James Bond usually dresses as himself, whether he’s using his own name or an alias. He has a strong sartorial identity and dresses in an elegant manner with an eye for detail. On occasion he modifies his usual manner of dress to better fit in with a crowd, but it’s usually only a slight alteration. Octopussy is the unusual Bond film where Bond spends half the film not dressing how we expect him to.
Octopussy features Moore in some of his greatest outfits as Bond, including a grey rope stripe three-piece suit, an ivory peaked-lapel dinner jacket, a tan safari suit and a navy blouson. But apart from these and a few other outfits, disguise is a theme throughout the film.
Just moments after the film’s opening gun barrel sequence Bond appears in his first disguise. He’s driving a Range Rover with a horse trailer in tow. He’s wearing a brown tweed jacket, a matching flat cap and a rollneck to give him the look of a traditional British equestrian. The tweed jacket is quite Bondian, and the rollneck wouldn’t be Bond’s first, but the flat cap is out of character and marks this outfit as a disguise.
The tweed jacket is also a disguise for a disguise, and Bond reverses it into a green military uniform to masquerade as Colonel Toro. The flat cap reverses into a military cap, and the rollneck is actually a tearaway dickey worn over a military bush shirt and tie. A fake moustache completes the Toro disguise, but it can’t help but make the disguise seem a bit silly, as fake facial hair tends to do.
The horse trailer that Bond drives in with is also a disguise, complete with a fake horse’s hind quarters concealing the Acrostar jet.
In India, Bond finds himself with less conventional disguises. Hiding himself in a body bag, he uses it to disguise himself as a zombie who has come to life so he can make as escape.
He makes his way to Octopussy’s island in a submarine that is disguised as a crocodile, one of the most unusual vehicles provided by Q-Branch in the series. Bond has effectively disguised himself as an crocodile.
He starts off his time in East Germany under the cover of furniture manufacturing representative Charles Morton, wearing a navy double-breasted suit with a blue hairline stripe shirt and polka-dot tie. A double-breasted suit and a spotted tie are not standard Bondian wardrobe items, but they’re perfect for a conservative 1980s businessman. At the same time, they’re not so unusual for Moore’s Bond that they stand out as a disguise. Since this suit subtly stands out as the only double-breasted day suit during the Hayward-tailored years of Moore’s Bond, it may have been purposefully chosen to suit Bond’s cover rather than be something Bond would himself would wear.
As soon as Bond’s cover is no longer needed, he jettisons the suit jacket in favour of yet another disguise. He finds an Octopussy Circus jacket (made by Dickies) to blend in as part of the circus crew. This is only the first of a number of circus disguises.
In self-defence, Bond kills the circus-knife-thrower Mischka and steals his showy red tunic and leather vest. This disguise works to briefly fool both General Orlov and Mischka’s twin brother Grischka, preventing them from killing Bond before they can tell he’s not who they initially think he is.
For a moment, Bond hides inside a gorilla suit as his second animal disguise of the film. As the silliest disguise of the film, it’s made more ridiculous when he looks at his hairy wrist to check the time. I personally find few things more consistently amusing than a person in a gorilla suit, though it’s a step too far for a Bond film.
All of the disguises in the film, particularly 009’s disguise at the start of the film, foreshadow Bond’s ultimate disguise: the clown suit. Bond needed to properly hide himself in a disguise because Bond broke into a US Air Force base and the security could identify both his bright red shirt and his face.
This is where Octopussy has lost popularity with many fans. For them it’s when the ‘funny Bond’ Roger Moore wears the costume of the ultimate joker, the circus clown, to tell us that he’s not taking Bond seriously.
The United States Air Force General at the circus is certainly not taking a clown seriously when he claims there’s a nuclear bomb hidden in a circus cannon (yet another disguise in the film). But it’s while dressed as a clown that Moore ironically plays Bond more seriously than he ever does. The clown suit creates additional tension in what’s already the more tense scene of the film.
The clown suit brings up the question if James Bond should ever dress in such an outlandish disguise. In Octopussy the clown outfit fits the setting and the situation, and it’s not being used as a gag, though perhaps it was done tongue-in-cheek knowing how much Moore enjoyed clowning around. But clowns are not always meant to be funny and often have a macabre association. When 009 is dressed in the same clown suit and makeup earlier in the film, it is indeed meant to be frightening, particularly when he crashes dead through a window.
The only thing that doesn’t make sense about the clown suit is how fast Bond puts it and the makeup on. He did an amazing job with the makeup, especially considering the rush he was in.
Ultimately, disguises almost always come across as silly. Even when played straight and if the disguise is realistically effective, the disguises of Octopussy contribute to it being a lighthearted film and prevent the audience from taking the film seriously. It’s why disguises are frequently used in the television spy spoof Get Smart, where they’re always over the top and played for laughs.
Beyond Bond’s clothes, there are other disguises in Octopussy. Aside from the others mentioned about, Bond’s ally Vijay has multiple covers, first as a snake charmer and then as a tennis pro, with suitable outfits to identify him as each. A poster disguises the entrance to Q’s remote lab. Q uses the Faberge egg MacGuffin to disguise a tiny homing device and microphone. The circus cannon’s base is not only used to hide a bomb but also to hide jewels.
The next Bond film A View to a Kill would continue with Bond in disguise, wearing variations on classic Bond style under two different aliases throughout much of the film, and he again replaces one of his own jackets for a branded jacket for infiltration similar to the circus jacket in Octopussy.