Light Bondage: “Octopussy”

Bond, James Bond. For fifty years that has been the cinematic calling card of one of films most enduring heroes. Sure, Bond was born in books, but it was through film that he became a household name and one of the movies’ most enduring legends. He is a character so archetypal that he is bigger than the half dozen men who have played him across nearly two dozen films, and that kind of longevity is both unheard of and a little bit magical.

Light Bondage is my attempt to rewatch the series and try to recapture some of what made these movies worthwhile. I might not always succeed (I’m looking at you, Roger Moore!) but in this biweekly series of articles we’re going to take a ride through the time capsule of the last half century with the world’s most famous spy/action star.

Octopussy (1983)

To say that this movie is most notable for having a ridiculous, surprisingly explicit title would maybe be a little mean, but I’m going to say it anyway. Octopussy? Really? I still don’t know how they got away with that, except maybe at that point nobody was willing to say no to the billion-dollar Bond franchise. Sadly, it is probably the thing that stands out the most in this weirdly divided installment.

I’ve harped on Roger Moore a lot in doing this project, so I’ll spare him. He had expressed interested in bowing out after the previous movie, and thank god for that, but Connery agreeing to do Never Say Never Again (a whole mess that deserves explanation in its own article) forced the producers to throw as much money as they could at Moore in hopes that they could keep their recognizable star in the face of a potential threat to the throne of Bond. And to his credit, he does a decent enough job. He seemed to hit a point where they stopped trying to hide his age as much, and Moore looks less dandified and a little more grizzled than he did last go-around.

The movie itself seems to try to shake off the cartoonish, genre-mashup nature of the past films by going for something decidedly more straightforward. A dead 00 agent turns up holding a fake Fabergé egg, leading MI6 and Bond to discover a smuggling operation including a Russian general sneaking out national treasures, a wealthy Afghan Prince providing fakes, and the eponymous Octopussy, leader of a world-famous circus that uses her travelling caravan to make the trades.

Q branch doubles as the pre-internet world’s premier source of pocket pornography.

This alone would be a fairly interesting plot, but a mid-movie twist reveals a Russian plan to switch the biggest shipment of jewels for a nuclear warhead bound for West Berlin, where it will appear the US suffered a catastrophic failure of its nuclear arsenal, leading to disarmament, weakening the European front for a Russian invasion. That is, unless Bond can stop it and round up the varying bad guys.

I don’t normally indulge in outright plot summaries, but this one is actually pretty solid. It involves some genuine investigation and subterfuge and some bad guys with ambiguous motivations. It reflects more accurately than many of the last few movies the actual politics of the time. I continue to feel like Bond was at his best traditionally when he was engaged in Cold War intrigue, a period rife with potential for cool spy stuff. Not to mention it involves travel to India and extended scenes involving trains, all which evoke the mysteries of Europe and Asia which I have already professed a weakness for in these movies.

Roger Moore as Bond as a clown. I feel like this is the most genuine representation of my feelings about this movie possible.

Unfortunately, many of the problems that exist through all this mid-period Bond exist here. There’s the continual fact that these movies just plod on. I don’t think any of these movies have been less than two hours, and these two hours seem absolutely insane when you don’t even have to set up your hero. This movie at 90 minutes would have been probably pretty good. At 131 minutes it feels soggier than its aging star.

It’s not like much of that time is spent on anything spectacular, either. We continue to see jokes peppered throughout, scenes with Bond dressed in a gorilla suit or in a clown suit serve to undermine him in weird, arbitrary ways. You can make your hero cool by making him have grace under ridiculous circumstances. Instead Octopussy just has a bunch of kids laughing at Bond. It does nothing but rob him of his potency, turning our murdering, world-saving anti-hero into a picture of contextless mockery.

Of further note is the suddenly expanded role of Q in these movies. I haven’t talked much about Q because he really doesn’t require much mention. Bond’s eternal gadget-man, Q often shows up to act exasperated at Bond’s propensity for thoughtless destruction. It’s fun, odd-couple stuff, and usually the most light-hearted, inoffensive part of any of these movies.

Really stealthy, James.

However, I guess Q tested well or something, because he shows up multiple times in this movie, not only to provide gadgets but to act almost as a geriatric sidekick to Bond, fishing outside the bad guy’s palace to keep a lookout or at the very end flying Bond a giant action scene on a hot air balloon decorated with the Union Jack. It’s silly, and reeks of an appeal to blockbuster film making that I find more than a little lazy. I suppose this many movies in, these complaints seem outright pedestrian compared to some of my earlier ones. Still, Bond should be better than that.

The Theme Song/Opening Title:
Rita Coolidge sings “All Time High” which, I’m going to come right out and say it, is the worst theme song in all of James Bond. I don’t care that it was popular once, it was the early 80s and people didn’t know what good music was. This is just dreadful. Thankfully, I don’t write about music as a hobby, so I can simply say it’s so bad I can’t even find words.

Most Ridiculous Gadget:
A fake alligator. Yep, designed by Q, Bond uses this plastic shell to sneak both in and out of a heavily fortified palace. And it looks like someone spent about $4 putting it together, little more than an unconvincing aligator that flips up to reveal some sort of submarine paddle boat thing? It’s not quite obvious how its propelled, but Bond seems to come out of it dry. Either way, it’s the stuff of spy parody, sadly asking us to take it seriously. Kind of like Roger Moore’s movies in general. (SICK BURN!)

Bond Girl Award for Most Thankless Role:
Maud Adams takes a second turn at being a Bond girl after getting killed in The Man With The Golden Gun as Octopussy herself: jewel smuggler, circus owner, badass. Not only does she have a whole array of female agents, but they’re all circus assassins, who form up the small colorful army that finally assaults the bad guys at the end of the movie. At the end of the day, she does far more cool things than Bond does in the movie, and does them all with a semi-villainous aplomb that is sorely missing from many of the female roles in Bond movies.

Octopussy’s carny death squad.

Best Bondickery:
There isn’t actually a ton of Bondickery in this movie, but Bond manages to play fast and loose with his country’s money when he goes to a Sotheby’s auction to try to figure out who wants to buy the real Fabergé egg that kicks off the start of the plot. He’s there in an unofficial capacity with a member of the government, but in an arrogant bid to try to flush out the bad guy decides to keep bidding up the price into the hundreds of thousands of pounds, well past the point of reasonability.

While he bluffs with taxpayer funds, he manages to (in plain sight no less!) ask to inspect the egg and in a switch so obvious that I don’t know how he wasn’t instantly arrested, manages to exchange the real egg for the counterfeit in his possession before stopping the big and walking out with his prize. And not for any real reason or authorization other than he felt it might give him leverage later. License to kill, license to steal, I guess?

JAMES BOND will return in A VIEW TO A KILL

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About M

Artist, ne'er do well, militant queer.
This entry was posted in light bondage and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Light Bondage: “Octopussy”

  1. jlmicek says:

    Reblogged this on The Cineaste's Lament. and commented:
    A Bond movie I would rather forget about.

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