The James Bond Rewatch: OCTOPUSSY (1983)

I’m not sure if fans were clamouring to see Roger Moore dressed as a sad clown during the climax of a James Bond film, but the suggestively titled Octopussy fulfils that wish anyway.

Octopussy (1983)

Directed by John Glen, with Roger Moore as James Bond (for the 6th time)

The Theme Song: “All Time High” performed by Rita Coolidge

“All Time High” doesn’t share its name with the movie, presumably because writing a song about Octopussy would be almost insane as naming a movie that. It’s hard to rhyme with as well. Instead “All Time High”, as performed by Rita Coolidge, is an inert, sleepy song that brings down the mood dramatically. A poor start to the film and I’d rank it near the bottom in terms of themes.

The Plot

Octopussy begins with Bond infiltrating Cuba by posing as a local general. His ingenious disguise? A moustache. He gets to pilot a small plane and evade a heat-seeking missile, leading it back to his enemies’ base and blowing them up in the process. Upon landing at a rural gas station the ever-suave Bond asks the gobsmacked employee to “fill ‘er up”.

James Bond as a Cuban (pssst - he's the one on the left)

James Bond as a Cuban (pssst – he’s the one on the left)

From there Octopussy leads into a post-opening credits sequence of a man in a clown suit being hunted and killed by knife wielding twin brothers. Turns out this guy was 009, and as cool as it is to see the Bond movies introduce Bond’s fellow MI6 secret agents, this only acts as an inciting incident to the main plot of tracking down a Fabergé egg with dubious Soviet connections. There’s a whole web of enemies this time out, and the overly complex plot (which spends significant time in India and Germany) centres on a mad Soviet general detonating a nuclear bomb on an American army base to induce European disarmament, thus paving the way for Soviet dominance.

James The Fighter

I suppose the main villain of Octopussy is General Orlov, the crazy Soviet general who’s looking to kickstart WW3. Actor Steven Berkoff shouts all his lines and brings a cartoonish intensity to the general that I guess is in line with the other nonsensical elements of the movie. He’s aided by Kamal Khan (Louis Jourdan), a smarmy criminal I think helps facilitate the deal for a nuclear weapon but to be honest the plot still doesn’t make much sense to me. Octopussy, an enigmatic smuggler and entrepreneur, has ties to both men and James must determine if she’s friend or foe.

Henchman Gobinda and Bond duke it out at 20,000 feet atop a flying plane

Henchman Gobinda and Bond duke it out at 20,000 feet atop a flying plane

A highlight is Bond’s fight with the henchman Gobinda which takes place atop a soaring plane. It looks like the producers actually put people in real harm’s way, and despite obvious body doubles the danger certainly feels real.

The rest of the action is constant but often veers into utter absurdity. During a car chase in India, tennis star Vijay Amritraj plays Bond’s ally and the movie compensates by inserting cartoonish sound effects and turning bystanders into tennis spectators, complete with heads turning side-to-side. A jungle scene finds Bond sternly telling a tiger to “sit” (it dutifully obeys) and swinging along a vine while belting out the iconic Tarzan yell. The tension of Bond diffusing a nuclear weapon is cut with the ridiculous conceit of him dressed in a clown suit, makeup and all.

Sad clown Bond. “The suspect’s wearing a clown suit, over.”

James The Lover

Bond first meets and seduces Magda, an associate of the mysterious Octopussy. Giving more fuel to the fire that Moore is ageing into a dirty old man version of James Bond, he later peeps on her while she changes.

The main romantic foil for Bond, as well as the movie’s namesake, is Octopussy. Maud Adams returns (having previously played a character that died in The Man with the Golden Gun) to portray the smuggler who’s grown a criminal empire backed by many gorgeous women. Upon learning of an all-female organization Bond remarks: “Sexual discrimination? I’ll definitely have to pay it a visit.”

Octopussy to Bond:

Octopussy to Bond: “We’re two of a kind.”

There’s about two seconds of will they/won’t they sexual tension before Bond and Octopussy fall into bed together. And while she’s originally painted in shades of grey, Octopussy is mostly a force of good by the end of the movie. Besides the name, the weirdest part is her explanation for the name: “My father became a leading authority on octupi, he loved them. His pet name for me was Octopussy.” Blech, gross shades of an Electra complex there. Heck, even Adams herself insists the producers went too far by naming the character Octopussy.

Iconic Moments

  • Q’s involved in an action scene! He pilots a hot air balloon emblazoned with the Union Jack
  • “007 on an island populated exclusively by women? We won’t see him until dawn.” – Q
  • The role of M is taken over by a new actor – Robert Brown, while an aging Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell) gains a shapely young assistant named Penelope Smallbone (I don’t know what that name implies either). The times they are a changin’.
  • Indignities that Moore’s Bond suffers through in Octopussy: dresses as a clown, hides in a monkey suit, emits a Tarzan yell, is forced to hitchhike while being rejected and laughed at by youths, subsequently gets a ride with overweight Germans who force beer and sausage on him, stars in Octopussy

The Verdict

Octopussy goes big and broad, indulging in the worst tendencies of Moore’s run as 007. There seems to be little thought given to consistent tone or an intriguing plot, and the movie instead functions as more of a travelogue of picturesque places and the various ways in which Bond can be humiliated in these gorgeous locales. It goes a long way towards turning Moore’s run into a joke and the most ridiculously titled Bond film yet is an empty effort that comes up short.

Updated Rankings

  1. From Russia With Love
  2. Goldfinger
  3. Dr. No
  4. The Spy Who Loved Me
  5. You Only Live Twice
  6. Live and Let Die
  7. For Your Eyes Only
  8. Thunderball
  9. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
  10. The Man with The Golden Gun
  11. Moonraker
  12. Octopussy
  13. Diamonds Are Forever

James Bond will return in A View to a Kill (a.k.a. Roger Moore’s last one!)…

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