By the mid 1980s it was not a question of if there would be a new James Bond, but when. Roger Moore himself was ready to hang it up after Moonraker, but it turned out to be a good thing he didn't. Where Guy Hamilton's directing, as well as Albert Broccoli's producing and procuring of scripts, had turned Bond into self-parody, new director John Glen brought him into the 1980s with the surprisingly back-to-basics For Your Eyes Only. Not only did Moore seem reinvigorated, but the movie also acknowledged his age in not having as much bed hopping, but still emphasizing his physical presence with a number of great action scenes.
John Glen came back for the next movie, Octopussy, as did Moore. The latter wasn't a given, however. American actor James Brolin had basically won the part, and screen tests were made in preparation for him to replace Bond. Were were going to have our first American playing the British secret agent since the original television broadcast of Casino Royale.
The reason it didn't happen was because that perpetual thorn in Broccoli's side, Kevin McClory, decided it was time for him to stop sitting on his intellectual property, teasing EON Productions over the fact they couldn't have it, and do something with it himself. What he did is get Sean Connery to agree to return one last time as Bond in Never Say Never Again, which was directed by Irvin Kirshner and was generally a remake of Thunderball. As much as Broccoli wanted to go with someone new, and as much as Moore knew it was time to hang it up, it was decided that with McClory making a competing Bond film it was no time to be changing actors.
Unfortunately, the decision was also made to ignore the more serious tone of For Your Eyes Only and return to the silliness of Moonraker. In the past if asked to name the worst James Bond film of the Roger Moore era, I would have wholeheartedly said it was that one. Octopussy had just made so little impact on me the last time I had seen it. However, it is quite clearly the worst of the series up to this point, and if not for the fact that it still made a decent amount of money (and outdid Never Say Never Again, which didn't exactly slack in the blockbuster category that year), this could have been the movie that put the kaibosh on the whole series.
After a rather good, though unconnected, opening sequence, we find 009 barely making it past East German border guards to deliver what turns out to the be a fake Faberge egg. Curious about what this means, especially since the real one is up for auction at Sotheby's, James Bond (Roger Moore) is sent to the auction to see what's up. It turns out that a certain Kamal Khan (Louis Jourdan), an Afghan prince, is desperate to get the real egg.
Khan's involvement leads Bond to travel to India, where he makes contact. What unravels is that Khan appears to be in league with smuggler that goes by the name Octopussy (Maude Adams), who also lives on an island inhabited only by women who work in her operation as well as in her traveling circus. Khan, meanwhile, is also working with General Orlov (Stephen Berkoff), a Soviet general with expansionist views that hopes to weaken defenses in Western Europe ahead of an invasion. Eventually Bond and Octopussy team up to stop Khan and Orlov's plans.
The plot seems simple enough, but it is stretched out beyond two hours. The opening sequence - where Bond takes out some advanced tech in Cuba and escapes in a homemade one-seater airplane - has some real thrills and some great stuntwork. There is also an extended scene toward the end of the movie with Bond's stunt double hanging onto the outside of an airplane, while the double for Khan's henchman Gobinda (Kabir Bedi) exits and fights him. It is some breathtaking work (done long before Tom Cruise's famous stunt at the beginning of Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation) and truly belongs in a much better movie. In fact, I am sure there are places on line where the sequence can be scene in its entirety without having to sit through the entire movie.
The rest is Bond, once again hopping into bed with every pretty young thing even if he is old enough to be their grandfather. Even worse, the slapstick from Moonraker is back. What should be a thrilling rickshaw chase is ruined by a pun based on actor Vijay Amritaj, who happened to be a tennis player. When Bond becomes the most dangerous game there is a scene thrown in where he commands a tiger to sit like a dog. It takes the viewer completely out of the action and, worst of all, is about as funny as a carbuncle. Not to mention there are literal clowns in this movie, and James Bond dresses up like one (amazingly, he's able to do a 40-minute makeup job in about 30 seconds). Also like Moonraker the tone between scenes like this and a character getting killed with a buzzsaw yo-yo is extremely jarring.
All that aside there is the way the plot unfolds. The players are known all the way through, and Orlov's motives are made clear in a meeting with a number of other generals who are clearly not in agreement with him. What he intends to do, though, and what that has to do with forging fake items for auction, doesn't become apparent until we get within the last third of the film. It is as if the second third, and a good portion of the first, didn't even need to exist. They could have just got straight to the point, especially since the real action scenes, without the screwing around, happen at this time - the already-mentioned plane sequence, a fight on top of a train between Bond and Gobinda and an invasion of Khan's compound by Octopussy's army of female gymnasts. The problem is this all comes too late to save a film that has been literally painful to watch through most of its runtime.
I have to give it to Moore for soldiering through this, as I am sure he had to have some inkling on how bad it was - especially by the time he was in a clown suit. Maude Adams is decent, but, for a title character, is given almost no screen time. Louis Jourdan gets to largely be the bad guy, but it's a rather phoned-in performance, while Steven Berkoff sounds like he's doing a Vaudeville German routine. Only Kabir Bedi really makes much of an impact, and it is probably because he gets to stand around and glare most of the time.
Roger Moore would return one more time before finally handing over the reigns to the franchise. Despite how bad this turned out, Albert Broccoli made the right decision to keep him around, as once word of mouth got around about how awful the movie was no one would have wanted to see it. James Brolin would have been one and done, and we probably would not have seen another Bond film until remake fever got going in the late '90s. It would have been compounded by the fact that Never Say Never Again was not that good of a movie either. It surprisingly still did well enough to keep the franchise alive, though whether that was a good thing at the time is an interesting question.
Time: 131 minutes
Starring: Roger Moore, Maude Adams, Vijay Amritaj, Louis Jourdan, Kabir Bedi
Director: John Glen