Octopussy (1983)

Director: John Glen

Starring: Roger Moore, Maud Adams, Louis Jordan, Kristina Wayborn, Kabir Bedi, Steven Berkoff

For no less than the second time during this particular era of Bond, we have a bit of false advertisement going on here. Both the theme song and theatrical poster for “Octopussy” make reference to an ‘all-time high,’ which is exactly the opposite of what this movie represents to the James Bond franchise. Not that anyone should have expected that the 13th entry into the series would bring good fortune, but that it so completely unravels the goodwill created by the comparatively masterful “For Your Eyes Only” does register as something of a shock to the system. Well, all aboard the clown car, because here we go…

Speaking of clowns, that’s precisely the disguise which has been chosen by Agent 009 of MI6. Chased down by twin assassins, 009 collapses dead at the East German embassy, clutching onto a fake Fabergé egg. The real one is up for auction, which is where MI6 turns its attention. M (Robert Brown, replacing the late Bernard Lee) gives James Bond the assignment… which he should have done in the first place. While there, Bond looks for whomever will show the greatest interest in the egg, and plots to engage in a bidding war with him. This turns out to be Kamal Khan (Louis Jordan), whom Bond forces to pay £500,000 for the egg, but not before Bond has swapped it out with a fake one. Following Khan to India, Bond subverts Khan’s attempt to cheat in a game of backgammon, and has a go with one of his assistants, a woman named Magda (Kristina Wayborn) who bears a distinctive octopus tattoo. Allowing Magda to make off with the real egg (fitted with a listening device), Bond gets to the heart of the matter. It seems that Khan is collaborating with General Orlov (Steven Berkoff), a particularly radical member of the Soviet military whose desire it is to see the U.S.S.R. expand its territory further westward. An ambitious and completely mental plan, but what does Khan get out of it?

It should be pointed out that the plot for this movie runs at such a slow pace that this is the halfway point of the film, and we’ve yet to meet the title character. Evading Khan’s assassins, Bond flees his palace for another one occupied by Khan’s partner in jewel smuggling: Octopussy (Maud Adams). Since childhood, Octopussy has been something of an expert jewel thief, and has grown exceptionally wealthy as a result. Octopussy is also the leader of the Octopus cult which includes Magda as a member (hence the tattoo), as well as owning her own traveling circus which is used as a front to throw authorities off the scent of her various heists. It’s at this point that I wouldn’t blame anyone for getting confused as to just who is meant to be seen as the big villain here. You’ve supposedly set up three options, any two of which could be direct subordinates of the other one, and it’s not initially clear exactly what the chain of command actually is. Octopussy herself is almost immediately ruled out after a heart-to-heart conversation with Bond, to whom she has (of course) taken a liking.

Bond also discovers from Octopussy that Orlov has been stealing Soviet gold and jewelry, replacing it all with fakes while slipping the real booty to Khan. Naturally, since the circus trains are being used to smuggle it all, Octopussy gets her own cut of the loot. It’s a pretty sweet deal, but there’s a piece to this puzzle to which even Octopussy has been left unaware. At the circus’s next stop in Karl-Marx-Stadt, East Germany (today known as the city of Chemintz), Bond discovers the horrible truth: Not only is Octopussy being double-crossed by Khan, but Orlov has also replaced the jewels on board the circus train with a nuclear warhead. He means for it to be detonated at the site of the next show, a U.S. Air Force base in West Germany. The explosion could not be blamed on the Soviets or any other nation, only appearing to be an accident inside the base itself that would provoke disarmament among neighboring European nations and allowing for the Soviets to swoop in and invade without a fight. You would think that this would automatically make Orlov the film’s main villain, but then you’d be wrong. His sudden demise comes while there’s still a half-hour left to this turkey. Instead, it’s the common jewel thief who’s the big bad. KHAAAAN!

In a race against time, Bond has to reach the circus before the bomb goes off. This means that the rules of the road cannot be observed properly, and that attracts the attention of the West German police, the latest in a long line of inept authorities which Bond has had to deal with over the course of his decorated career. Because this obstruction is something which he has no time to deal with, he’s got to figure out a way to slip into the circus without being instantly recognizable. *Sigh* What follows is one of the most universally hated moments in the long history of the James Bond series. I don’t usually include screen captures from the film I’m reviewing, but a visual aide in this case is absolutely necessary. I’ll just leave this here so it’ll sink in:

Bond Clown

Look at that. I mean, really, LOOK AT IT. Could the producers of “Octopussy” have possibly found anything to more perfectly sum up how low the series and its main character had managed to sink? It’s absolutely mystifying to me that we’re still talking about new James Bond adventures more than thirty years after this catastrophe. But I’m very, very glad that we are. Anyhow, Bond disables the bomb, and he an incensed Octopussy team up to chase after Khan. Octopussy gets herself captured, but Bond rescues her after disabling Khan’s plane, resulting in Khan’s death.

When I sat down to watch “Octopussy” the other day, I quickly realized that I had either never seen it before, or that it had been so long since the last time that I’d forgotten all about it. Either way, it’s for the best, as this is one of the most boring, needlessly complicated and (at times) downright insulting Bond films ever made. Roger Moore moves through this movie like a man who knows he stuck around longer than he should have. Most of the rest of the cast looks flat out bored. Maud Adams was miles better as the ill-fated mistress of Scaramanga in “The Man with the Golden Gun.” Even the soundtrack contains the same sort of easy-listening bollocks that you put on as background noise at work. The humor is also at an all-time worst. The only person here who seems to be giving it their all is Steven Berkoff, who by all rights should have been the movie’s main villain. He’s really great at playing the slimiest of characters. But his positive simply cannot outweigh the overwhelming amount of negatives here. Watching “Octopussy” for me is like peeling off a bandage. I knew it had to be done, and it’s best to just get it over with.

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Comments
  1. Sylvia Williams says:

    Your review is pretty hilarious (esp. KHAAAAN! ref. and the bandage bit). I hate clowns, but I’m glad you included the photo to remind everyone how absurd the film was/is. Wasn’t there supposed to be something about Octopussy and her girls having nothing to do with men, and so Bond has to “convert” her, or did I remember that incorrectly? That insulting bit wouldn’t go over well if the film premiered today, now would it?

    • The “conversion” angle that you’re remembering, I believe, is from the “Goldfinger” novel. The confusion is appropriate, because “Goldfinger” is one of the stories from which “Octopussy” borrows certain elements.

  2. vinnieh says:

    Great review. I have always had a soft spot for this one as it was one of the first Bond movies I saw.

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