06 August 2009

Octopussy and For Your Eyes Only

Avoid Octopussy and See For Your Eyes Only
By Kristin Battestella

Some swear by Roger Moore’s tenure as Bond, others loathe him. 1981’s For Your Eyes Only gives us some of Moore’s finest. Unfortunately, 1983’s Octopussy gives us some of his weakest.
In Octopussy, MI-6 agent 007 James Bond (Roger Moore) takes over the wounded 009’s operation after the latter steals a fake Faberge egg. Bond tracks the real egg to an auction house, where Afghan prince Kamal Khan (Louis Jourdan) and his mistress Magda (Kristina Wayborn) bid on the egg. When infiltrating his palace, Bond discovers Khan and Russian General Orlov (Steven Berkoff) are in the business stealing Soviet antiquities and using the wealthy Octopussy (Maud Adams) and her all female island cult as a cover for their nuclear hijinks.

OctopussyI can’t really put my finger on what makes Octopussy a sub par Bond picture. It feels like a film of contradictions and almosts, but no gems or follow through. The opening song ‘All Time High’ by Rita Coolidge is lovely, but my goodness is that ice dancing along with our 007 motifs? Even the title tries for that cheeky innuendo, but the term and its use in the film are just silly. “That’s my little octopussy!” For such a scandalous title, Octopussy is actually a rather tame Bond picture, centering most of its plot on silly gags and flat humor. Octopussy, does however, have one thing going for it: India. Perhaps trying to capitalize on Indiana Jones and more adventure styled films, the Southeast flavor here gives a more exotic feeling than the previously merely classy spy pictures. The looks, speech, and dress of the henchman and extras are a touch stereotypical, but the Indian palaces are wonderful and enchanting.

Villain Kamal Khan might also be an asset to Octopussy, but the suave performance from Louis Jourdan (Gigi) is hindered by a convoluted script and scheme. What the heck is his plot to take over the world, anyway? After all the babes and circus shenanigans, the viewer could really careless about Khan and Russian nuclear plans. Also wasted is the titular Octopussy. Instead of revealing Maud Adams as an intelligent woman and international player at the start, Octopussy delays her reveal and plays up the later relationship with Bond. Although I love Adams and Moore’s scenes together-they are perhaps the best in the film-it takes us half the movie to get all that. Adams looks as lovely as she did in The Man with the Golden Gun, and once we spend some time with her onscreen, we forget about her previous turn. I’ve noticed most Bond pictures will favor a gadget or an action plot device before a character, but veteran Bond editor and director John Glen (For Your Eyes Only, A View to A Kill) should have recognized his leading talent and chemistry.

They still have one more film to go, but Roger Moore and Lois Maxwell as Miss Moneypenny are beginning to show their age and disinterest. The simple gesture of Bond not tossing his hat is a small symbol of how much this series has changed. In Connery’s tenure, it was perfectly acceptable for him to have a hat about his suit. In 1983, the only time I saw even women wear hats was in church. The eighties styles on the ladies haven’t stood the test of time, either. I do, however, wonder what happened to Miss Moneypenny’s new assistant and presumed replacement Penelope Smallbone (Michaela Clavell, who never appeared to do anything else, either). She’s young and enamored with Bond, of course, and Smallbone certainly seems better than the bespectacled ninny Moneypenny during Dalton’s brief time as 007. Just another quirk in the franchise, I suppose.

Although Moore’s final appearance as Bond in 1985’s A View To A Kill is less than perfect and a guilty pleasure more than anything; I’m glad he did not end his tenure on the sour note here. Perhaps after such success with The Spy Who Loved Me, screenwriter George MacDonald Fraser (Red Sonja) and house writers Richard Maibaum and Michael G. Wilson were trying to put a different spin on things with Octopussy’s original screenplay. But the elephants, the backgammon, the circus, the gorilla suits-come on. Though the Octopussy siege at the end is kind of cool, it seems a little preposterous that these cirque de sol women can take out the bad guys. At least it looks like good old Q gets the girls. Unfortunately, it’s all too little, too late for Octopussy.

For Your Eyes OnlyFortunate then, that Moore did give us a fine turn in 1981’s For Your Eyes Only- this quieter, darker blend has revenge, sports-oriented chases, and a realistic outing by the third official Bond. After a British ship and its Automatic Targeting Attack Communicator sink, Bond is sent to investigate the ship’s whereabouts and the murder of Timothy Havelock, a British archaeologist contracted to find the wreckage. In Spain, 007 meets Melina Havelock, the vengeful daughter of Timothy. Together with Greek smuggler Milos Columbo (Chaim Topol, Fiddler on the Roof) they tail dirty businessman Aris Kristatos. Will they find the ATAC before him and expose his nefarious dealings and KGB connections?

It seems no one liked For Your Eyes Only’s sf-ication predecessor Moonraker, and we begin this semi return to Bond’s roots with a nice opening reference to the late Mrs. Bond. Sure, we like 007 on the prowl, but mention of Tracy Bond is something we don’t see enough. It’s nice to know Bond has a few issues beyond being a detached spy who loves and leaves because of his job. Some kitschy kitties, allusions to Blofeld, and some hair-brained piloting also keep a touch of humor in the pre-titles sequence. However, it is strange to see singer Sheena Easton actually singing the theme song during the titles. Unique and it all looks good, but the song itself is sub par compared to ‘Nobody Does It Better’ before and ‘All Time High’ after.

Where Octopussy meanders and grows silly and confusing, For Your Eyes Only’s script and story is deep and complex- yet behind the scenes man and director John Glen keeps the mission easy to follow. There’s the usual red herrings and turncoats, but this Macguffin mystery seems more like a spy’s tale then other Bond pictures coughmoonrakercough. For Your Eyes Only is in many ways akin to Lazenby’s one off On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. We have solid literary sources from Ian Fleming, dark and complicated folks onscreen, and a Bond we are familiar with and like. Perhaps For Your Eyes Only is the perfect combination between book and onscreen Bond?

Who knew James Bond could have been on the British Olympic Team? Though mature in his fifth picture as 007, Roger More has the right blend of action, fun, and seriousness here. Some think Moore is too humorous at times, but his one-liners and comebacks are the perfect breath amid this sporty, global escapade. Perhaps the miscasting of his leading ladies makes him appear older, but in For Your Eyes Only, we don’t have a geriatric Bond just yet. He has the uppity style for some intense skiing, and he can handle the busy babes and hard liquors. What’s not to love?

For Your Eyes Only is also special for its somewhat abstract villains. For most of the picture, car bound henchman Emile Locque (Michael Gothard, Arthur of the Britons) doesn’t even speak. Instead of having a quipping, hung up, faulty and clich├ęd bad boy; we have a bespectacled weirdo pursuing Bond and a charming Julian Glover (The Empire Strikes Back, Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade) as Greek big wig Aristotle Kristatos. We know he must be up to know good, but Glover doesn’t play his crooked hand too soon. Kristatos is sleek, international, suave. He’s as good at what he does as Bond, and the slow reveal of his KGB ends is a welcome change against all the villains who put Bond in an easily escapable situation and then tell him all their plans. John Wyman is also lean and mean as Kristatos’ steroid-esque KGB man Erich Kriegler. It’s not a new notion to this franchise, but seeing Bond take down a toughie is always a pleasure.

Let me get the bad about Award winning French actress Carole Bouquet out first. Her Greek heiress Melina Havelock is no doubt beautiful in that quintessential exotic seventies way, but she’s too young against Moore. Bond likes his women younger, but she’s the grown daughter of a murdered ally. It’s too weird, as is Bouquet’s thick accent and re-dubs. Pity all that, for she has plenty of presence, acting skill, and a nice vendetta storyline. The tragic revenge damsel has been used in these films before, but when done well, it works. Bizarre then that Lynn-Holly Johnson again shows her figure skating prowess (Ice Castles, anyone?) when Octopussy has the ice dancing motifs. Maybe she was the it girl of the moment, but Johnson’s aptly named Bibi Dahl is also too young and pouty for Moore’s elder suave. Still, she can do all the skating and skiing needed, that’s something.

By contrast, Countess Lisl von Schlaf seems too old against the young hotties. It seems bad to say of Cassandra Harris-the late first wife of future Bond Pierce Brosnan. She’s actually just the right age for Moore’s Bond-and we can’t have that! The Countess serves her Bond Girl purposes, and there’s plenty of women and skin about. This time out, however, Moore’s lover boy Bond isn’t as…productive…as he usually is. Unlike the awkwardness in Octopussy, it’s great to see Lois Maxwell’s Moneypenny in For Your Eyes Only- and she’s putting on lipstick for Bond no less! Despite some heavy deaths before and a serious debriefing after, Moneypenny’s quips go a long way in keeping Bond lighthearted. Respectfully we have no M due to the death of Bernard Lee; but Desmond Llewelyn is his ever-lovable Q. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for those old computers, oiy!

Also trying to be hip and eighties latest is Bond in his Lotus Esprit. Give him a DeLorean why don’t you? It’s understandable that 007 needs to keep up with the times, but a classy ride is more in keeping with our Martini man, don’t you think? Thankfully, there’s plenty of female eye candy. The hair and bathing suits are also victims of the decade, but I doubt the boys are complaining. The new wave synthesizer music isn’t the best either, but like the car, it serves its purpose. The James Bond theme makes its presence known, thankfully, too. The sports oriented action in For Your Eyes Only is a little absurd, but it’s also fast paced and entertaining. A backwards car chase in a yellow clunker capped with a fairly late ‘Bond, James Bond’ again keeps the balance of Moore’s humor and house writers Richard Maibaum and Michael G. Wilson’s tight adaptations of Fleming’s short stories. The ski chases are silly in a good way, too, with original moves and plenty of suspense. Yes, the music and some stylings in For Your Eyes Only are dated, but it doesn’t hinder the wit, complete story, and fine action. There’s ice hockey, I really can’t complain.

Although perhaps regionally close, For Your Eyes Only’s various European locations provide an assortment of beauty and danger. Greek Islands, biplanes and ships, shooting and skiing amid the Swiss Alps, congested Spanish cities, and stuffy London offices add to the chases and bikinis. Eyes also has some fine, well lit, fast-paced but no less claustrophobic below the surface action. Some of the sappy music and hand signaling because of Scuba gear is very silly, but Glen uses the natural dangers to build the audience’s underwater suspense. I’m sure Jaws had a lot to do with adding the sharks, but the deadly rock climbing looks good and quickens your pulse.
Though dated and not without its faults, For Your Eyes Only is a believable, entertaining, well rounded Bond picture-unlike the mishmash that is Octopussy. Clear-cut action and honest story will always last longer than a laughable and convoluted successor. Had Moore departed with Eyes and Timothy Dalton debuted in a streamlined Octopussy (Could we take the good parts of Never Say Never Again, too?), the overall opinion of Moore as Bond might be very different. A promising debut in Live and Let Die, a good villain saving The Man with the Golden Gun, a delightful The Spy Who Loved Me and For Your Eyes Only, and the abomination that is Moonraker-not bad if you think about it. Collectors will have to wait for Octopussy on blu-ray, but several DVD sets and blu-ray editions of For Your Eyes Only are available now. Save yourself from Bond mediocrity, skip Octopussy and enjoy the younger, witty, hip For Your Eyes Only.

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