“James Bond Will Return in Octopussy” read the tag at the end of For Your Eyes Only. Not knowing my Fleming at the time, I remember saying, "Is that a joke?" But by the time Octopussy was released in the summer of 1983, I was a big Bond fan with high expectations for the 13th James Bond film. I'll never forget that, after the movie on the way out of the theater, a young girl spontaneously shouted to anyone within earshot, "Great flick!" Had I been as inebriated as she was, I might have yelled the same thing because I just love Octopussy. In fact, I think it’s one of the most underrated Bond films. Maybe it was the threat of Sean Connery's return in Never Say Never Again that made EON rise to the occasion? Or maybe it was that fact that novelist George MacDonald Fraser had a hand in crafting the story? Whatever it is, Octopussy rates as my second favorite Moore/Bond film (the first being The Spy Who Loved Me) and consistently places somewhere in my top ten favorite James Bond films.
James Bond Goes to India. And why shouldn't he? It's not often pointed out that Octopussy was as much a reaction to the success of Raiders of the Lost Ark as Moonraker was to Star Wars. For me, genre mixing in the James Bond films is not a sin. Okay, I too cringe at the Tarzan yell and the "Sit-taaa!," but how about that killer pre-titles sequence? It's certainly one of the best of the series. And what about the action on the circus train? the Sotheby's auction? the helicopter gliding past the Taj Mahal to a very evocative John Barry score? Bond's backgammon game with Kamal Kahn is definitely one of the better casino face-offs. Magda spiraling off Bond's balcony by her slowly unraveling silk dress is, to quote a recently deceased news baron, "Delicious." And how about that no-nonsense, no-quip, high-speed, balls-to-the walls car chase on the autobahn? Great flick!
Then there are the moments of wonderful detail. The hitchhiking Bond getting snubbed by a carload of obnoxious teenagers, Kamal's car not turning over on the first try as he and Globina try to escape their own ticking nuke, Magda's hairdryer interfering with Bond's earpiece gadget, and the woman beating Bond to the pay phone as he rushes to prevent Armageddon. Yes, Connery's Bond would just yank that chatty woman from the phone booth and call in the marines. But Moore's Bond is not powered by his masculinity. He's powered by his Englishness. He could never do something so rude! So instead, he steals her car. I remember people clapping in the theater at that one. I don't think they were clapping at grand theft. I think they were clapping at clever storytelling.
And that's the real strength of Octopussy — VERY solid storytelling. Octopussy has one of the best crafted plots of all the Bond films. It's complex with many characters and conflicting agendas; yet it's never confusing. (The Living Daylights, anyone?) And like the best Bonds, Octopussy has at its core a terrific mystery. For me, a Bond film should always open with a provocative mystery. A girl is killed by gold paint? Two nuclear submarines vanish without a trace? In Octopussy, a priceless Faberge Egg rolls from the hands of a dead 009, who, for some yet unknown reason, is dressed as a clown. That's an opening worthy of Sherlock Holmes — or Ian Fleming. Then by the end of the film, we have 007 dressed as a clown, hurtling toward what could be his own death, along with the destruction of most of West Germany. Maybe that's why the rather risky move of putting 007 into floppy shoes and clown makeup works. By its finale, Octopussy has achieved a level of genuine suspense which, let's face it, only a handful of Bond films ever achieve. Was anyone biting their nails at the end of Tomorrow Never Dies?
As for Roger Moore? Hey, I don't dismiss Roger Moore the way some old thinkers do. I even like Moonraker — a lot! For me, Octopussy is one of Moore's best performances as Bond. He has that old pro's grace about him that Connery had in Diamonds Are Forever and NSNA. (It's interesting that Moore didn't have this quality in his next film, A View to a Kill. Maybe it's hard to relax around Grace Jones?)
So there you go. It was true in the summer of 1983, and it's still true today: Octopussy is a great flick!