Monday, December 8, 2014

Because "Cthulu Hoohah" Tested Poorly as a Title

I'll admit it, I have a slight emotional attachment to the James Bond films. Nothing serious, nothing I need to confess to a 12 Step group; I'm not powerless over the James Bond movies, but they are tangled up with one of my fondest childhood memories of my late father.

When I was 7 or 8, and my mother and sister were away at a YWCA Indian Maidens camp, my Dad took me to a theater showing a triple feature of Bond films -- From Russia With Love, Goldfinger, and Thunderball.  Now this may not seem like a big deal, but I rarely ever saw my father in those days, and here we spent hours together; we ate pizza, saw movies with almost-nude ladies, and got home at like three in the morning. It was the first time I ever remember feeling like a degenerate, so it's a memory I naturally treasure. Anyway, when I read that the next Bond movie will be titled SPECTRE, this news, along with the assumption among fans that Christoph Waltz will be playing Ernst Stavro Blofeld, got me thinking about those classic films of yore, and the perennial elements of the Bondian mythos that have made this series such an evergreen part of our culture for over fifty years.

Then I went and watched the crappiest Bond film I could find, just to be fair and balanced...
Octopussy (1983)
Directed by John Glen
Written by George MacDonald Fraser and Richard Maibaum & Michael G. Wilson

We open in a fake Latin American country which the filmmakers picked up cheap at a Mission: Impossible estate sale. Roger Moore arrives at the world’s most listless steeplechase event (nobody’s moving fast enough to call it a race, so I presume it’s some sort of occupational therapy for depressed horses on Thorazine), accompanied by the first of our nubile Bond Girls. She doesn’t make out with the 56-year old Roger, because that would be gross, but she does glue a pencil mustache to his lip so he looks more like a child molester.

Bond tries to sneak into a high security military hangar, the kind full of top secret fighter jets that’s usually located next door to a race track, and plant a bomb. He’s immediately caught by Fake Latin Americans, but saved by Nubile Bond Girl, who’s not only smarter than Bond, she’s smarter than the us, because she gets the hell out of this movie during the pre-credit sequence, while we just sit here. Anyway, Bond’s horse trailer turns into a flying horse trailer and he escapes, and also accidentally blows up the hangar he was trying to bomb while trying to evade a missile, but he burns up all his fuel, so he crosses the Latin American-Appalachian border, lands at a gas station, and asks a confused hillbilly to “fill ‘er up.”

BAH DAH DAH DAH!  As pre-title sequences go, it’s no Goldfinger, but then we never got to see Sean Connery arguing with a pump jockey about how his purchase should entitle him to a full page of Green Stamps.

After the theme song (“All Time High” [no it isn’t], sung by Rita Coolidge, who delivers it with all the sexy abandon of Calvin Coolidge) we cut to East Berlin, where a clown attempts to flee a circus (but not a flea circus). He’s pursued through the woods by twin assassins (sadly, not conjoined twin assassins, because how awesome would that be?) in what quickly begins to resemble an All-Bozo remake of The Most Dangerous Game. But when his position is betrayed by his floppy clown shoes and bouquet of constantly popping balloons, the twins throw knives into him until he falls into a river. The pin-cushioned clown crawls up the muddy bank, crashes through the French doors of the British Ambassador’s residence, drops a Fabergé Egg on the carpet and dies. Because it’s funny!

Cut to London, where Bond and Moneypenny indulge in a bit of senile flirtation. I don’t want to say they’re perhaps a shade too old for their roles, but it does start to feel like a production of The Gin Game.

Bond meets with some other elderly gents who are fussed because Fabergé eggs are flooding the market, which smells like Communism. Store Brand “M” (just as good as the national brand “M” because he’s dead) confesses that he assigned 009 to go undercover as a clown, but that didn’t seem to help, and now it’s 007’s turn. So stand by for action as Bond attends an an auction at Sotheby’s. Sure it doesn’t sound exciting, but there’s always the chance he’ll make rude gestures to his friends like Dick Van Dyke did in that one episode where he accidentally bid on a hideous clown painting. (Coincidence? I think not).

Meanwhile, in the Soviet Union, General Orlov is playing Risk with the Politburo in the hopes they’ll get distracted and accidentally invade Western Europe, but he keeps getting heckled by General Gogol (who made a career out of playing the Reasonable Russkie role in these movies), winds up putting too many game pieces on Irkutsk and gets totally reamed on his next turn.

At Sotheby’s, Bond gets in a breathless bidding war with Louis Jourdan (in that they’re both old and wheezy  – okay, I’ll stop). Louis wins the auction, but before he can collect, Bond switches a fake egg for the real egg, which means – I’m not sure what, but I guess someone’s cholesterol count will be going down.

Bond follows Louis to India, where he finds him cheating at backgammon the way Goldfinger cheated at gin rummy, but they switch things up this time by making the villain a stylish Frenchman in a black silk Nehru jacket instead of a stocky German in a terrycloth onesie.  Credit where credit is due.

Bond and Louis play a tense board game, then Bond flashes his egg, and Louis’ turbaned henchman crushes a pair of dice with his bare hands.  007 wins a huge bankroll from Louis and hands it to his local contact, saying, “Here, that should keep you in curry for a few weeks.”  Sadly, the Indian agent doesn’t peel off a few rupees and say, “Here, that should keep you in Liver-Spotted Dick.” Then we get a chase scene between a couple of motorized rickshaws through the streets of Downtown India, which are crowded with snake charmers, sacred cows, and men walking on fire and sleeping on nails. Fortunately, the rickshaws are only going about 7 mph, so no racist clichés were killed in the making of this film.

Q shows up with a bunch of crap from the Sharper Image, including “the latest liquid crystal TV” (Bond uses the camera to zoom in and out on a buxom secretary’s cleavage, making me think that Austin Powers wasn’t actually a parody of these films, just a reboot).

Louis’s girlfriend, Miss Bonestructure, invites Bond to a formal sit down dinner with double entendre to follow. Cut to his hotel room, where the two are naked in bed and drinking champagne. Miss Bonestructure says, “I need a refill” in such a sultry way that Bond does a take to the camera that seems to ask, “How many times does she think I can ejaculate?”  Instead, he quizzes her about the cephalopod tattoo on her back. “That’s my little octopussy,” she coos. Wow. Koalas only have two vaginas; no wonder Bond looks so tired.

Bonestructure steals Bond’s egg, and Hench-Turban knocks him out. He wakes up at Louis’ palace just in time for dinner, where we’re served stuffed sheep heads and aimless dialogue. Realizing the scene is going nowhere, Louis plucks out a sheep’s eye and ostentatiously gnaws on it like a hardboiled egg, obviously hoping this movie will lead to something better, like a part in a John Waters film.

Back in his room, Bond slips into an action leisure suit and uses his acid-squirting fountain pen (25¢ plus 3 Proof of Purchase seals) to dissolve the window bars, just as General Orlov drops by the see how his plan to conquer the world through fake Fabergé eggs is progressing.  Bond does a lot of sneaking around and eavesdropping, making me wish they’d replaced Roger Moore with that lady who played Gladys Kravitz on Bewitched, because she had real flair for this kind of thing.

Bond escapes the palace by pretending to be a corpse, but Louis’ henchmen catch on, since he’s basically pulled this same ruse in every other scene of the movie.  Louis mounts an elephant and proceeds to hunt 007 through the jungle, but Bond evades him by swinging from vine to vine while bellowing a Tarzan call. 

No. No, I’m not kidding. Not even a little.

Bond infiltrates the private island of Octopussy, which is kind of like Themiscrya, or Lesbos, as it’s occupied solely by women, some dressed as sexy harem girls, some dressed in bright red unitards like William Katt’s character in The Greatest American Hero.

Bond confronts Octopussy, who suspects he’s come to assassinate her for being the world’s leading jewel smuggler and circus owner, but Bond doesn’t really know why he’s there, and the script is certainly no help. Happily, they discover they have something in common, since it turns out that ten years earlier, 007 made her father commit suicide, so naturally they start to party. But Louis interrupts their tête-à-tête to utter the immortal line, “You have a nasty habit of surviving” (by the way, this is the answer to that age old bar bet, “What do James Bond and post-apocalyptic cockroaches have in common?”)

Bond and Octopussy do the nasty (habit of surviving) but they’re interrupted, again, this time by hatchet-wielding pirates in diapers, and a guy who uses a circular saw like a yo-yo.  007 does a competent job of fighting them off, but then he falls out a window and gets swallowed by a crocodile. Presumably the rest of the film will involve Bond just trying to find ways to amuse himself with Captain Hook’s hand.

Turns out, he’s okay, because it was a fake escape crocodile made by Q, and Bond wants Octopussy to think he’s dead so he can go to the circus.  Cut to East Berlin where Bond watches a guy get shot out of a cannon, then skulks around a bunch of boxcars like a hobo with helmet hair.

General Orlov and Louis have also come to the circus, in order to sell Octopussy some costume jewelry and hide an atomic bomb in the funnel cake wagon.  Bond, using his License to Kravitz, overhears a day player in a Russian uniform explain the whole plot, and takes it as a cue to skulk around some more.

Orlov plans to smuggle the bomb onto a U.S. Air Force base in Germany and detonate it, making the world think American negligence is responsible. Western Europe will instantly become a Nuclear-Free Zone, and the Red Army can just waltz in and take over. Fortunately, Bond has a chance to stop the plot when he corners Orlov in a circus train car. Unfortunately, he’s so busy triumphantly monologuing about how he figured out the General’s scheme that Orlov easily escapes.

Bond tries to catch up to the train with the bomb, but the Russians shoot out his tires. Surprisingly, his sedan is the exact same gauge as a railroad car, and he somehow gets his rims onto the rails, and drives along the tracks, and ordinarily something this stupid would piss me off, but the filmmakers have cleverly spent the last 90 minutes building up my tolerance by gradually exposing me to greater and greater doses of stupidity, until now it doesn't even faze me. I’m like a heroin addict taking a Tylenol.

Bond manages to get on board the train and hide inside a gorilla suit (honestly, I’m fine. Can’t feel a thing). Hench-Turban sees Bond’s eyes behind the mask, and begins to suspect there’s someone in there, especially when Bond clumsily shuffles around in his big ape feet and bangs into a bell. Hench-Turban grabs a sword and decapitates the costume, but fortunately Bond used those precious few seconds to teleport onto the roof.

There’s a dull and inconclusive fight on top of the train with Hench-Turban. Then one of the deadly knife-throwing twin assassins appears, and it looks like the end for 007. But the producers apparently won’t let him throw a knife for fear of tearing the rear projection screen, so he and Bond just engage in a bit of roughhousing and spirited horseplay until they fall off the train.

Well, so far it’s been a festival of fail for 007. Fortunately, General Gogol shows up and plugs Orlov, and even though Bond doesn’t even get to kill the villain, I feel pretty good that at least somebody accomplished something today.

Meanwhile, at the Air Force base, the atomic circus is in mid-performance (apparently it takes about ten minutes to set up one of those big top tents; I don’t know why more people don’t take them camping) and the bomb is counting down to detonation. Bond steals a car and races to the base, but manages to get the whole West German Polizei chasing him, so instead of heading straight to the commander and saying, “We have to defuse a nuclear device!” he skulks around, then spends twenty minutes applying elaborate clown make-up, leading to the one line I personally never wanted to hear spoken about James Bond, “The suspect’s wearing a clown suit!”

007 runs into the big top shrieking about a bomb, kicks a cop in the crotch with his clown shoe, and panics the audience. Fortunately, Octopussy shoots the lock off the trunk holding the bomb, and Bond defuses it at the last second, barely justifying his existence.  Unfortunately, there’s still fifteen minutes to go. Let’s see…Gogol killed the big bad, so I guess that only leaves Louis. True, he was just a middle management villain, but Bond’s got to kill somebody or he’s going to have a very tough time getting his expenses reimbursed.

Cut to India. Louis is already there (apparently he can teleport too). But then so is Octopussy, and she was back at the circus with Bond, so I’m thinking maybe a TARDIS is involved.  Anyway, Octopussy and her highly trained girls infiltrate Louis’ palace, taking out the guards with ruthless efficiency in a scene that’s exactly like the climax of The Dirty Dozen, except everyone’s dressed like a belly dancer.  (I’m sure Bond would have liked to be a part of this operation, but he had to take off his clown makeup first, and someone borrowed his Neutrogena Cleansing Towelettes and didn’t put them back.)

So anyway, it’s Girl on Henchman action, but then after awhile Bond and Q dodder onto the scene in a hot air balloon, having apparently drifted away from their breathtaking tour of wine country.  Louis and Hench-Turban grab Octopussy and try to take off in a airplane, so 007 switches to a horse, because that makes sense.

Bond rides up behind the plane as it races down the runway, jumps out of the saddle, over the head of his horse and onto the tail of the moving aircraft, causing the laws of physics to just say "screw it" and leave the universe in a huff. Louis takes off, Bond and Hench-Turban have a knife fight on the roof of the aircraft, and…

Okay, this is the stupidest scene yet, but you know what? Thanks to the mithridatic effect of the previous scenes, my liver is handling it just fine.

So Bond pulls some wires out of the fuselage and makes the plane crash, but on the way down he and Octopussy jump onto the edge of a cliff so they’re fine, but Louis doesn’t have the presence of mind to step out and keeps crashing, so he dies.

Now for the sexy coda. We’re back on Octopussy Island, and for once the grim toll of Bond’s injuries is realistically portrayed – his arm is in a sling, his leg immobilized and elevated. But Octopussy is horny, so Bond flings off all this therapeutic impedimenta, says, I was just kidding about the traction! Psyche!, and then they smooch while Rita Coolidge again warbles “All Time High,” which I now realize wasn’t a theme song, but a prescription.

Oh, and James Bond Will Be Back in A View To A Kill.  I, however, won’t be here when he gets back, and I’m not leaving him a forwarding address either.  He can just keep my LPs. And that five bucks he owes me.  But I want my mother's Pyrex casserole back.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go get all time high.


ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

Did somebody say "License to Kravitz"?

Debbi said...

I couldn't stop laughing! Thank you! :)

grouchomarxist said...

Hee. Good one, ifthethunder(etc)!

Magnificent takedown, Scott. That was one hilarious evisceration of the absolute nadir of the Bond films.

That triple feature you remember from your childhood was also my introduction to the series, except in my case it was showing at the local drive-in. Mere words are of course inadequate to describe the effects of such a concentrated dose on a neophyte -- a 17-year-old one in particular. Let's just say the Bond theme kept popping into my head at widely inappropriate moments for weeks afterward ...

grouchomarxist said...

Er, that should have been "wildly inappropriate", not "widely".

Kathy said...

Hard to believe there is a worse Bond film than "View To A Kill" where the villain, a genetically engineered Super Human Genius, tried to destroy California's 'Silicon Valley' ("Where the silicon comes from!") with an... ?? I can't remember. Nuclear earthquake?

Anyway, the villain ended up dangling from the GG Bridge... then fell, even tho Bond was trying to save him! But Bond as a clown... that's, that's, that's...

Those 2 movies must have had the same writers, maybe a collaboration between ArgleBargle and Doughy Loadpants.

Dr. Alice said...

YES! You have made me very happy! And I still enjoy watching this film - it's one of my Secret Shames.

Carl said...

In fairness to Cubby Broccoli - part Mouseketeer, part cruciferous vegetable - it was a shitty book, too.

Scott said...

Cubby Broccoli - part Mouseketeer, part cruciferous vegetable

Have I ever mentioned that I hate you?

Ipecac said...

This is the one Bond film I haven't seen more than ten minutes of. Thanks for saving me a lot of pain.