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Revisiting 1983’s ‘Octopussy’

50 Years of James Bond

Well, that didn’t take long. No sooner had producer Albert R. Broccoli decided to rein in the Bond franchise’s more unrealistic elements than the series goes spiraling back off into the world of fantasy. With its increasingly geriatric leading man, his folding-winged jet and comely backup in the form of a seductively clad female militia, “Octopussy” features Roger Moore at his most eye-rolling extreme.

It also works as a straightforward exercise in giving Bond fans precisely what they want, sacrificing the elegance and style of “For Your Eyes Only” for more action, seduction and spectacle, even at the risk of repeating sequences, lines and gags that have come before. (Even Octopussy herself, Maud Adams, previously appeared as another character in “The Man With the Golden Gun.”)

That’s all well and good if “Octopussy” is your first Bond movie, but having so recently watched the previous dozen, I simply couldn’t revive my childhood enthusiasm for this installment. The locations are great, the stunts are stunning, but the story is confusing and not especially compelling – something about a renegade Soviet general who uses a sexy jewel smuggler (Octopussy) to bring a nuclear device across to the West. Bond is dispatched by a new M (Robert Brown stepping in for the late Bernard Lee) and, to the great delight of gadget lovers everywhere, joined on the front by Q, who enjoys his biggest role in the series to date by assisting Bond in the field.

The formula works best when 007 is paired with capable women, and this film (using a character lifted from the pulpy depths of Ian Fleming’s imagination) tries to have it at least eight different ways, presenting Octopussy as rival, as ally, as equal, as conquest, as rescuer, as damsel in distress and so on. Though her private army of sari-clad beauties make things difficult for Bond early on – a reminder of Pussy Galore’s lesbian legion – they provide essential backup during the climactic fight.

Watching Octopussy’s circus team in action is perhaps the closest thing any Bond movie delivers to the abstract, hypersexualized thrill implied in the series’ increasingly suggestive opening-credit sequences. Designed since day one by Maurice Binder, these enticing sequences evolved over the decades from sleek pop art to a form of avant-garde pornography, in which shapely silhouettes gyrate and caress loaded phallic symbols. You don’t even have to squint or cock your head sideways to spot the naughty bits during the “Octopussy” opener, while the climax – in which a dozen supermodels in red spandex storm the palace – plays like something out of an opium-induced fever dream. With elements like this, the movie doesn’t even need James Bond!

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Revisiting 1983's 'Octopussy'

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