Bond evolution – Octopussy (#13)

I mostly recently saw this film a few years ago. We watched it before we went to India because we would be visiting the city of Udaipur which plays a large part in this film. During out time there, we didn’t get to visit the Monsoon Palace, and we only saw the Floating Palace from a boat. On the bright side, we weren’t pursued through the streets by evil henchmen in a tuk tuk trying to kill us. On the negative side, I came down with food poisoning. (But we can’t blame the movie for that…)

After the opening scene where Bond disrupts a polo game in an unspecified South American country by blowing up a nearby military installation, we go into the opening credits. Another sleepy, sultry song, All Time High. This is another one of my favourite Bond theme songs although it’s not particularly Bond-like. And although I always think “Carly Simon” it’s actually sung by Rita Coolidge. The opening credits show women being shot out of guns, the silhouette of a man swinging a naked woman around, and some women lounging around naked except for a smattering of diamonds. Does this film have something to do with diamonds? Hmm…

This film has some good old-fashioned East-vs-West paranoia. And you can identify the paranoid psycho Soviet general immediately because he’s being played by Stephen Berkoff and Stephen Berkoff always plays this kind of character. Our friend General Gogol, who we’ve seen in many films before, still has a place on the politburo, advising a moderate course of action, but he has to compete with hothead General Orlov (Berkoff), who wants to use Soviet military superiority to invade the West, convinced there will be no reprisals from NATO. Yes, General Orlov is our villain, and if he can’t get state sanctioned permission to invade West Germany, then he will follow his own plan to achieve his goals.

Following a trail of clues that start with a fake Faberge egg obtained by an agent in East Berlin, Bond travels to India in pursuit of Kamal Khan, the man who bought the original egg at auction. Except he didn’t – Bond switched the eggs so now Khan has the fake. Bond ends up in bed with Khan’s associate, Magda (despite her facial expressions when near him always on the edge of disgust), and she steals the real egg back.

As seems to be the pattern, there are two women in this film, but contrary to the usual pattern, Magda, the secondary woman, doesn’t die. The primary woman is Octopussy, played by Maud Adams, who we last saw cold and dead with a bullet in her heart at a Thai boxing event in The Man With the Golden Gun. But she’s playing a different character here – Octopussy, the mysteriously wealthy woman who lives on the floating palace in the middle of the lake, attended by an army of women.

Where does her wealth come from? Jewellery smuggling! And the women who make up her army? “There are many of them all over Southeast Asia, looking for a guru, spiritual discipline, who knows what. l train them. Give them a purpose, a sisterhood and a way of life.” Octopussy has now diversified her business empire – “into shipping, hotels, carnivals and circuses.” Circuses and carnivals? Well I suppose it makes sense to diversify into fields that support your core business of jewellery smuggling.

And it’s a circus that we follow to East Berlin, where Octopussy’s Circus is performing to an enthusiastic audience of mostly Russians, it would seem (the Russians do love a circus!). Unknowingly, Octopussy is about to smuggle a nuclear warhead across the border into West Germany where the circus will make its next performance at a US Air Base, where the bomb will go off and General Orlov’s villainous plot will come to fruition, as he will use the ensuing chaos and decadent western nuclear decommissioning that will surely follow to roll his tanks across Europe.

Some points of silliness in this film:

  • Bond arrives in “Dehli” but actually it’s Agra, with the Taj Mahal in the background. From there he travels by boat to somewhere that looks suspiciously like Varanasi (645km away), before arriving in Udaipur (1,124km away). Again, the Bond producers are taking some liberties with Indian geography, as they did with Egypt in The Spy Who Loved Me.
  • At one point Bond is in the jungle being pursued by Kamal Khan. He swings to safety using a series of vines, with a Tarzan noise playing over the top. Another poor choice of sound effects. This was unnecessary.
  • The tuk tuk chase, where Bond and his local counterpart Vijay outrun Kamal Khan’s henchmen, passes by a series of Indian stereotypes: sword swallowers, the man on the bed of nails, fire eaters. No snake charmer, but Vijay already used that as cover when he greeted Bond on arrival.

(Vijay was played by Vijay Amritraj, who is actually a professional tennis player, in case you’re wondering why the sudden rush of tennis references in Vijay’s scenes.)

Some points of animal cruelty in this film:

  • Kamal Khan goes hunting tigers, riding on the back of an elephant. This is bad, so very bad, in so many ways. On the aforementioned trip to India we were told to have nothing to do with elephant rides as the animals are kept in poor conditions. So to see two or three people balanced in a basket on the back of an elephant just has me wincing. And hunting tigers? Endangered animals?
  • At one of the circus scenes, Magda is walking through the crowd with a tiger cub for people to stroke and fondle. I am actually shouting at the screen when I see this. It’s 27 years before Tiger King (which I haven’t seen, by the way) but the idea you would take a baby tiger from its mother and just hand it around to people to pet is wrong, so wrong.

Film epilogue: Now Octopussy’s cover has been blown and her identity as an international jewel smuggler has been exposed, she has to curtail some of her more lucrative businesses and focus instead of the legitimate businesses of shipping and hotels. (I don’t think circuses and carnivals brought in that much money to be honest.) However she did spot the increasing trend for people coming to India for spiritual retreats and she capitalised on that, opening a series of ashrams providing a variety of “real India” experiences depending on your budget and inclination. You want to do a little yoga, a little meditation but also have on site spa and massage facilities? She can offer that. You want a more basic, spiritually intensive experience? She can offer that too.

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