Oh, yes, I am indeed on vacation this week, but my being on vacation doesn’t mean that we’re going to skip a week in our Bond rewatch, so here we, the next entry in 007(x3) Weeks of 007, “Octopussy.”
I have always loved “Octopussy.” Following on the heels of the “For Your Eyes Only” reset, “Octopussy” builds Bond back up in interesting ways, most notably with the all-female Octopussy cult helping Bond defeat Kamal Khan in the film’s finale. It is yet another acknowledgment on the franchise’s part that women can and should play a stronger role in the films as they move into the future.
But, I don’t think that’s entirely why I enjoy it, I think it has a lot more than that going for it.
First off, the circus. Everyone loves a circus. Okay, not everyone loves a circus and the one in “Octopussy” is first used for smuggling and then used as a cover to explode a nuclear bomb on an American military base in West Germany, but the circus is still fun. The circus is a place where the impossible becomes possible, and not just possible, but reality. The audience stares in disbelief as people perform incredible feats, make us laugh, and scare us a little, too.
The circus is a James Bond movie, and when you’re talking about a Roger Moore-era James Bond movie, the circus isn’t even played for laughs more than Bond himself is played for laughs. There is a reason that Moore puts on a clown suit during “Octopussy.” It’s because that’s how the franchise is treated during this time.
Separately, “Octopussy” also has an incredible scene with Bond winning (by cheating) at backgammon. Now, Bond only cheats because Khan does first – Bond uses Khan’s loaded dice. The interesting thing is not Bond cheating, but what happens after he cheats – he grabs the cash and puts most of it in his coat pockets. 007 has already been told in “Octopussy” to “sign a chit” for the Faberge egg he’s going to be taking with him, that it’s government property now. It is M, in Robert Brown’s first movie in the position, that offers Bond that note. Cut to the backgammon scene in which Bond pockets his winnings and think about it. There is an intimation there.
There is always this question in Bond movies as to how our hero lives so high on the hog and whether he does so only when he’s on a job or if he maintains his posh style off-duty as well. Moore gave us some hints about this in his first outing, “Live and Let Die,” and we get some more hints from Craig’s most recent one, “Skyfall,” but the question still remains – are secret agents paid that well? Bond doesn’t get to keep the rupees here, he needs them to solidify an escape, but he takes them, with the intention of keeping them. He even gives some cash to two different members of Station I. Moore’s Bond may have some moments of buffoonery, but make no mistake, he was going to keep the money.
Sigh, buffoonery. You want buffoonery? I will accept the “Magnificent Seven” theme used earlier in the Moore years, but here in “Octopussy” Bond offers a Tarzan call as he swings across a vine. It is a ridiculous, awful, moment for the franchise. Worse, Bond has his back to us the entire time which makes it pretty convincing that it isn’t Moore doing the stunt, and the stunt isn’t even that great in the first place.
You know what I do like here, but have to wonder about – the use of the Soviet Union as villain. I know, I love that Gogol keeps coming back, but this isn’t Moore’s first anti-Soviet (or Soviet faction) outing, and it really starts to date the films. SPECTRE (which, as we’ve talked about they couldn’t use during this time period) is a great foil for Bond because freelance villainy is timeless. There are always bad guys out there who aren’t agents of the state, their use helps keep the movies fresh.
As noted, the original M is gone now, but Moneypenny is still around. Lois Maxwell is first in “Dr. No” and here she is, more than 20 years later, in “Octopussy.” She doesn’t stay with the series past Roger Moore’s final outing in “A View to a Kill,” but she’s here now and fantastic as ever.
Of course, that being said, the producers do make an attempt at getting a younger secretary for Bond to hit on in “Octopussy” as Moneypenny introduces Bond to her new assistant, Penelope Smallbone (Michaela Clavell). Smallbone doesn’t stick around and this is one of two credits to Clavell’s name on IMDb. Whatever become of Clavell’s career, it is interesting to do the casting of Smallbone but I think says a lot about what works for the series and what doesn’t that we never see her again.
Lastly, the return of Maud Adams. Who doesn’t think that Octopussy herself is a great character, and Adams a great actress, for Bond/Moore to be opposite? Octopussy has reasons she could hate 007, but she doesn’t, she respects him and the choice he made in the past in regards to her father. She may get duped by truly evil folks in her already evil organization, but she’s cast as a good guy and the film does well by her.
As for us, it is time to bid adieu, but 007(x3) Weeks 007 will return with “A View to a Kill” (not “From a View to a Kill” as the “Octopussy” credits promise).
photo credit: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment