(Here is a link to a revised version of my IMDb review of Octopussy, May 2003)
It's one of the most famous operatic conceits. Incongruously dressed as the eponymous clown Pagliaccio, a man realises the show must go on though he has just discovered his wife's infidelity. It's drama amplified by absurdity (clip dir. Sam Taylor-Wood, tenor Geraint Dodd).
It is in a correspondingly absurd situation that Roger Moore has, arguably, his finest hour in John Glen's successful if generally rather bonkers follow-up to For Your Eyes Only.
The circus is an ongoing theme of the film (and, of course, the most natural metaphor not only for the 007 franchise but the whole of the modern film industry). It opens with the alarmingly realist psychodrama of a balloon-clutching clown's murder, moving through a freakshow-like Indian public square and Octopussy's Sapphic circus school enclave before arriving at the denouement of the clip above.
Live And Let Die controversially concludes with the voodoo-Harlequin Samedi riding the train into the credits, literally having the last laugh. Bond's Brazilian contact in Moonraker, Manuela, nearly succumbs to Jaws dressed as a coulrophobe's worst nightmare (right). It all seems part of the same general continuum of heightened appearance that makes Bond's foes stand out - there is facial disfigurement or prosthesis in Thunderball (substituting the pilot's face and eye), You Only Live Twice (Blofeld's scarred eye socket), Diamonds Are Forever (the cosmetic overload of Blofeld's cross-dressing escape), Live And Let Die (Kananga is Mr Big in a latex mask) and even Scaramanga's three nipples in The Man With The Golden Gun.
This unifies the darkness at the core of the stories (particularly in Fleming), the idea of the clown drawing the mad guys and Bond together with theatre, the grotesque or surreal and of course the face paint that is the stock in trade of the special forces operative or assassin. Bond is sent to purge them because he is, distantly, one of them. Above all he has his own familiar costume, the ubiquitous black and white tuxedo. As such Bond may be seen as a latter day Pierrot or Harlequin, the incomprehensible outcast unable to aspire to equation with the people but accepted in casting fatal judgement upon even the most powerful among them.
It's in Octopussy that the clown business blooms exhaustively. In addition to the Ronald McDonald-a-like, Bond also dresses as a crocodile, a knife thrower and an ape - not to mention adopting the likeness of a South American colonel before escaping in plane dressed as a horse in the pre-title farrago. Such an unlikely combination of shark-jumping thematics and the ageing Moore must have struck fear into the cold heart of the production team. Yet its success is precisely because of Moore's particular gift for being both serious and silly - and skilfully managing the contradictions of the two.