Octopussy: Seeing Double

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Re-framing the parameters to ‘what is your favourite Bond film’ and suddenly a whole different selection of movies comes into view – including Octopussy.

Christopher Eeles (Agent 00364)

What is the best Bond film? This is easily – and these days possibly tediously – answered with ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’ or ‘From Russia With Love’. ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’ has been cropping up recently with greater frequency as does whichever film is celebrating an anniversary and comes under the spotlight for reappraisal. However, re-framing the parameters ever so slightly to ‘what is your favourite Bond film’ and suddenly a whole different selection of movies comes into view – and top of the list for me is Octopussy.

Having seen it dozens of times the act of watching it becomes as much about how it makes us feel as how entertaining it is. When we are tired or stressed a ‘comfort film’ can help tune those concerns out. It is easier to relax watching a familiar film you know will not disappoint. The safe, calming feeling of re-watching familiar movies with repetitive core elements gives an overactive brain an escape, an ’emotional re-set’. I believe this is especially true for Bond fans – because we know how a Bond film works and ends already, we know how it’s going to make us feel.

This may possibly explain the knee jerk reactions given on the release of ‘No Time To Die’

But what is it about a film celebrating its 40th Anniversary from the middle of a franchise in its 61st that commands so much love and affection. Coming late in Roger Moore’s tenure as the secret agent, this may be considered an odd choice but I believe, like a delicate Faberge Imperial Egg, once opened up it reveals hidden treasures.

Seeing Double

Roger Moore’s sixth performance as secret agent James Bond 007 opens with the traditional gun-barrel and pre-titles sequence (PTS). In a surprisingly rare occurrence for the series the PTS stands alone as a completely independent story having nothing to do with the main plot or sub narrative. In the PTS we see Bond arriving at a horse show being hosted on a military base somewhere in the Caribbean – set dressing and the appearance of a Fidel Castro look-alike hint at Cuba though it is never confirmed. Turning his jacket inside out to reveal a military uniform and having a false moustache applied by a beautiful young assistant we are told he is pretending to be Colonel Toro. It is only moments later we are presented with the real Colonel Toro (regular Roger Moore stand in Ken Norris) and we realise he is not simply hiding his own identity but impersonating a real person. This heightens the danger of Bond being not just discovered but caught by the very person he is pretending to be and, more significantly, introduces the film’s obsession with duality. In its structure, themes, characters and exploration of the concept of what is real and what is fake, duality runs through almost every aspect of the film.

In 2012 Skyfall presented us with both an international adventure and a pared down house under siege thriller with a fusion of the rudimentary self-defence of ‘Home Alone’ and ‘Straw Dogs’. Decades before Skyfall, with its structure divided into two distinct sections of the narrative, Octopussy was there first serving us two films in one. Skyfall has Bond travel around the world before departing his own film and jumping in the trusty Aston Martin DB5 and heading for the Scottish Highlands. By comparison Octopussy gives us travelogue romp in India and a tense cold war race against a ticking clock. The film splits (not quite) down the middle with two storylines – separate but connected in one adventure.

In keeping with the glamourous globe-trotting style of the franchise it is not long into the film before 007 is seen in transit to a far-flung part of the world. Octopussy’s main location settings are, to continue the running theme, dual opposites of each other. Omitting the obligatory briefing in M’s office and the auction scene at Sotheby’s we go back and forth between locations. Briefly and then for extended periods the vibrant, decorative India and the unembellished, gritty East Germany.

Berlin – India – Berlin – India

During the first half of the 1980’s there was a fascination in Britain with India and, specifically, the British Raj. This was a period from 1858 to 1947 when the Indian subcontinent was under direct rule of the United Kingdome. Weather because of or following this interest there were several significant productions at the time that focussed on this subject; ‘Gandhi’ (1982), ‘Heat and Dust’ (1983), ‘A Passage To India’ (1984), the TV miniseries ‘The Jewel In The Crown’ (ITV, 1984) and ‘The Far Pavilions’ (HBO, 1984). By way of tapping into the cultural interest in the British Raj the producers engaged novelist George MacDonald Fraser to write a first draft. MacDonald Fraser is also notably the creator of the Flashman novels; a character who romps his way through the military high points of the Victorian and Edwardian era of the British Empire. Flashman is a coward and antihero but the situations he finds himself in are the stuff of high adventure and well suited to the narrative of a Bond film. His original script went through several re writes, as Bond films often do before production, but in the end we are presented with a fantasy version of exotic India with white marble palaces, obedient flunkies and decadent meals. This is in turn contrasted by the unembellished realism of location filming in Germany and Checkpoint Charly (something the production made big publicity of at the time).

When working within the formulaic framework that has been built up over the years within the Bond franchise it is arguably impossible not to duplicate that which has come before. The submarine swallowing oil tanker Liparus of ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’ is a copy of the capsule swallowing spaceship of ‘You Only Live Twice’. ‘A View To A Kill’ has been accused of being a copy of ‘Goldfinger’ with ‘Operation Main Strike’ taking the place of ‘Operation Grand Slam’. In this ‘Octopussy’ is no different and like ‘AVTAK’ duplicates many elements of the narrative structure from ‘Goldfinger’.

Goldfinger

007 is briefed to investigate gold smuggling.

007 plays the villain at a game of golf in which they are cheating, Bond turns the tables on them to win the game.

The loyal henchman crushes the illicit means of their cheating as a intimidation of physical strength

The lead ‘Bond Girl’ seems to be in league with the villain.

The lead ‘Bond Girl’ is the head of an all-female criminal gang.

We believe the plot is all about the theft of the gold in Fort Knox.

It is revealed there is an atomic bomb in play.

The villain explains the bomb exploding is not the final goal but part of a bigger plan – western economic collapse.

The final confrontation takes place aboard a private plane.

Octopussy

007 is briefed to investigate jewellery smuggling.

007 plays the villain at a game of Backgammon in which they are cheating, Bond turns the tables on them to win the game.

The loyal henchman crushes the illicit means of their cheating as a intimidation of physical strength

The lead ‘Bond Girl’ seems to be in league with the villain.

The lead ‘Bond Girl’ is the head of an all-female criminal gang.

We believe the plot is all about the theft of the jewels in the Kremlin Repository

It is revealed there is an atomic bomb in play.

The villain explains the bomb exploding is not the final goal but part of a bigger plan – western nuclear disarmament.

The final confrontation takes place aboard a private plane.

Throughout the film there is duality in what is real and what is fake…

·      The two Faberge eggs, one genuine and one fake, that provide the initial impetus for the story.

·      Escaping from the Cuban (?) authorities Bond steps into a horsebox and emerges in the Acrostar jet, its disguise/camoflage being a fake horse’s arse.

·      We are shown an alligator swimming through the water, but it is revealed to be fake and actually a mini sub used to infiltrate Octopussy’s floating palace.

·      In the tunnel while the circus train crosses the border a duplicate rail carriage is revealed containing duplicate costumes, props and cannon – hidden within is not the stolen jewels but the atomic bomb.

·      In the circus ring on the American Air Base 007 uses the duplicate of the Romanoff Star to try to convince Octopussy of Khan’s betrayal.

·      Attempting to flee from his palace, while his guards are distracted with local dancing girls, Khan packs a selection of forged money plates in a variety of currencies.

·      At the end of the film M reports to General Golgo that 007 is too sick to travel, trussed up and bandaged in bed on Octopussy’s barge however we discover the condition of Bond’s injuries is grossly overexaggerated.

There is duality in having doubles referenced throughout, both directly and obliquely. Impersonation and disguise are well known elements of spy craft and many times in the past 007 has pretended to be someone else while on a mission – with and without the use of costume. In Octopussy Roger Moore himself takes on several disguises imitating through duplication. We have already touched upon the impersonation of Colonel Toro in the pre title sequence, but we are also presented with 007 as one of the knife wielding twins Mischka and Grischka. Disposing of Mischka’s body in the barrel of the cannon and donning his deep red blouse this subterfuge does not last long. 007 immediately confronts Orlov and as part of the train sequence is attacked by and then defeats a vengeful Grischka.

In the climax of the circus sequence 007 is forced to improvise in order to gain access to the big top where the bomb is located. To evade the pursuing German police and American air base security what better disguise than as one of the performers. It is debatable the speed with which 007 changes from Miska’s red blouse into the clown costume is realistic – in the sequence it seems to take seconds, while in reality the face paint alone would take many minuets.One of the shots inside the circus tent we see the air base security arrest the wrong clown in yet another duplicate clown costume as Bond works his way past to find Octopussy and the Base Commander. In his choice of disguise 007 makes himself a clear duplicate of 009 in the same clown costume worn at the beginning.

When Bond himself takes on a clown persona reminiscent of 009’s, we are reminded his colleague’s fate and this heightens the tension.

This both bookends the film and adds to the drama – the last time we saw someone in this costume they didn’t make it.  

In the ubiquitous casino scene, a staple element of the Bond films, Khan is playing a high stakes game of Backgammon against a portly ex-pat Major. To win the game the Major must roll a double six, a seemingly impossible task with odds of 1/36. The Major refuses Khan’s offer to ‘double’ the stakes on the final roll and withdraws from the game. Bond takes up the Major’s position and, citing players’ privilege, uses Khan’s ‘loaded’ dice – successfully rolling the needed double six. Even the dice are pretending to be honest and innocent when they are not. As the finale for the confrontation Khan’s loyal henchman Gobinda crushes the guilty dice in his hand while giving Bond a hard stare – a duplication of the scene in the 1963 film ‘Goldfinger’ when Oddjob (Goldfinger’s loyal henchman) crushes a Slazenger 1 golf ball in his hand after his employer is beaten at a cheat’s game of golf.

The thoughts of duality within the film continue with the supporting characters, this time taking the position of being opposites. We have for the villains the calm, cool level-headed Kamal Kahn opposite the bombastic panto villain General Orlov. Kahn’s henchman is the buttoned-up, prim and proper Gobinda while Bond’s sidekick is the charming, easy-going Vijay. From the Art Depository in the Kremlin we have the highly strung ‘man permanently on the edge of a nervous breakdown’ Lenkin while his opposite number in MI:6 is the charming almost insouciant antiquities expert Jim Fanning.

The most significant duality characters are the twins Mischka and Grischka played by David & Anthony Meyer. Introduced in a dark woodland chase sequence that plays out more like a slasher horror than spy thriller, we are lead to believe there is only one knife wielding assailant in pursuit of 009 – before being surprised with the shock appearance of their twin brother. This is not the only time a Bond film has turned to horror for thrills; in Moonraker Corinne Dufour is hunted down by Drax’s hounds and Manuela’s encounter with Jaws in a Rio backstreet. Through this chase and the killing of their target we understand immediately they are dangerous killers to be afraid of.

The ‘uncanniness’ of identical twins has been exploited in the horror genre, most famously in The Shining.

The inherent strangeness of twins is an effective but little used cinematic tool, usually used to upend perceived safety, deceive through duplication or take advantage of societal norms though duplicity. Other examples of twins or duplicates can be found in some of the films of Hitchcock, Jeremy Irons twin Gynaecologist brothers in ‘Dead Ringers’ and the T1000 from Terminator 2 who mimics a target before impaling them with its bayonetted arm.

It is somewhat unclear how they are involved in the plot – early in the film we see them adding to Lenkin’s stress levels in the Kremlin Art Depository – not a place mere circus performers would find themselves. They are both present at the introduction of the bomb and Mischka is entrusted with welding duties to remove the jewel case. We must assume they are Soviet assassins working for Orlov, posing as (admittedly very talented) fairground artists.

In keeping with the tradition of the best villainous henchmen (Jaws and Oddjob) they have very little dialogue and their screentime is also limited – comparative to Gobinda who features as the other loyal henchman. But they are very effective at conveying threatening menace and as a result are highly memorable characters within the film and the franchise.

Even Miss Moneypenny, usually safely ensconced in her office in MI6, is not safe from the theme of doubles – though in this case it comes more from a casting perspective than any sort of theme or plot device. Louis Maxwell was the only cast member to have been in the franchise since its inception with ‘Dr No’ in 1962, but could feel her time as M’s trusted secretary coming to an end with the introduction of her assistant Miss Penelope Smallbone. The usually flirtatious dialogue is now slightly more barbed with references to age and the passing of youth and beauty –

Bond: What can I say Moneypenny except that she is as attractive and as charming…

Moneypenny: As I used to be?!

The scene lasts barely a minute of screen time and by the end of the customary flirtatious pleasantries Miss Smallbone is, of course, smitten with Bond though the character would never appear again.

Kamal Khan

The villains that 007 is sent to investigate and do battle with over the years fall into a variety of different camps – super rich evil industrialists, Soviet agents and members of Spectre. In some rare cases they have been mirror images or a shadow of Bond himself – Scaramanga from ‘The Man With The Golden Gun’ being the leading example. In that film while sat at table together the conversation leads toward their character and similarities –

“You work for peanuts. A ”well done” from the Queen and a pittance of a pension. Apart from that, we are the same. To us, Mr Bond. We are the best.”

In his own way Kamal Khan is, like Scaramanga, another example of a dark double of Bond.

We are informed by MI:6 antiques expert Jim Fanning at the Sotheby’s auction he is an exiled Afgan Prince who usually sells items from dubious sources. He is an international sophisticate and gentleman of good manners who carries himself with confidence and commands authority from renegade Generals and backstreet assassins alike. An off the cuff quip has always been a trademark of Bonds character and Khan too has this skill with the snappiest dialogue of any of 007’s adversaries –

“You have a nasty habit of surviving”

“Mr Bond is a rare breed, soon to be made extinct.”

Like Bond he is a gourmet, welcoming Bond to dinner he insists they start, least spoiling the food –

“I’m sorry but the soufflé won’t wait.”

Though we suspect he is a more adventurous eater, not flinching when served a stuffed sheep’s head and rapidly consuming the sheep’s eyeball as a highly relished hors d’ouevres. Khan also has the skill of delighting in a meal and playing a gracious host while discussing deadly serious subjects like 007’s forthcoming interrogation and torture.

He is a gambler like Bond, as seen by his high stakes game of Backgammon at the casino. Though we discover when he plays a game he does not like to lose – a trait found often in Bond villains.  The doomed Jill Masterson tells us, when it is revealed how Goldfinger plays such a good game of Canasta –

“He likes to win.”

The Hugo Drax of the novel Moonraker is revealed to cheat at cards at the high stakes gambling club Blades. M describes this as very dangerous as it is in 1950’s society “one of the few things that can still ruin a man” and employs Bond privately to scare Drax off and avoid a scandal. When Khan is defeated at Backgammon he threatens Bond with the same line used by Drax in the novel –

“Spend the money quickly Mr Bond.”

We never see Khan’s physical abilities, sending the loyal Gobinda to do his heavy lifting, but we do know he is an adventurer. The hunt he is partaking in, the morning after General Orlov has departed, we should assume originally was simply for a tiger or other big game animal (with the corpses of his collaborating smugglers as bait). However when they discover Bond has escaped and in the area Khan declares –

“Let the sport commence!”

And with a great cacophony from the attendants and following flunkies, sets out on a modern, slightly comic, but no less hostile version of Edwardian novel ‘The Most Dangerous Game’.

Khan’s allegiances and motivations prove to be questionable, murky and slightly confusing. On the surface Khan’s criminality seems to be a simple case of forgery and smuggling, with a side-line in backgammon hustling. He is in partnership with and generally follows Octopussy’s instructions and seems to adhere to the criminal code of ‘honour among thieves’. He commits a slight indiscretion against her ordering to have Bond killed (against her will) but stipulating Octopussy must not be harmed. This covenant is completely broken when the secret plot is revealed, and we realize that he is in league with Orlov. His complicity however is confusing; what is his involvement and prize in the larger endgame of a Soviet occupied Europe and the destruction of NATO? At the time the Soviet Afghan war had been raging for several years (having started in December 1979), if he is indeed an exiled Afghan prince why is he allied with a Soviet General? We can only imagine there is a scene explaining his backstory that was cast to the cutting room floor?

Octopussy

One of the character necessities of the Bond film formula along with the villain and henchmen is the ‘Bond Girl’. Evolving over the years to reflect the changing times, they have been independent, strong women and often dangerous. In her book ‘Bond Women Are Forever’ Maryam d’Abo notes the dual female leads and their nature: ‘The movie features two strong female roles, both enigmatic and both reminiscent of Edwardian adventure fiction.’

Bond is often seen in the films as a bed hopping womaniser but in ‘Octopussy’ 007 ‘only’ sleeps with two women. That these two women happen to be very similar in physique, power and attitude cannot be a coincidence. First we are introduced to Magda (played by Kristina Wayborn) a mysterious, character who’s allegiances are unclear. Magda seems to be working with Khan – she is with him at the auction and again on his arm at the Casino. She seduces Bond and steals the egg, making her escape falling into Khan’s arms. In the circus climax she still questions Bond’s motives but through her innocence in the bomb plot do we realise she is on the side of right and not an evil henchwoman. Octopussy is her leader and her involvement is the film’s finale is born out of revenge and loyalty to her, not an emotional or sexual relationship with 007.

The introduction of Octopussy herself is equally mysterious. Seeing her in shadow or close ups of her hands (feeding her pet octopus) harks back to the presentation of Blofeld in the early Connery films and suggests to the audience an evil motive. Khan is seen reporting to her, as Largo or Klebb would report to Blofield, and is respectful of her power. This even reaches out to the local assassins hired to kill 007 who are fearful of Octopussy stating they ‘don’t want trouble with the woman’. Her true motivations however are soon revealed – while Khan is unaware of Bond beyond being an ‘adventurer’ Octopussy is fully aware of the man and insists he is not killed.

Later when they meet it revealed she is the daughter of Major Dexter Smythe, Bond had been ordered to bring him in to face criminal charges and she wanted to thank 007 for giving her father the honourable option of suicide and avoid the humiliation of a court-marshal. This character backstory is the one connection the film has with the original source material.

Octopussy is a strong independent woman of action, a businesswoman with a floating white palace and her own private army. She believes her crimes are honourable and seem to consist solely of a very lucrative side-line in smuggling. She has her own agenda and agency, cutting their romance short she leaves him to go on a ‘business trip’ and is rare among Bond girls in having significant power and influence. As Bond tries and fails to convince the Base Commander he is restrained and it seems all is lost it is Octopussy that saves the day, risking her organisation and plans against her trust in Bond and her action that finally reveals the bomb. In the final attack on the Monsoon Palace, Octopussy leads the charge at the head of her private army, being lifted up into Kahn’s study while Bond floats overhead observing from a distance in Q’s hot air balloon.

Over the course of their time together they reveal to each other that they are both similar and opposite. Their first meeting harks back to Scaramanga declaring ‘We are the best’. Octopussy, recognising his talent and skills, offers 007 the chance to join her organisation, though Bond declares he is ‘Not for hire’ much to her chagrin. They are similar in action but different in their principals, she is willing to engage in criminal activity to achieve her goals in opposition to 007’s loyalty to Queen and country. Like Khan, Octopussy is a dark shadow of Bond.

As the slightly lacklustre theme song tells us and is confirmed by Roger post first kiss “we are two of a kind” – but like Scaramanga they are separated by their ideas of duty, principle and patriotism. The big difference being Bonds ethics are here being challenged by the heroine not the villain and in doing so she breaks out of Bond’s usual objectification and conquest of women in the films. It is a shame this is not developed further as after a heated argument Bond’s charms melt the powerful Octopussy with one forceful kiss and she capitulates, falling together into the octopus waterbed – well after all, it is Roger Moore!

‘As ever, Bond’s irresistible charm is sufficient to convert even a supposedly powerful and intelligent woman like Octopussy into and simpering sex kitten…’

Just as some fans imagine Timothy Dalton settling down with Pam Bouvier (the strong independent CIA operative from ‘Licence To Kill’) you can believe that Octopussy is Roger Moore’s ‘forever bond girl’.

Follow The Egg

Possibly one of the greatest and most overlooked cinematic MacGuffin’s is Octopussy’s Russian Imperial Faberge Easter Egg.  A MacGuffin is a plot device that sets the characters into motion, driving the story forward. Their origins can be found in Greek epics and Medieval literature, predating the term itself. Director Alfred Hitchcock popularised the concept and finessed its use in his films, however there is conflict in its application. Hitchcock’s view was that it is object which the plot revolves around but which the audience does not care about – ‘North By Northwest’ is not really about the spy network after the microfilm but the situation of mistaken identity Cary Grant finds himself in. In contrast George Lucas, believes that “the audience should care about it almost as much as the duelling heroes and villains.”. The plans for the Death Star lead the plot of ‘Star Wars: A New Hope’ right up to the final attack.

The villain’s plan (pre the introduction of the bomb) is to take objet d’art / jewellery from the Kremlin Repository and replace them with high quality reproductions. The originals are then smuggled out of the Eastern Block, via the Octopussy travelling circus, and (as we see in the film) sold at auction in the west. However, trying to follow the trail the Egg leaves can be confusing.

·      009 takes the fake egg from the circus to the Embassy and dies.

·      Orlov / Khan believe it is lost in transit.

·      A surprise audit is scheduled at the Kremlin Repository and the real egg needs to be returned urgently.

·      Khan is ordered to buy back the real egg at the auction at Christie’s.

·      007 swaps the fake egg for the real egg in the auction.

·      Khan thinks he has the real egg but it is the fake egg and goes to India.

·      007 has the real egg and goes to India.

·      At the game of backgammon 007 shows Khan that he has ‘an egg’ – Khan must now be unsure what egg he has.

·      Q puts the tracking /listening device in the real egg

·      Magda takes the real egg jumping from the balcony and collected by Khan

·      Khan has both eggs and informs Octopussy that he has both (does he know which is which?)

·      When Khan meets General Orlov we see an egg surrounded by photos (which egg this is, is not made clear)

·      The fake egg is loaded onto the helicopter bound for the Kremlin Repository as the ‘real’ egg.

·      The real egg is destroyed by General Orlov and Khan discovers the tracking /listening device.

The Egg creates more story in the first twenty minutes than some films have in their whole running time. Acting as the starting gun for the whole affair, the Faberge Egg seems to fit with Hitchcock’s view as at first it seems central to the plot and then at once becomes completely redundant. The prop itself was recently sold at the Christie’s 60th Years of James Bond Auction. Estimated at £6,000 – £10,000 it was massively undervalued. A bidding war ensued and at the fall of the auctioneer’s gavel had realised a final price of £327,600.

The Other Fella

Cinema goers in 1983 could be forgiven for getting confused and thinking they were ‘seeing double’ as the theme of duality even extends out beyond the limits of Octopussy itself.

“This never happened to the other fella!”

With this now famous line George Lazenby kicked off his short tenure as 007 in ‘On Her Majesties Secret Service’. Being the only time in the series James Bond breaks the fourth wall, Lazenby is joking with the audience and directly referencing his taking over the role from Sean Connery. While he was a slightly controversial choice to be the new Bond he only had to replace Connery. Roger Moore had the unenviable task of going up against him directly as there were double Bond’s in the cinema with the return of Sean Connery and the release of the ‘unofficial’ ‘Never Say Never Again’. This came with the extended irony (or fate) of ‘NSNA’ itself being a duplicate of the previous Bond film ‘Thunderball’.

Watching from the shadows, like Red Grant stalking 007 through the streets of Istanbul, Kevin McClory was waiting for the moment to strike. Painted by many as Eon Production’s real-life nemesis McClory was a film producer, diving fanatic and general adventurer who repeatedly claimed a stake in the 007 films. The roots of his claim can be traced back to nights of heavy drinking at Goldeneye in 1958. Fleming was discussing creating the first Bond feature film with McClory, Jack Whittingham and Ivar Brice. Come the morning it was unclear who had said what about which idea. Fleming, following his past action of taking unused film ideas and applying them to his novels, adopted the theft of nuclear warheads concept for the novel Thunderball. Offended at the use of their creative contributions without permission McClory sued Fleming.

McClory was awarded the film rights to Thunderball and with Bond-mania then at a peak wanted to take advantage of his goldmine with his own 007 franchise. Cubby and Saltzman, shrewd businessmen as they were, saw that it would be easier to welcome McClory into the fold as Producer on an EON version of ‘Thunderball’ and then say goodbye rather than fight him. They made him an offer too financially tempting to resist and McClory went along with their plans – but he had no intention of saying goodbye.

A clause of the agreement with Eon was that McClory was not allowed to proceed with a film version of ‘Thunderball’ for ten years. Once that moratorium had passed work began on ‘Never Say Never Again’ despite numerous financial setbacks and further legal action from Eon to kill the project. As the release date neared critics and the public were getting ready for a cinematic showdown with the media portraying it as ‘The Battle of The Bonds’ with both films slated for a summer ’83 release.

‘Never Say Never Again’ is an oddball movie sitting outside the world of Eon’s 007 yet is still very much a Bond film. It is possibly the closest we will come to the realisation of a ‘What if…’ scenario taking the route ‘What if Bond were older?’ with the 00-section disbanded and Bond teaching in semi-retirement. And while it doesn’t go the whole way with the concept of ‘Old Man Bond’ (as the fans wonder about Pierce Brosnan or Timothy Dalton reprising the character as a gruff septuagenarian) it is a noteworthy difference that it embraces Connery as his then real age of 52 rather than have him try to play it younger.

The Bond of NSNA is presented more as an international agent of NATO with M being forced to re-activate the 00 section. While in TB we are presented with a whole team of 00 agents working together as a British force controlled from the magnificent Ken Adam MI6 briefing room. Both NSNA and TB have Bond assisted by Felix Leiter though both portraying him as more of a ‘yes man’ and both have America’s military might providing the needed power to defeat the agents of SPECTRE in the finale.

Octopussy’s Bond, though still defending the NATO alliance from outside aggression, is very much a man alone on a solo mission. When M drops off 007 at Checkpoint Charlie he states, “Remember Bond, your on your own.” This is significant foreshadowing as towards the end of the climatic chase everyone he is trying to save is against him.

The narrative of NSNA differs from Octopussy (and indeed from TB) in that it only obliquely references the Cold War. The producers claimed NSNA was to be a more grounded Bond film though the story is fantastical with nuclear bombs being stolen by a celebrity billionaire. Octopussy on the other hand plays directly with the military and political events of the time (while previous Bonds have skirted around them) and is unusual in that it tackles the then controversial subject of nuclear disarmament head on.

NSNA avoids real world threats while OP embraces bringing 007 in conflict with Russian forces and her allies. While General Orlov is presented as a renegade (though we see when the bomb is delivered, he is not working alone) this Bond is a Cold War warrior, regenerating 007 to the sort of secret agent we haven’t seen since ‘From Russia With Love’ nor Russians as evil aggressors.

In March 1983 the President (Ronald Regan) made his famous assertation that the Soviet Union was an “evil empire” and denounced the idea of a weapons freeze as “the illusion of peace”. As spring wore on, anit-nuclear protests grew in England and West Germany.

Despite their apparent differences there are elements that bring the films together. The stories of both films place the world in peril through the misappropriation of nuclear weapons. While their diabolical aims may be at opposing ends of the political spectrum, they each show what can happen when an atom bomb falls into the wrong hands. SPECTRE are devout capitalists seeking profit through extortion while General Orlov seeks global socialism through nuclear pacifism.

MI:6 is shown in both entries to have limited resources. After the Tuk-Tuk chase Q declares to 007 he has limited facilities and resources in his Indian workshop. Following the hunting chase through the jungle Bond, once safely lifted aboard a tourist boat, when asked if he is with their party responds with the comment “No Ma’am, I’m with the economy tour”.  Edward Fox’s new younger M comments on his ’meagre budget’ and Alec McCowen’s Q complains he has no spare parts, a freezing workshop and would snap up an offer to join the Americans. This was a Britain still clambering out of the recessions and strikes of the late 70’s. The early Thatcher government was still imposing deep cuts in government departments and not yet enjoying the strong economy of the later years of the 80s.

Similarities even extend to Bond’s wardrobe. Upon arrival in their first respective international destinations the Bond’s share the same tailor and the same suit – a tan tropical two button suit by Douglas Hayward of 95 Mount Street in Mayfair. The similarities continue with Bond’s traditional cinematic ‘uniform’ as they both wear almost identical one button, notch lapel black dinner suits again both made by Douglas Hayward.

Ultimately the head-to-head box office ‘Battle of The Bonds’ never actually materialized with each film missing the other by a matter of months as NSNA fell further and further behind schedule reaching the cinema in the autumn.

The critical reception to Octopussy was lukewarm though the film was a box office hit. On a budget of $27million Octopussy grossed $182 million world-wide. By comparison the reviews for NSNA were poor and while it was by no means a flop the takings ended up below expectation for a Bond film of this scope and scale – NSNA’s final production budget of $36 million and global earnings of $159 million. Ultimately things came full circle and the story of NSNA ended where they had started – in court.

Even though Schwartzman (Producer) had won the right to have his film exhibited, his legal troubles were not over. In October 1985 Sean Connery sued Jack Schwartzman for allegedly not paying him all he was owed for his work on Never Say Never Again. Taliafilm, in turn, sued director Irving Kershner in 1986 for going over budget on the film.

Conclusion

I will submit to both notions – that ‘repetition breeds affection’ and that the more you watch something the lower your critical facility is toward it. I am therefore doomed to watch Octopussy again and again and love it more and more each time – I have become a functioning addict, and this is a prison of my own making – but, like Bond on an island populated exclusively by women, I have no great urge to escape.

Last modified: 24 December 2023