Topic: Octopussy and the Flashman Novels- Thoughts?

Here's a summary of my researches into the many resemblances between Octopussy (1983) and screenwriter George Macdonald Fraser's Flashman novels. Not sure if this belongs in films or literature but here it is anyway...

It’s common knowledge among Bond fans that George Macdonald Fraser, best known for his entertaining Flashman novels, was one of the primary screenwriters of 1983’s Octopussy. Its possible to recognise Fraser’s handiwork in the finished screenplay, which borrows several general elements from the Flashman adventures. Most obviously, the Indian setting in which Bond spends much of the film’s second act recurs multiple times throughout the Flashman novels, and was one of Fraser’s main contributions to the script, as he felt that Bond needed to visit a part of the world he hadn’t really been to before. Notwithstanding 007’s earlier forays into Thailand in 1974’s The Man With the Golden Gun, the lush climates of South Asia work impressively well in the context of a Bond tale. There may also be some comparisons to be drawn between the almost wholly comic tone of Octopussy, and the exaggerated humourous quality of Fraser’s other work.  Just as Flashman parodies the old-fashioned adventure serials of the 1930s alongside the iconoclastic imperial legends of the nineteenth century, so too does Octopussy mock the typical scenarios of the spy genre which James Bond himself had helped to originate. However, do such similarities go further? Is it possible to identify specific scenes which Fraser may have borrowed from his own novels, deliberately or not, for use in his Bond script? Just to be clear, this isn’t an attempt to discern examples of self-plagiarism, but instead to find out what aspects of Fraser’s novels actually influenced the development of his Bond screenplay, for better or worse.

Starting with the first novel in the Flashman saga, 1969’s appropriately titled Flashman, a close examination reveals that a few plot elements did make it into the content of Fraser’s 1983 script contributions. During the course of the 1969 adventure, the menacing Akbar Khan keeps Flashman prisoner as a hostage at his base, and the idea of a villain keeping our hero under guard at an isolated mountain fortress reappears in the form of Kamal Khan’s treatment of 007. They have similar names, and even similar backstories, both characters being rogue Afghan princes. In addition, Akbar Khan has Flashman undergo a politely civilised interrogation, which has definite echoes of the Bond villain’s conversation during the dinner scene where 007 meets his nemesis for the first time. Compare, for example, the novel’s lines: “I also have questions which I would wish answered…Thank you, Flashman…Now I regret that I must cut short our most interesting conversation, but I have many affairs to attend to…” and the film’s “Good evening, Mr. Bond. Well rested?”  Fraser employs the same archetype of deceptively cultured, urbane suaveness for both characters, and along with the near-identical backstories, it is easy to see that the first Flashman novel provided at least some inspiration for the thirteenth James Bond adventure.

The trend continues with Fraser’s fourth novel, 1975’s Flashman in the Great Game, which focuses on Flashman’s efforts to negotiate with the Indian queen, the Rani of Lakshmbai. While the two characters are not entirely alike, there are definite similarities between the mysterious and cunning Rani, and the titular figure of Octopussy, along with the use of dramatic confusion over whether both characters are playing the role of ally or foe towards the main protagonist. The action sequence during the novel’s central section in which Flashman is attacked by Thugs in his bedroom, smashing the nearby furniture in a vicious brawl, is recycled under very similar circumstances in the Octopussy script. Therefore, it can be demonstrated that Fraser again takes inspiration from his own past novels in order to develop the situations Bond encounters in Octopussy. The relationship goes both ways, too; secret cults devoted to jewel smuggling form the crux of the plot of Fraser’s 1990 novel Flashman and the Mountain of the Light, while a climactic assault on an ancient palace closes the 1985 instalment Flashman and the Dragon.

What conclusions, then, can we infer from this? Its notable that, aside from Macdonald Fraser’s involvement, the creatives behind the Bond films have tended to hire professional screenwriters to work on scripts, the long-running duo of Purvis and Wade being a good recent example. While Fraser was in many respects an industry veteran, having worked on films such as 1973’s The Three Musketeers, at the time of Octopussy’s development he was arguably better known for his novels and their influence shows strongly in the resulting screenplay. Therefore, Fraser’s presence can be said to have contributed both to the highly comic, almost self-parodying slant of the final film, and to the construction of specific elements of character and plotting.

Any other thoughts on the Flashman/007 connection? Were such similarities in Octopussy a deliberate attempt to evoke the style of Fraser’s novels, or unconscious coincidence? What do others think?


Re: Octopussy and the Flashman Novels- Thoughts?

Good points, SoD, though I feel at least some of the similarities are due to OP's use of standard Bond set pieces. Kingsley Amis in his The James Bond Dossier, feels that "Bond [being] wined and dined... and finally tortured by his chief enemy" is one "of Mr Fleming's favourite situations", written years before Flashman. Akbar Khan's lines to Flashman aren't too different to those that Bond villains have spoken before him.
I do agree that Kamal is similar to Akbar in background, but a fight scene in a bedroom isn't unique, I'd say.
I read Flashman In The Great Game so long ago that I can't remember the Rani well enough to comment on how much she resembles Octopussy!  ajb007/lol


Re: Octopussy and the Flashman Novels- Thoughts?

You've got an incredible memory for these details, SPECTRE!
I read all twelve books over the last couple years, and I don't remember half those details. and knowing Fraser wrote Octopussy, I was looking...

Flashman does end trapped up in some humiliating disguises over his career, was it Fraser's idea to dress Bond up in the clown costume?

One aspect I wonder about is the juvenile sex jokes in Octopussy, that sort of thing had been absent in the previous two films. Flashman had plenty of funny sex scenes, but they were different: more graphic of course, but also Flashman's sex scenes tended to humiliate Harry in some way, and set up the next plot twist. Usually something would go very wrong before he, er, finished. Whereas in Octopussy it's just a lot of oggling and jiggling.

I wonder if Fraser came up with the octopus shaped bed? Now you mention it, the character Octopussy was rather like all those queens and empresses Harry kept bedding.