UK / USA, 1983
Review by Thomas Scalzo
Posted on 19 March 2005
Source MGM VHS
Features: The Genealogy of James Bond
Roger Moore plays Bond for a record-tying sixth time in this confused tale of jewel smuggling, atomic bombs, traveling circus performers, and possibly counterfeiting, though I had a bit of trouble following that particular plot thread. The story begins in East Berlin, where 009, dressed as a clown, is attempting to abscond with a priceless Faberge egg. Although hounded by relentless, knife-throwing carneys, he manages to drag himself to the British Embassy and deliver the egg into safe hands. Where he got the egg, and what it means, are mysteries for the moment, but the Brits quickly assure themselves that the Russians are involved, and call in 007 to get to the bottom of things.
By relying on a world-domination-desiring megalomaniac, and a Russian at that, for its chief nemesis, Octopussy, at first glance, appears to retread familiar and comfortable series ground, offering viewers a simple, action-packed tale of good versus evil. After the smaller-time, and generally less well-received criminals who dominated the stories of Live and Let Die and The Man With the Golden Gun, Bond fans seemed perfectly content to have each and every Bond film thereafter focus solely on power-hungry lunatics.
And usually, crafting a Bond story around such a figure is a good thing, as the plots are uniformly easy to follow: bad guy wants to destroy world and Bond stops him. In this case, however, the antagonistic force becomes so muddled that we end up unsure of who is bad, who is good, and why any of them are working together in the first place. The Russian player, General Orlov, appears to be the baddest of the bad guys, hoping to use Soviet power (and an atomic bomb) to crush Western resistance. But then we have Octopussy’s lackey, Kamal Kahn, presumed jewel smuggler and confidant to Orlov, who may or may not be in the world-domination game himself. And then there is the title character, Octopussy – is she a professional revenge seeker, a legitimate businesswoman, a pawn in the Russians’ game? I honestly don’t know, and repeat viewings haven’t cleared the air much. Watching the film, I felt as if even the writers didn’t know who wanted what, and it’s never a good sign when you doubt a film’s underlying logic.
The writers also dropped the ball when it came to penning lines for 007. Though tossed off one-liners abound in Octopussy, for the most part they feel forced, as if even Moore was reluctant to put the words into Bond’s mouth. A glaring example comes when 007 is supine in the Indian jungle, attempting to avoid capture at the hands of Kamal and an army of elephant-riding minions. Noticing a large snake slithering across his legs, James orders it to “hiss off.” The bored look on Moore’s face as he utters these words says it all.
I can only assume that the writers of Octopussy heard about Moore’s Bond being the king of witty remarks, and decided to overload their dialogue to maximize the laughs. The trouble is, when such lines don’t come naturally, and feel so clearly tacked on, they just don’t work. Compare a line such as the one above, with a true Moore classic from Live and Let Die. In the scene, James, confronted by a metal-armed nemesis, gives up his gun without a fight. Gripping the barrel in his mighty pincers, the assailant twists the gun out of shape, hands it back to Bond, then laughs maniacally as he leaves the room. After tossing the gun into a trash can, Bond turns to Solitaire and remarks, “Funny how the least little thing amuses him.” It’s vintage Moore, the sort of subtle, witty humor that is missing in many of his later Bond films, particularly Octopussy.
Despite these criticisms, however, the film does manage some quality bits. The chase scenes through the streets and jungles of India are most entertaining, as are the film’s many terrific fight sequences, two particularly excellent moments occurring atop a moving train and plane respectively. And while the gadget quotient here is rather poor, limited to an acid squirting pen and a homing device watch, the quality of the Bond girls more than makes up for it, with Maud Adams, Kristina Wayborn, and the bevy of young lovelies on Octopussy’s isolated island picking up any lack-of-gadget slack. If you can overlook loose plot threads and ill-advised moviemaking decisions (James doing his best Tarzan impression is pure misery), you will come across some memorable moments of must-see Bond in Octopussy.