Octopussy (1981) – The 13th James Bond Film; The 6th (of 7) Roger Moore Films – Directed by John Glen – Starring Roger Moore, Louis Jordan, Maud Adams, Steven Berkoff, Kristina Wayborn, Vijay Amritraj, Robert Brown, and Desmond Llewelyn.
There are a lot of things that OCTOPUSSY does wrong, but they are all little things.
For all the junk this movie takes, OCTOPUSSY is a perfectly fine James Bond movie that rises above the cheeseball title to deliver a largely mature, largely serious espionage flick.
Smartly, everyone involved seems to have realized that at his age Roger Moore simply shouldn’t be running around and doing all kinds of crazy athletic stunts like he’s 27 instead of 57. Even if his stunt men can do it, it just looks false because your brain won’t process that old dude in front of the green screen being the same guy that’s doing tricks on skis. OCTOPUSSY still has plenty of action sequences but they’re largely action sequences you can see Roger Moore doing. Okay, some of that stuff on top of the train is pushing it, but Moore has the decency to act like he’s tired and winded and having trouble pulling the stunts off. (Which he probably was – the dude’s almost 60.)
OCTOPUSSY delivers copious amounts of Moore’s comfortable charm. The best sequences in the film work because of the combination of Moore’s charm and Bond’s smarts. The highlight of the film is a backgammon scene where Kamal Khan (played brilliantly by Louis Jourdan) is using loaded dice to scam some tourist out of their cash by rolling double sixes. “It’s in the wrist,” he tells the tourist. Bond injects himself into the game, raises the stakes, and then uses Khan’s dice to roll double sixes, embarrass Khan, and take his 200,000 rupees. After Khan storms off, Bond tells the duped tourist, “It’s not really in the wrist, you know.” What makes it work is that it’s exactly the kind of scene Moore is great at, and it’s exactly the kind of scene that doesn’t require youth or energy to pull off. Moore/Bond being older works to his advantage here and the film wisely plays to those strengths.
There’s a subplot involving a Faberge egg and it links the above scene with the other really good scene in OCTOPUSSY, where Bond allows Khan to win the egg from him at a Sotheby’s auction. Bond gets involved in the bidding and switches the real egg with a fake one, then puts the real egg on the table during the backgammon game. He’s calling Khan out and in a nice twist allows Khan’s beautiful sidekick Magda (who’s really working for Octopussy) think she’s seduced him and stolen the egg in order to get inside Khan’s compound.
While prisoner at Khan’s, Bond is treated to dinner and then suggests to Magda that “I could come in for a nightcap,” but she passes. Khan’s muscle escorts Bond back to his room so Bond asks him, “I don’t supposed you’d care for a nightcap?”
Fantastic, and again, evidence that OCTOPUSSY is playing to Moore’s strengths every bit as much as they are the expectations of the fan base.
When Bond makes his way to Octopussy’s palace, he finds out that she’s a smuggler who thinks they have a lot in common. She tries to convince him to join her because they’re alike and Bond rejects that idea, so she goes all, “I don’t have to apologize to you!” and then they hook up. Totally forced and a bit weird – Octopussy has clearly had a thing for Bond ever since he gave her father a chance to have an “honorable death,” by killing himself instead of facing charges for his criminal activity. The film is really trading off the fact that Octopussy is played by Maud Adams, who was last seen murdered in THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN, because Octopussy and Bond don’t have a lot of chemistry or things in common.
The movie works when it sticks to Bond uncovering the Orlov/Khan plot and doesn’t when it tries to force the funny down our throats, like when Indian agent (and pro tennis player) Vijay Amritraj attacks some baddies with a freaking tennis racket. God. Bond ends up infiltrating a circus because, yeah, why not, right? Why wouldn’t Octopussy own a circus as well as being a smuggler? I only saw that on Miami Vice every week. Smugglers are always using circuses for cover operations.
I know some people get all cranky about seeing Bond in a bunch of ridiculous costumes, but I didn’t really mind it at all; seeing Bond dress up as a knife thrower or gorilla or clown works because while the film gives you a funny visual, it keeps the action serious. There is something incredibly tragic about seeing Bond in a clown outfit, and something wonderful in Moore’s performance. There is a definite sense that not only does he realize he’s too old for this role, but perhaps the character of Bond himself is getting on a bit. When we get to the Judi Dench as M era, we hear lots on how Bond is a “misogynistic dinosaur,” and OCTOPUSSY is the first time that I see evidence of that idea creep onto the screen. No one comes out and says it to Bond, but as he’s desperately trying to get to the circus and save the day, you can just see that time is now moving faster than the man.
It’s really quite powerful.
Q has an expanded role and provides some nice comic relief but it’s completely ridiculous that he’d go on these missions given his age. I accept it because it’s Q, and because the chemistry between Llewelyn and Moore is so darn good. Q comes off as a concerned uncle to the younger Bond, and their time on screen together is a delight to watch. Even if it is ridiculous. Of course, Octopussy’s army of fetish models is ridiculous, too, and their assault on Khan’s palace threatens to crash the film.
OCTOPUSSY is not one of the all-time great Bond films, but it is a darn good one. Better editing would have helped to chop a good 15, 20, even 30 minutes out of the film, but this film is much better than its reputation.
The opening theme is sung by Rita Coolidge and it’s blessedly not called “Octopussy.” It’s an uneven song – Coolidge’s voice is a marked improvement over Sheena Easton, but the song isn’t much better. The chorus is lame and schmaltzy but the vocal progression during the verses is quite good.