Terence Young, 1965
Starring: Sean Connery, Claudine Auger, Adolfo Celi, Luciana Paluzzi
Thunderball, the fourth and most financially successful film in the series, was the first to give Bond a more comic book feel and a heavier reliance on gadgetry. It is also the most controversial, due to the legal battle surrounding writer Kevin McClory, who wrote one of the first Bond screenplays. He claimed Ian Fleming’s later novel, Thunderball, was based on his script and Fleming settled with him out of court. To appease McClory, Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman (Eon producers of the Bond series), granted McClory partial rights to avoid rival Bond films, though McClory later used the story to make a second, failed Thunderball adaptation, Never Say Never Again.
Bond attends the funeral of SPECTRE’s Number 6, who is actually disguised as his own widow. Bond fights and kills him, then flees using a jetpack. Later, while he is at a health clinic, he runs into another SPECTRE agent with a mysterious, bandaged man in his hotel room. Bond soon finds the bandaged man dead. He turns out to be NATO pilot Francois Derval, who is now being impersonated by a SPECTRE agent who received extensive plastic surgery. The fake Derval hijacks a Vulcan plane carrying two atomic bombs, intended to be a training mission. All aboard are killed and SPECTRE’s Number 2, Emilio Largo, hides the plane underwater in the Bahamas and steals the bombs. SPECTRE demands £100 million in diamonds from the world’s governments, or else they will begin destroying major cities. Bond tracks down Derval’s sister, Domino, who is living in Nassau with Largo and uses her to make a connection with Largo and to hopefully find the bombs before it is too late.
If the plot seems lengthy and complicated, it is. This was the first Bond film with a running time of over two hours, much of which is unfortunately made up of long underwater scenes where it is difficult to tell what is happening. The final showdown between CIA/MI6 agents and Largo’s men is particularly frustrating. This marks a sort of transition for the Bond films. It is the last to be directed by Terence Young and the first to rely heavily on gadgets. Q (Desmond Llewelyn) is on location in Nassau to assist Bond and provides him with an assortment of tools, including an underwater infrared camera, an emergency breathing tube and a flare gun. These gimmicky elements unfortunately only serve to take attention away from Connery’s performance. Though I love parts of this film, there is a reason Thunderball makes up the majority of jokes in Austin Powers.
Though there are plenty of lovely women, this is one of the least sexy Connery productions. Bond’s assistant Paula (Martine Beswick) is completely wasted with scant screen time and he essentially blackmails his spa therapist (Molly Peters) into having sex with him. SPECTRE agent Fione Volpe (Luciana Paluzzi) seduces Bond, but he postcoitally denounces her and claims to have taken no pleasure from their time together. This scene left a bad taste in my mouth (no puns here, I swear) and felt even more misogynistic than Bond’s treatment of Patricia. Main Bond girl Domino (Claudine Auger) is absolutely lovely, but sadly unmemorable and the big sex scene between she and Bond is hidden underwater.
There are still some strong elements, like the Tom Jones theme song and John Barry’s wonderful score. Maurince Binder returns for the opening sequence, which he re-filmed to meet the wide-aspect demands, allowing for Connery to appear instead of a stunt double. His credits sequence featuring silhouettes of naked women underwater is the best, next to Goldfinger’s gold-painted intro. The tagline claims this is the “Biggest Bond of All,” which cannot be denied. Adolfo Celi is quite good as Largo, the eye patch-wearing, shark-owning, bomb-stealing villain. Blofeld reappears and his scenes are always entertaining, particularly in these early films.
While Thunderball isn’t for everyone, it is still a fun and worthwhile entry in the series. There is a nice Blu-ray of Thunderball that takes most of the extras from the wonderful Ultimate Edition DVD, which is also available in volume 2 of the Ultimate Edition box sets. Special features include a number of nice featurettes, including Inside Thunderball, The Making of Thunderball and The Thunderball Phenomenon, as well as two commentaries, the first from various cast and crew members, the second from director Terence Young and Luciana Paluzzi.
My second favorite Bond credits sequence: