This really could have been a great follow-up to For Your Eyes Only. Octopussy was set to do a soft reboot of James Bond. James Brolin had screen tested for the role, and both Timothy Dalton and Pierce Brosnan were approached.
But EON freaked when Kevin McClory exercised his rights to remake Thunderball with Sean Connery in Never Say Never Again. So the 56-year-old Roger Moore signed on for two more films. Granted, Maude Adams worked well with Moore as Bond, and new M Robert Brown (a former costar of Moore’s in Ivanhoe) helped.
And then we see 009 killed while dressed as a clown. It goes downhill from there.
The story itself is not bad at all. Mad Soviet General Orloff is swapping fake Faberge eggs for the real ones to be sold at Southerby’s. An Afghan prince named Kamal Khan (Louis Jordan) is brokering the sales on behalf of a jewel smuggler known only as Octopussy. Bond is assigned to find out how and gets some unwitting assistance from the KGB’s General Gogol, who is not exactly an admirer of Orloff’s rabid enthusiasm to start World War III. (Neither is then-Soviet leader Brezhnev, who is not named but very clearly portrayed in an early scene.) Orloff’s end gambit is to set off a tactical nuke in Berlin on a US Air Force base to dissolve NATO support of the American presence.
That’s actually also the plot of The Fourth Protocol, starring one-time Bond candidate Micheal Caine and future Bond Pierce Brosnan, minus the sexy smuggler and her circus.
Several things go wrong with this movie. Both 009 and Bond end up disguised as clowns. 009 is killed, and Bond looks like an idiot saving the day. Also, there is a ridiculous sequence where Khan mounts a hunt with Bond as the prey. Bond is seen swinging through the trees giving a Tarzan yell. (I’m going to give Moore the benefit of the doubt here and say they looped that in during post-production.) Khan himself and his Sikh henchman Gorbinda are cartoonish even for the most ridiculous Bond villains. Jordan even delivers the most cliched line in Bond history: “Ah, Mr. Bond, you have a nasty habit of surviving.”
Age does not seem to be a problem. We generally assume this is an older Bond, and Moore does not look silly as he would in A View to a Kill. It’s not that Octopussy is a bad story. It’s that they went over the top too much out of fear of being overshadowed by Connery in Never Say Never Again. Had this been shot with Brolin, Brosnan, or Dalton (or Michael Billington, still in the running at this point), Octopussy would have been a decent Cold War thriller with the Bond flourishes and a bit more for Q to do this time around.
The theme song doesn’t help. “All Time High” is a decent Rita Coolidge song, but it’s a let down after Carly Simon’s “Nobody Does It Better” and Sheena Easton’s haunting “For Your Eyes Only.” True, the franchise is tired at this point. All the more reason to let Moore retire and bring in new blood. Not just for the actor, either. Maybe new writers, too.