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Monthly Archives: February 2016

Book publication year – 1966
Film release year – 1983
007 – Roger Moore

The fourteenth Bond publication (actually entitled Octopussy and The Living Daylights, a collection of four short stories), and the thirteenth film. Some pretty interesting stuff here. The film borrows themes from the Octopussy and Property of a Lady short stories but is, as a whole, quite a different story.  This is a rare instance where, in my view, the film surpasses the written work that inspired it.

Octopussy, the story, bears little relation to the film, but is very interesting in ways not unlike Fleming’s short story Quantum of Solace (which also bears almost no relation to the film adaptation).  Bond himself has very little to do with the narrative.  Rather, the story is about the life and (gruesome) death of Dr. Dexter Smythe, which is obviously a stand-in for Ian Fleming himself as he faced his own final days (the publication was his last, and was released after his death).  The story takes place in Jamaica (where Fleming maintained a winter home).  There, Dr. Smythe is confronted by 007, who has come to arrest him for a murder Smythe committed during the final days of WWII.  Like Smythe (and Bond), Smythe worked in British naval intelligence during, and immediately following the War, when he was tasked with clearing out Nazi hideouts.  He (again, like Fleming) is a heavy drinker and heavier smoker who suffers from heart problems.  Although it has been years since the War, Bond investigated the suspicious death of a German hiking guide (who, it turns out, was once a father figure to Bond) and figured out that Smythe murdered the German in order to steal gold stashed in a mountain range; gold that subsequently financed Smythe’s indulgent and slothful lifestyle on Jamaica.  Bond gives Smythe some time to think things over and Smythe, rather than facing arrest and trial back in England, commits suicide by allowing an octopus to kill him while he is snorkeling.

As might be expected by now, the story’s plot has almost nothing to do with the film, which centers on a rogue Soviet general’s diabolical plan to instigate nuclear war between the USSR and Russia, with (unknowing) assistance from an innocent but mysterious woman named Octopussy who lives on a private island populated by gorgeous women.  However, in an homage to the original story, in the film Octopussy reveals to 007 that her father was Dr. Dexter Smythe, and she thanks Bond for giving her father the opportunity to kill himself, rather than face the humiliation of being exposed for his crime.

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The film owes more to Property of a Lady, as both the film and the story involve a rare and priceless Faberge egg and a tense auction where 007 swaps the original egg for a replica.  The similarities, for the most part, end there.  In the story, the egg and the auction are used to flush out a Soviet mole working inside MI6; in the film, the egg and the auction is a side-story to introduce Kamal Khan, the evil (and exiled) Afghan prince who is a co-conspirator with General Orlov and his plan for nuclear war.

As noted above, the Octopussy story ends with Smythe’s brutal death in the waters off Jamaica.  Property of a Lady ends with 007 spotting the Soviet’s top London spy.  While, naturally, in the film adaptation, Bond manages to avoid nuclear Armageddon with mere seconds to spare. 

This was a sad read, as it seems that Fleming did not have a chance to really edit and polish these stories before his demise. The film, however, makes up for that with — despite Roger Moore’s slapstick-y portrayal of 007 and some cheesy chase/fight scenes — a solid and fast-paced plot combined with a few classic Bond villains.

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Next:  The Living Daylights  

 

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