Thunderball (1965)

Thunderball

A review by Ross Joseph

Director: Terence Young
Producer: Kevin McClory
Writer: Richard Maibaum & John Hopkins, based on Thunderball by Ian Fleming
Starring: Sean Connery, Claudine Auger, Adolfo Cell, Luciana Paluzzi, Guy Doleman
Music: John Barry

I think the James Bond formula is complete. No, I’m serious here. I bang on about the Bond Formula all the time and mentioned in Goldfinger how most of the formula was down pat, but Thunderball nailed it. Quite simply, it may not be as ‘classic’ as Goldfinger, but its got it where it counts.

As far as plots go, this is really easy. SPECTRE is here in all its glory. They have stolen two atomic bombs from a ‘live’ NATO training mission and plan to blow up a major capital city unless their ransom is paid. The cost: $100 million in diamonds… I feel like Dr Evil.

Being the secret agent that he is, James Bond is tasked with recovering the bombs before the deadline, and does this by travelling to sunny Bahamas where he comes into contact with SPECTRE agent number two, Emilio Largo. The usual games of baiting are played between each party, with the CIA joining the fun and a cast of other colourful characters.

I was pleasantly surprised by how much enjoyment Thunderball gave me. In the past, all the underwater scenes left me bored and checking the clock. I may be a Bond fan but I can still be bored and disappointed from time to time. After a fairly action packed opening which sees James Bond punch a widow, use a jetpack and drive away in his Aston Martin, the film never really lets up in the fun factor. You’ve got Sean Connery finally providing the opening gun barrel sequence (bye Bob Simmons). You got him at his physical best and even at his most laid back and intense.

SPECTRE returns in all its glory after being absent from the previous instalment. Blofeld’s identity is still hidden from view but we are given full access into the workings of the Terrorist organisation. And I really loved it. Up until this point in the franchise, we have seen how MI6 gives out missions to 007, and now SPECTRE is given the same treatment. I rather enjoyed the scenes depicting the inner works of SPECTRE and how the organisation deals with liars.

Those damn atomic bombs. The whole idea is that SPECTRE uses a body double to help them steal two live atomic bombs. It’s done during a NATO training mission. Why live bombs would be involved during a training mission is beyond me, considering training missions mean using dummy bombs. So why live bombs are used, I’ll never know. I guess for the sake of the plot, but come on, you are better than this.

It is only fair to mention Never Say Never Again. Back in the late 1950s, Ian fleming was interested in bringing 007 to the big screen. With the help of filmmakers Kevin McClory and Jack Whittingham, production on the very first James Bond script was underway. All the elements were there with it being the origin of SPECTRE and many other familiar elements present in the final films. However, the first proposed James Bond movie was sent to development hell. Ian Fleming used plot points from the script and wrote his best selling novel Thunderball (1961). This was a little too similar to their script so McClory took matters to the courts. Troubles arose when EON began work on Thunderball; Kevin McClory was brought in as producer as appeasement. He was also allowed to keep the rights to use any and all elements in the original script including the name James Bond, thus Never Say Never Again was released in 1983, using the 007 character.

If you wish to find out more on the legal issues concerning Thunderball, you’ll be able to find plenty more online. Still it’s an interesting topic to read about with many eye-opening facts.

A first for a 007 film are all the underwater scenes. Roughly a quarter of the runtime is devoted to the scuba scenes, and the photography is truly astonishing. Everything seems to be moving so slow but it all looks so well-staged and filmed that you’d be forgiven for believing it’s a screensaver. Still, the question I have to ask, how does one have sex underwater without a breathing apparatus?

Very glad to see Connery doing some of his own underwater stunts as I’d forgotten he was such a physical man.

The budget for early James Bond films were reasonable for the time. Dr No was $1.1 million and increased to $3 million for Goldfinger. When it came to Thunderball though, the budget was increased drastically to $9 million, which makes sense: most, if not all, of the movie seems to be on location. Underwater scenes would’ve been difficult to film and expensive to boot. Unlike many other films, Thunderball’s budget is really shown on screen. Lots of beautiful locations and set pieces. A visual delight. Oh, and the total box-office was $141.2 million (based on wikipedia).

Connery is still on form: a charming, deadly killer making a few good quips throughout the early scenes at the health clinic. Upon this viewing, I’m enjoying my time with Connery’s films a lot more than I ever have. I especially love his moments with the evil Fiona Volpe as played by Italian actress, Luciana Paluzzi. The very sexy and extremely dangerous woman manages to one-up 007 many times throughout the film. As much as Bond uses her, she turns the tide on him and has a fairly intense chase scene where it looks like the end for Bond. Spoilers, he doesn’t die.

Bond girl for the Thunderball is Domino Derval played by Claudine Auger. Gorgeous, just utterly drop dead amazing to look at on screen. People will argue that Honey Ryder is the ultimate Bond girl, but just have a look at Domino. She plays the usual Bond girl part, but does manage to save 007. She also happens to be a love interest for Bond as well as Largo, although the relationship there is a little off.

Emil Largo is Number Two with SPECTRE. He is a fairly decent villain and goes hands on quite often when having to deal with 007 and others that cross his path. It’s a welcome change after Goldfinger who sent Oddjob to take care of mostly everything. I find Largo to be imposing and with the eye patch, he has a threatening look. During the action scenes, he manages to go toe to toe with Bond and doesn’t look out of place during the underwater scenes. He is smooth and deadly, showing zero remorse at the deaths of fellow SPECTRE agents, or even when torturing Domino.

A quick mention goes to Felix Leiter as the character seems to have an ever rotating roster of actors. He is serviceable here but not really worth mentioning.

In the music department, John Barry is in top form. So far it’s my favourite of the film scores with the underwater music have a slow feel to it. Originally the theme song was to be titled ‘Kiss Kiss Bang Bang’, and the cords are echoed throughout the film score. This type of thing is used more often in later 007 films. Thunderball was eventually chosen as the theme song, with Tom Jones passing out at one point during the original recording… or so that’s how the rumour goes.

Plenty of gadgets are used throughout Bond’s adventure in Thunderball, and the fantasy elements slowly rise with each new film. Still, the gadgets don’t seem that far fetched, with each item being just around the corner. Hell, even the jetpack in the pre-credit scene was a real working form of transportation. Sean Connery wasn’t flying it, of course, but seeing it in action on screen is amazing. The acting is good, with the locations and underwater moments a sight to behold. Everything in Thunderball is top notch, and easily well worth watching. So far the best 007 adventure yet.

James Bond will return in You Only Live Twice