Bond vs. Bond: Octopussy and Never Say Never Again By: Peter Suciu

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Though it is now crystal clear (spoilers) that Daniel Craig won’t be making a return as British secret agent James Bond, there is already speculation as to when the next 007 film could hit theaters or who will step into the role and the tuxedo that often goes with it. It likely could be a while—but Bond fans know that sometimes waiting for the spy to return as promised requires some patience. The most recent outing, “No Time to Die” had been delayed multiple times due to the Covid-19 pandemic, while there had been a six-year gap between 1989’s “License to Kill” and 1995’s “GoldenEye.”

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However, 40 years ago this coming summer, Bond fans actually were provided a “double dose” of 007, thanks to the release of the official Eon series “Octopussy” starring Roger Moore, and the unofficial Bond entry “Never Say Never Again,” which starred Sean Connery.

Why Two Bonds?

The backstory on how competing Bond films were released in 1983 goes back decades. “Never Say Never Again” was actually a remake of the 1965 Bond film “Thunderball,” which had been Connery’s fourth outing in the Eon series. It was based on the novel of the same name by Ian Fleming, which in turn was based on an original story by Kevin McClory, Jack Whittingham, and Fleming.

That story was written after Fleming’s novels had already become a major hits, but before any films were made. Fleming and McClory, who were later joined by Whittingham, discussed the idea of a movie, and from this was born an original story. It included many of the elements that became staples of the early Bond films—notably the criminal organization that became known as SPECTRE.  While the film didn’t materialize, Fleming used its basis for the novel, which he titled “Thunderball.”

McClory sued Fleming, but the pair eventually settled out of court. McClory gained the literary and film rights for the screenplay, while Fleming maintained the rights to the novel. SPECTRE and its leader, Ernst Stravro Blofeld, appeared in the subsequent Connery films, as well as George Lazenby’s “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service,” but the organization and Blofeld were retired due to a later copyright dispute between movie producer Albert R. Broccoli and McClory.

In the early 1980s, McClory then envisioned creating a rival Bond franchise.

Sean Connery as Bond, James Bond
Sean Connery was back in Bond’s tuxedo, but with a Walther P5—arguably a more appropriate choice of a firearm than the 1930’s era PPK. (IMFDb)

However, he was only allowed to use the story from “Thunderball.” Thus Connery returned to the role for the seventh and final time, but the film exists completely outside the Eon films—not that there is much continuity left at this point. This is also why “Never Say Never Again” didn’t include the signature gun barrel sequence or the “James Bond Theme.”

McClory had announced plans for a follow-up, although it is unclear how that could have been accomplished given the limitations of owning just the single story. The project came to an end when Connery said he wouldn’t return.

However, in the 1990s, McClory began plans for another remake, which would have been titled “Warhead 2000 AD,” and for it, he sought to have Timothy Dalton return to the role. That project never materialized, and when McClory died, his heirs sold the “Thunderball rights to Eon.” That allowed the official franchise to reintroduce Blofeld and his criminal syndicate for the film “Spectre” (for all the good and bad!).

Property of a Lady

“Never Say Never Again” was released in the summer of 1983 and competed with the official Eon series film starring Moore. The somewhat risqué title was taken from Fleming’s final novel (published soon after his death), “Octopussy and The Living Daylights,” which actually contained a number of the author’s short stories and novellas. Fleming was known for character names that had double entendres, but in the title story, “Octopussy” isn’t the female leader of a group of women smugglers but is actually the villain’s pet octopus! It shares only the title with the film.

The second story from the book, “The Living Daylights” did, however, serve loosely as a plot element for the film of the same name, while the film “Octopussy” actually took elements from the third part of the book, “The Property of a Lady,” involving the theft and sale of jewelry crafted by Peter Carl Fabergé. Other elements of the Moore film came from the novel version of “Moonraker.” However, none of these sources addresses the numerous plot holes—namely how the Kremlin wouldn’t notice that items supposedly in its art collection are being openly sold at auction in the west. The film hasn’t aged all that well and relies far too much on camp—not to mention that Moore literally dresses as a clown near the film’s conclusion.

Border guards in Octopussy
“Octopussy” was the first Bond film to see Warsaw Pact soldiers and border guards armed with AK-style weapons, although these are actually Chinese Norinco Type 56 with milled receivers—and by the 1980s, the Soviet Army was actually largely equipped with the AK-74. (IMFDb)

“Never Say Never Again,” despite lacking old favorites such as M and Q, is arguably the better of the two story-wise but in both films Bond is simply way past his prime. Moore had just a single outing as 007 left in him after “Octopussy,” and then went on to make almost no films of note—with 1997’s “Spice World” being his most successful post-Bond movie. By contrast, Connery went on to win an Oscar for his role in “The Untouchables” and later starred in “The Hunt for Red October” and “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.”

As a side note, “Octopussy” is also notable for being only the second time a “Bond girl,” in this case Maud Adams who had appeared in a supporting role as another character in “The Man With the Golden Gun,” returned to the franchise. The other was Sylvia Trench (played by Eunice Gayson), who appeared as Bond’s “girlfriend” in “Dr. No” (1962) and then in “From Russia with Love” (1963).

Bond Showdown — The Guns of Octopussy and Never Say Never Again

In terms of firearms, both Bond films do offer impressive arsenals. Though a Walther PPK is seen in the opening credits sequence of “Octopussy,” neither Bond carries the famous firearm—instead both Connery and Moore are seen with a Walther P5.

That was reportedly due to Walther wanting to promote its new pistol, which had been developed in the mid-1970s. Though it externally resembled the PPK, the P5 utilized the same design principles as the Walther P38 pistol. It is unclear the chambering of the pistol in either film, but the short recoil-operated P5 was produced in 9x19mm Parabellum, 7.65x21mm Parabellum, and 9x21mm IMI.

It was just one of several notable firearms in the two films.

“Never Say Never Again” features the Sa 25, Madsen M50, and MAT-49 submachine guns; while the film’s femme fatale, Fatima Blush (Barbara Carrera) is seen with the Smith & Wesson Model 29, chambered in .44 Magnum. No reason is given as to why she wields such a hand cannon, but this was actually the second time the large frame revolver appeared in a Bond film—having been previously used by Moore in “Live and Let Die.”

Barbara Carrera in Never Say Never Again
Fatima Blush (Barbara Carrera) looks like she can easily handle the big-frame revolver. (IMFDb)

Interestingly, an AK-47 clone is reported to be present in one scene, with the grip cut down so that it possibly resembled an SKS. Other sources have suggested it may have been an early “AK-style sporter,” but it would seem still an odd choice and may have been done based on what the armorers had available on location.

The armory of firearms in “Octopussy” includes numerous Soviet Bloc weapons due to the film taking place in the Soviet Union and East Germany. The film’s primary villain, Soviet Army General Orlov (Steven Berkoff), is seen with a TT-33 pistol at one point, while Soviet guards are armed with SKS carbines. A number of border guards carry Norinco Type 56 rifles, standing in for the AK-47, while others are seen with AKMs—making this the first Bond film to feature even an AK-clone.

Revolver close to Roger Moore's face in Octopussy
A “hand cannon” makes an appearance in Octopussy—in this case a Colt Diamondback. The U.S. Air Force security guard shows poor trigger discipline, and it should be noted that the guard should have been seen with a Smith & Wesson Model 15 (IMFDb)

It has been suggested that Bond can be seen with an AK-47 during the fight with Kamal Khan’s guards. However, Moore actually uses the similar-looking Czech Sa vz. 58 V with a folding stock.

“Octopussy” is also reportedly the first film to feature the Austrian-made Steyr AUG—carried by a number of Soviet soldiers, although no explanation is given as to why those troops have the weapon. It is likely it was a “new” acquire from the film’s armorers who wanted to use it onscreen.

Roger Moore with a vz 58 assault rifle in Octopussy
Bond isn’t carrying an AK-47, but rather the Czech Sa vz. 58V. While externally similar to the AK-47, the Czech weapon is actually closer in operation to the German StG44. No parts, including the magazine, are compatible with the AK-47—even though both are chambered for the 7.62x39mm cartridge.

Finally, vintage British Lee-Enfield rifles are present in both films—employed by indigenous supporting characters. In the case of “Octopussy,” a No. 4 Mk. I can be spotted with Kamal Khan’s guards in India; while in “Never Say Never Again,” a North African bandit is armed with a No. 1 Mk. III.

Neither film goes over-the-top with gadgets or gizmos, and each has more than enough that proves that despite being over the hill, Bond still had a little fight left.