OCTOPUSSY and how not to edit the gag.

In 1990, Akira Kurosawa won an honorary Academy Award for “for cinematic accomplishments that have inspired, delighted, enriched and entertained worldwide audiences and influenced filmmakers throughout the world”. When he accepted the award, he said something that should be carved on the forehead of every camera slinger who puts "Filmmaker" on their business card.

“I’m a little worried because I don’t feel that I understand cinema yet. I really don’t feel that I have yet grasped the essence of cinema. Cinema is a marvellous thing, but to grasp its true essence is very, very difficult. But what I promise you is that from now on I will work as hard as I can at making movies, and maybe by following this path I will achieve an understanding of the true essence of cinema and earn this award.”

Let that sink in a moment. This was Akira Kurosawa. The guy who made RASHOMON, SEVEN SAMURAI, RAN! And a bunch of other titles. Every third title this man made was a classic and the ones that aren't classics are really damn good.
If Kurosawa didn't think he had the concept of cinema down, what chance do the rest of us camera jockeys have?

I'm opening with this story because I don't want to come off like some cranky fanboy bitching about movies.  I am a director which means I'm serving a lifelong apprenticeship to my craft.  If I do this correctly, I am in a constant state of learning. When I write something critical about filmmaking, it's me asking myself "Why did this not work?" and "How could I do this better or more elegantly?". 
In short, I too am trying to find the essence of Cinema. And when I do it, it will hopefully be without malice and only a minimum of snark.
Unless I start talking about Uwe Boil.
Because...you know...fuck that guy!

OCTOPUSSY (1983. Dir. John Glen.) is Roger Moore's next to last Bond film. And it feels like the closest the series ever got to straight comedy due to the inclusion of George MacDonald Fraser as a screenwriter. (Fraser wrote the FLASHMAN series of novels and the screenplays for the Richard Lester MUSKETEER films.) The plot is pure nutter butter involving Faberge eggs and nuclear bombs and tries to tie into the end of the cold war, But aside from Louis Jourdan and Stephen Berkoff as the baddies. (And the presence of Kristina Wayborn who has cheekbones that could cut through steel.) and some nice location shots of India, there's not much to recommend it.
But there are two moments in this movie that are instructive in how not to stage and edit a joke.

Moment one comes in at the 1:02 mark. Bond has escaped from the villain's hideout and is being chased by a hunting party, complete with Elephants and Jourdan in a goofy hat. Suddenly, a tiger leaps out and faces Bond.
His response?
He raises a finger and yells "SIT".
Which actually works. The tiger sits and Bond goes on his merry way.
Not a great gag but in context of the film, it's a workable gag.
And you would think, easy enough to stage

MEDIUM SHOT: On Bond. Staring down the tiger.

CLOSE: On the tiger, looking at Bond the way Chris Christie looks at a meatball sub.

MEDIUM CLOSE: On Bond who raises his finger and yells "SIT".

CLOSE: On the Tiger who doesn't move for one or two seconds (For Suspense) and then sits.

The big laugh would come from the resolution of suspense that ended with a positive outcome. (You also could have had the gag where Bond says "SIT" and gets eaten anyway but that would have been a different movie. One that would have bought Timothy Dalton into the franchise a lot sooner.)

However, that's not how Glen cuts the scene. Instead, we get this.

MEDIUM SHOT: On Bond. Staring down the tiger.

CLOSE: On the tiger, looking at Bond the way a drunk frat boy looks at a plate of sliders.

MEDIUM CLOSE: On Bond who raises his finger and yells "SIT".

CLOSE: On the Tiger who immediately sits down followed by a SMASH CUT TO...

CLOSE: On the head of an Elephant in pursuit. CUT BACK TO...

CLOSE: On the Tiger who finishes sitting down.

John Glen basically killed his own joke in a flurry of action editing. 

Moment two comes at about 1:09 in the film. Bond has caught up with Octopussy (Maud Adams.) in her floating palace. They trade pleasantries. Just then, Jourdan arrives. He enters as Bond moves to the door Jourdan just came through. Jourdan announces with no small urgency that Bond has escaped. And Adams says without so much as a by your leave "By the way, have you met my new houseguest?". At which point, Bond steps up and beings the traditional act two needling of the villain.
Now, to understand how badly they botched this reveal, you have to understand something about Roger Moore.  Now I don't dislike Moore as Bond. But he's not my favorite. (It's a tie between Connery and Craig.) The best Bonds are the ones who aren't afraid to be bastards. And Roger Moore, bless his heart, was simply way too nice. 
Also, not the most physically adept Bond.  His running makes my running look like Tom Cruise's running.
However, he had one great gift as Bond. And that was his smile.
When Bond smiled at an enemy, you could feel the weight of the British Empire behind it.  It was a smile that said, "Isn't it glorious that I'm British? And so terrible that you're not?" 
It was a smile of loaded condensation that a sharp director could weaponize for effect.

Now, to make the aforementioned scene work all you had to was...

MEDIUM SHOT: Jourdan and Adams-"Have you met my new houseguest?"

MEDIUM CLOSE: Jourdan's eyes slightly widening. 

MEDIUM CLOSE: Bond, wearing the British equivalent of a Shit-eating grin as he starts to cross to them. 

Instead, what you get is...

MEDIUM SHOT: Jourdan and Adams-"Have you met my new houseguest?" And before, Bond's presence can register on Jourdan's face, WE CUT TO...

CLOSE SHOT of a table as WE SEE ROGER MOORE'S ASS PASS BY IT! Panning up to a three-shot of the principles as Moore finishes his next line!

So, not only do we not get Moore's patented Smile of Superiority but we also lose Jourdan's reaction in the first place, neutering both actor's performances. 

What makes both instances particularly galling is that John Glen started on the Bond series as an editor. His first Bond film being Peter Hunt's criminally underrated ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE. I can only imagine Hunt sitting through OCTOPUSSY and thinking, "You've learned nothing from me! NOTHING!!". 

Again, in my examples, my solutions aren't the only solutions. You could watch the same scene and think "How could I cut it to make it better?".

That's the blessing and the curse of being a filmmaker. At a certain point, you live with a movie long enough, you find yourself breaking it apart to see what makes it tick.

End of the day, we're all trying to build a better mousetrap.

SUPPPLEMENTAL VIEWING. Besides the Musketeer films, Fraser also wrote the screenplay for the Richard Lester film ROYAL FLASH. (Based on his Novel, "The Flashman Papers".) And it's a wildly entertaing romp.

IN THE COMMENTS BELOW: Feel free to comment on your favorite or least favorite bits of editing in film.