Bondathon #4: Thunderball (1965)

Posted: March 17, 2016 in Movie Review
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Thunderball (1965)

Director: Terence Young

Starring: Sean Connery, Claudine Auger, Adolfo Celi, Luciana Paluzzi, Rik Van Nutter

The James Bond franchise has not gone without its share of controversy over the years, and it was with “Thunderball” that the film series was almost sunk before it had ever begun. Between 1958 and 1959, Bond’s creator Ian Fleming met several times with Kevin McClory, Jack Whittingham and others to discuss plans to bring 007 to the big screen. McClory and Whittingham wrote a script they called “Longitude 78 West.” Fleming thought it was good enough, but changed the title to “Thunderball.” Yes it was “Thunderball,” not “Dr. No,” which was originally going to be the first James Bond film. But plans change, and the movie wasn’t made. A year later, in 1960, Fleming used the script as the basis for his ninth Bond novel. This upset McClory, who filed suit. The resulting bad blood would have repercussions that would continue to affect the course of the film series until McClory’s death in 2006.

Taking a cue from “Goldfinger,” “Thunderball” opens with an action-packed prologue that sees James Bond (Sean Connery) avenging the deaths of two fellow MI6 agents by assassinating Colonel Jacques Bouvar, also known as SPECTRE operative Number 6. He then makes a clean getaway via a jetpack! After being absent in the last movie, SPECTRE is back in full force, and their mounting losses against 007 have caused their schemes to grow that much more ambitious. This time around, SPECTRE’s Number 2, Emilio Largo (Adolfo Celi) plots to commandeer a NATO plane carrying two atomic bombs, with which SPECTRE will hold the world ransom. The pilot is murdered, and a surgically altered SPECTRE agent is put in his place. Once the job is done, the doppelganger in turn is then killed by Largo when he tries to haggle for more money than promised. No honor among thieves.

Bond is put on the case after recognizing the pilot in a photograph during a meeting of all the 00 Agents. He’d come across the corpse of Francois Derval while at a clinic. It is known that Derval’s sister, Domino (Claudine Auger) is currently in Nassau, which is where Bond is sent to make contact. By no small coincidence, she is also the mistress of one Emilio Largo. The close proximity of his two targets making Bond’s job that much easier, he introduces himself to Largo by beating him in a card game. At the same time Bond gets close to Domino, who seems eager to get out from under the thumb of Largo. To aid him in his mission, Bond’s friends Q and Felix Leiter arrive with a collection of goodies which will assist 007 against Largo. Among them are a small breathing apparatus that doesn’t require a bulky oxygen tank, and a Geiger counter hidden inside of a camera.

Bond also meets a beautiful and feisty redhead named Fiona Volpe (Luciana Paluzzi). Bond will come to discover many things about Fiona, including her penchant for driving at high speeds. Unfortunately, she is also an agent of SPECTRE, and has every intention of seeing to it that Bond dies. She nearly succeeds on more than one occasion, her last attempt coming during a chase through a parade. A bullet fired by Fiona’s own bodyguard strikes her in the back instead, killing her.

After informing Domino of her brother’s death, Bond convinces her to help him, giving her the Geiger counter so that the location of the bombs can be identified. Bond believes at least one of them has to be somewhere on board Largo’s ship. Domino is found out, and Largo detains her for interrogation. In the meantime, Bond figures out that the bombs are going to be used on Miami Beach. With this information, Felix Leiter brings in the Coast Guard, resulting in the film’s climactic underwater battle with Largo and his henchman. Our heroes also acquire an unexpected ally in Largo’s nuclear physicist, who sees his boss for the madman he is and discards the bomb’s detonation device. The final fight between Bond and Largo on board the ship almost ends badly for Bond. However, just as Largo is about to shoot Bond, Domino impales Largo from behind with a spear gun.

The aforementioned legal dispute regarding “Thunderball” resulted in many concessions other than monetary payment. For instance, this is the only James Bond movie for which neither Albert Broccoli nor his daughter Barbara (who took over for her father after his death in the late 1990’s) is credited as producer. That honor would go to McClory who in turn leased certain rights attached to the series, including SPECTRE and its infamous leader, for a period of ten years. So, from 1971 until 2015, Bond would be fighting villains other than his greatest nemesis. But then I am getting rather ahead of myself…

When “Thunderball” is on dry land, much of it is on par with “From Russia With Love” and “Goldfinger.” However, the underwater sequences…  both numerous and overlong… drag the movie down a few notches. This is especially a shame when you consider that these parts of “Thunderball” were intended as its selling point. Making up for this are Connery’s three co-stars. Adolfo Celi’s intimidating presence as Emilio Largo makes him an excellent addition to the list of Bond villains. Speaking strictly from a subjective point of view, Claudine Auger and Luciana Paluzzi are two of the loveliest Bond girls of all-time. Auger in particular is one of my personal favorites. Yet the greatest asset by far is the title theme sung by Tom Jones. My absolute #1 James Bond song, it’s not unusual for Jones’s beautiful recording of “Thunderball” to make me cry.

  1. Sylvia Williams says:

    Oh, so very nicely done, CEW! very concise and informative.

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