1983 was the year there were two James Bonds, which would have been handy if, as her name suggested, Octopussy had turned out to be some kind of mutant super-villainess with eight vaginas (the script would have written itself - Connery: "I'll have sex with these three, you roger more"). Sadly the cold, harsh reality is that rogue Bond flick Never Say Never Again turned out to be one of the worst films ever made, and Octopussy - though more entertaining than its predecessor - prolongs the agony of having to watch a walking, bewigged corpse bumble through various exotic locations, casually racially and sexually insulting everyone he comes by. Or in.
Nobody is safe from the script's cringing xenophobia and rampant chauvinism: Indians are simple curry-munchers, Russians are mad as eggs and Germans are fat, beer-drinking, sausage-eating, pork pie hat-wearing VW Beetle drivers, while women who do diligent work for Her Majesty's secret service are required to do nothing but smile politely when a senior colleague broadcasts video of their tits around the office. And if you don't like it when a dirty old man forces himself on you, by all means say no, but then it's best if you just change your mind completely and let him get on with it. With any luck he'll die of old age before he gets it up.
Just look how turned on these chicks are.
Having already created one of literature's most odious arseholes in 'Flashman', Octopussy's screenwriter George MacDonald Fraser has a go at turning James Bond into an equally abhorrent shit. Not that that would require much effort, but Fraser also makes Bond look like a complete tool by having him do Tarzan impressions and wear full clown makeup. It's a wonder the character survived to spy another day, but by this point Roger Moore could have bitten the head off a kitten while making a crack about eating pussy and '80s audiences would have LOLled their fluorescent socks off.
To Octopussy's credit, it at least tries out a more complex plot than usual, with enough twists and turns to bamboozle anyone who didn't stop paying attention when General Orlov nonsensically smashes a half-million pound work of art into expensive pieces of eggshell, and the action is, as always, stunning. Despite all the non-PC hilarity at which we 21st century snobs now turn up our noses, it's still stupidly good fun, carried along by another great John Barry score - even if it does shamelessly rip off Laurie Johnson's theme from The Avengers, an obvious influence on Moore's tenure.
7 randomly selected seconds of Laurie Johnson's music for The Avengers
7 randomly selected seconds of John Barry's music for Octopussy
As is usually the case with Roger Moore's Bond films, what's far nicer to look at than Roger Moore are the locations, and Octopussy is no exception. Almost half the film takes place in an unnamed town in India (actually Udaipur), and director John Glen milks it for all it's worth. But how realistic is the film's depiction of India? Because of my selfless devotion to BlogalongaBond, I recently visited Udaipur just so I could sound like I knew what I was on about when I brought you...
Or, if you like, The Incredible Suit's Holiday Snaps.Udaipur is located in the northern state of Rajasthan, absolutely nowhere near the Taj Mahal (1). So when Bond's helicopter flies past the famous monument before dropping him off to meet tennis-playing snake-charmer Vijay, we are being LIED TO by nearly 400 MILES.
On his arrival Bond checks into, and later plays backgammon against Kamal Khan at, the Shiv Niwas Palace Hotel (2), an unspeakably fancy gaff attached to the 400+ years old City Palace. I visited the palace but people like me don't get to go inside the hotel without selling several kidneys. Still, it looks nice from a distance:
After beating Khan at backgammon and racially abusing his own Indian colleagues, Bond is chased at high speed through the streets (3) in a tuk-tuk without running over a single cow. This is fairly unlikely given that you can't walk more than a few feet through any Indian town without coming across obstacles like this:
Still, manage it he does, before he's forced to abandon his vehicle and take an 11,000 mile detour through the 007 stage at Pinewood (4), where a crowd of extras is gathered to provide clichés for the film to perpetuate. Here's what Bond sees in the middle of Udaipur:
And here's what I saw:
It's my own fault for not going on Dubious Racial Stereotypes Day.
After a pleasant evening spent nobbing a lady 23 years his junior, Bond is quite rightly bashed over the head and imprisoned in Kamal Khan's Monsoon Palace (5). The Palace has been derelict for many years and is inconveniently located on a mountaintop on the outskirts of Udaipur, making it both a pain in the arse to visit and very difficult to see in photos.
Naturally Bond eventually escapes from this inescapable fortress, and after ploughing his way through a safari full of atrocious jokes and Tarzan impressions, makes his way to Octopussy's floating house of hotties. It's actually the exclusive Lake Palace Hotel on Jagniwas Island (6), and there was about as much chance of me visiting it as there was of me finding a convenient hollowed-out crocodile in which to get there. I got within pointing distance though, but sadly was unable to spot any ladies emerging naked from the pool. More's the pity.
And that's the end of
my holiday photo album the BlogalongaBond Guide To Udaipur. Suffice to say the real Udaipur bears little resemblance to that of Octopussy, but many of the locations are still visible from the outside and it's a nice place to visit if you're passing. While you're there, why not stop at one of Udaipur's many cafés and see if there's a film on?
The auction scene
Proving that Bond isn't necessarily at his best when blowing shit up, jumping off shit or having sex with shit, Octopussy's simple and witty auction scene is classic Fleming, adapted as it is from a similar scene in his short story 'The Property Of A Lady'. With Roger Moore by now much more convincing sitting in a chair than doing anything else, he manages to successfully advance the plot while being smooth, daring and a little bit reckless, and he doesn't even need a stunt double to hold his eggs (not a euphemism).
Bonkers as a box of burning badgers at the best of times, Howlin' Mad Berkoff goes maximental for his role as power-crazy Soviet General Orlov. Whether bawling about the decadence of the west, sulking like a baby in a meeting of top USSR military bods or ordering a minion to "follow that car" (along a railway, obviously), Berkoff cranks the crackers up to eleven and the film is all the better for it.
Bonus fact: "The Orlov" is the name of a 190-carat diamond which is part of the Kremlin's actual haul of gems (featured in the film), and is known for its domed, forward-facing top, just like the Berkoff bonce. They don't just throw this stuff together, you know.
The train sequence
While Rodge was doing his best Bonding in a nice comfy seat at Sotheby's, stuntman Martin Grace was risking his life and shattering his limbs hanging off the side of a train near Peterborough. The filming of this scene, in which Grace runs across the top and dangles off the side of a speeding train, resulted in a) a terrific action set-piece and b) a pulverised pelvis for Grace after he smashed into a concrete stanchion at high speed. The bit of the behind-the-scenes doc on the DVD (called Inside Octopussy, which coincidentally is where Bond ends the film) that shows his first post-accident visit to the set, and the cast and crew's outpouring of affection for him, made me get something in my eye possibly.
BlogalongaBond will return with A View To A Kill
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