Bond #8 – Octopussy

And the 8th best Bond movie (at least according to me) is…

. . .AS IAN FLEMING’S JAMES BOND 007: Roger Moore

SETUP: A clown dies at the border between East and West Germany, a knife sticking out of his back and a replica Faberge egg in his hand. The dead clown is actually lost British agent 009, and MI6 needs Bond to uncover the rest of the story. When the real Faberge egg shows up at auction days later, marked “Property of a Lady,” Bond steps in to track the owner and find 009’s killer.

BUT IN REALITY: Russian General Orlov (Steven Berkoff) wants to detonate a nuke in West Germany, an event he believes will force the west into disarmament and clear the way for his own troops to invade. He’s been smuggling state treasures to fund his scheme via Kamal Khan (Louis Jourdan), an exiled Afghan prince and a real SOB.

But you have to respect that haircut.

Bond is captured by Octopussy (Maud Adams), a cult leader with a traveling circus that serves as the front for the smuggling operation. Bond romances her and escapes, battles the bad guys on a circus train as it moves the bomb across the border, and defuses the nuke just in time. The Russians execute Orlov as a traitor, and Khan dies in an airplane crash as he tries to escape from Bond. Octopussy, meanwhile, sees the error in her ways.

VILLAINOUS DISFIGUREMENT: Kamal Khan is no longer welcome in his native Afghanistan for reasons the film never makes clear. He’s moved his operations to India, taken residence in the Monsoon Palace, and spends his time hunting and playing backgammon with loaded dice. No scars or disfigurements to speak of.

THE MUSCLE: Khan employs Gobinda (Kabir Bedi), an Indian riff on Odd Job. Just like Goldfinger’s favorite butler, Gobinda wears distinctive headgear (a Sikh turban instead of a razor-rimmed hat), is mostly silent, and can crush dice into powder using only his bare hands. Bond tosses him off Khan’s airplane in the film’s final moments.

“What about Orlov? Chopped liver?”

BOND GIRL AND FEMME FATALE: Both roles belong to Octopussy. Octopussy’s background, borrowed from the Fleming short story, has Bond letting her British father commit suicide rather than face a humiliating court martial for crimes against the state. She repays the favor by keeping Bond alive, even though he’s a threat to her smuggling operation. Khan loses his mind about it, but she won’t budge. When the time comes, she betrays Khan and Orlov (who, to be fair, have already betrayed her) and helps Bond defuse the bomb.

“PAY ATTENTION, 007”: Bond drags Q all the way to India just to deliver an acid-tipped fountain pen, but Q sticks around long enough to give Bond a fake alligator submarine as revenge – one of the all-time dumbest Bond gadgets. I can see him now, sitting for hours on that long, lonely plane ride, sketching ways to make the world’s best superspy look like a tool.

And sometimes Bond does the job himself.

MOST EMBARRASSING CULTURAL MOMENT: The movie, and one of its stars, is named Octopussy. Embarrassing enough, but forgivable because they stole it from an Ian Fleming story. It was his bad idea first, and the series is nothing if not slavishly loyal to his work, or at the very least, his titles.

No, the real embarrassment here is the depiction of India, from the disgusting dinner scene that may have inspired Spielberg in Temple of Doom, down to the Q lab scene where snake charmers and rope climbers have been turned into hilarious gadgets. No exotic culture survives a Roger Moore Bond movie unscathed.

Or genetic variation.

BOND’S BEST ONE-LINER: As Bond crawls, bleeding, from the river onto a tour boat. “I’m with the economy tour!”

WORTH MENTIONING: Moore had planned to leave the role after For Your Eyes Only and James Brolin was very nearly cast as his replacement, but when Connery was signed to star in Never Say Never Again, Moore was brought back to compete with him. Moore won. Octopussy was the bigger success at the American box office… Bond’s tennis pro sidekick Vijay was played by Vijay Amritraj, a real-life tennis star… Maud Adams had previously romanced Bond, and died, as Scaramanga’s lover in The Man with the Golden Gun.

OVERALL: I know, it’s hard to believe. Can a movie that features Bond in a clown suit and a gorilla suit, an octopus cult, and a swinging Tarzan yell be one of the best Bond films ever made?

Octopussy just is what it is. And that’s good. The film stinks of Moore-era campiness, and I’ll admit that’s hard to look past, but in there is a Bond story remarkably close to the bizarre Cold War potboilers Ian Fleming churned out. I believe the author would have approved.

More or less.

Let’s talk about the clown suit. Yes, Bond wears one in the film’s climactic moments, improbably the exact suit 009 was wearing when he died, a bit of visual callback that evokes dread from the audience, not laughs. As Bond replays 009’s final moments, harried by the circus mob, trapped on all sides, he desperately pleads with the NATO generals to look past his outfit and see the danger, with only seconds left until a nuclear detonation wipes out the city, and the evidence.

That scene is just one of a few remarkably well-crafted set pieces that elevate Octopussy to heights that, well, a movie called Octopussy should never reach. From the clever backgammon sequence with Khan to the Indian safari (in which Bond, of course, is the hunted game), the film’s story is simply well executed.

There’s a lot of dissension among critics, some who rank Octopussy as the worst of the Bond films. I wonder, are we talking about the same movie? In a field that includes Moonraker and A View to a Kill? Octopussy is silly, yes, but no more so than The Spy Who Loved Me, which rakes in praise without a strong primary villain or even a single scene that rivals the climactic circus showdown on display here. (Seriously, the finale of The Spy Who Loved Me is a budget-friendly scene in which Bond just stares at a globe until everything turns out all right.) Bottom line: I’ll take this film every single time.

I could do without the gorilla suit, though.

The James Bond Project

7. ???

8. Octopussy

9. The Spy Who Loved Me

10. Thunderball

11. Dr. No

12. For Your Eyes Only

13. The World is Not Enough

14. Live and Let Die

15. Licence to Kill

16. The Living Daylights

17. You Only Live Twice

18. Quantum of Solace

19. Die Another Day

20. The Man with the Golden Gun

21. Diamonds are Forever

22. A View to a Kill

23. Moonraker

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  1. #1 by Jason on 03/22/2011 - 9:20 PM

    Good analysis, nice to see somebody give Octopussy the respect it deserves. It has problems (like any Bond film) but it is never taken seriously on account of the name and a few goofy outfits. I don’t find the outfits or the Tarzan yell to be nearly as goofy as the slide whistle during the car jump in The Man With The Golden Gun, or Sean Connery’s “Japanese Makeover” in You Only Live Twice.

    • #2 by thehollywoodprojects on 03/23/2011 - 3:13 PM

      It’s great to find another Octopussy apologist in the world. If we formed a support group, I’m not sure we could even justify a full pot of coffee.

      I think the Roger Moore Bond movies are all on their own curve. The humor is fairly lame, but then it’s way better than Moonraker. The cultural assassination of India is rough, but if I can live with Live and Let Die…

      I mostly appreciate how seriously they try to take the story, even amidst all of the silliness. It’s a rare moment for a Roger Moore Bond when he actually seems to realize that the stakes are _the lives of everyone, everywhere_. Even if he’s wearing a clown suit at the time.

      • #3 by Jason on 08/03/2011 - 6:56 AM

        Yeah, most Bond films from the Connery and Moore eras are pretty lacking in the cultural sensitivity department. I have to say the worst two are “You Only Live Twice” with its treatment of Japan and as you said “Live And Let Die” in which all black people are either driving a pimpmobile and calling white people Jive Turkey, Honkey, etc. or they are semi-crazed voodoo types. “Octopussy” kind of stands out because in that one chase scene they cram like 5-6 Indian stereotypes into a couple of minutes, only to be followed up by the Q Lab scene you described. But one good thing came out of this, it was during the filming on location in India that Roger Moore saw some of the poverty firsthand and decided to become involved in UNICEF. So there is that. Plus we got to see Q pilot a Union Jack hot air balloon, what else do you need?

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