Monday 4 June 2018

Octopussy, at 35

Octopussy, the thirteenth James Bond film in the official EON series (and the sixth to feature Roger Moore in the lead role), opened in the UK on 7th June 1983 (following its premiere on the 6th).  It was directed by John Glen (the second in his eventual five-film run), produced by Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli and written by George MacDonald Fraser, Richard Maibaum & Michael G. Wilson.  Peter Lamont was the production designer, John Richardson supervised the visual effects and John Barry wrote the score.  
“We stuck closely to the books in the very beginning - but then the basic material began to wear thin,” Michael Wilson told Richard Hollis in an interview for Marvel. 

Octopussy was a short story in Ian Fleming’s 1966 collection Octopussy and The Living Daylights, though the plot (as was the case with The Spy Who Loved Me) is original.  The film does include elements of the story - namely the fate of Major Dexter Smythe, who Octopussy in the film mentions was her father - and also a sequence inspired from the short The Property Of A Lady (which was published in later editions of the collection).  Kamal Khan’s reaction to Bond winning the backgammon game is taken from the novel Moonraker, which hadn't been used in the film.  Octopussy was written in early 1962 (and serialised in the Daily Express in October 1965), while Property Of A Lady was written in 1963, commissioned by Sotheby’s for inclusion in their annual journal, The Ivory Hammer. 

George MacDonald Fraser, best known for the Flashman novels, was hired to work on early drafts of the script.  He asked producer Cubby Broccoli for a list of all the locations Bond had already visited in the films and, realising that India (a country the writer had a lot of affection for) didn’t feature, he lobbied for it to be the main setting.  Although his script was eventually reworked by Bond regulars Michael G. Wilson and Richard Maibaum, a lot of his contributions remained - according to his memoir, Fraser came up with the gorilla suit and clown outfit and he also created the character of Kamal Khan (in the first book in the series, Flashman is taken hostage by the Afghan prince Akbar Khan during the Anglo-Afghan War).

After completing For Your Eyes Only (which I wrote about here), Roger Moore had expressed his desire to retire from the role of James Bond.  Since he now negotiated on a film-by-film basis and Broccoli didn’t want to push his old friend, a semi-public search was launched to find the new Bond, with both Timothy Dalton and James Brolin being early favourites.  Brolin got as far as screen-testing (alongside Maud Adams, standing in as a favour to Broccoli) three times (they can be seen on the Octopussy Special Edition DVD) before news broke that Kevin McClory was mounting a rival production, Never Say Never Again, featuring the original Bond, Sean Connery.  Unsure of how the public would accept the American Brolin, Broccoli contacted Roger Moore again, firm in his belief that the already established star of the films would fare better against Connery.  For a higher salary - and profit points - Moore agreed to return and the newspapers had a field day, with this so-called Battle Of The Bonds.
Maud Adams’ help with the screentests led to her being considered for the lead role, though Broccoli was initially reluctant since she’d already appeared in The Man With The Golden Gun (1974), where her character is killed.  Sybill Danning was announced (but apparently never cast), Faye Dunaway was deemed too expensive and Barbara Carrera turned down the role as she wanted to work with Sean Connery in Never Say Never Again.  Broccoli eventually re-considered and Adams was cast, though she wasn’t sure about the Octopussy name until the producer explained it was a real title and not rude (a controversy that would rumble on for some time).  Personally, I think she’s the perfect choice - a good actress who gives the character much more strength than the usual Bond girl, even if she doesn’t appear until a good way into the film.  The other significant female role, Magda, went to Kristina Wayborn, a former Miss Sweden.  Broccoli and Moore had seen her play Greta Garbo in The Silent Lovers (1980) and she had the agility and physicality to perform her role to perfection.  In a neat twist, Adams’ female co-star in Golden Gun, Britt Ekland, was also a Swede.

Following Bernard Lee’s death in 1981, Octopussy was the first film to feature Robert Brown as M (the character didn’t appear in For Your Eyes Only) and, along with Lois Maxwell as Miss Moneypenny, Desmond Llewellyn returned as Q and enjoyed an expanded role, taking part in a key action sequence.

Roger Moore and Louis Jourdan relax between takes on location in India
Louis Jourdan, a respected French actor and friend of both Moore and Broccoli, was offered the role of Kamal Khan after a party he gave in Beverly Hills that the producer attended (he’d previously turned down the role of Hugo Drax in Moonraker).  John Glen felt Jourdan had “the necessary authority to make an arresting villain” but noted the actor was often thrown by the British crew’s penchant for practical jokes between takes.  On the Inside Octopussy documentary on the Ultimate Edition DVD, Moore comments on how Jourdan’s delivery of Octopussy amused the cast and crew.  Steven Berkoff, the charismatic English actor, was cast as General Orlov and imbued him with a sense of mania that works perfectly.  Better known at the time for his stage work, Berkoff and Moore had known one another for years, having appeared in an episode of The Saint together.

The role of Gobinda, Kamal Khan’s henchman, was taken by respected Indian actor Kabir Bedi, while one of Bond’s allies, Vijay, was played by the tennis player Vijay Amritraj.  In a scene that should be silly but actually works, he uses a tennis racket as a weapon during the Tuk Tuk chase, though the onlookers turning their heads as if watching a match pushes things too far.  
Roger Moore and his leading ladies - Maud Adams (left) and Kristina Wayborn (right)
Filming began on 10th August 1982 in West Berlin, for the sequence where Bond arrives at Checkpoint Charlie with M before the production moved to Pinewood Studios, for interiors work, on 16th August.

Exterior scenes at the circus (set in Germany) were filmed at the American Air Force base at Upper Heyford in England while RAF Northholt, near London, stood in for Cuba (Peter Lamont supplied palm trees to help sell the illusion) for the pre-credits sequence.  Colonel Toro, who Bond impersonates, was played by Ken Norris, Roger Moore’s stand-in.

John Richardson and his customised XJS
This sequence was built around the Bede BD-5J Acrostar mini-jet, which was originally going to be used in Moonraker (1979).  At 12 feet long, the single engine jet could fly at 160mph and reach 30,000 feet, with a climb rate of 2,500 feet per minute.  Owned and piloted by J. W. ‘Corkey’ Fornof, from Louisiana, he later returned to the series to work as a pilot on Licence To Kill (1989).  Various versions were used - Fornoff piloted the real one (he apparently offered to fly it through Hanger 311 but it was felt to be too dangerous), a 3rd scale model was used when the jet is seen entering and leaving while a larger model was used for aerial shots with the missile (a prop that was actually attached to the model).  Foreground miniatures were used for the closing doors, which I wrote about in detail here.  To show the full-size jet flying through the hanger, it was mounted on a pole attached to a cut-down Jaguar XJS, engineered and driven by John Richardson.  By positioning the wing in front of the pole, as well as careful placement of foreground elements and people, the pole and car were both hidden from view.  Roger Moore was at the controls on the fly-through, though he’s barely visible.

For the explosion, Richardson and model unit art director Michael Lamont built a tenth-scale miniature of the hanger and its surrounding area and the pieces of debris that fly off were four inch long plastic tiles, individually attached.  It’s a terrific effect, which stands up well today.  The final quip of the sequence - “Fill her up” - was initially removed by Glen who felt it was silly, but after watching an early trailer that contained the line, he realised how well it went down with the audience and kept it in.

While the first unit was in London, the aerial unit was busy in Utah, in the US.  Supervised by B. J. Worth and performed by him (as Gobinda) and Jake Lombard (as Bond) - both of whom had worked on the opening sequence in Moonraker - they were filmed climbing on and around the aircraft and staging a mock fight, parachutes carefully concealed under their clothes.
BJ Worth (left) and Jake Lombard filming the aerial sequences above Utah
In September, the production moved to the Nene Valley railway museum near Peterborough, which doubled for Germany.  Part of the action involved Bond using a stolen Mercedes to pursue Octopussy’s train, an effect engineered by John Richardson who altered the cars wheel base to allow it to run on the tracks.  He and a stuntman did most of the driving, though Roger Moore also took the controls.  Richardson was also responsible for the scene where the Mercedes is hit by another train and shunted into a lake.  “It was actually fired out over the water with an air cannon,” he told Cinefex magazine.  “We had to fire it from the other side of the track so that it came across in front of the train and looked like it was being hit.”  A local amateur film enthusiast, Ken Burns, worked as an extra on the film and shot six minutes worth of Super-8 footage, which is available on the Ultimate Edition DVD.  Well liked by the crew, Burns, who played an East German Border guard, was known on set as the ‘3rd Unit’.
Kristina Wayborn, Roger Moore and Maud Adams on location at Nene Valley
The second unit stayed on at Nene Valley for several weeks, filming stunt co-ordinator Martin Grace (as Bond) on top of the train.  They had a helicopter for two days and, with time running out, the train went onto an area of track Grace hadn’t checked beforehand.  Hanging off the side of a carriage, he hit a concrete stanchion which caused serious injuries, breaking his hip and leg and hospitalising him for several months.  Although he made a full recovery, the accident cast a cloud over the production, though he was apparently a very popular patient, as Roger Moore was a frequent visitor to his bedside. 
The villainous trio - Louis Jourdan, Maud Adams, Steven Berkoff, on location at Nene Valley
The first unit moved to India and filming began at Udaipur on 21st September, lasting for three weeks.  Permission to shoot in the region was granted by the reigning Royal Maharana Bagwat Singh, who frequently entertained the cast and crew at dinners during production.  At one such cocktail party, John Glen saw a stuffed tiger in the palace and asked if the production could borrow it.  Mounted onto a wheel-barrow, this is the tiger that springs out of the bushes at Bond (and it was Moore who suggested the “sit!” line).  The elephant hunt, lifted from The Most Dangerous Game according to Michael G. Wilson, was filmed in the Maharani’s vast garden, which had become overgrown.

The first sequence filmed was the meeting of Bond and Vijay where the ‘fourth wall’ is broken - MI6’s man in India plays the James Bond theme on his recorder as Bond disembarks from the boat.  Amritraj, playing a snake charmer was, in real life, terrified of them and his line, “This is the wrong cover, I hate snakes” was written especially for him.
In Q's lab - Vijay Amritraj, Roger Moore, Desmond Llewellyn
The Monsoon Palace served as the exterior of Khan’s palace (the interiors were built at Pinewood), Octopussy’s home base was filmed at the Lake Palace and Bond’s hotel, the Shiv Niwas Palace, also housed key cast and crew members.  

Remy Julienne, who devised the Citroen chase in For Your Eyes Only, supervised the Tuk Tuk sequence and the “company taxi” was modified by the production, “adding bigger engines and beefing up the brakes” - it was capable of achieving 70mph.  Filming the sequence was difficult, due to the huge crowds that turned up to watch filming (according to Glen they one day asked for 5,000 extras and 10,000 people turned up) and Kabir Bedi said it was impossible to predict what would happen.  This is highlighted by the shot when a cyclist passes between the Tuk Tuk’s during the sword fight.  It wasn’t a stunt, but a bystander who hadn’t realised filming was going on.  Since he wasn’t injured and the shot was caught by two cameras, the scene was left in the film.
Udaipur itself was a sweltering location and difficult to film in.  With temperatures ranging between 48 and 65 degrees celsius, Moore needed a new shirt and suit-jacket for almost every take to ensure Bond looked cool and collected at all times.  Most of the crew suffered stomach upsets while on location and the first unit was reportedly very happy to return to the UK.

Production began at Pinewood in mid-October and ran through to January 1983.  Kamal Khan’s palace took up the entirety of Stage B, the Indian street was built on Stage C and the courtyard of the Monsoon Palace was built on the 007 stage.  The circus bigtop was also filmed at Pinewood, over three days, with a crowd made up of local school children and their families.  Octopussy’s team was filled with professional dancers, acrobats and members of the British Gymnastics team with Suzanne Dando acting as supervisor.  The fight scenes between Bond and Gobinda, using Roger Moore and Kabir Bedi, were also filmed and the last sequences shot were miniatures, including Q’s balloon advancing on the Monsoon Palace.
Louis Jourdan and Kabir Bedi with the buzz-saw
John Barry composed the soundtrack and the theme song, All Time High, with lyrics by Tim Rice and sung by Rita Coolidge, was the first Bond theme not to feature the title of the movie in the lyrics (the second was Casino Royale (2006)).

Octopussy opened with a Royal Premiere attended by Prince Charles and Princess Diana at the Odeon, Leicester Square on 6 June 1983, moving to the rest of the UK the next day.  Within five months of its premiere, it had been released in 16 countries worldwide.
from left - Kabir Bedi, Maud Adams, Cubby Broccoli, Roger Moore, Lois Maxwell, Vijay Amritraj, Desmond Llewellyn
Critical reaction was mixed, with some reviewers especially disliking the clown costume (Roger Moore apparently wasn’t a fan of it either), the gorilla outfit and the Tarzan yell (which I whole-heartedly agree with, it’s terrible).  On the other hand, Moore, Louis Jourdan and Steven Berkoff were all praised, as was the idea of going “back-to-basics, [with] less gadgets [and] more hand-to-hand combat”.

Corgi Toys produced a set centred around the Acrostar jet and its attendant Range Rover and horsebox.  I wasn’t aware of them at the time and they’re now so expensive on the collectors market, I’ll probably never own one.  Marvel published a special annual, featuring an adaption of the film (written by Steve Moore, with art by Paul Neary) and a behind the scenes essay by Richard Hollis.
Octopussy is the last Bond film to reveal the title of the next one during the end credits (in this case, “From A View To Kill” - the “From” was later dropped).

The film was nominated for an Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films Award, won the Golden Screen Award in Germany and also the Golden Reel Award for Best Sound Editing.  Maud Adams was nominated for the Best Fantasy Supporting Actress Saturn Award and Entertainment Weekly later ranked her as the best Bond girl of the Roger Moore James Bond films.

On its $27.5m budget it has, to date, grossed over $187.5m (taking $67.8m in the US alone) and comfortably beat Never Say Never Again (which took $160m on a higher budget) in the so-called Battle Of The Bonds.
“There was no animosity between Sean and me,” Roger Moore wrote in his memoir, My Word Is My Bond.  “We didn’t react to the press speculation that we had become competitors in the part.  In fact we often had dinner together and compared notes about how much we’d each shot and how our respective producers were trying to kill us with all the action scenes they expected us to do.”

He also wrote “Octopussy was a joy to film.  The cast were wonderful, as were the crew.  It was a fitting farewell to my tenure, in my mind I was preparing to bid farewell to Bond.” 

Happy birthday, Octopussy!

My Word Is My Bond, by Roger Moore
For My Eyes Only, by John Glen
Cinefex 33
Inside Octopussy DVD documentary

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