Octopussy Movie Review: Can’t Live Up To Its Name

When I was a kid, my family and I would spend a couple of weeks with my dad’s clan in eastern Tennessee. One particular summer TBS was showing a bunch of James Bond films (actually I think this was their habit several summers in a row, but anyways.) On this particular week while we were in Tennesseee they were showing Octopussy on the coming weekend.  They ran pretty constant promos for the film which as a pubescent teenage boy this was both titilating and completely awkward.

With every promo my brother and I would get excited and pledge to watch every showing, while my mother would groan Marge Simpson-style and ensure us that we would not be watching it at all.  The thing is we all understood the double entendre in the title (Is that a double entendre? What would the first meaning be? Maybe it’s just a single entendre, or just a really crass joke.)  My brother understood it; my mother understood it; I understood it.  I loved it.  My imagination was picturing all sorts of interesting things involving octopi and girls with eight vaginas.  But no one was willing to admit they got the joke.  I certainly wasn’t going to tell my mom about fantasizing about women with tentacles coming out of their nether regions and my mom wasn’t about to explain what it meant.  She just said we couldn’t watch it and when pressed, she’d mumble something about inappropriate and vulgarity.

TBS ran it about a dozen times that weekend so we watched it whenever my mom was out in the garden or on the porch chatting with friends or cooking, etc. and then turned the channel when she came back in. I probably watched it in total several times but in bits and pieces.

Honestly, I had completely forgotten everything about the film, until watching it again and I gotta say the most memorable thing about it is its title and all the fantasies it created that week so long ago.

Released in 1983, Octopussy was the 13th Bond movie and the sixth to star Roger Moore.  Moore had initially expressed a desire to no longer play Bond and the producers went on a semi-public quest to find the next actor to play the character with both Timothy Dalton and James Brolin being suggested.  But when the non-canon, non-Eon-produced Bond film Never Say Never Again was announced, starring Sean Connery of all people, Moore agreed to sign on for another film. He went on to play the 007 once more in A View to a Kill making him tied with Connery for playing Bond in the most films (if you count Never Say Never Again, that is.)

Watching it again the other day I’m not sure what all the fuss was about between me and my mother.  Sure it has a racy title, but Bond films never got anywhere close to explicit and Octopussy is tame by even those standards.  Sure their lots of double entendres and innuendo, and there’s plenty of girls in tight, revealing clothing, but there are more graphic sex scenes in daytime television.  

The plot is complicated, convoluted, and entirely implausible by which to say it is your typical James Bond plot.  It involves an exiled Afghan prince, who is working with a renegade Russian general and an Octopus cult, who are stealing Russian treasures, smuggling them into the West, and replacing them with intricate fakes.  The Russian has a secret agenda though and double crosses the others by stealing the jewels and replacing them with a nuclear warhead set to explode on a West German U.S. Airforce base which is supposed to cause European and Western allies to push disarmament, leaving the borders unattended and thus ripe for Soviet invasion (I told you it was convoluted.)

Bond, of course, saves the day and gets the girl.  

Most of the film is set in various Indian locations which lend some exotic fun to the series (and more than a few dated gags involving sword swallowers and snake charmers.)  The villains are pretty tame except for the short-lived Indian with table-saw blades attached to rope allowing him to throw it and saw through presumably anything.  The Russian general is your classic egomaniac Bond villain but they don’t do much with him, nor his mostly silent, super strong body guard.  Ditto the Afghan prince.  With all those baddies you’d think one of them would be memorable, but they do nothing more than serve their proper roles and are pretty instantly forgettable.  Octopussy (the leader of the octopus cult who helps with the jewel thieving and unknowingly takes the bomb onto the military base) isn’t much more memorable other than her name (which was given to her by her father [!] when she was ten years old [!!])

Roger Moore is my Bond in that he’s the one who starred in the first Bond films I saw and stayed with me during my impressionable years.  Here he just looks old and tired.  You can tell he’s ready to give up the character to someone else and perhaps wishes he’d never signed on for another one.  

All in all its a very passable Bond movie.  There’s lots of action and innuendo and silliness (more so than any Bond film from my memory – there are always jokes, but Octopussy sometimes acts like a Vaudevillian comedy than an action packed spy film.) Mostly though, it just looks dated and in desperate need of fresh ideas.  Its worth watching if you are a fan of 007, and I’m glad I got to watch it again after all these years. 

Just don’t tell my mother, I still don’t want her to know.

Operation: BOND will return with Never Say Never Again.

Mat Brewster

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