one week apart. Never Say Never Again, however, ended up delayed until the fall of 1983. But Eon had to assume Never would meet its original summer release date.

Octopussy was made by “journeymen” such as director John Glen and screenwriter Richard Maibaum (aided in this installment by George MacDonald Fraser and Michael G. Wilson). They didn’t have the critical acclaim of recent Eon hires. But, looking at it again, Octopussy is miles ahead of films such as Quantum of Solace, which featured a critically acclaimed director (Marc Forester) and an equally critically acclaimed writer, Paul Haggis. But you can actually tell what’s happening in the action sequences (something you can’t say about Quantum). Also, at times, Octopussy has an elegance about it, another aspect Quantum lacked.

For those who don’t like any 007 film with Roger Moore (which includes some of our staff), that’s not enough. For others, Octopussy is a Bond movie that’s easy to take for granted. It shouldn’t be, though. Bond films are harder than they look to make, something “prestige” hires such as Marc Forester and Paul Haggis, should have discovered by now.