Bond in Octopussy: A Master of Disguise

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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 Grey Rope Stripe
Roger Moore dresses very elegantly in Octopussy when he’s playing James Bond as James Bond.

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 to blend in as part of the circus crew. This is only the first of a number of circus disguises.

Bond abandons his suit coat and dons an Octopussy Circus jacket to fit in

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.

31 COMMENTS

  1. Interesting, Bond in the clown suit seems to me a fairly extreme allegory for Moore’s whole tenure as 007.

    Roger’s naysayers see him as a joker, a man who ruined the hardened image of Bond and who cannot be taken seriously. In reality Roger Moore was the deadliest Bond, killing the most men, and in some instances in the most brutal fashion, like the man he drops off the roof in TSWLM, or kicking the car off the cliff in FYEO. Or even small moments of intimidation like threatening to shoot the gun-maker’s genitals in TMWTGG. It’s possibly because of the juxtaposition. If Daniel Craig did that I wouldn’t blink an eye, I’ve come to expect it. But when fun ol’ Roger does it it actually hits me harder.

    Besides the character, Roger himself definitely took the job seriously and seemed to look back on his tenure far more fondly than all the other actors, who seem to want to forget and move on.

    Of course some of this just come down to preference, about whether or not you like his style of performance, but there’s no denying that Roger is officially the deadliest Bond.

    Regardless of this, the reason I love the clown moment is from a character perspective. It’s a man in fear for his life, trying to save everyone else’s, and nobody is taking him seriously. Bond’s charm isn’t getting him out of this one, and he’s growing more and more desperate by the moment. For some it’s the nadir of the series, for me it’s actually the peak.

      • Mike I’ve just double checked, you’re absolutely right! Not sure why I had it in my mind that Sir Roger had the highest body count. That will serve me right not to do my homework.

    • You’ve argued your position well but I’m one of those who regards this period as the absolute nadir of the series. Along with the clowning around (!) theres the Tarzan yell while swinging through the jungle and the “SIT!” to the tiger (may be lost on non-English viewers but there was an old granny named Barbara Woodhouse who was on TV at the time as a quirky dog trainer and that became a bit of a catch phrase at the time. Why that belongs in a Bond film and exactly what demographic in the audience they were shooting for is beyond me!)
      I think it’s a fair comment that Roger was fairly dedicated to doing a good job and being professional about the role. Other actors may have preferred to move on after Bond but maybe that’s because GL aside they actually had serious acting careers behind and in front of them and didn’t want to be type cast. Sean got an Oscar after Bond, TD and PB have had long, varied and successful careers after Bond. Even accounting for Roger’s advanced age post Bond, I’m hard pressed to think of many of his performances outside of the canon that are ‘must see’ movies!

  2. I suppose the clown suit is both more striking and on screen for much longer than the croc-sub, but the croc-sub was always the disguise that seemed like the filmmakers smirking at the audience to me. Like you said, the clown suit is plot relevant, is necessary, and shows up during a very serious scene.

  3. Sorry, but I must disagree; the wristwatch joke, whilst Bond is disguised as a gorilla, is the highlight of the jokiness that precedes the seriousness of the atomic-bomb climax of Octopussy (1983).

    • I’m not saying that the clown suit is more of a joke than the gorilla, because it’s certainly not. It’s just that the clown suit stands out much more than the gorilla suit does because it’s in a longer scene and a much more important scene in the film.

    • I never considered Bond looking at his wrist watch as a joke. I viewed it as something he did out of pure habit, forgetting that he was in the gorilla suit. Hence the reason why he immediately takes his hand down and returns to his still posture.

      • Bond checks his watch because Kamal Khan says “it is now 11:45”; Bond checks his watch at that moment so that his watch is synced with Khan, who then instructs the bomb to be set to explode in four hours, “at 3:45.” So, Bond’s checking his watch is actually so he knows accurately based on his watch, how much time he has to diffuse the bomb.

  4. “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.”
    Vice versa i think. He is not taking James Bond not seriously in that Moment. This Sequence is his biggest Challenge.
    I think other moments are more annoying the Fans like Tarzan or Sit. In this Sequence it might be look it is funny, but it is the hardest Sequence for Roger Moore as 007 to stop the atomic bomb in this Tent. And he has no other chance as to get in there in another disguise.
    For me it is one one of the most thilling and intense Moment of Roger Moore as James Bond. I don`t laugh about him. I feel his fear to fail, his strain to save all this People and the Peace in Europe, which i never felt with him before or after. You can see his Panic, knowing the time is against him and nobody will believe him, till Octopussy decides that it could be possible.

      • Probably the same people who reflexively harp about Moore’s safari suits even when he happened to be in a tropical jungle!

  5. One of the things I like about the Bonds is that while disguises are frequent, they are usually fairly simple. Mark Hazard in the books, Mr Beech in the movies. The clown suit is an exception, as you point out, which is good actually. If every disguise was the same, it would get a bit dull.

    As for the gorilla suit, David Niven and Robert Wagner do it better 🙂

  6. You know Roger is dead serious when you don’t see him with his slip-ons!
    Jokes aside, I just rewatched this film the other day, and it makes me think Octopussy could have been Bond’s most difficult mission up to that point.
    He runs, clings, swears, steals, destroys, gets into anything (even a gorilla or clown suit), and would do anything beyond his usual standards. He even completes the mission with the biggest injury we’ve probably seen him in up to that point, well at least physically.
    We hardly see him with the ease we expect and saw from him in earlier missions, like “Thunderball” “Live and Let Die” or “Moonraker.”

  7. Roger Moore is indeed at his most serious in a clown disguise. Can we praise here John Glen’s directing who had already managed to have Roger kick Locque’s Mercedes in FYEO ?

  8. And let’s not forget the scene when Bond finds out that Vijay has been killed. It’s a brief but affecting scene, which belies criticism of Sir Roger’s acting ability.

  9. Nice, off-beat post. I have frankly never understood the hate for Octopussy in general and the clown suit in particular. The film is tremendously entertaining and rewatchable, fit in well with late 70s-early 80s escapism, was a critical success (see The New York Times, Variety, The Hollywood Reporter’s reviews) and a commercial hit (4th highest grossing film of the summer in North America, second highest grossing film outside of North America for the year). While not having the same unity of tone of For Your Eyes Only, it moves smoothly between From Russia With Love intrigue (the hunting of 009), Fleming “cheat-the-villain-one-better” scenes (the auction and the casino), some character affirmation (“I’m not for hire”), romantic banter (poolside with Magda), wonderful leading actors-chemistry (Roger and Maud, Roger and Vijay, Roger and Desmond, Roger and Louis Jordan) and big action sequences. The entire stop-the-bomb sequence – from the nuclear bomb’s introduction on the train, to its diffusing inside the circus – is perfect marriage of scene-to-scene construction, editing, writing, acting, and shooting, and one of the best of the series and worthy of 1930s Hitchcock (see Sabotage). The clown suit works perfectly because the sequence is played straight with Roger deadly serious. I simply tire of the hate Roger Moore’s era gets for being “lighthearted”, especially considering I think the early Connery films often get a pass though they are (IMO) increasingly dated in their sexism and casual racism (Golden Gun too). Despite the fact I like the first three Craig films, not every film needs to be a post-Bourne, angst-ridden drama about the price Bond pays to be Bond.
    And, for what’s it’s worth, the one misstep in Octopussy – the Tarzan yell – was also done, a few weeks earlier and for unknown reasons, in Return of the Jedi. I just chalk it up to 1983 – having been in the theatre at the time for both movies, I don’t recall anyone complaining and generally audiences I was with found it amusing and laughed (as they did when Roger checked his watch in the gorilla suit).

    • I agree with your assessment of Octopussy.

      I think the Tarzan yell works quite well in Return of the Jedi. It’s much more appropriate for Chewbacca than for Bond.

      • Thanks, Matt. I have to laugh and agree with you on Chewie. Hope all is well in NYC.

    • “not every film needs to be a post-Bourne, angst-ridden drama about the price Bond pays to be Bond.” – well said! I couldn’t agree more, and I also didn’t particularly enjoy any of Craig’s outings. Now more than ever, we could all use some pleasant escapism!

      • Thanks. I like Craig’s first three outings (Skyfall is on my five-Bond-film desert island list)and I love the first three Bourne movies…but the angle is getting old at this point. Even the Bourne films moved on from that angle for Damon’s fourth one in 2016. Some escapism would be welcome from the franchise that used to be a good time at the movies. Based on Spectre (for all of the much attacked and allegedly “silly” films in the series, Spectre was far sillier as a plot point [stolen from Austin Power no less!] than anything in the franchise that came before it,) I am not hopeful that whenever Bond 25 is released in the US, it will serve that purpose.

      • We all feel a sense of ‘ownership’ of Bond, and there are as many opinions about Bond as there are Bond film viewers (except everyone else’s is wrong!!) but for all that, I have the feeling that Mendes just didn’t ‘get’ Bond. One of the Bond commentators used to write about “the Fleming sweep” meaning how the stories often began on a rainy day in London and in no time he was suddenly swept off to an exotic (sunny) location. Skyfall takes place largely in grey London and then there’s the ‘Home Alone’ sequence in more grey Scotland. There’s something to be admired for me in all the Craig era Bonds but Mendes was set up with an open goal and IMO he scuffed it past the post – twice!

      • If the rumors about NTTD are to be believed (and obviously I won’t spoil anything here), it certainly sounds like it will be even MORE personal.

  10. I also was in the cinema for Octopussy in 1983. I was a teenager. I do remember that my friends and I found the whole introduction of this new element of Bond as a “master of disguise” as a bit jarring and clutching at straws. Yes, it had been tried in OHMSS, but usually Bond was Bond it felt a bit late in the series to suddenly reinvent him with all these aliases. Having said that, we all loved the clown scene at the end, when his choice of disguise keeps anyone from taking him seriously. That still works.

    But yeah, we hated the Tarzan yell and “Sit!”. We didn’t like it (or much else) in Jedi either.

  11. In Return of the Jedi, I will argue that it works slightly better because it actually sounded like Chewbacca rather than an obvious stock sound effect. Maybe they should have had Roger record the vocalization himself in the ADR booth!

    Despite their issues, both these films released in 1983 are very enjoyable.

  12. Another disguise from Octopussy is the burlap body sack he hides in to Escape from Kamal Khans palace.

  13. “There’s a bomb in that cannon!” “Of course! Where else would a bomb be?” That scene is pure Hitchcock! And only Roger Moore could carry it off!

  14. Bond’s clown make-up is done quickly, but having been on stage a few times (singing opera), I don’t find that strange. There’s usually a make-up person who can do a face in a stunningly short time.

    If that explanation isn’t enough, then… well, the movie cuts out a long make-up scene, just as it cuts out characters presumably needing to go to the bathroom occasionally 😀

    Time isn’t literal in movies.

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