Roger Moore was getting too old for the James Bond game, and he knew it.
“I really didn’t think I was going to do this one,” the then-56-year-old actor told Iain Johnstone before the release of 1983’s Octopussy. “I have now done six; I think six is enough.”
But the producers of the highly profitable spy franchise needed Moore to save the world on-screen again, while also battling an unexpected off-screen foe: Sean Connery.
The original James Bond had recently agreed to return after 12 years away from the franchise he founded. Connery was lured in part by a $5 million payday from a rival production company who owned the rights to make a new version of 1965’s Thunderball, which they cheekily named Never Say Never Again.
Moore originally planned to bow out of the franchise after 1981’s For Your Eyes Only. Actors such as Timothy Dalton, Michael Billington and James Brolin (whose screen tests for the character can be seen here) were considered as his replacement.
See the Original Trailer for ‘Octopussy’
With rival Bond productions now set for release, however, the producers of Octopussy staged a reunion with Moore rather than riding into battle with an unproven Bond going up against Connery.
Production was already underway. In fact, the race to be the first of the Bond movies to make it to the screen was such that Octopussy’s climactic airplane fight scene was shot before Moore had been locked in for the movie, forcing a stunt double to log some serious time at the hair salon.
“We shot that before commenced main shooting,” director John Glen recalled in the book Nobody Does It Better. “We hadn’t cast James Bond yet, but the favorite was a fellow with black hair, so the double had black hair. During the first week of shooting, rumors began that Roger would be returning once again, so the double was told to lighten his hair a bit. During the second week, we found out that Roger would be coming back as Bond, so we told the double to lighten it all the way.”
Watch Roger Moore’s ‘Tarzan’ Yell
With a script that was drawn from two Ian Fleming short stories, Octopussy continued the Bond series’ slide into campy humor: At various points, Moore trades his sharp tailored suits for clown and gorilla costumes, while using his new watch camera to zoom in and out on a co-workers’ cleavage. In a particularly groan-worthy and nonsensical moment, he unleashes a full-throated Tarzan yell in the middle of a jungle chase scene.
The difference in strength, speed and agility on display as various action sequences cut between Moore and his stunt double is rather glaring, as Bond seems to run twice as fast whenever you can’t see his face. It’s also hard not to wonder why the ground-based troops who capture Bond in the opening sequence are wearing the parachutes he opens to enable his escape, or why Octopussy’s army of soldiers are sporting costumes straight out of The Greatest American Hero.
But the film arrived on June 6, 1983 with some very nice set pieces, including the famous opening sequence featuring Bond flying a mini-plane through an airport hanger while dodging a heat-seeking missile, a fight scene with a bad guy who employs a table saw blade attached to a yo-yo, and a final battle that finds Bond clinging bare-handed to a barrel-rolling airplane a la Tom Cruise.
Watch Roger Moore Cling to a Plane
Maud Adams became the first actress to play the titular character in a Bond movie. “It’s a good, strong role,” she said in Nobody Does It Better. “It’s not just good loving. She has a very active involvement in the entire film. She’s a strong woman. She’s a businesswoman; she runs an empire.” Adams also became the first to play two different roles in the series, having previously appeared as Andrea Anders in 1974’s The Man With the Golden Gun.
In the end, Octopussy was perhaps aided by hitting the market several months before Connery’s return and during the more lucrative summer season. Moore’s Bond won the box office battle by earning $187 worldwide, $27 million more than Never Say Never Again. Two years later, Moore was convinced to return once more for his final turn as 007, A View to a Kill.
Timothy Dalton, one of the actors considered as Moore’s replacement in Octopussy, finally got his chance to play Bond in 1987’s The Living Daylights.