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Octopussy (1983)
Tonight's Feature Presentation

OCTOPUSSY (1983)

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

Written By: George MacDonald Fraser, Richard Maibaum, Michael G. Wilson Directed By: John Glen

The Short Version

James Bond makes one last go at being a Cold Warrior… sort of.

The trend continues: Octopussy is a solid, plausible, and generally excellent standalone film.

The locations are well-chosen, and very appropriate.

The circus is just plain cool.

The title song sucks, but Octopussy is a way better movie than you may remember it to be.


The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?

CHEDDARWURST.

Mmm... tasty.


Pairs Well With...

GERMAN HEFEWEIZEN.

Enjoy it on your way to the circus.

“Is he still there?”

“You must be joking!  007 on an island populated exclusively by women?  We won't see him ‘til dawn!”


It had been a long time since I’d last watched Octopussy as anything other than “background noise with pictures.”  Why?  Because I remembered it being a rather ho-hum flick with a theme song that exemplifies most of the arguments that can be made about why “adult contemporary” radio stations suck.

Flash forward to the present.  I haven’t changed my mind about the theme song, but as it turns out, Octopussy is a damn good movie.  Outstanding, even.

What a difference perspective makes.

Taking some major cues from its predecessor, For Your Eyes Only, Octopussy once again puts James Bond right in the thick of the tense chess match that was the Cold War.  Indeed, the pre-cred sequence shows 007 on a sabotage mission being carried out right under the nose of Fidel Castro himself, with plenty of signature Roger Moore era fun and flair, and capped off by the appearance of the tiny little airplane that makes the sequence memorable even to those who’d go on to forget the rest of the film.  So far, so good, so very 1983.

But then, the script does something extremely interesting.  In keeping with a grand tradition of the James Bond franchise, to be sure, but so very not 1983.

It can be argued that 1983 represents the single most frigid point of the Cold War between the West and the Soviet Bloc since the Cuban Missile Crisis.  Just two months before Octopussy was released, Ronald Reagan referred to the USSR as an “Evil Empire,” and though the West wouldn’t know until ater the fact, just a few months after Octopussy was released, the Soviets came very close to starting a nuclear conflict based on misinterpreted information.  This was hardly a year in which one would expect any Western filmmaker to treat the ruling government of the Soviet Union as level headed and peaceful, and yet that is exactly the scenario presented by this movie’s script, thanks to some very neat sleight of hand that allows Eon to hold true to its tradition of not allowing the Soviets to be the bad guys while still giving in to the pressures of the day and making a Soviet General bent on nuking Americans in West Germany into one of the movie’s bad guys.  The elegant solution?  The nasty Soviet General has gone rogue after being told by the Central Committee that peace is the answer.  Neat trick, that, and it’s made even neater by the fact that the script is quite clear about this not being a matter of lip service.  Someone, apparently, was thinking ahead.  And they didn’t stop thinking, either.

The plot of Octopussy is one of the most well thought out of the entire James Bond series.  Overall, it’s remarkably plausible, with very few sharks being jumped, all things considered.  Along with the main arc that is General Orlov’s plan to nuke the West – not to immediately start a war, but rather to force disarmament in order to create a condition under which the Soviet Union could win a conventional war – there is the secondary (and first more visible) arc showing how Orlov uses a talented smuggler to provide the means for him to deliver his weapon while in the meantime fattening his own bank account, which is brilliantly conceived and deftly told.  Is the smuggler really with him or not?  Unlike so many other spy/adventure thrillers, Octopussy makes the answer to that question something other than a foregone conclusion for quite a chunk of time.  Into all of this is woven every classic James Bond trait one could hope for, including some of the last few smatterings of unused material that Ian Fleming himself had to give.  And, lest we forget, a semi-militarized circus troupe composed almost entirely of gorgeous women.

How could I ever have thought this movie was ho-hum?

All of this plays out in some of the most incredible – and historically iconic – locations to be found throughout the franchise.  It seems almost impossible to believe that James Bond hadn’t visited the former crown jewel of the British Empire before Octopussy, but this really is his first visit to India.  Fortunately, the camera makes the most of it, and John Barry’s score amplifies the beauty of what’s on the screen.  Bond also makes his first visit to one of the most essential locations in history of the Cold War: Checkpoint Charlie, gateway from West to East Berlin.  (I’m pretty sure that every other spy to hit the silver screen since the rise of the Berlin Wall went through it before 007 did.)  And never fear: he also rides a train and has a fight on plane, lest we think he’s forgotten about those things.

As for Bond himself, Octopussy represents the pinnacle of Roger Moore’s portrayal of 007 in terms of being an actor.  Though it’s true that Moore considered retiring from the role both before and after this movie (hold that thought), when it comes to what’s on the screen, he looks very sure of himself and very comfortable with the part he’s playing.  It’s a high note on the resume…

…which leads me to think, with the clarity of 20/20 hindsight, that Octopussy not only should have been Moore’s last turn as Bond (something few would argue against, including, I think, the man himself), but also a great film with which to end the franchise as it stood before rebooting it from scratch.  Of course, that kind of thing just wasn’t done in the early-mid 80s, but looking back, I think it could have worked.  And hey, retiring to Octopussy’s island?  I can think of far worse ways to leave the service.

Speaking of Octopussy, Maud Adams does an excellent job in the title role, proving not just sexy (the demand made of any Bond girl, even if she is the title character, and especially when she’s the only one to have done it before), but also strong… at least when the script doesn’t have her falling all over Bond at first sight.  Indeed, Adams’ performance can be looked upon as one of the strongest in their entirety of the classic series… and yet so many people don’t give her a second thought.  If I just described you, I suggest you take another look.  It worked for me; I’ll say that.

Indeed, despite being largely overlooked for anything but its opening sequence as time has gone on, the fact is that Octopussy won one of the most crucial battles in James Bond’s history.  This is because 1983 saw the release of not just one but two James Bond films: this one – the official Eon production starring Roger Moore – and Never Say Never Again – Kevin McClory’s lawsuit victory lap starring Sean Connery.  Before the films were released, most in the press were sure that Connery’s film would carry the year… but it turned out that Octopussy was more successful.  Considering the quality of each, it’s pretty easy to see why.

But if you forgot, or if you never caught on to begin with… like I said, it’s worth another look. 

Bottom line, Octopussy isn’t just a solid 007 flick; it’s really one the best-made in the entire series.  A fascinating slice of history and a great spy thriller with or without the weight of the Bond name to back it up, Octopussy is a movie that deserves to be owned.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, August, 2013


You can email Ziggy at ziggy@cinemaontherocks.com. You can also find us on Facebook.


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