James Bond Overdose Part 13 – Octopussy (1983)

“No one knows her real name, but she’s known as Octopussy.”

Bond has reused actors before, but the fact that we get to see Maud Adams again is just delightful. I’m sure there are any number of explanations for Octopussy’s almost exact resemblance to Andrea Anders from The Man with the Golden Gun–is she a long lost twin sister? Is she actually Andrea, having tricked Scaramanga with a dummy or lookalike? We may never know, but let’s just be thankful that she’s back.

In this film, James Bond (Roger Moore) is sent to investigate the death of a fellow 00 agent who appeared to be carrying a forged Faberge egg. What starts as an investigation into a high-profile jewelry smuggling operation turns out to be a race to stop the young, impulsive rogue Soviet General Orlov (Steven Berkoff) from launching a nuclear attack on NATO forces so as to give Soviet Russia a chance to expand even further into western Europe (with American forces thinking it was an accidental explosion and everyone pushing for Western disarmament). Orlov, it is revealed is working with an exiled Afghan prince Kamal Khan (Louis Jourdan) who has been using the Octopus Cult and their circus troupe, led by the enigmatic Octopussy (Maud Adams) to smuggle precious jewels out of the Soviet Union and replace them with facsimiles so as to fund Orlov’s mad campaign. Unsure whom to trust and rapidly running out of allies, Bond turns to the mysterious Octopussy, who may be their only hope at preventing war.

It’s a complex, multilayered plot that stands up pretty well to repeat viewings. Some forgivable silliness aside (which I’ll address here in a bit), this is actually a decent entry. It’s got some great actors and the script really uses them well. Coming on the heels of the fun-but-forgettable For Your Eyes Only, it’s nice to see that director John Glen decided to spend more time on character stuff.

The opening credits are ok, but Rita Coolidge’s title song, “All Time High” feels too much like previous entries. Everything from “Nobody Does it Better” to “All Time High” all have a similar sort of sound. They’re not bad songs, really, but they just all feel like variations on a theme, a theme that “Nobody Does it Better” really did, well, better. I’ll let the title of that song speak for itself. As for the title animation, it’s clear that laser pointers were all of a sudden the thing because there are all sorts of laser-projected images drifting across the bodies of sultry-looking women in this one. It’s not quite as flighty as the bouncing ladies from The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker, though, and actually feels like an art piece. It’s weird, but I’ve got to give Maurice Binder props–he’s been doing these since the very beginning with only two interruptions. That’s 21 years of designing the opening credits for these movies.

Now, the one thing that hurts this movie is its return to the campy silliness of Moonraker. When this film was released, it was competing with the blasphemous movie whose title I will never say ever again, and it’s clear the filmmakers of Octopussy were worried that Sean Connery’s return as Bond would lure audiences away from their film, so they resorted to some cheap gags designed to appeal to as large an audience as possible. Things such as Bond letting out Tarzan’s signature yell while swinging on a vine, or Bond dressed in a gorilla suit, or Bond doled up as a clown are a bit overly silly, but they don’t really hurt this movie the way many reviewers think they do. I think Bond fans may just have been a bit overly cautious after Moonraker and overreacted at this one a bit. It’s not a terrible film. I’m not sure if it’s as good as The Spy Who Loved Me, but it’s definitely a second or third place contender. In terms of it’s competition with The Other Film, justice prevailed and Octopussy  fared much better at the box office. That’s saying something because, even though The Other Film is a blasphemous movie, it was helmed by Empire Strikes Back director Irvin Kershner and featured some big names like Max von Sydow, Kim Basinger, and Sean Connery, of course. But truth and justice won out, and the rightful film won. And thus the universe could continue spinning as it had been.

Even though Octopussy does resort to silly antics here and there, it works pretty well overall, due, in part, to its villains. It features 2.5 villains and each are given enough character development and screen time to make them each work as characters. Kamal Khan is a great character. He’s the perfect blend of suave and fussy, making him both likable and interesting. Paired with General Orlov who’s a loose cannon, the two make a good villainous pair. Orlov’s twitchy, petulant manner and his unpredictable rage makes him a great foil to the more emotionless military leaders of the Soviet Union, who are seeking to achieve their dream of world socialism “peacefully” (so they say). And then, rounding things out is Octopussy herself, who balances her own interests with those of her villainous cohorts, even if that means double crossing them.

To those who think it’s a bit silly and internally inconsistent to have Maud Adams return to the franchise and play a completely separate character, I would suggest they compare her performances in each movie. In The Man With the Golden Gun, her character was a beaten down woman who was struggling to maintain her pride while being consumed and overwhelmed by an oppressive man. Her character in this film is a confident woman of means who refuses to kowtow fully to the wishes of two powerful men who seek to try and use her. She also stages the most efficient and effective siege of a palace I’ve ever seen, aided by her all-female circus troupe (who are also part of her Octopus Cult, a sect who takes homeless and destitute women and turns them into assassins). Octopussy and Andrea are such completely different personalities that I don’t mind the repetition. And if I needed to explain it, I’m sure there are plenty of headcannon reasons why they’re identical. All in all, I try not to let it bother me because Octopussy is a delightful character, goofy name aside.

Overall, I think the film is relatively solid. It’s a complex plot, with several moments of important exposition delivered quickly here and there (that one can miss if they’re not paying attention–for example, I’m still fuzzy on Octopussy’s back story in which her father was a traitor who Bond was trying to bring in…or something), but the grand plot, that of stopping Orlov’s attack on NATO is fun and moves along at a brisk pace. The juxtaposition of the bomb plot with the circus setting also works well to build tension.

I’ve seen many reviewers rip this one to pieces, but I don’t feel it deserves such maligning. There are some incredibly silly moments, but they are small drops in a large pan. Overall, this one’s a keeper. And we should enjoy it because it’s Moore’s second to last outing as Bond, and his last great outing.

Random Observations
-Bond’s teeny tiny jet plane from the pre-credits sequence is delightful and I want one. My birthday is coming up soon. Take note. Teeny tiny jet plane.
-The exchange between Bond and Moneypenney in this one is probably my favorite in the whole series. It’s a good hat tip to Lois Maxwell, who’s been there from the very start, and who remains as lovely and charming as she was in Dr. No.
We get a new M in this one, played by Robert Brown. After Moonraker, our beloved Bernard Lee passed away, and we get to meet the new head of MI6 in this one.
-I love John Barry’s “India” theme.
-During the sequence in the big round conference room where Orlov upsets the Soviet leaders with his plan to invade Western Europe, I really feel like someone should have said, “You can’t fight in here! This is the war room!” Missed opportunity.
-In the chase scene through the streets of Delhi, many of the things that happen remind me of the opening chase sequence from Aladdin. The guy getting squashed into the bed of nails, pulling the sword out of the sword-swallower’s throat to fight the bad guys, etc.
-Magda’s flip twirl off the balcony of Bond’s hotel room may very well be one of the smoothest and most elegant exits ever. I don’t think Bond himself could ever be that smooth. Also, actress Kristina Wayborn performed the stunt herself. Mad props, girlfriend!
-Q has some great moments in this one. I especially love the end where he’s helping with the infiltration of the monsoon palace and all of Octopussy’s women are fawning all over him, and he replies with a polite, but cheeky “Later, perhaps!” Q, you dog!
-Mischka and Grischka look eerily like Martin Short at times…
-Aaaaand, Bond ends the movie on a boat!

Next week, we bid farewell to Roger Moore with the high-octane camp-fest that is A View to a Kill!

Addendum: I just read that Louis Jourdan passed away at the age of 93. One more reason to watch this film and appreciate his wonderful performance.

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