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Octopussy [1983)

This was another childhood favorite of mine.  The intriguing geopolitical aspects were beyond me till now.  In the midst of the Soviet-Afghan War, the Bond franchise saw fit to introduce an Afghan villain.  What is more, the plot revolves around a rogue Soviet general (think Dr. Strangelove and Gen. Ripper) set on a sort of sneak attack against NATO.  The stratagem in question here is a rather more slippery bit of stealth.

Director John Glen does another admirable job and turns in a thoroughly entertaining episode for the series.  The disarming of the nuclear warhead is genuinely enthralling, but perhaps the best part of the movie is after that:  when Octopussy’s amazons besiege the villain’s hideout.

There’s a generous helping of humor and generally ridiculous set pieces in this installment.  Maud Adams makes a return to the series as the title character (having previously appeared in the excellent 1974 Eon production The Man with the Golden Gun).  The film, however, gets a bit clunky when her family history is introduced.  She pours a martini a little too fast and (voilà!) the plot becomes inexplicably convoluted at 100 miles per hour.

There is the nice reference to (one would assume) Strangers on a Train when Vijay is swatting thugs with a tennis racket.  It is cheeky, but the Bond series by this point had started to develop its own film language.  Other films simply could not get away with the hubris involved in such repeated suspension of disbelief.

Roger Moore in a gorilla suit is utterly absurd, but the whole thing works (to me) because he checks his watch while eavesdropping on a time-sensitive conversation.  On the other hand, the sequence in the jungle overdubbed with a Tarzan yell has the effect of the Bing Crosby/Bob Hope film Road to Bali.  The only problem is that Road to Bali sustained the anarchic irreverence throughout.  Bond’s life being in danger all of a sudden seems to be a laughing matter.  Somehow, John Glen gets away with it.  I don’t know if deft is the right word, but in the context of the increasingly farfetched series it works…more or less.

There are a couple of ribald excerpts which bear mentioning.  One is a cheeky cut immediately after the word asp to a lady’s rear end.  The other is far more strange.  As Q is briefing Bond (as usual) there is a strange stand off with a very distant, timid feminism.  Moore focuses a camera on a lady’s breasts (herself also an employee of MI6) and does the mondo zoom in/zoom out to generally entertaining effect.  The strangeness lays in the lady’s reaction.  She is like one of the Vietnamese in the famous picture of Jane Fonda which Godard spun out into an entire film (Letter to Jane).  The lady connected to the breasts is obviously displeased by what today would be accurately termed sexual harassment.  The fumbling mise-en-scène allows her to linger in plain sight for a long while as the joke is played out in aftermath.  I find this to be a potentially greater crack in “the fourth wall” than Vijay’s snake-charmer rendition of the 007 theme.

-PD

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