Octopussy

Octopussy (1983) Director: John Glen

★☆☆☆☆

The thirteenth canonical Eon James Bond film, or the scandalously titled “Octopussy,” is also the sixth Bond film to star the silly and dapper Roger Moore. The film takes its title from Ian Fleming’s short story found in Octopussy and The Living Daylights -a short story collection published in 1967. The film’s plot borrows very little from the original short story.

Once again, John Glen direct’s the film (he worked on On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, The Spy Who Loved Me, and Moonraker; and then he directed For Your Eyes Only, Octopussy, A View To Kill, The Living Daylights, and License To Kill).

There was a background controversy underlying the release of the film. Sean Connery had signed on to reprise his role as James Bond in the non-Eon film Never Say Never Again, much to Albert “Cubby” Broccoli’s chagrin. The two films locked horns in competition for revenue, and derailed Roger Moore’s plans to retire from playing James Bond (thus ending Josh Brolin’s chance to appear as Bond) and ultimately Eon’s Octopussy ($187.5M) beat out Warner Bros.’s Never Say Never Again ($160M). Nevertheless, Octopussy is another mostly forgettable Bond movie rife with campy jokes and a really ridiculous plot that takes Bond on an adventure chasing Faberge eggs dressed as a circus clown through locales like East Berlin and India.

The film opens with a slapstick-riddled action sequence with Bond undercover at a communist military establishment, perhaps in Cuba, but Bond escapes thanks to an attractive woman at his side. However, the central plot of the film is driven by the assassination of 009 while serving as an undercover clown escaping the Soviets while moving from East to West Berlin. He crashes through a window carrying a Faberge egg, a jeweled egg created by the Russian House of Faberge as a gift for the Russian Empire. However, the egg is proven to be a fake. Bond is sent by MI6 to an auction for the egg where he quickly identifies the purchaser, Kamal Khan, the former Afghan prince (played by French actor Louis Jourdan). Amidst an affair with Magda, a new Bond girl, James Bond is captured and brought to Khan’s palace where he discovers that Khan is working with Orlov, an expansionist Soviet general (played by British actor Steven Berkoff). Bond escapes and is led on an adventure through India where, in a particularly cheesy scene, Bond meets his contact, Vijay on the street who is playing the famous Bond theme while disguised as a snake-charmer. Vijay is played by Vijay Amritraj, the famous tennis player, and his scenes in the film are filled with amusing tennis jokes.

Bond tracks his way to a floating island palace occupied by an ‘Octopus cult’ led by a jewel smuggler named Octopussy (played by Maud Adams who also starred as a Bond Girl in The Man With The Golden Gun). He learns about the smuggling operation between Orlov and Khan via fraudulent circus troupe. Bond infiltrates the circus and uncovers a plot to detonate a nuclear warhead and spearhead a war between Europe and the United States. Bond trails the bomb to a train headed for West Germany, kills the assassins, including Orlov, and escapes dressed as a clown in yet another silly stunt. In the end, he persuades Octopussy to join him and disable the nuclear warhead and defeat Khan. They do so in a plane over India where Khan finds his ultimate demise.

Rita Coolidge performed the theme song for Octopussy, “All Time High.” It is a decent but melodramatic ’80s theme song for such a poor film.

The Good Earth (1936) Review

The Good Earth (1937) Director: Sidney Franklin, Victor Fleming (uncredited), Gustav Machety (uncredited)

The Good Earth

★★★☆☆

This is the film version of a play based on the Pulitzer Prize winning 1931 novel of the same name by Pearl S. Buck (she later also won the Nobel Prize). As part of my project to read all of the Pulitzer Prize winning novels, click here to read my reflections on The Good Earth.

Paul Muni stars in this film as Wang Lung. Muni was also celebrated in 1937 for his Oscar-winning performance in The Story of Louis Pasteur, as well as the Best Picture-winning film, The Life of Emile Zola. Wang Lung is a poor farmer in Northern China who gets married to a slave named O-Lan (Luise Rainer won Best Actress for her performance) and, thanks to his business acumen, once he begins turning a profit from his wheat sales, he purchases more land. He buys land from a once great, now declining, house in the village (the same house from which Wang had acquired O-Lan). However, soon a drought strikes causes massive turmoil for poor Chinese farmers. Nearly everyone starves so Wang takes his whole family to a prosperous Southern city, before returning to build his farming empire. As time passes, Wang has many children but he grows tired of O-Lan and he falls in love with a concubine named Lotus, whom he purchases and moves onto his land. This whole part of the story is present, albeit somewhat glossed over the in the film to keep up appearances that Wang Lung is an innocent and noble Chinese farmer. However, his children bring him great troubles. One day, he catches his son with Lotus and Wang realizes that his son has never had to work the land, so beats his scholarly son and sends him away.

At the end of the film, just like in the book, O-Lan grows ill and dies shortly after witnessing the wedding of one of her sons. The film has met with some minor controversy in recent years as Paul Muni played Wang Lung is “Yellow Face,” though his intent in playing the character in no way belittles Chinese or Asian people. If anything, his performance is much more of a celebration of poor Chinese farmers, an often overlooked group of people in Chinese national history. The producer, Irving Thalberg, initially sought to hire all Chinese actors for the film but he was forced to conceded that American audiences were not ready to relate to such a film. Thalberg died several months before the release of the film -the credits list this picture as one of his last great achievements. The movie was shot on a 500-acre farm in the San Fernando Valley (Porter Ranch, California).

The Good Earth is a decent film, though not one I will soon recommend. The pacing is sluggish and nothing of particular interest happens. It stays relatively close to the plot of the famous novel, or at least as close as one might expect from Hollywood in the ’30s, but the film is mostly dry and uninteresting. The second half of the movie, in particular, seems to drag on and on, only to arrive nowhere. Paul Muni’s performance is somewhat forgettable, as well.

The Age of Innocence

The Age of Innocence (1993) Director: Martin Scorsese

The_Age_Of_Innocence

★★★★☆

Martin Scorsese’s film version of Edith Wharton’s remarkable Pulitzer Prize winning novel is a bit of a departure for Scorsese (click here to read my review of the novel as part of my project to read all the Pulitzer Prize winning novels). The film boasts an all-star cast, including Daniel Day-Lewis, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Winona Ryder.

Surprisingly, The Age of Innocence remains mostly true to Wharton’s novel. Newland Archer is the main character -a rising attorney among the elite of Gilded Age New York. He is engaged to May Welland, but things go awry when a new woman arrives in their social circle, the Countess Olenska. Newland quickly falls in love with her, but he is in denial about the situation because of his existing commitment to May. The film is slightly more gratuitous than the novel, though not to any large degree. The novel is more about an affair that never was. Newland very nearly leaves May for the Countess, even after marriage, until it is discovered that May is pregnant. Newland decides to remain for the sake of the children and the family.

My favorite scene in both the book and the film occurs at the end. Many years later, May has passed on and Newland travels to Paris with his son who is now engaged. They pay a visit to the Countess Olenska at her flat. Upon arrival, however, Newland changes his mind and sits down on a park bench outside while his son goes up for the visit. Newland prefers to keep Mrs. Olenska as a memory. He looks up and catches a glimmer of sunlight, remembering Ellen Olenska as she once stood out on a pier overlooking the water.

I enjoyed this film (more than I have enjoyed certain other Scorsese films), though it was a box office failure at the time. Both Edith Wharton and Martin Scorsese portray the malaise of the upper crust of the Gilded Age in New York City wonderfully -the dreariness, the rigid conventions, the endless gossip- and suddenly, Ellen Olenska appears, representing freedom and an honest future. Yet somehow, we (and Newland) cannot escape. Newland is bound by a certain fate, tied up in his choices and social conventions. It is about ‘a love, not unrequited, but unconsummated.’ The Age of Innocence is an enjoyable film.