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Making Octopussy

6th June 2023

Look back at the production history of Octopussy on its 40th anniversary

MI6 logo By MI6 Staff
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While the previous Bond film, 'For Your Eyes Only', had been in production, its financiers, United Artists were facing the biggest crisis in its history. In 1980, they'd released Michael Cimino's epic western Heaven's Gate, a film that had cost the company $40 million and which had stiffed at the box office. It became probably the most infamous movie disaster of all time and pushed United Artists to the brink of bankruptcy.
It was left to MGM to come to the rescue. They mounted a successful take-over bid and the two companies were merged to form MGM / UA, an arrangement that suited both companies as MGM was not doing so well financially either. But MGM chairman Kirk Kerkorian was keen to see the two companies grow together and saw the Bond films as one of the flagships of the new company.

Albert Broccoli and United Artists production head Steven Bach officially announced the start of pre-production on the thirteenth EON Bond film, 'Octopussy', the title - but precious little else - taken from another of Ian Fleming's short stories. MGM / UA expressed their confidence in the series by upping the budget for the new film to $25 million.

But before any serious work could begin, Broccoli had the hard task of convincing Roger Moore to return to the series again. Moore was still refusing to sign a long-term contract with EON and, just as he had prior to For Your Eyes Only, he'd decided not to come back for Octopussy.

Norbert Auerbach, president of UA, and Broccoli lured Moore back with a $4 million salary and a percentage of profits, but only after a number of other actors [chief among them American James Brolin] had been considered for the role.

Moore was becoming increasingly concerned that he was no longer the right man for the job - he was now 54 years old and was increasingly frustrated by the fact that the role simply wasn't all that demanding.

Broccoli had another problem to deal with, one that could have been potentially even greater than losing his financiers and his star. As part of his agreement that producer Kevin McClory had entered into with EON over 'Thunderball', the script copyright would revert to McClory after ten years and he agreed not to make any other Bond films during that period.

In 1975, just as the ten-year period was coming to an end, McClory began planning a new Bond film. On 12 May 1976, he took out a full-page advertisement in Variety announcing the imminent arrival of something called James Bond of the Secret Service, a new Bond film that could boast Sean Connery on board as a script advisor and thriller writer Len Deighton manning the typewriter. Filming was due to have begun in February 1977 with Orson Welles being hotly tipped to play Blofeld, Trevor Howard penciled in as M, and with Richard Attenborough set to direct. The film, later retitled Warhead, floundered in the courts when questions were raised as to what exactly McClory now had the rights to.

Connery walked away from Warhead leaving McClory to work out the fine details of his agreement with EON. And by 1982, McClory was in a position to finally mount his own Bond project, the first non-EON 007 movies since the disastrous Casino Royale [1967]. What was perhaps most worrying for Broccoli was that the new film, now retitled Never Say Never Again, had Connery back in the fold and this time he was stepping in front of the cameras for one last fling with Bond.

McClory had announced that Never Say Never Again would commence shooting at about the same time as Octopussy which meant that Moore's sixth outing as 007 would be going head-to-head with the return of Connery.

Disregarding McClory's attempts to start a rival franchise, EON began work on their new film. The script, which mentioned the events of Fleming's original story only in passing and which also included a scene [wherein Bond inflates the price of a Faberge egg at an auction] from another story, The Property of a Lady, was originally co-written by Broccoli, returning director John Glen and George MacDonald Fraser, the author of the Flashman novels and writer of The Three Musketeers [1974] and Force Ten From Navarone [1978], directed by former Bond director Guy Hamilton.

The script was eventually superseded by one written by Bond veteran Richard Maibaum and executive producer Michael G. Wilson [with, as Maibaum pointed out, "none of that space station crap like they had in Moonraker [1979]], though Fraser was to retain a co-screen writing credit.

Swedish actress Maud Adams became the first Bond girl to appear twice in the series since Martine Beswick's double appearance in 'From Russia With Love' and 'Thunderball'. Adams had appeared in 'The Man With The Golden Gun' and got her chance at a larger Bond girl role when she met Broccoli again, quite by chance, on a flight. Other Bond girls this time included Kristina Wayborn, who was spotted by Broccoli playing Greta Garbo in a TV documentary, and Michaela Clavell, the daughter of Shogun author James Clavell, as Moneypenny's assistant Penelope Smallbone.

Cast as chief villain was French actor Louis Jourdan, who bought with him a wealth of experience from a career that had already spanned some 40 years. He brought a quiet dignity and strength to the role of the Kamal Khan and proved to be one of the film's few saving graces. He was assisted by Steven Berkoff, an excellent performer here giving a rather below-par performance as a renegade Soviet General.

The forces of good were represented by the unlikely figure of Vijay Amitraj, the former Davis Cup winning tennis star, here making his acting debut. Robert Brown made his own debut of sorts, despite a long career in films, here making his first appearance in the series, replacing the late Bernard Lee as Bond's superior, M. Brown and Moore had worked together more than 20 years previously in Ivanhoe.

Production began for real on Octopussy with the second unit staging the mid-air tussle between Gobinda and Bond on the outside of Kamal Khan's aircraft. 'Moonraker' veterans Jake Lombard and B.J. Worth bought their wealth of airborne experience to bear on the sequence which was supervised by action arranger Bob Simmons. Back projection shots were also filmed and used to insert Moore and Kabir Bedi into the action in the final days of studio shooting during 1983.

The first unit opened its account on Tuesday 10 August 1982 at the infamous Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin where they filmed Bond's briefing by M. The crew decamped to Pinewood on Monday 16 August where the production was based while British location work took place. The Nene Valley steam railway in Peterborough stood in for the many rail based scenes while nearby Wansford Junction improbably saw service as Karl Marx Stadt.

Octopussy's circus tent was set up in the grounds of RAF Upper Heyford in Oxfordshire and the same facility was re-dressed to stand in for the USAF base at Feldstadt where Bond defuses the nuclear warhead. Another air force base, RAF Northolt, doubled for South America for the teaser and saw the belated debut in the series of the Bede Acrostar one-man aircraft.

The Acrostar had originally been written into the climax of Moonraker - Bond was going to use the aircraft to escape from Drax's headquarters. That sequence was abandoned and it finally saw the light of day in Octopussy where the aircraft's owner, Corkey Fornhof, flew all of the stunt sequences.

On 12 September 1982, the Bond circus rolled into Udaipur, India to start work on the many India based sequences in Octopussy. The Lake Palace Hotel at Lake Pichola was the location used to represent Octopussy's island home.

Much to Roger Moore's relief [he suffered a stomach infection in the sweltering Indian heat] the production bade India farewell and returned to Pinewood where the courtyard of Kamal Khan's palace was recreated inside the 007 stage. Shooting continued right up to Christmas Eve and resumed on 3 January 1983. As production headed towards its 21 January completion, Roger Moore is reported to have had dinner with Sean Connery who himself was back in Bondage over at Elstree studios.

John Barry was again charged with writing the soundtrack and the all important title song. For the latter, he called upon the talents of Tim Rice and he and Barry were instructed not to write a song called Octopussy - perhaps for obvious reasons. Rice had wanted long-time collaborator Elaine Paige to perform the song, but eventually, after Shirley Bassey had been briefly considered for a Bond film hat trick, Rita Coolidge was chosen to sing All Time High.

The song may not have been a huge success [it peaked at number 75 in the British charts and hardly did any better in the States, reaching just number 38] but it did win Rice an award - for a song that had achieved a million radio plays worldwide.

Octopussy's premiere took place, as ever, at the Odeon Leicester Square on 6 June 1983 in the company of The Prince and Princess of Wales. The film did better than the disappointing take for For Your Eyes Only, grossing $183,700,000 worldwide and attracting 25.5 million punters in the States, the equal of Moonraker.

But for a while, US takings looked to be in some jeopardy when the Los Angeles Times ran a story accusing the new film's title of being 'tawdry', intimating that it might have been a turn-off for women audiences. But EON were not only vindicated by the respectable box-office, but by the National Research Group who took a survey of 600 women between the ages of 12 and 49 in Los Angeles, New York, Charlotte, Houston and Kansas City and found that only 4% of respondents gave negative responses.

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