Vintage Cable Box: Octopussy, 1983

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“Mr. Bond is indeed of a very rare breed… soon to be made extinct.”

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Octopussy, 1983 (Roger Moore), United Artists

Graphic and intense violence was crucial to mid 1970s-early ’80s action films, and Roger Moore’s final three James Bond films were no exception. These were cranked up; shot and edited in the fashion of American action and exploitation cinema, and reflecting new sensibilities in younger audiences at the time. I disagree with the commonplace notions that the Moore series of films playing this character were not as riveting as the Connery series, because of Moore’s British upbringing. His predecessor, Sean Connery, being Scottish, exuded a different kind of magnetism and charisma, but where Connery was often brutal in the punishment he dealt his enemies, Moore was almost bloodless in his actions (though there is a nifty head-shot in this movie), and maintained a stiff, British upper-lip. Most Bond fans in my age bracket prefer Moore over Connery for the very simple reason that they (as I) grew up watching Moore’s cycle of espionage thrillers.

In a humorous pre-credits sequence, Bond almost single-handedly deposes a Castro-like despot with the help of a pretty lady and a personal jet fighter.  After his mission is accomplished, he stops the jet at a gas station on a lonely dirt road.  He tells the owner to “fill ‘er up!”  Cute.  Next we move into the montage of naked ladies and guns set to Rita Coolidge’s theme song, All Time High (the lyrics to which I have never forgotten).  I’ve always enjoyed the fact that “Cubby” Broccoli put the majority of his crew credits at the beginning of his Eon Productions Bond films even after an unofficial agreement between motion picture studios (circa 1979) put into practice to relegate those credits to the end of the picture.  It’s sort of a tip of the hat to the people that work hard on these films.

In pre-Glasnost times, evil general Orlov wants more power and influence.  In Soviet Russia, pajamas wear YOU!  Orlov wants to expand the hypothetical Soviet Empire, and his superiors think he’s mad.  The art direction and cinematography of this scene recalls Doctor Strangelove’s war room.  SIS Agent 009 (dressed in a clown suit) is found dead with a Fabergé egg in his possession.  The egg turns out to be fake, but Bond finds the real egg, plants a bug in it for his latest conquest, Magda, to steal and return to the evil Kamal Khan (an appropriately sleazy, eyeball-eating Louis Jourdan – yuck!).  Bond learns that Orlov has been working with Khan, selling “priceless” fake Russian treasures (the aforementioned egg) and smuggling the genuine articles across the Iron Curtain by way of a bizarre woman (Maud Adams as “Octopussy”, in her second Bond film) with a serious octopus fetish.  When I say serious, I mean serious.  Her bed looks like an octopus.  Her tables look like assorted octopi.  Her curtains … well, you get the point.  She’s an extremely beautiful, fabulously wealthy smuggler (and circus owner) with a private army of hotties.  It takes a while, but Jimmy finally sets his sights on her.

Orlov’s true scheme is to smuggle a nuclear warhead by train to a United States Air Force Base in West Germany (remember West Germany, kids?), where it will detonate in the middle of one of Octopussy’s circus shows.  Orlov’s ultimate goal is to create destabilization and doubt in neighboring nations where he can easily take control and thus, expand the Soviet empire.  Ultimately, Bond masquerades as a clown (like Agent 009), and removes the detonator before the warhead can explode and spoil a decent circus.  I secretly hoped the bomb would go off, because I have a (admittedly irrational) fear/hatred of clowns, but the good guys must prevail.  The baddest of the bad, Jourdan and his evil (again with the evil!) henchman abscond with Octopussy and escape in a small aircraft, but not before Bond (or his incredibly obvious stunt double anyway) can jump on the roof and mess with their engines, and rescue the damsel.

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“It’s all in the wrist.”

This is truly a fun movie with lots of action (expertly directed by John Glen, who helmed five Bond movies).  Glen started on the Bond series as an editor, cutting On Her Majesty’s Secret Service in 1969.  The set pieces are thrilling, and I noted infrequent use of blue screen as most of the visual effects were shot in-camera.  Octopussy would be followed by Moore ‘s last Bond film, A View to a Kill in 1985, and then Timothy Dalton would take over the role for two movies.  There is an interesting bit of trivia here in that Dalton (along with James Brolin) were suggested to replace Moore in Octopussy when his contract was up.  Later in 1983, Sean Connery appeared in the non-canon Bond film, Never Say Never Again, directed by Irvin Kershner.  When Never Say Never Again (with Connery) was announced, the producers renegotiated with Moore to keep him on in direct competition with that film.

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month.  Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.

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Vintage Cable Box: Never Say Never Again, 1983

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“Never again.”

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Never Say Never Again, 1983 (Sean Connery), Warner Bros.

James Bond is not a character that exists for any particular generation; though different generations will banter back-and-forth about which actor gave the strongest performance as Great Britain’s most famous Military Intelligence operative. It’s like Coke and Pepsi. Dick York and Dick Sargent? Original or Extra Crispy? David Lee Roth or Sammy Hagar? Sean Connery or Roger Moore? As a matter of fact, in Ian Fleming’s original concept for the character, he envisioned someone who bore his own resemblance. A bit of wish fulfillment, perhaps? 1983 was an unusual year for our favorite secret agent in that we had two movies, Octopussy and Never Say Never Again, made by different production companies and starring Moore and Connery. Ultimately, as box receipts indicate, there was very little difference in their respective appeal. Octopussy earned $183 million worldwide, compared to Never Say Never Again’s paltry $160 million*.

Essentially a remake of Thunderball, but updated to accommodate Connery’s advanced years, Never Say Never Again came about because Kevin McClory (one of Thunderball’s writers) retained the rights to the film after a dispute with fellow writers Jack Whittingham and creator Ian Fleming. This left Thunderball as the only existing Bond property to not be owned outright by Fleming or “Cubby” Broccoli’s Eon Productions. Bond is compelled by his employers to spend time in physical rehabilitations after failing a wargame simulation. While there, and after bedding down one of his nurses, he spies (he can’t help it) a masochistic therapist, Fatima Blush (Barbara Carrera) dispensing a little more than medicine to a US Air Force pilot (Gavan O’Herlihy), whom she is using to circumvent the President’s security clearance in order to obtain two nuclear warheads, which SPECTRE will use to wreak havoc with NATO. Bond tracks the warheads to the Bahamas, where he runs afoul of oddball villain Largo (Klaus Maria Brandauer) while romancing Largo’s lover, Domino (Kim Basinger), who also happens to be O’Herlihy’s sister.

Bond beds Blush, who then betrays him to sharks while scuba diving. Thankfully, sharks don’t know how to open doors in underwater ships. Largo is a little nutty. He challenges Bond to a unusual, but interesting looking three-dimensional video game that utlizes nuclear missile to neutralize their targets. The loser donates proceeds to a children’s charity. Bond always seems to get the upper hand in these games, and he cleans Largo out. Largo captures Bond (and Domino) after Bond tells her the truth about what happened to her brother. He locks Bond in a North African dungeon and ties Domino to a post to sell her to Arabs on horseback. Like I said, he’s a little nutty. Bond escapes his binds with a laser-shooting wristwatch (how come they never frisk him?) and rescues Domino, who avenges her brother’s death (with a well-aimed harpoon) before Largo can arm his warheads.

It’s a fairly simple story, complicated by numerous distraction; those being the women in the film, who serve as impediments (if you choose to designate them as such) to Bond’s goals. Kershner (as he did with The Empire Strikes Back) emphasizes performances over action set-pieces, but his camera always finds interesting places to shoot. Connery’s Bond is more menacing, predatory, and pragmatic than Moore’s civilized charm and manners. The Blofeld character (popularized by Donald Pleasance and Telly Savalas, and more recently Christoph Waltz) is minimalized here, but played very well in this movie by Max Von Sydow. The real villains in this piece are Brandauer and Carrera. Brandauer is a curiousity. He plays his scenes with a child-like glee, keeping everybody around subtly off-balance. He looks like he’s always on the verge of snapping.

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Now we come to the inevitable comparisons. Watching both movies (Octopussy and Never Say Never Again) with my wife, she told me she preferred the Connery movie, because the story was more contained, less expansive, and less tedious than Octopussy. I disagree. While expertly photographed and edited, this is a less cultured Bond, and there seem to be fewer locations and less color than Octopussy. Indeed, the movie is even shot, edited, and paced like one of Connery’s early Bond efforts. When I tune into a James Bond film, I expect exotic locations, beautiful women, and great action sequences, and while Never Say Never Again definitely delivers those elements, it doesn’t deliver enough of them. It’s as if the producers expected only to secure Connery’s involvement and not much else, but it is interesting to speculate (based on this movie) how the Bond series would’ve continued with Connery playing the character. That being said, I’m glad Connery retired when he did. Where Moore was a bit stuffy, Connery is smug and (somewhat) unlikeable, regardless of how many creepily young women he beds in this movie. Also, the film feels naked without the signature (and trademarked) John Barry theme music and credit sequence.

* sarcasm

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month.  Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.

Vintage Cable Box: The Cannonball Run, 1981

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“Officer, I sincerely hope you’re not a Catholic.”

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The Cannonball Run, 1981 (Burt Reynolds), 20th Century Fox

Early ’80s cable television was a dumping ground of racing movies; most of them starring Burt Reynolds and directed by the legendary stuntman-turned-director Hal Needham. You had your Hooper, your Stroker Ace, your Six Pack, your Smokey cycle, and you had The Cannonball Run (which spawned two sequels), which plays more as an excuse to hang out with your friends and make a fun movie than an effort to produce a serious racing movie. We’re not even fifteen minutes in and Burt (with buddy Dom De Luise) are working on hot cars, flying single-engine planes, and riding speed-boats as they try to figure out what vehicle to race in the famous “Cannonball Trophy Dash” from Connecticut to California. Burt gets the idea to use an ambulance after sustaining injuries in the resulting speed-boat crash, but first they need a patient and a real doctor, so they abduct (what?) Farrah Fawcett and a junkie doctor (hilarious Jack “I just gave her a little prick” Elam), so they can drive at high speeds.

The film is a veritable Who’s Who of late 70s/early 80s celebrities, both minor (Terry Bradshaw, Rick Aviles, Jamie Farr) and major (Dean “Father Putz” Martin, Sammy “The Chocolate Monk” Davis Jr., Roger “The Fly Who Bugged Me” Moore), as well as a few up-and-coming stars (Adrienne Barbeau, Jackie Chan).  Farr, as an Arabian Sheik, drives a Silver Shadow Rolls.  Chan drives a state-of-the-art Subaru GL with all kinds of gadgetry.  Roger Moore spoofs his “James Bond” persona as Seymour Goldfarb, a nice Jewish boy who thinks he’s Roger Moore, and drives a gorgeous Aston Martin.  Dean and Sammy are dressed as priests, driving a red Ferrari.  Buxom Barbeau and Tara Buckman drive a Lamborghini (the ultimate winners, but it doesn’t matter) and get out of speeding tickets by showing off their cleavage, until they come upon a similarly stacked State Trooper (Valerie Perrine).

We, of course, have a bad guy, but he’s not really a bad guy.  George Furth (a dependable character actor mainly known for ’70s television) is Arthur J. Foyt (a clever play on racer A.J. Foyt), a crusader (or what you’d call social justice warrior), looking to shut down this silly “Cannonball” competition.  The whole idea seems insanely dangerous, but the lure is a big money cash prize, so who can blame some of your more reckless racing enthusiasts for giving it a shot.  The only real problem in the narrative is that the movie takes too long to get going.  It’s like one of those old Plymouths you had to warm up in the garage for twenty minutes, except in this case it’s more like 35 minutes before we start up the engines.  This is understandable given the many characters and their vignettes, and that the screenplay (screenplay?) plays as a series of episodes rather than a cohesive narrative, but that’s okay.  This is such a fun movie – and never boring – that I don’t care.  It’s obvious everybody’s having a great time.  Burt Reynolds barely represses the urge to laugh in every scene with Dom De Luise.  Dean Martin is obviously drunk throughout the movie, and Sammy’s not that far behind.

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I’m not a fan of NASCAR, or any kind of professional racing (though I have good friends who are).  I don’t get it the same way I don’t get hockey.  I’m a baseball guy.  I tend to agree with David Cronenberg in that the ultimate “man-machine interface” is the man or woman who gets into his or her car in the morning and drives to work without thinking about it.  Plus, these competitions seem to be a serious waste of gasoline (also I suspect a good portion of the audience is there to see horrific crashes), but that’s none of my business.  I do, however, enjoy this movie quite a bit, mainly because it doesn’t take itself seriously.  There’s a brief shot I always remember when I think about The Cannonball Run.  Dean and Sammy pull over the ambulance to let the air out of the tires under the guise of offering a “blessing”.  They slide the door open and see a drugged Farrah smiling back at them.  She was truly beautiful.  Critics, at the time, steeped in Scorsese and Coppola-isms, were not appreciative.  A film snob myself, I don’t necessarily believe all movies should be serious masterpieces of style and form.  In fact, I think we should have an even (and wide) distribution of movies that stimulate our minds, and movies that go for the big belly-laugh.  Nothing wrong with that.

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month.  Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.