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Directed by: Terence Young; Produced by: Kevin McClory (Presenters: Harry Saltzman and Albert R Broccoli); Screenplay by: Richard Maibaum and John Hopkins – adapted from the Ian Fleming novel (1961), itself based on a script by Fleming, McClory and Jack Whittingham; Starring: Sean Connery, Claudine Auger, Adolfo Celi, Luciana Paluzzi, Rik Van Nutter, Bernard Lee, Martine Beswick, Guy Doleman, Philip Locke, Desmond Llewelyn, Molly Peters and Lois Maxwell; Certificate: PG; Country: UK/USA; Running time: 130 minutes; Colour; Released: December 29 1965; Worldwide box-office: $141.2m (inflation adjusted: $1,014.9m ~ 1/24*)
* denotes worldwide box-office ranking out of all 24 Bond films (inflation adjusted), according to 007james.com
Plot ~ 7/10
Thunderball's plot is big, brash fantasy, but very Fleming-faithful. Through a plan cooked up by its ‘Number 2′ Emilio Largo, SPECTRE – back again – sets about stealing two nuclear warheads via a NATO Vulcan bomber. Enlisting a fall-guy who’s had plastic surgery to assume the identity of bumped-off pilot Francois Derval, the criminal organisation sabotages a test flight of the Vulcan, crash-landing it in the Caribbean just off the coast of The Bahamas. Here Largo and his goons, murdering the fake Derval, hide the jet and its warheads, ensuring the UK Government can be held ransom to the tune of £100m in cut diamonds – a major UK or US city will be destroyed with the bombs unless it pays up. All the ’00′s including Bond are put on the case (‘Operation Thunderball’), yet fortuitously 007 has a lead: he was at the clinic where Derval was offed and the operative had his face done, in which case he pursues Derval’s sister Domino – in The Bahamas…
Bond ~ 7/10
It’s no secret that after three films Connery was growing tired of playing Bond. Not that it shows enormously here, but all the same, the 007 of Thunderball is not that of the previous film and certainly not that of the first two. More reliant on gadgets and less on his own wits, which thanks to the script seem strangely to take a backseat for the middle third of the movie where our hero appears content, well, to bugger around a bit in The Bahamas before getting a wiggle on to find the missing warheads, he spends a hell of a lot of time getting wet. Connery himself is game, for sure – and up to the mark sardonically, especially in the early Shrublands Clinic scenes – but while his Bond this time definitely delivers the muscle, he somehow lacks the spark of before.
Girls ~ 8/10
Recalled by many as quality Bond totty, Thunderball's girls are not all outstanding; specifically – and unfortunately – the leading female character: Claudine Auger’s Domino. A former Miss France, Auger looks the part and, like Connery, she literally spends a lot of time wet, but unlike Connery, she’s figuratively wet too. Tossed this way and that by the men around her, she suffers perhaps more than anyone else in the film from being under-written thanks to the script’s flaws. The rest of the ‘Thunderbirds’ do live up to that moniker, mind. There’s former model Molly Peters’ spunky nurse Pat Fearing and Martine Beswick’s gives-as-good-as-she-gets (until ending up the flick’s ‘sacrificial lamb’) Bahamian MI6 contact Paula Caplan. Both are also gorgeous. As is the film’s best character, Luciana Paluzzi’s Fiona Volpe. More on her below…
Villains ~ 7/10
The casting of Adolfo Celi as bad guy Emilio Largo is a mixed blessing. He looks terrific (cruelly handsome with his black eye-patch and physically imposing, along with the requisite glamour and vulagrity of a tycoon-turned-evil), but owing to his Italian tones he can’t make work the tepid and sometimes inept lines the script offers him, ensuring Largo – not one of Fleming’s best antagonists to start with really – comes off as a bit of a B-movie baddie. The evil Emilio is joined by a dismembered Blofeld (as in Russia, merely a voice and hand stroking a white cat), Guy Doleman’s charming but lightweight UK SPECTRE agent Count Lippe and Philip Locke’s Vargas, who given his pointlessness is rather ironically skewered by Bond’s harpoon bolt (“I think he got the point”). But then there’s Fiona. Yup, she’s so damn good she probably raises this film’s Girls and Villains scores by two points each. Incredibly sexy and sultry, very cunning and dangerous and an utterly ravishing redhead, Volpe the Voluptuous is surely the series’ best ever villainess.
Action ~ 5/10
Its underwater action scenes are Thunderball's biggest flaw. You can imagine the pre-production meetings: let’s have Bond constantly grapple with goons in the sea and have a unit of black-clad baddies face-off against US frogmen in orange wetsuits in a huge harpoon battle surrounded by sharks! It’ll be awesome! Sadly, it’s not. Unlike on Fleming’s written page, on-screen underwater action is really slow. And, given the script sets much of the movie’s action beneath the waves, it’s a big problem. To off-set it, in a surprising mis-step, overly blunt, even crude editing is applied to these sequences (as well as more oddly in one or two other scenes, such as the pre-titles fight, while the film is sped-up an unforgivably high number of times – not least during Bond and Largo’s desperate final face-off). Disappointing.
Humour ~ 7/10
More successful is this film’s humour. Its script may not zing with the one-liners of Goldfinger, but those it offers are ably delivered by (mostly) Connery, while his interactions with nurse Pat (sexy and sassy) and Paula (sardonic – this time from the girl) are very good value, as is the fast developing meme of Q demonstrating his wares to a bored, playful 007 – and, in a first, out in the field. Other highlights include Bond hitting a widow just returned from a funeral, whom he works out is the widow’s supposedly deceased husband (an enemy assassin) because ‘she’ opened the car door instead of waiting for it to be opened for ‘her’. Inexcusable in the ’60s that, obviously.
Music ~ 7/10
Its music often may be one of its stronger elements, but Thunderball's John Barry-penned score simply isn’t up to the quality of the previous two flicks’. It’s at its best – like the film itself – when setting mood. An example is Dance With Domino/ Bond’s Apartment; the first half of which is slow, smooth and lilting, almost sad, but fits perfectly with the cool that Bond adds to the high-living Nassau world he encounters, while the second half sets suspense through an equally slow, but eerie theme (which seems to echo the other-worldly drift of the sea). At its worst, though, the score goes crazy at moments when the underwater action doesn’t thrill enough in an effort to up the ante. Not classic stuff. Tom Jones’ Barry-written theme, with lyrics by Don Black, is fine – although the turned-down effort from Dionne Warwick, Mr Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (orchestral versions of which feature in the film), is better.
Locations ~ 7/10
For many, The Bahamas (and its capital Nassau in particular) is one of the classic Bond film locations – and it’s hard to disagree with that. After all, not only like Dr No's Jamaica does it offer (especially back in the day when foreign climes were less easily reached) the colour and mild exoticism of the Caribbean, but it also delivers the glamorous, rarefied jet-setter atmosphere of a Monte Carlo or a St. Mortitz. Other locales include Paris (seen very briefly as the setting for SPECTRE’s HQ) and the Château d’Anet (which, not far from Paris, features in the pre-title sequence). The Shrublands Clinic exteriors were shot in Buckinghamshire, which while not very Bondian do add an old-world English charm to proceedings.
Gadgets ~ 7/10
When it comes to gadgets – and, well, the wider film itself – Thunderball's tone is set right from the off when Bond throws on his conveniently placed Bell Texton jet-pack and flies away from his pursuers. It’s cool, no question, even if the mop-top haircut-style helmet 007 has to wear when using it is not. A more practical and better gadget though is the natty mini-breather he can use if he has to abandon conventional underwater breathing equipment at any point (which, naturally, he does). In fact, it’s a gadget-and-a-half. Bond also uses a swallowable homer pill, an underwater camera with infra-red film and in-built geiger counter, as well as an underwater propulsion unit, which boasts spear guns and searchlights, but perhaps the less said about that one the better.
Style ~ 8/10
In many ways, Thunderball sums up mid-’60s style. The faraway paradise with its aspirational affluence that is The Bahamas is beautiful (especially in the bold tones of Technicolor caught in oh-so wide Panavision) and, frankly, still very inviting a fantasy destination today, not least with the added appeal of Connery and his ‘Thunderbirds’. Talking of whom, the swimsuits and ballgowns of the female talent are pretty unforgettable, especially Volpe the Voluptuous’s striking blue dress and boa combo. And, being this is the mid-’60s, the technology is starkly cool and almost crazily ambitious; especially Largo’s Disco Volante yacht, which splits away from its outer shell to become a high-powered hydrofoil – reminiscent of something that might be used by those other Thunderbirds (1964-66), the ones dreamt up by Gerry Anderson, that is.
Thunderball sets the ‘the fourth Bond movie mis-step’ trend. It’s simply too big for its – and director Terence Young’s – boots. The latter said that, contrasted with those of his previous efforts Dr No and Russia, its budget was so large that the spare real crab left over from dining scenes was offered to the crew, but as archetypal Brits they just wanted fish and chips. In The Bahamas. Which kind of sums things up. It has its moments (most of them involving Fiona), but a slow tone, crazy editing and boring underwater scenes threaten to sink it. Not that the public of the day cared – released at the height of mid-’60s ‘Bondmania’, it made an absolute mint.
<font size=4>Overall: 70/100</font>
Best bit: Fiona’s scrub in the tub
Best line: “Do you mind if my friend sits this one out? She’s just dead”
Get the full treatment of my 'Bondathon' reviews here
This film is often criticized for the slower action, particularly in the underwater sequences. Well, I feel people are spoiled by the fast cuts and explosive action of modern day Bond films (especially Brosnan's films; in his tenure as 007, he must have ran from hundreds of explosions and dodged/shot a million bullets); there's nothing wrong with slower action in this film - it has a mood all it's own, especially underwater where there's no dialogue and John Barry's brilliant music dominates, which is why I picked up the soundtrack.
Thunderball is graced with two of my favorite Bond girls (well, one if you don't count villainess Fiona Volpe as simply a Bond girl) in Domino and Fiona. Both are extremely attractive. Domino spends much time in swimsuits which is irresistible eye candy and Fiona's scene in the tub is wonderful, and I love this bit:
Volpe: "Since you are here, would you mind giving me something to put on?"
Bond hands her her shoes.
Always makes me grin.
Luciana Paluzzi's Fiona is one of the best things about this film. Her "blow to your ego" scene with Bond is terrific and I think she's the absolute best female villain in all the Bond movies (yes, even better than Onatopp, though not by much). She arguably gets the best dialogue of the whole film, too.
Claudine Auger was cast for her beauty plain and simple. It's a reversal of Honer Blackman's more smart than attractive Pussy Galore in the previous film and harkens back to Ursula Andress in the first film, Dr. No, who, like Auger, was dubbed as she had a heavy, thick accent. Both Andress and Auger are pure, beautiful window dressing, enticing the men in. Still, both are very high on my list of favorite Bond girls, and not simply because both are staggeringly hot (that does have a lot to do with it, though..isn't that the main original purpose of a Bond girl?). I enjoy Domino's rebuff of Bond earlier in the film when they first meet. I really love that it's Domino that kills Largo and not Bond, even after she had Bond promise her that he would kill Largo. I always love when the Bond girl rescues Bond from the fire.
Some of my favorite scenes in Thunderball is the health spa bits early in the movie. Molly Peters is enjoyable (mainly as another bit of window dressing, but hey) and rack scene is unintentionally funny, what with the faces Connery makes and such.
The pre-title sequence is alright, and the fight between Bond and Jacques Bouvar is great, though I wish it wasn't so sped up in places, but that was a thing in just about all 1960s Bond films, so...
The jetpack....well, it's feasible and real, but the back projection shots with Connery are crap and the helmet Bond wears is just silly looking.
All in all, this is a great, great movie. I adore the Bahamas location, making Thunderball one of the most exotica and eye-pleasing Bond films (I always love locales in Bond films that have beaches and crystal blue-green oceans and such). The script has only a few small problems and Connery is still having fun. John Barry's music is perhaps his best, at least until On Her Majesty's Secret Service.
I LOVE this movie. I mean, my user name is out of love for it. I can't quite explain why I love Thunderball more than every other Bond film but I suppose a lot of it comes from being one of the first Bond movies I ever saw, back when I was in high school and being attracted to both the girls and the scenery. It just screams the 1960s and I love that aspect of it.
In 1959 Ian Fleming joined forces with Kevin McClory and Jack Whittingham to produce a James Bond film; something that Fleming had been angling after for sometime, and together they worked on a screenplay.
However Fleming was uneasy, more so after McClory's début directorial film got a pasting at the box office. So concerned was Fleming that he got in contact with the people who represented a certain Mr Hitchcock. Alas it was not to be, much to the chagrin of espionage fans everywhere.
The plans for a James Bond film were put on hold as Fleming went back to Jamaica, to write For Your Eyes Only, a collection of short stories. Fleming based For Your Eyes Only on a mini-series for CBS television, starring James Bond; it was an abortive attempt to get 007 in a different medium.
Fleming set a dangerous precedent by adapting screen treatments into a book. After all 007 was his creation, so Fleming could do with Bond as he pleased. Wrong; in 1961 Fleming published Thunderball, based on the screenplay, with which he worked on with McClory and Whittingham, who promptly sued him, for the most mortal sin a writer can be accused; plagiarism.
Harry Saltzman and Cubby Broccoli wanted Thunderball to be their first Bond picture, as it was the most recent. They were put off by the legal shenanigans, and decided to film Dr No, an all together much more simple story.
In 1963 the High Court found Fleming guilty of plagiarism, and any future editions of Thunderball were to include “based on a screen treatments by Kevin McClory, Jack Whittingham and Ian Fleming”. McClory was also to get film rights to Thunderball.
However, by this time EON Productions were in the middle of “Bond-mania”, and Sean Connery was the biggest box office draw.
In a rather phlegmatic move, McClory suggested that he, Harry and Cubby produce Thunderball together. Harry and Cubby readily agreed, after all, there would be little sense in having a rival 007 film, in which they had no control. That would come much later.
Thus in September 1964 the three men struck a deal to produce the film. It started production in March 1965 and it was pencilled in for a Christmas release in that year. They would be working from a screenplay by Richard Maibaum and John Hopkins, who stayed relatively true to the source novel.
The producers asked Guy Hamilton to direct after his work on Goldfinger. Hamilton, however, felt too drained and had run out of creative ideas. Luckily Terence Young, the original Bond director, was available.
It was an artistically sound move; Young ensured Thunderball would be brutal, visceral and very stylish and sophisticated, just like his two, previous entries. What is more Young, and indeed Connery, who had a distaste for “gimmicks”, (and there were a lot of “gimmicks” in Thunderball) would not overwhelm the story.
After Goldfinger, the film-makers decided to up the ante, in terms of gadgets. There's a natty mini re-breather, in case ones oxygen has run out; the DB5 makes a welcome return in the PTS (Pre-Titles Sequence); an infra-red camera; a Geiger Counter hidden inside a camera and the villains yacht broke in two, revealing the front half would be a hydro-foil, to name but a few, but luckily Young's influence at the helm prevents them from taking centre stage.
The only exception is when Bond straps on a conveniently placed jet-pack in the film's opening sequence; a fore-warning of the excess to come.
In part the increased spectacle was down to the producers trying to show the public, and indeed their imitators, that there was only one true Bond; with Thunderball the Bond's became truly epic.
This is reflected in the budget, $5.6 million, the size and scope of Thunderball, massive underwater sequences (just as well the court case prevented Cubby and Harry from making this, their first one). Plus Thunderball was the first Bond to be given the Panavison treatment. Thanks to the cinematographer, Ted Moore, Thunderball looks like an epic movie, with it's sumptuous locations and pin-sharp clarity.
Moreover, the aforementioned underwater sequences, shot by Rico Browning of “Flipper” fame, look absolutely breathtaking, making Thunderball one of the best photographed pictures in the series.
It's during the Vulcan hi-jacking, a wonderful scene, where Thunderball's problems begin to appear. Before that we are treated to some very “Fleming-esque” exposition, at the Shrublands Health Clinic; the setting up of the plot, which is one of Young's greatest assets.
Young should get on with the rest of the film; it would make sense, pace-wise. Instead, however, we are shown, in the first of the underwater scene, the concealment of said Vulcan, and it almost ruins the pace of the film. Young's methodical style of directing threatens to turn it into banality.
In Fleming's novels the underwater passages zipped by; one felt the author's enthusiasm, as one got transported beneath the waves.
Thunderball tries to make up for the distinct lack pace early on, in other areas, namely strong characterizations in the primary cast; a great deal of tension and fabulous contributions by John Barry, Ken Adam and John Stears.
In particular 007 is well characterized; we see him at his most blunt instrument best when he and Largo, the villain of the piece, are playing Chemin de Fer, provoking Largo, and paradoxically, 007 is at his most suave and achingly cool in this scene.
We also see some rare emotion from said “blunt instrument”, when Bond tells Domino, the villains “kept woman”, about her brother, who'd been stabbed. In a moving scene, Bond much to his chagrin, was very harsh. 007, after all, has a job to do, as much as he wanted to protect Domino. To avoid betraying his emotion’s, Bond covered his eyes with sunglasses; secret agent first, human second.
It's a multi-faceted Bond performance, all carried of with great panache, great virility and undeniable charisma by Sean Connery, at his zenith as playing James Bond, 007.
As Domino Derval, Claudine Auger is, quite simply, stunning as Largo's kept woman. Domino is one of Fleming's best heroines, one of his most clearly defining, and well written parts, although Auger does not quite live up to expectations, down to her performance. However, it should be said that Auger does quite well, in a rather melancholy part, ensuring Domino is one of the most memorable leading ladies in the Connery-era.
Adolfo Celi is sadistic and charming as Emilio Largo, playing the part of a Bahamian millionaire; he's really a No. 2 to Ernst Stavro Blofeld in SPECTRE. Largo is a worthy successor to Dr No et al.
Bond's CIA friend, Felix Leiter, returns, this time played by Rik Van Nutter, who does a good job, being softly spoken, dryly humorous type of man. Leiter, for once, is instrumental in the story, in rescuing 007.
Rounding out the main cast is Luciana Paluzzi, as the ravishingly, seductively, voluptuously, red-headed assassin, Fiona Volpe, who is unrepentantly bad.
Paluzzi smoulders when she is on screen, and has an amazing sexual chemistry with Connery. The clashes of ego's between the two of them, provide some of the most inspired moments in the film, and indeed series.
Terence Young, John Barry and the editor, Peter Hunt all combine to produce one the most tense situations in Bond lore, over Fiona's death; a nail-biting scene, in which Hitchcock would be proud.
During post-production Young left the movie, to direct an U.N film. It fell to Hunt to edit the film, from a massive three hours, to a more palatable two hours and four minutes. The producers were impressed by Hunt's work, and they put him in the back of their minds, for a future 007 director.
Despite an odd lack of pace early on in the movie, Thunderball tries, and succeeds quite valiantly, to make up for it, with the beautiful, gorgeous cinematography by Ted Moore, plus Ken Adam and Barry provide, yet again, that there is no one better in the worlds of set design and music, respectively.
Moreover, the plot may seem “old hat” by today's standards, but stealing nuclear bombs, and holding a country for ransom, (in this case the U.K) was wildly innovative, and played on real peoples fears.
The gadgets and spectacle work well in this film; Young followed through on his promise that the story would not play second fiddle. It's still a Bond film, dictated around 007, not the other way round.
Best of all then, are Sean Connery and Luciana Paluzzi, who enliven the whole thing.
Thunderball was released in the middle of “spy-mania”, thus reaching $141 million worldwide. That is, incredibly, almost $1 billion in today's money, making Thunderball, not only the biggest Bond blockbuster of all time, but one of cinema's greatest blockbusters, ever.
We also have a lot of classic Bond tropes such as the sexy vixen, the Spectre board room meeting and so on. Connery, while not delivering a spectacular performance like his previous films, still does a good job here. I like how Bond is placed into numerous situations of danger and with excellent directing, the suspense can be felt.
But there are some major downsides. Some of the underwater scenes were really good, but 15-20 mins of underwater footage could've easily been cut out. And the third act of the movie is quite predictable and bland, from the climax to the ending, if you've already seen Goldfinger.
There's a league of Bond movies that stand as being the among the best in the franchise. Thunderball is among them, but it's the worst among them.
ACTOR & CHARACTER ELEMENTS
Bond & Actor Performance
In his fourth time in the suave seat of secret agent 007 James Bond, Sean Connery delivers the same fire best seen flaring in Dr. No and From Russia with Love.
If Dr. No and From Russia with Love presented a Bond to us that was primal and predatory, what we have here is that same kind of man with an uber confident twist added to him. While we saw Bond really struggle working on his own in Jamaica in the first film and miss the looming shadow of SPECTRE casting over him in the second, in Thunderball Bond is not only devil may care in his opposition to Largo and his cronies, he openly calls out the SPECTRE plot to the man at the card table and mocks him for his place in the very organization that nearly killed him two films back.
Suffice it to say, in Thunderball Sean’s Bond is a one man wrecking ball that connects all the dots nobody else can, sniffs out the plot, places himself in tough positions to best gain intelligence, and is ultimately the one that progresses the mission to its final success, near single-handedly. It is such an endless kick to see Sean tear up the Bahamas as he counter-schemes Largo in the most delicious of fashions. He is always on the move, always thinking of how to get the information he needs. He checks one location and finds there’s no bombs, so he does the necessary detective work to uncover another location where they could be, goes there, and when his investigation again runs dry, he keeps at it relentlessly while doing his part to stop a nuclear onslaught.
This is a man who knows his enemy is both faking his death and masquerading as a woman because he spots them open their own car door while in a dress. Who makes a point to secretly tape the sounds of his hotel room to discover when an intruder arrived and where they moved in the space, hiding a gun under the table to have some concealed firepower on hand if things ever kicked up. A man who uses a different hotel room than is booked under his name to throw off enemies who’ve pursued him. Who stands in the center of two opposing forces and fires in both directions to make them shoot at each other in the confusion. Who stabs an opponent while locked inside a pool with a school of sharks so that the creatures will follow the scent while he powers on past them. Who strategically uses a bottle of alcohol and lighter flames to trigger an opportunity to escape. Who spins a villainess in the direction of a bullet with the reflexes of a wild west gunman, coldly quipping about her demise seconds later. Who uncovers a missing NATO plane’s location because he remembered Largo telling him of the rare grotto fish he had recently collected that just so happened to be swimming in one pacific part of the Bahamas. In short, Bond is always on the ball, 12 steps ahead and prepared to counter any move his enemies think they can make to best him.
In pure Sean Connery fashion, this film is absolutely jam-packed with moments where the man conveys cool, anger or assertiveness with just an expression or movement. The calm and cool way he sets off the Shrublands alarm with just his elbow. The look he gives to M when he shows up late to his briefing and gets reprimanded for it like a misbehaving child. The expression of child-like wonder in his eyes when he tells Moneypenny about Domino’s two moles. How he pushes the gun away from his face that Largo is pointing near it when he visits the man's home, picking on how it’s a lady’s gun in his next breath. How his eyes thirst for Domino as he looks at her drying off poolside, only just after telling Largo that he wasn’t a passionate man.
To put it simply, Bond is remarkable in this film, a true man of action after being a glorified prisoner in the previous movie. He’s so on top of things and clever throughout, muscling in on Largo and provoking his ego with low blows and moments of one-upmanship, using spy tactics to infiltrate enemy boundaries to locate the missing bombs and matching his wits against those of SPECTRE in every confrontation. In Dr. No SPECTRE was nothing but a worthless acronym when the eponymous villain spat the organization at him, and in From Russia with Love the group were the unseen enemies manipulating Bond where they needed him.
In Thunderball, however, Bond now knows his enemy well and sniffs out that the NATO plot is just the sort of thing that SPECTRE would consider pulling off. With this knowledge in tow, he brings the heat to them in his every step, done playing the ignorant puppet. There’s a great arrogance in how Blofeld and his associates work, wearing rings on their very fingers that secretly and discreetly point to their hidden power in the world, which nearly everyone passing them by is unaware of. Bond isn’t, however, and it’s those same rings and that same arrogance that undoes the plans of people like Largo and Fiona who think they have everyone fooled. Bond spots the mark of SPECTRE and senses the organization’s presence, and it’s because of the ring that he is able to sniff out Fiona as one of their ranks when she tries to conceal the insignia from him while taking him for a back road drive. As Bond comments truthfully while Fiona and her men have him ambushed in his hotel room, “Vanity has its dangers.” SPECTRE think their power and mystery is so great that they can get away with overtly mocking the public with their octopus insignia open to the eye, but thanks to Bond they linger in the shadows no longer. They have met their match.
Bond Girl & Performance
Domino Derval- There’s something about Domino that really does it for me. A series of details and moments come together to successfully create an interesting picture of a rather complex woman.
All we get of her at the start is a look at her in a picture, much like with Tatiana. Beyond her moles-two on her left thigh-we know nothing of her really and see her first with her foot caught in a bit of reef. Then, in a piece of characterization I always find interesting, Bond complements her when they come up for air by telling her she “swims like a man.” An odd yet fascinating remark, but one that does make Domino feel experienced at her hobby of diving and well trained in the practice.
While beautiful on the outside and most recognizable by the mole on the bottom right side of her face, Domino’s beauty masks a complicated interior. The most mystery (and uneasy creepiness) that emits from her is down to the strange relationship she has with Largo that never really gets properly cemented for us as the viewer, quite purposely. We know that Domino met and connected with Largo while she was with her brother, Francois. This leads me to believe that the villain personally sought Francois Derval for the SPECTRE job early and got familiar enough with him in a social capacity (and maybe even as a friend) to hook him up with Fiona so that she could funnel Angelo the information he needed to best duplicate the man’s voice, mannerisms and overall disposition for the NATO scheme. In doing so, Largo also decided to snatch up Domino as a bonus. Bond thinks that Domino is Largo’s niece, not his mistress (as many in the Bahamas seem to think), but it appears that Largo and Domino only perpetuate that myth to hide the fact that they are lovers many, many years separated, adding to the tinge of creep factor present in every scene where the two interact.
It’s clear that while she may have liked Largo previously, now Domino is uncomfortable and not as assured in her associations with him. He’s very volatile towards her, which Domino implies in no uncertain terms. Every time Bond presses her about what she and Largo do together, her voice goes mellow and soft out of what seems to be a sense of fear or pain. In the Thunderball novel we learn of all the old millionaires Domino is constantly swarmed by who prey on her beauty and flirt incessantly with her, so it’s only inevitable that a younger, more virile man like Bond would attract her as he does from the casino scene onward. While dancing with Bond, the spy errs by comparing himself to Largo, which Domino denies, telling him he’s different just by “the way you hold me.” It’s not hard to imagine Largo being quite violent towards Domino, and it wouldn’t have been surprising if one of the film’s shots zoomed in on a part of her body that was imprinted with the octopus insignia of his ring where his fist had made contact with her flesh.
It’s clear that like Tatiana Romanova of From Russia with Love, Domino is an innocent girl lost in a game of high intrigue that she understands very little of, including Largo’s dreaded dealings and his ordered killing of her brother. It’s also evident throughout the film that Bond has a concern for Domino, and realizes that at some point he’s going to have to face her with the death of her brother, which you can visibly see he is not looking forward to. When Domino questions Bond after he tells her about Francois’ murder, asking if he was only sleeping with her to get to Largo, she understandably feels misused by a man once again, nothing but his army candy, just as she is for the SPECTRE second-in-command. Judging simply by the fact that Domino still agrees to help Bond, if only to get a chance to cause Largo the kind of pain he has her, it’s clear how far she is willing to go to avenge the death of her brother, the only man who she says really ever cared for her.
Beyond being a first runner-up in a Miss World competition in 1958 and grabbing up some film roles at the beginning of the 60s, Claudine Auger was by no means a seasoned pro in the field of acting. And yet, here she delvers a truly human and raw performance. Her body language is perfect, and her personality comes out very genuinely whenever she plays scenes opposite Sean. Their chemistry is strong, best exemplified by the poolside chat they have after just meeting and the dance their share following Bond’s card game with Largo. Auger exudes a sense of elegance and grace, rarely seen out of a form-hugging bikini to boot. This visual nicely compliments the kind of stripped down and vulnerable character Domino so naturally is, a really sympathetic figure being cruelly strung along. Auger’s performance gives credence to the “kept woman” Domino is under Largo’s thumb, as she emotes a sharp vulnerability that pierces the screen. She also captivates when she needs to deliver in moments of high performance. After Bond tells Domino of Francois’ murder, the tears rolling down Claudine’s face hit hard, and you believe the tragedy spilling from her eyes. Her face is centered in the shot in close up, drawing us to her and her pain. Not many Bond actresses with so little experience could nail the kind of raw emotion and genuine charm Claudine does so effortlessly here in so many of her scenes.
While dubber Nikki van der Zyl’s voice for Domino sounds a lot like a mix of Sylvia and Honey’s from Dr. No, her deliveries “fit” Claudine’s performance and her voice is the right lovechild of sweet and soft, providing the necessary charm or emotion to each of the scenes in which the character appears.
Bond Henchmen & Performances
Fiona Volpe- Good lord, what a woman. I can only imagine how many boys became men watching Luciana Paluzzi in Thunderball. She has and will long forever be one of my absolute favorite Bond characters in general, and not just one of my favorites from the bevy of Bond beauties.
If ever there was a greatest hits compilation of Thunderball produced, every scene Fiona appears in would need to be included for there to exist any credibility in it. She’s so fierce, dangerous and sexy in every way in this movie, drawing your eye to her every movement and your ears to her every purring word. The way she bikes up to Count Lippe and blows him away, drives Bond around bends with the skill of a race car maverick, shoots clay pigeons with deadly ease and has her fun with Bond sans emotion like the spy made a habit of doing himself are all moments that sell her as a character who is a grand departure from the pretty faces we’ve seen up to this point in the series. Her beauty masks a dark and resourceful interior that has little opponents of equal skill.
She’s a woman that plays the boys’ games, but better. It’s Fiona that slaps Largo on the wrist for trying to get Bond killed, warning him that such rash behavior will draw the spy's government to their plan. It’s Fiona who personally takes up the contract to axe Bond, and it’s her finesse and resourcefulness that nearly makes Bond bite it big-time during the Junkanoo festivities.
Two of my all-time favorite scenes in Bond history are jam-packed back-to-back in this film, and both contain Fiona. First, Bond walks into his hotel room, sees Fiona, and when she asks him to hand her something to put on, he passes her sandals and sits comfortably to watch her stark naked in the tub. When they make love, the screen is electric and Fiona is characterized like an animal as Barry overlays a passionate, romantic theme on the scene. I love the way Luciana bites on Sean’s ear and shoulder, and her line deliveries are caked in sensuality as her hands brush and grasp the gold bars of the bed post as she wails “safe” in erotic ecstasy while the scene comes to a close. In the next moment, Fiona reveals her true intentions in rolling in the sheets with Bond and stamps her foot to emphasize that she’s not like all the other girls who fall so easily at his feet when they’ve had sex-this is actually the script writers breaking the fourth wall and poking fun at critics who thought Pussy fell too fast for Bond in Goldfinger. Bond’s remark of, “Don’t flatter yourself” that he barks back at her is delicious and shows that even in a losing battle he's trying to make out that he still has a chance to gain victory.
Directly after these moments we get the Junkanoo chase as Bond organizes an escape and goes to the Kiss Kiss club in an effort to dodge pursuers, to no avail. I love the look of fear Sean gives as he spots Largo’s men walking the perimeter of the club, their eyes glued to him, their hands grasping guns. For a brief moment Bond whips out his charm on a girl to direct himself nearer to the dance floor to get out of the open, but finds Fiona there waiting for him. As the drums rattle and the music booms, the pair dance with death and we see a gun rise from behind a curtain, pointed straight for Bond. With amazing reflexes, Fiona is whipped in front of the bullet’s path by the agent and her head falls limp on his shoulder like a sleepy lover’s as he covers up the blood pouring out of her back with her scarf, his eyes earnest and heated as he does it. The cherry on top of the cake is the one-liner he delivers as he leaves her behind (“she’s just dead”), a scene that recalls Dr. No and how he leaves a dead Mr. Jones in the car as he goes to meet contacts in Jamaica.
(Another 'Dr. No' reference comes when Bond tells Fiona after she races him around in her car that he’s, “...always been a nervous passenger,” the exact thing he told to Mr. Jones before their scuffle)
All in all, Fiona Volpe, and the powerhouse sex cat behind her character, Luciana Paluzzi, represent one of the best figures in all of Bond, and she’s not even a Fleming original to boot. Paluzzi is magnetic every time she’s on screen, and knows just how to move her body and inflect her voice to draw the eye to her as she plays her scenes. She’s simply one of those women that drips sex when you look at them, and I can’t imagine being a warm blooded male walking around her during the shooting of Thunderball; it’s women like that that make you lose your mind. It’s fitting, then, that “volpe” is Italian for fox, as you aren’t likely to find foxier babes than Ms. Paluzzi as she appears here.
Vargas- I have to give a quick honorable mention to Vargas. I don’t know what the intention of his character is, but I always find him so interesting to watch each time I put in Thunderball.
I guess it’s simply interesting to see a man without vices in a James Bond film full of men and women indulging in all sorts of things. He’s so stiff and in control all the time, and it’s clear that he takes his work as being one of Largo’s soldiers very seriously. I find it interesting how Largo seems to tease him about the fact that he doesn’t indulge himself in women, gambling, drinking or smoking, as if Vargas’ lifestyle is insulting to him. Perhaps it is, as he is the kind of mind who makes a point of showing off to those he betters, until Bond comes along of course and knocks him down a few dozen pegs.
I often wonder what Bond thinks of Vargas as a man. Does he view him as a bloke making waste of his life by not experiencing all the grand pleasures of the flesh and drink as he does, or is there a part of the agent that somewhat respects his steeled commitment to duty, even in the service of SPECTRE? We'll never rightly know, but Vargas is one of those essential elements of the bizarre that makes the Bond books and films so fascinating to experience, truly their own beasts.
Bond Villain & Performance
Emilio Largo- For some reason, Largo always seems to get a bad rap in the Bond fandom, but I love him and find him to be one of the vilest, creepiest enemies Bond has ever faced. Obviously he's the least iconic of the 60s bunch, but when your fellow villains are the likes of Dr. No, Grant, Goldfinger and Blofeld of all people, it's some stiff competition to face.
From the very first moment we see Largo, it’s clear that he’s not a man that likes being messed with. He has the audacity to rest his car in a no-parking spot (the monster!), and when he’s reprimanded for it by a French policeman he throws back a gaze of death to the man to shut him up. In the next scene, as Blofeld smokes the traitor in their ranks all SPECTRE agents but Largo are freaking out at what they just witnessed while the eye-patched man remains cool and collected, jotting notes down on his paper with a pronounced indifference to it all. It becomes clear very fast why he’s No. 2 in the organization, the next in line to take over SPECTRE if something were to become of Blofeld. This man stares death in the face and chortles, refusing to bat his one eye.
Throughout the course of the film, there’s a lot of great moments that really sell Largo to me. For one, his commitment to SPECTRE is more than apparent, and he takes his work very seriously, such that he does all of it himself. It is Largo who dives for the NATO bombs and takes out Angelo as punishment for his greed. When his agents fail him, he has them thrown into the pool as chum for his sharks, kissing his ring after he gives his orders, pledging his love to SPECTRE and the insignia that represents it. Even when he and his team are tasked with transporting the nukes, Largo takes lead on the operation, knowing there may well be danger ahead. He’s like a general who rides on horseback on the front lines with his soldiers, dedicated to their work and to SPECTRE, always eager to impress and show his loyalty. It makes sense why he doesn’t suffer fools or mistakes; when he gives 110% nobody around him should be giving anything less.
There’s also a great sense of imbalance to Largo, like any moment he could be set off into violent lashings. He’s got such a soft ego, which Bond more than spots and takes advantage of. As the film goes on Largo tells his associates-including Fiona-that he wants Bond dead simply because an enemy of SPECTRE is one that needs to die, but it’s clear to us, the audience, that he’s only using that as a veiled excuse to mask his growing jealousy and resentment of Bond for foiling his plans and dismantling or belittling his private life. His pride is hurting.
The first time Largo and Bond meet at the card tables, the agent openly mocks his SPECTRE connections and then pummels him in the game with complete arrogance. Following that he buys the man’s mistress a drink, holds her romantically in a dance and begins motions to unravel his operation in the Bahamas. When Largo invites Bond to Palmyra for a bit of sport, Bond acts like an amateur at shooting clay pigeons while the villain shows off, thinking he’s got the agent bested. When it’s time for Bond to shoot a clay pigeon he comments on how hard it looks-not even looking at where the object will be flying out-before giving a quick turn and destroying one with deadly precision. Bond looks down at the gun, feigning puzzlement at how he was just able to do that, and confesses to Largo that it must indeed be very simple. The pricks to Largo’s ego Bond delivers to him are hilarious to watch, and as Bond hands the villain the gun after nailing his shot you can see him thinking internally, “Everything’s easy for you, isn’t it?”
Largo is also a great schemer, and knows how to command force. It’s clear why he has a love for sharks; they are both predators and strike when they smell blood and weakness in their prey. Largo is enraged at Bond’s romancing of Domino, but he uses that to his advantage, offering Bond the opportunity to take the girl out for a night at the Junkanoo parade to get him away from his hotel so that Paula can be intercepted and tortured for what she-and Bond-know of his plans. Bond’s attraction to Domino is strong and he takes the bait, just as Largo designed, and it costs him.
Adolfo Celi brings great life to Largo, and his performance more than exposes the man’s soft ego to the audience as we watch him crumble in the face of Bond’s superior strength in…well, everything. He feels on edge at all times, and that’s rooted in Celi’s posture that is always in command and forceful. You believe this man is not to be messed with, and his calm in the face of death itself in unnerving, as we’re only used to seeing this with Bond. Robert Rietty did the dubbing for Celi, and I think the voice and performance are a great match, as with Gert Fröbe and Michael Collins in Goldfinger. Rietty gives Largo a real slimy sensibility, deepening his tone at just the right moments to convey an unsettled and vindictive disposition. It’s the work in tandem by Celi and Rietty that sell scenes like Largo’s hot and cold torture of Domino as the former juggles the ice playfully between his fingers and the latter’s voice cakes the visual performance in some real sadism.
In conclusion, I think Largo deserves his place as an early 60s Bond villain, and belongs alongside those like Dr. No, Donald Grant and Goldfinger as some of the series’ best.
Supporting Cast & Performances
M- If his part in Goldfinger was meant to give him some moments to be comical and witty, in Thunderball Bernard Lee got to really play M as a man in command that stood up loyally for his agents.
It’s in Thunderball that Bernard Lee really shines as a commander of a spy agency and advocate of his underlings. When Bond addresses the hunch he has about the Dervals, M is willing to listen to his suggestions on how best to approach the mission, just as he did during Bond's briefing on the Lektor retrieval operation in From Russia with Love. Moments like these underscore that to M, 007 is more than just an employee and is instead a valued collaborator, trusted confidante and crucial team member who can viably shoulder duty and responsibility when it comes to protecting the realm alongside him. In an even greater showing of his loyalty to his 00 section, when M's colleagues have the audacity to question his judgment and that of his agents, he is quick to snap back and defend their work and acumen for spy craft.
Later on in the film when it appears that Largo and SPECTRE are going to win and the Brits are going to have to fork up the demanded payment to avoid nuclear destruction, you can see M in distress, angry at how much of a fool they’ve been played as. He has that Churchill-like bulldog determination that makes him despise bowing down to anyone. M is usually such a put together man and doesn’t let his emotions show through, but when the Home Secretary has the gall to question Bond’s efforts the professional artifice cracks and he reprimands the man for his presumptions.
I can only imagine that Bond and M shared a nice dinner with accompanying drinks once the spy landed back in London for all the guff they both had to put up with to complete Operation: Thunderball.
Moneypenny- In a rather unprecedented moment, in Thunderball we get to see Moneypenny slip up and insult M, calling him “old man,” triggering an awkward aftermath where Bond tries to pretend he’s looking for his hat to get through it scuff-free of his boss's reprimands.
In fact, Thunderball is a film where Moneypenny gets very, very sassy. Even when Bond phones her from Shrublands to have her investigate the Red Tong symbol on Lippe’s arm, she gives the man attitude and tells him to file it away until he gets back. Though she finishes her call with Bond playfully, it's clear that the gal is being quite the naughty one.
In a big departure for the series at this point in time, there’s really no bit of flirtation between Bond and Moneypenny that unfolds. When Bond enters the office he is sent to the briefing room immediately, leaving little time for frivolity. Throughout all the rest of the film Moneypenny is seen helping M in the briefing room as the 11th hour of the SPECTRE plot approaches. I quite like this, as it shows us that she's far more than just a desk-bound lackey and follows behind her boss with great panache whenever he needs her on hand.
Q- What makes Thunderball’s Q and Bond gadget briefing scene quite surprising is that neither party seem at all pleased to be with each other this time around, and there’s not much playfulness to the interaction on either side. It seems Q found out about Bond running his glorious DB5 into a Swiss factory wall during his last mission and still hasn’t forgiven the spy for it.
We get a nice little detail about Q’s character here that remained a vital part of his character forever after: he visibly dislikes being in the field and away from his workshop, calling the business “highly irregular.”
He and Bond have a series of fun interactions and swap barbs as Bond childishly flicks a light on a machine on and off and disrespects the amazing tech Q is showing him, asking, “Is that clever?” while holding a special camera. Q follows up 007's inquiry with a sharp retort that shows us now more than ever that the gadget man truly doesn’t joke about his work.
Felix- Rik Van Nutter takes on Felix duties this time around in Thunderball, carrying on the baton from past actors like Jack Lord and Cec Linder. Once again, everything about Nutter’s portrayal, his height, weight, overall stature and mannerisms are as big a departure from Linder’s Leiter in Goldfinger as that man’s were from Lord’s Leiter in Dr. No.
In usual Felix fashion, Nutter’s take on the character is largely the same as the others in as much that he doesn’t really do anything of importance beyond giving Bond some logistical and moral support. For much of his screen time he quite literally hangs in the back, spying on Bond as he makes his connections with Largo and Domino to instigate more opportunities to divulge where the two nuclear missiles may be located. When Felix does enter the action, he is of no great assistance. He drives Bond around to important locations, but rarely amounts to anything more than a glorified sailor and helicopter pilot with not much in the way of personality. In Fleming’s novel Leiter poses as an associate of Bond's in his dealings with Largo in the Bahamas, and I kind of wish that we got to see that in this film, because at the very least it would give Felix a reason to be there. Paula could have done everything he did in this film, and she was far more worthy of added screen time and plot purpose in my opinion, as I really enjoy Martine Beswick for as little as she appears here.
Nutter’s performance is fine enough, but the dubbing is often very wooden and badly delivered, lifeless even. I feel like Nutter’s lines were delivered better on set, but in post-production ADR he re-read his dialogue poorly, giving it this wooden presentation in the overlaid audio. It’s also likely that the only reason he got the role in the first place was because of his marriage to Anita Ekberg, who’d recently appeared in the EON-produced film Call Me Bwana, but that’s neither here nor there.
The rotating casting door that has always been the fate of the character of Felix Leiter in the James Bond films make it seem as if the role is cursed, and this issue is one of the biggest problems the franchise has had. It’s always difficult to criticize Felix and the actor playing him in any film because he’s the most heavily recast Bond character, making it nearly impossible to attach ourselves to him when we know the actor only changes again in the next film. Because of this, Felix barely feels like a character at times because there’s such a lack of consistency in him throughout the series, and that’s a real shame. This issue is especially severe in the Connery films. We go from the tall, slim, well-built and dashing Jack Lord to the graying and unfit looking Cec Linder only two years later, followed by the equally graying Rik Van Nutter here. At least in Thunderball Van Nutter just looked like an older, grayer Lord, so his casting wasn’t as drastic a change in age and body type as the transition from Lord to Linder was, which is mind-boggling to watch now. Maybe the reason why Hedison and Wright are my favorite Leiters is because they each got to have more than one bite at the apple playing the character, and in their second films, Licence To Kill and Quantum of Solace respectively, both men got meatier parts in the action that made Felix feel like a more important part of the story, which most Felixs don’t get the honor of.
Poor, poor Felix. He’ll sit out the next couple of films and only get appearances in Diamonds Are Forever and Live and Let Die before disappearing entirely until Timothy Dalton takes the Bond reigns, after which he will once again fade from memory for a decade and a half. Tough going...
Pat Fearing- While her role in the film is quite simple and largely only facilitated by the convenience of having Bond recouping at the same clinic that is being used by SPECTRE’s Angelo and Lippe, I really enjoy Molly Peters as Pat Fearing here.
A real stunner, she’s another beauty in a long list of them that appear in this film, one of the all-time best ensembles of Bond women in the entire series, especially in such a great number. In performance alone Peters does the job, with high sex appeal and a voice that oozes attraction. She and Sean are quite playful in how they approach their scenes, and this reinforces the attraction that exists between the characters they are playing. Peters plays the role of Fearing well, and expertly sells scenes where she barks at Bond for misbehaving. She really gives it to Bond in this movie, and challenges him on everything, not holding back a step. In addition, I’m sure every boy of the 60s (and those re-watching the film today) fantasized at least once about massaging Peters’ back with a mink glove in an effort to relieve her tensions. I've proudly added my name to that (presumably) long list many times over.
Fearing gets an interesting and symbolic send-off in this film, as like nearly every other Bond girl, we never see head or tail from her again. She is visibly melancholic about Bond’s departure despite their rough start, and she tells him she’s available to him “Anytime, anyplace,” to which Bond charmingly replies, “Another time, another place” as he speeds off. In this way, Patricia Fearing is a composite and representation of every Bond babe before and after her: Bond is a busy and committed man whose work demands him to always be on the move, eyeing the next mission and worldwide threat, having time only for the speediest of dalliances and most fleeting of flings.
Paula Kaplan- In many ways, the lovely Martine Beswick’s Paula Kaplan is one of the big missed opportunities in a film that nails largely everything. Many commentators I’ve heard or read analyze Thunderball in the past are of the opinion that Beswick is here only to draw the eye to yet another beautiful woman in an already stuffed picture of seductresses. This contention may hold true, but it’s hard not to wonder what effect the girl would’ve had given more time to shine.
Beswick’s history with vintage Bond is well documented, and she flirted with possible stardom many a time. She tested for Terence Young to be Honey Ryder in Dr. No, but was told by the director that she needed some more acting lessons, words of advice she took to heart. By the time From Russia with Love was being cast and shot around 1963 she returned to casting and Terence put her in the picture as one of the battling would-be brides at the gypsy camp. She must have made an impression on Young and warranted being cast in a bigger role in his mind, as he fought for her against the producers’ wishes for a larger appearance in his 1965 feature Thunderball.
With all this in consideration, Beswick does catch the eye, and her screen presence and charming demeanor is quite visible, which makes it all the more shameful that this is all we see of her in what could barely be called a substantial part. From the moment we meet her on the boat as Bond attempts a romance of Domino, it’s clear that the chemistry between Martine and Sean burned hot. One of my favorite parts of the film occurs when Bond and Paula are trying to make it seem like their boat is out of order to facilitate Domino taking Bond ashore. In this scene Beswick gives Paula a rather charming personality because she really ribs Bond on his sad attempts at seduction and plays her lines with great emphasis to show the audience that the character is purposely overacting to display how stupid she thinks the whole ruse is. I adore just how little of a care Paula gives when, after Bond asks her if she doesn’t mind finding her own way back to shore, she puts on an overblown performance, throws her hands comically up in the air for added expression and bellows, “Not at all!”
If only the rest of the film gave Paula this kind of fun material to play with to build up her character. Beyond being what is supposed to be Bond’s assistant in the Bahamas, all she really does is make sure the photos he shoots of the Disco Volante’s underside are developed and delivered to his hotel room. There’s a sense that she fancies Bond, as she straightens her dress and fixes her hair in the mirror when she thinks he’s knocking at her door later in the film (I promise this isn't a euphemism for anything), but other than this we don’t really get a solid impression of her past experiences, her skill sets as an agent or what kind of dynamic or working relationship her and Bond have had in the past, if any. Because of this, when we find out she’s bitten on a cyanide capsule to escape Largo’s torture, it’s hard to feel anything because we know so little of her. Her sacrifice, as noble as it is, then inevitably rings hollow. All we’re left with is one fun scene with Paula and a beautiful, beautiful figure to stare at outside of that performance, but those assets alone are more than some Bond girls in the franchise have gotten to offer, so I guess there’s that.
Gun barrel sequence-
Thunderball’s gun barrel sequence is notable for many reasons. The switch to a widescreen presentation necessitated a new lead-in to be shot for the Bond films, and this time around stuntman Bob Simmons (who'd featured in the gun barrel sequence for the first three films) sits out on walking duties so that Sean Connery can take his shot for the first time in the series. In addition to this unique debut, this was also the first full color gun barrel sequence in the franchise beyond just the blood drip. In many ways, the Thunderball intro paved the way for all other gun barrels beyond, as after this point the lead actors of each era were always used for the sequence and the image of each Bond was almost always rendered in full color.
I really enjoy this gun barrel. The Bond theme is proud and loud, a great sound that sets up the very ambitious and epic nature of Thunderball’s story. I also get a kick out of seeing Sean finally do the iconic walk, and I love the turn and pose he strikes to shoot, as it looks like a realistic reaction for an armed person to have if they are in the line of fire. Sean’s Bond turns and immediately crunches down low to avoid a shot to the torso while making his shot, throwing off his enemy. The 3D looking blood drip adds a nice finishing effect.
The pre-title sequence for Thunderball remains one of my all-time favorites. We get a great opening shot on a casket with the initials “J.B,” not knowing what to think, until we see Bond waiting in the wings, spying on the proceedings. We get many shots of a woman in funeral dress who feels most curious, and the mystery continues to build. We learn in a bit of dialogue that the funeral is for a Jacques Bouvar, a man who killed two of Bond’s colleagues. 007's anger at not being able to have punched the man’s ticket himself tells us that he takes actions against his fellow 00s personally, and will avenge them as a professional courtesy on general principle.
The sequence takes us outside the church, where we see the woman (?) open her own car door, ignoring the guards around her. This clearly perplexes Bond, who smells a scheme afoot. We follow the woman to her French chateau, and find Bond waiting in the common area with his back turned while sitting in a chair like a silent predator. He feigns sincerity and compassion for the woman before launching his fist into her face, revealing that it was a man all along (!).
What kicks off next is one of my favorite Bond fights because of how Peter Hunt’s editing adds a sense of messiness to the action, and how Bond and Bouvar use their environment, like cabinets, chairs and vases, to offset each other and go for the kill. The sequence is made all the better when you realize that Sean is onscreen fighting his own stunt double from the previous films, Mr. Bob Simmons. The bout is fast, rough and imaginative, finishing with Bond coldly snapping Bouvar’s neck with a fire poker and dousing his body with flowers of mourning. There’s a bit of black comedy to this whole pre-titles sequence, because Bouvar is murdered barely ten minutes after he leaves his own funeral. If his associates were quick to the draw, they could get his body back to the church to fast track his services without letting the fake funeral go to waste.
Bond escapes on a real working jet pack as Bouvar’s support take shots at him, after which he lands by his trusty Aston Martin DB5 and uses its gadgets to give his pursuers a bit of a wash up as the camera is caked in streams of water, leading into the opening titles design.
Thunderball was a nice return to form where locations were concerned. Dr. No took us to the warm and vibrant Jamaica, From Russia with Love followed up with a more dour and dangerous Turkey and Goldfinger continued by showing us locations that lacked an exotic or breathtaking sensibility (sans the beauty of Switzerland), making me miss more lively and engrossing locales.
With Terence Young back in the director’s chair, the travelogue feeling of the Bond films came with him as he took us on a ride to experience the atmosphere of the Bahamas in some of the greatest location shooting of the series. The wide beaches and deep seas are the perfect stage to set such an ambitious plot as this one, with Bond acting above ground and below it to achieve his mission.
We get some nice cultural flair in this movie as we see the Bahamas and its natives out and about, best eclipsed by the Junkanoo parade. Though the story is set in late May and the parade is usually only held at the end of each year for Boxing Day or New Year’s, seeing the festivities play out and to have it used in a major action sequence is thrilling. The vibrant colors of the floats and costumes of the dancers-extras who were actually competing in a contest for the best costumes and floats as devised by the production team-give great life to the scenery as Bond ducks and weaves out of SPECTRE’s grasp. The Kiss Kiss club, which the filmmakers themselves made, continues to show the vibrant life of the Bahamas, with fire dancers, passionate drummers and gyrating bodies becoming captivating parts of the scenery. There’s a real energy to everything we see in the Bahamas, a feeling that makes nice partners with Hunt’s quick and frantic editing style.
As with all the Terence Young Bond films, in Thunderball Bond’s gadgets are practical, realistic and “spy smart,” largely with a basis in the actual technological capabilities of the day.
The jet pack of the pre-title sequence was a real working model and could take its pilot over 800 feet, noisy though it was, grounding the action we witness in the realm of the possible. Bond’s arsenal in the Bahamas includes a reserve breathing device, handy for in a tough spot, an underwater infrared camera (best for sneaking pictures of boat hulls) and Geiger counters disguised as a watch and camera. For the underwater finale, Bond is armed with a powered aqualung with a working motor, headlights and mounted spearguns tipped with shotgun shells that takes center stage in a rousing moment where he fires the spears and collapses a door on two of Largo’s men to rescue one of the navy divers during the finale.
Each item is used in a cunning fashion to help Bond complete his mission throughout the film, and most of the gadgetry, even down to the sea sleds that Largo and his men use to transport the nuclear weapons, are actual working pieces of tech created by the brilliant production team. The drama of the film is heightened all the more when you realize that so much of the fantastical imagery in front of you can and does exist in reality, operating as advertised.
Out of all of Connery’s films, I think it’s Thunderball that manages to be an action film and spy film in tandem without one element discrediting or bogging down the other. It’s clear that the Bond team took all that they’d learned from the previous films to stage the action we see in this movie, which is nothing short of amazing, and every set piece we witness feels necessary for the plot and what is required of the story. Thunderball succeeds, and is at its most pulse-pounding, when the filmmakers are juggling scenes with a lot of actors or extras in them while making it all feel natural and not staged in the slightest.
There’s great excitement when the Governor of the Bahamas triggers a power outage around Palmyra for Bond to slip into the property unseen, stealthily taking out Largo’s men and making them shoot at each other in an artfully cunning moment of sabotage. The Junkanoo chase is frantic and chaotic as a fearful Bond escapes the fire he caused to release himself from SPECTRE’s hold. The flashes of color dotting the floats and costumes of the dancers and the blurs of movement created in the camera's picture box are suitably kinetic in their energy, perfect for an editor like Hunt who uses this kind of visual stimuli to his creative advantage.
And then there’s the biggie, the final battle sequence in the water. I get such a giddy, child-like thrill watching the navy frogmen jump from the plane soaring over the Bahamas and pulling their shoots, lighting up the sky with orange as they land in the drink. Some call the underwater action in this film boring, but I find it to be immaculately rendered and riveting no matter how much I see it. Bond and the frogmen twist and turn in heated wrestling with Largo’s men as sharks worm their way in between them. Knives are brandished, spearguns are fired, and trails of deep red blood cloud the water as it seeps from fresh wounds, contaminating the murk. There’s so many extras during this sequence, so many logistical challenges to juggle and balance, and yet the filmmakers are able to make it look so easy, with some stunning photography to boot as the bright orange frogmen pop amid the crisp blues of the deep. There will be more talk on this sequence later.
All in all, Thunderball is able to feature a mysterious spy plot like Dr. No and retain the ominous SPECTRE conspiracy and lively action of From Russia with Love in a perfect package that improves on these elements in great ways, feeling like a greatest hits collection of Terence Young's landmark James Bond work.
As with all the Terence Young Bond films, Thunderball is at its most witty when lines are delivered dryly or with sarcasm, laced with some black comedy.
It’s a riot to hear Bond comment about the Prime Minister’s wife losing her dog when he’s called into the 00 briefing room, hand Fiona some sandals when she tells him to get her something to put on, or hear him rib Largo about how easy it is to shoot clay pigeons. I get my most laughs during scenes like the latter where Bond is giving it to Largo inch for inch, deflating his ego big time as only he can. These moments are great companions to the dinner conversation Bond and Dr. No share in the villain’s lair during that film, Bond’s belittling of Grant on the train in From Russia with Love and his endless dismantling of Goldfinger’s ego at the ballooned man’s own golf course and ranch in that feature.
This movie is jam-packed with great dialogues brought to life by the measured timing of the actors, and I’d lose pages trying to discuss each and every one the film contains.
While Thunderball isn’t as raw and real feeling as From Russia with Love, overall it never becomes overly bizarre or too far out of the realm of logic as I watch it.
The script does inarguably have moments of convenience and coincidence, including the fact that Bond is laying up at the same clinic Lippe and Angelo happen to be using to mount their SPECTRE plot, he finds the body of Francois that just so happens to be the brother of Domino, and later in the film he is picked up on the road by Fiona who just so happens to be traveling there at the very moment he is walking out from the beach. The script writers seem to address this convenience openly as Fiona drops Bond off after taking him for a ride. Bond points out that they are staying at the same hotel, to which Fiona replies, “What a coincidence.” Bond returns with, “Yes, so convenient.” The writers were aware of some of the leaps they were demanding audiences to take with them, but kept marching on regardless to tell their story.
And even with these moments of coincidence or convenience, the film never makes any of it feel overly lucky or sloppy in presentation. In true Bondian fashion, a plot revolving around the seizure and ransom of nuclear weapons, one of the most dire in all of Bond, feels not far removed from what could actually happen in a Cold War climate like that of the period.
Continuing off of the discussion of Thunderball’s plot plausibility, it’s astounding how real a threat SPECTRE’s plan poses here.
The scheme carries great mystery and tension, and it doesn’t seem out of the realm of possibility that the theft of nukes from a NATO ship could happen, if not under the exact same circumstances as we see in the film. It’s without a doubt one of my favorite villain plans of the series, because it’s the perfect mix of a Cold War spy plot and its implications of intrigue, duplicity and war with all the mystery and suspense of a good thriller added on for good measure.
The ransom for nuclear weapons must have been scary for audiences of the time to imagine in the heat of the real world conflict of the Cold War at that place and time, and seeing the British government react so neurotically to the threat sells how dangerous the entire episode is. It’s quite ingenious as well. While $100 million doesn’t seem like anything at all for current day viewers, adjusted for inflation that value would be near to $800 million dollars today. It’s interesting that SPECTRE doesn’t strive to ask for more money in the deal, considering they have the Brits and Yanks in a bind and at their mercy, but why the organization does this tells us something about them. SPECTRE wants a hefty sum to go towards the investment of their other operations, but they don’t want to rob the Brits of so much capital that markets crash and the financial aftermath negatively effects the world economy, which would hurt their own interests too.
Furthermore, SPECTRE could accept the diamonds the Brits are sending and turn around and nuke Miami anyway, but that would only send the world governments after them harder and, maybe worse, make the organization appear to be dishonorable, a most damaging outcome considering how Blofeld prides his criminal group as being better than that. In this way SPECTRE and Blofeld by extension are a better class of criminal in comparison to those who appear in films from other areas of cinema (with more exaggerated mustache-twirling villainy in their antagonists) because they commit bad acts to further their own interests, but are still true to their word and don’t resort to overly crude methods that would be illogical for what their motivates are. There’s a sense of professionalism Blofeld seems intent on keeping alive, even amidst the rough and tumble Cold War spy world because of this. SPECTRE aren’t out to destabilize the world, as there still has to be a world around for them to manipulate and extort money from at the end of the day. That said, they’ll take every opportunity they can to extend their control and stake in power at every level, like a true to form business.
I also love what we learn about SPECTRE in this film and how they operate, as well as what their professional standards are and what they expect from their organization’s members. In From Russia with Love we got to visit the island where they train normal men into fierce killers, while in Thunderball we see first hand the effects of all that training as SPECTRE agents operate in the field. We’re a fly on the wall during a secret briefing in Paris, hidden behind the front for the organization’s French headquarters, “The International Brotherhood for the Assistance of Stateless Persons.” It’s quite fitting that SPECTRE works behind the walls of such a place, considering it prides itself on being a stateless organization with no countries to answer to or serve. I also wouldn’t be surprised if SPECTRE’s agents even bribed or persuaded some of these displaced and temporary vagabonds to join their cause, using the peoples’ desperation against them for the organization’s own gain.
When Blofeld announces that an embezzler is in the organization’s midst during this briefing, we see first hand how the organization treats those who resort to underhanded tactics and spread disloyalty through the hierarchy. The power and fear Blofeld displays here is palpable. When Lippe is ordered to be punished for his erroneous pick of the greedy Angelo for the Vulcan operation, we also learn that SPECTRE has a dedicated Execution branch whose sole job entails taking out contracts from inside the organization itself to erase any members whose mistakes prove too monumental or destructive to entertain any longer.
In the character of Dr. Kutz we also learn just how easy it can be for SPECTRE to swallow up people to help lead their cause. Kutz is a talented enough scientist to continue his work happily in his Warsaw lab, but as Largo points out, any scientific discoveries he made would amount to nothing but a million dollars for a Nobel prize, while his efforts in SPECTRE would give him endless amounts more. In this way, a good man like Kutz is tempted to the side of the organization where his efforts-no matter how inherently bad they are-will be well rewarded and appreciated by the hierarchy in a far greater capacity than the scientific community could ever manage, which is a tantalizing temptation. There’s a slight implication that Kutz may have been “persuaded” against his will by SPECTRE to come along and help on the NATO operation, which would give credence to their overreaching power and explain why the scientist later turns against Largo and his crew when he can stomach their actions no longer.
After sitting out Goldfinger when he felt he had nothing more to provide to the Bond brand, Terence Young signed on for the Thunderball project to tie off his work with the character with great finality. After Goldfinger had marveled the world and made Bond even more of an international icon, Young knew that the fourth time around the track his Bond had to be bigger than ever, with not even the sky being the limit of its scope.
What resulted was no doubt his most ambitious and logistically challenging Bond production by a landslide, and he almost died during his second Bond film, if that tells you something. Thunderball demanded that Young juggle, advise and shoot over one hundred extras and crew members in the Bahamas in and around heavily packed locations that offered little wiggle room with film equipment and gear that amounted to over twelve tons in weight. He was able to reign in the chaos and bring the film into port with psyche unbroken, however, in no small part thanks to one of the all-time greatest production teams in cinema.
It’s fitting that Thunderball marks Young’s third and final go at a Bond film, because the film represents a culmination of all his strengths as a director, as well as what made his Bond films special, with an added shot of ambition thrown in to credibly tell the story he was assembling. Young’s shooting style and chemistry with his actors is visible on his return, as is his tenacious ability to get shots nobody else could have managed even half as well. As far as the story is concerned, Thunderball is the perfect offspring of Dr. No and From Russia with Love, retaining the mystery and detective-styled narrative of the former and a tense and dangerous SPECTRE conspiracy best seen in the latter. Thunderball under Young’s direction takes the best of Bond, adapts it to the new story and adds new twists into the mix to make things interesting. The SPECTRE plot is dire and mind-blowing in its consequence, and the amount of time we are underwater with or without Bond really sets this film apart as special and like no other. This is the water Bond film, fitting for the climate of the Bahamas which it is set around.
I would be erring if I didn’t also include a special recognition of the work of Ricou Browning, who, along with his cameraman Lamar Boren and engineer Jordan Klein, was able to direct the underwater sequences of Thunderball and bring them to glorious life. The second-unit of this movie really had their work cut out for them, but thanks to Browning and his team, who assembled, choreographed and shot the feverish action and built the many underwater machines used in each underwater sequence (like the gear that transports the two nukes with an original design by Ken Adam), we get to enjoy it all. It would be difficult to believe that Terence Young didn’t direct the underwater sequences, including the final battle, because the camera work and stunts are exquisitely produced and shot with an artistic eye. The divers we see cast as Navy frogmen and SPECTRE agents in the final battle are made up of a team of specialists Browning himself, a dedicated diver and stuntman, had brought to the Bahamas to shoot the sequence. Thanks to the widescreen presentation of Thunderball, the underwater crew used the expanded frame to their advantage, filling the camera’s picture box with dozens of extras battling it out with knives and spear guns in awe-inspiring fashion. There’s an epic feeling these sequences carry, and the shots we get are some of my favorites in the film. We cut from shots of tussling divers to those of sea creatures reacting to the chaos unfolding around them, juxtaposed with images of dead frogmen and SPECTRE agents sinking to the ocean floor with blood rushing out of their wounds. Everything we see feels alive and real, and never comes off like a staged film production. I haven’t ever and likely will never see a film with better shot and choreographed underwater photography, or one that balances logistical challenges with the finesse it managed.
In another special mention, United States Air Force Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Russhon, who helped EON get the necessary authority to shoot in Turkey for From Russia with Love and fly over the real Fort Knox in America for Goldfinger, returned again for Thunderball. For his part, Russhon provided the second-unit with the experimental rocket fuel used to blow the Disco Volante to smithereens, and also secured EON's access to the fulton surface-to-air recovery system from the United States Navy that appears at the very end of the movie to get Bond and Domino out of dodge. The latter was a true to life spy tool used in the profession to get agents out of dangerous locations, giving Thunderball even more of a grounded feeling despite its blockbuster essence.
All these testaments are just part of why the Bond team of the 60s is unmatched in every way: they took immense challenges and found clever ways to get the job done with their amazing cast of associates and problem eliminators.
Opening Title Design-
Thunderball’s opening title design is one of my all time favorites, in so many ways. While the titles of Dr. No and From Russia with Love were created with body projection, it was in Thunderball that Maurice Binder introduced the use of female bodies and silhouettes into the designs, elements which would be a vital part of these sequences forever after. It also marks the first instance of true nudity in the Bond films, thanks to the swimming seductresses.
The use of blues, reds and greens as the colored canvases the women and divers swim against work beautifully together, and the fact that Binder made all of the sequences with just a few film tricks and a tank at Pinewood is staggering. Tom Jones’ tune (more on this later) does overtime to further accentuate the visuals, making it one of the most imaginative opening title designs in Bond history and a timeless classic of credit design.
I have stated my love for the script of Thunderball in the previous sections of my analyses in the categories of “plot plausibility” and “villain’s scheme,” so I will add my final thoughts here to further argue why I find this script so strong in particular.
Firstly, Thunderball does what so little films can seem to manage to do, even outside of Bond: it welcomes us into the villains’ homes, figuratively and literally. We get a window into SPECTRE, how the organization is run and what Bond is up against. We see firsthand how they are planning to meticulously get their nukes, and what steps they’ve taken to make sure their seizure of the weapons is successful. Some think it’s a weakness on the part of Thunderball to show us so much of SPECTRE’s plans and how they unfold, but I view it as quite special and thrilling. Part of the reason why From Russia with Love is so different and fascinating is because it too allows us inside the minds of the villains as we see how and why they are acting out their plans in the ways they are. We see the shadow of SPECTRE gradually swallow up Bond and cast him into doubt and danger, and that’s nothing short of thrilling. It makes Thunderball special that we get to know Bond’s greatest enemies, that we get to see how their organization is run and how the SPECTRE briefing under Blofeld contrasts with the later 00 briefing under the command of M, two vastly different leaders with different causes and morals, both expecting the best of their agents. We see how Largo and his crew get the nukes and all the problem solving they perform to ensure their plans are a success. This makes it very difficult to nitpick the holes of Thunderball beyond some conveniences because the movie strives to show us how the villains are doing what they are doing step-for-step.
Secondly, in Thunderball Bond is back to being a man of action, a dynamic, not static character, unlike in the previous film. The Terence Young Bond returns, the half spy half detective super combo who meticulously bugs his hotel room to survey any enemy action against him, who uses his cleverness to eradicate his enemies, and who completes his mission by any means necessary, regardless of the increasing odds stacked against him. In Young’s films we get to see Bond subtly develop from a man who had no idea of SPECTRE’s existence in Dr. No and who became an ant-sized agent under the hell of the organization in From Russia with Love to a man who now knows his enemy well and is irreverently confident and devil may care in the face of Blofeld and his agents. Bond smells SPECTRE all over the NATO plot, and when he meets the plan’s architect, Largo, he immediately mocks the man and lets him know he is aware of his organization’s scheme and his connection to it. Both men know who each other are as they meet at the card table, nobody else, and Bond rather cavalierly defeats Largo in a pompous way while still keeping it gentlemanly in a nice sequel to the Dr. No card game that debuted the character to the world. It’s clear that after having two missions where he was in over his head and blind to SPECTRE’s influence, Bond refuses to be duped a third time around, and that makes him more dangerous to the organization than ever before: the gloves are off and he’s playing no games.
Lastly, the subtle black comedy of Thunderball’s script gives it even more character as a piece of writing because in it beautiful or harmless imagery is contrasted directly with images that are evil or dangerous by design. As if out of Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove, the nuclear weapons Largo and his crew are seizing have a label painted on them that reads “Handle like eggs.” This element always strikes me as both funny and frightening at the same time, as the label brings to mind the soft and harmless imagery of eggs in a carton while being overlaid on top of the delicate, volatile and serious weaponry of the nukes. Because of the visual metaphor forged between eggs and nukes here, I can feel the hair on my arms stand on end as I picture Largo and his team trying to cautiously remove and transport the missiles around the Bahamas, with me always anxious that they're destined to go kaboom if any excitable movement is made on their part and the weaponry are triggered to their finite reaction. A nice touch.
In addition, Thunderball is a story of concealment, where everything is being hidden between the characters, even when the truth is right under the nose. The beauty and grace of Fiona masks a deadly and resourceful tactician, just as Bond’s dapper suits deceive those around him and SPECTRE's Paris headquarters is concealed inside a quaint social services building. Domino’s innocence and sweetness hide away the tragedy of her character and the pain she faces under the thumb of Largo, and the Vulcan plane Bond is so intent on tracking is purposely hidden from sight in camouflage net. Even the British and American governments are lying to the innocent citizens of the world. Both world powers know the consequences of their failure to retrieve the nukes, as well as the severe aftermath that would come following a nuclear attack on a major English or American city, but they can’t share the dreaded news with the world for fear of the catatonic panic it would cause and what the leak would drive SPECTRE to do in retaliation. It’s a nice detail that, when the British agree to SPECTRE’s terms and ring Big Ben the demanded 7 times, the government report it as a mechanical failure to the public, who are unaware in their ordinary lives just how close the world is to reaching a possible breaking point. Like so many plots in the Bond films, 007 is risking his tail to save the world, and because he does his job successfully and stops these schemes, the public are ignorant to his sacrifices, almost as if they didn’t even happen in the first place. Such is the life of a spy whose risks so often meet no rewards.
In conclusion, Thunderball is nothing if not a film about literally and figuratively tearing the veil off of things hidden away, whether the surprises come from the deceitfully beautiful faces of the most alluring women or in the form of crashed ships covered in camouflaged netting. It also represents one of the greatest scripts when it comes to dialogue and in the creation of immense tension, a perfect culmination of what made Young’s Bond films so special and mind-bending in the first place.
Cinematographer Ted Moore returns for yet another time as the visual mind of Bond, giving us some of his all-time greatest work behind the lens.
Moore really uses vibrancy to his advantage in Thunderball, popping the color of the scenery with how he shoots his sequences. This is added to by the costume department, who enabled Moore’s camerawork to saturate the actors in lavish form by what color palettes they dressed the main players in.
The location shooting is nothing short of legendary as well, and thanks to Moore and Young we feel a part of the action in the Bahamas just as we did in Jamaica during Dr. No and Istanbul in From Russia with Love. Goldfinger’s heavy use of sets must have stifled Moore’s creativity outside of the shooting in Switzerland, but in Thunderball we get to witness what he is able to do when given the right tools and a natural environment to shoot in. His use of light and shadow to create tension, as in the Shrublands sequences and in the stealth raid Bond mounts on Palmyra is nothing short of legendary. While in previous films scenes set at night made it extremely difficult to see the action unfolding, in Thunderball all night sequences are crisp and clear to the eye, which must be down to Moore’s use of well-placed production lights and in his handling of the natural lights from the environments around him.
Overall, Moore’s work transports us to the Bahamas and makes the location feel like a character all itself in the story, something he always managed to do effectively in each Bond film he had cinematography duties over. Even when he was shooting on sets, he utilized Adam’s creations and their amazing scale to fix the camera in ways that made Bond and his fellow agents feel like specks milling about inside them, like in the legendary 00 briefing scene. Thanks to Moore and Adam’s teamwork, the SPECTRE plot and the consequences of the danger it poses feels suitably larger than life and seemingly insuperable for Bond to overcome.
In Goldfinger John Barry created the Bond sound, and with Thunderball the music man only continues to create magic for the ears. If the former score was all about being brassy and conveying a suitably “golden” sound, for the latter Barry takes his orchestra and amps everything up to absolutely blaring levels with sound fit to burst the eardrums. It’s loud, it’s sexy, it’s masculine, the perfect score to accompany Sean’s Bond during his fourth journey. Barry provides music that is the perfect accompaniment to any scene of action, whether Bond is sneaking around Largo’s compound, seducing Fiona or wrestling underwater with SPECTRE agents. Barry also utilizes the film’s opening tune cunningly, my favorite instance being when he places a light and classy arrangement of it right when a tuxedoed Bond walks off the boat and heads to the card tables in the Bahamas, where Largo and Domino are awaiting him.
A special mention must also be given to Barry’s use of the 007 secondary theme here that debuted in From Russia with Love. In this movie Barry elevates the sound and really gives it a whizzing, pulsating, percussive boom that just gets your head banging to it as the final underwater battle commences.
If I had to pick scores to share with those who had never heard any Bond compositions, Goldfinger and Thunderball would be my go-to choices because they are both so loud and proud to be Bond scores, and it was these two that cemented the big band orchestral style that defined these films musically.
When it comes to opening tunes, Tom Jones’ Thunderball has few competitors when it comes to sheer brilliance, power and masculinity. The theme is perfect for a Bond film in so many ways. Barry’s score makes it feel like a song only meant for a man as capable and machismo-soaked as James Bond, and the lyrics express from Don Black that are breathed into life by Jones’ vocal chords make the tune the ultimate anthem of 007, describing to audiences emphatically all that makes him a fascinating and engaging character. At the end of the song Tom Jones pulls a Matt Monro and holds an insanely long note that ends the piece brilliantly. According to Bond legend, Mr. Jones even fainted in the recording booth after singing the long note. He once said, "I closed my eyes and I held the note for so long when I opened my eyes the room was spinning." Similar things have happened to Dame Shirley Bassey during her recordings of Bond tunes, showing that performers of this caliber are willing to throw oxygen to the wind in order to deliver the goods for 007.
The original plan was for a song entitled “Mr. Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang” (a fitting moniker an Italian journalist gave to Bond during Dr. No’s release) to be used for Thunderball’s opening titles with versions by both Bassey and Dionne Warwick recorded, but the Bond producers thought the song wouldn’t be effective because it wasn’t written with the title of the movie in mind. The song by Tom Jones, Don Black and Barry then had to be sped into production, with little time to spare. What happened next was…history.
Peter Hunt’s iconic fast and fierce editing style returns in fine form to Thunderball, a film that had more action than he had ever cut before, driving him to request more time to edit the film from United Artists.
Hunt’s style and influence on the film is easy to see, best exemplified during the Junkanoo chase sequence, which he and Young worked hard to produce through long hours of filming the dancing extras in action so that the latter could give the former a lot to work with in the editing room. It must have been a real slog for Hunt to pour through all the images of dancers and floats to find the right noises, colors, compositions and perspectives that worked best once juxtaposed one after the other, all in order to create an effective and fluid sequence. What results is a stunning piece of film that conveys the tension and heart rattling danger of the action we are seeing on screen as Bond truly feels masked by the loud colors and blaring noise of the Junkanoo parade as he heads for deep cover to slip away unscathed (despite a minor bullet wound, of course).
The editing of the underwater sequences is equally as effective, and Hunt seems to make a point not to drop in any awkward jump cuts where the viewers will easily spot them. Instead, when he has to, the film is sped up to convey a sense of action and heavy motion, such as when Bond shoots a boat door down on two Largo soldiers. In the underwater fight Hunt switches shots at perfect moments again and again, always giving us a new and exciting image to take in as we witness wide shots of divers twisting and turning, battling for knives and spears in a deadly embrace.
This may have been Hunt’s most effective editing in the series timeline yet, because it’s stylized and recognizable without seeming awkward or filled with more sloppy jump cuts than are comfortable, which is an understandable criticism of his approach.
If Goldfinger represents the epitome and end-all-be-all of Bond style, Thunderball is both a worthy successor and strong competitor for the title. While it’s hard for any Bond film’s suits to equal those of Goldfinger’s stunning ivory dinner jacket or legendarily iconic Prince of Wales gray check three-piece suit, Thunderball has an endless parade of strong formal and casual wear that continued to solidify Sean Connery as a style maverick and messiah of machismo.
There’s five extremely strong suits in Thunderball that I would happily steal for my own closet: the gray flannel three-piece suit that Bond wears in the pre-titles sequence, the brown mohair three-piece suit he wears during his briefing with M, the midnight dinner jacket he wears when he meets Largo for the first time at the card tables and the light gray semi-solid suit he adorns during the Junkanoo chase.
The grey flannel suit is suitable for what appears to be a cold French climate, and the warmth of the fabric and heavier weight of the suit makes it truly feel like Bond’s body armor that he’s adorned himself with to head into battle with Bouvar, accentuated by a black grenadine tie. The brown mohair suit Bond wears during his briefing with M is a nice retread of the previous suit, but also reminiscent of the Goldfinger gray three-piece (both by Anthony Sinclair) that Sean wears with great-if brief-sophistication. The midnight blue tuxedo Bond wears during his card table face-off with Largo and his dance with Domino may be Sean’s very best tuxedo, though it’s always hard to determine. Sean looks so effortlessly sophisticated and suave in it, largely because he’d worn so many tuxedos by this point that it’s not hard to imagine them feeling like a second skin to him whenever he put one on. He wears it with such elegance and posture, and in the context of the story it’s a defining moment that provides it with an added punch as Bond comes face-to-face with Blofeld’s second in command.
In the light gray semi-solid suit Bond wears during his hair-trigger confrontation with Fiona and her SPECTRE cohorts, we see the style legacy of Terence Young and Anthony Sinclair's impact on the Bond films’ visual appeal represented in just one ensemble. In Dr. No and From Russia with Love the default, go-to suit Bond so often wore was a gray suit with a light blue dress shirt and navy grenadine tie. Thunderball then marks the return of both Terence Young in the director’s seat and the iconic suit of Bond’s style past that he helped nurture to life with tailoring aid from Sinclair. The suit feels like a more mature, “grown up” version of the previous gray suits with light blue shirts Bond had worn in his first two films, and that may be because Bond himself had matured as a character in personality and style over time, just as Sean had playing him. This is a Bond who is done getting played by SPECTRE, and now he wears the suit with an added sense of conviction and ferocity. It’s fitting that this suit is the last one Bond wears in Thunderball, and the last suit he wears for the Terence Young trilogy, because the director was of such an iconic influence on the style of Bond and his suits, which all started with him advising Sean on the kind of gray suits he wears in this Junkanoo sequence.
When it comes to casual clothing in the field, Sean wears a series of great lightweight striped and solid color shirts and polos that are the epitome of his Bond’s informal style. He pops in every ensemble, most wonderfully in the all-blue outfit he wears while getting his gadgets from Q as his features and brown hair and eyes stand out against the palette.
When it comes to the supporting cast, there is an endless stream of great ensembles to marvel at, such that Thunderball is one of the Bond films where everyone, not just Bond, looks immaculate. Largo gets a lot of nice and moody suits to his name, like the charcoal suit we first see him in that suitably characterizes him as a dangerous and vile figure, and the ivory dinner jacket he wears when he and Bond first meet. The latter suit was purposely chosen for Celi so that Largo would pop out amongst the sea of black dinner jackets around the card table, showing the audience subliminally that he is the villain of the piece that Bond will be rallying against forever after. It’s also a nice touch and visual trick that he’s in white, a pure hue largely saved for more innocent and “good” characters in fiction, especially in the field of film design. In Thunderball, however, the villains wear the hero’s colors.
And I would be remiss if I didn’t give a round of applause to those who assembled the many bikinis Ms. Auger shifts through during the film. Everything looks amazing on her, and though I’m not as knowledgeable on what makes a good bikini as I am on what makes a good suit, I certainly like what I see, and that’s all I can really ask for. In addition, the best looking woman of the picture is Luciana Paluzzi in a set of skin-hugging blue dresses that show off her…assets with great effectiveness. These are the kinds of women who ruin the rewind and pause buttons of your remote.
When it comes to fashion and style, Thunderball is right up there with Goldfinger for featuring one of the all-time greatest collections of suits and formal wear for Bond and the rest of the cast to slink around in.
As production designer of Thunderball, Ken Adam really had his work cut out for him when it came time to breathe life into this particularly ambitious Bond adventure.
Adam not only had designing duties for the sets, but also took it upon himself to design the crafts that Largo uses to transport the nuclear weapons, scouted and rented locations around the Bahamas to shoot the film in and bought and re-tooled any boats that were needed for the production’s action sequences, including the iconic Disco Volante that he helped envision and trick out and the Vulcan NATO plane he and his team replicated in a stunning model. He also customized the shark pools used in the production with sheets of plexiglass so that Young could effectively-and safely-shoot the scenes where actors or stuntmen needed to be in the water at the same moment as the sharks. This went terribly wrong once, however, and nearly cost Sean a limb or two. Adam explains:
“We used lots of sharks for this movie. I'd rented a villa in the Bahamas with a salt-water pool which we filled with sharks and used for underwater filming. The smell was horrendous. This was where Sean Connery came close to being bitten. We had a plexiglass corridor to protect him but I didn't have quite enough plexiglass and one of the sharks got through. He never got out of a pool faster in his life - he was walking on water."
Of course, Bond productions are anything but easy going or without their stressors, and Thunderball was no different in this regard, especially with how monolithic the production team was and the challenges they needed to face daily to shoot the picture.
If Dr. No’s anteroom was Adam’s defining piece from that film and the Fort Knox set the same for Goldfinger, the set that really evokes the feeling of Thunderball to me is the 00 briefing room. This one may be my favorite Adam design of the Connery films at the very least, because it’s a combination of all that Adam was great at. He always knew the right materials to get to make the sets something special, and how he played with geometry and space are as vital to defining the Bond style as Barry’s orchestral music defined the sound. The 00 briefing room is just immaculate in every single way. The use of symmetry Adam employs, the measurements he made to make Bond and the rest of the agents feel small in comparison to the room and the large NATO map adorning the far wall add such an epic and ambitious flavor to what is already an epic and ambitious film. The set really underscores the dire and dangerous scope of SPECTRE’s scheme, and what it could mean for Bond and the world at large if he fails.
Adam also designed a SPECTRE briefing room to accompany his MI6 one, which I like simply because the two designs effectively contrast the respective spaces that SPECTRE agents and MI6 agents frequent and exist inside. The SPECTRE briefing room is suitably smaller and slimmer (likely to emphasize how hidden away it is), stressing a closer contact amongst the agents. It’s almost by design that agents must face each other from opposite seating positions, like Blofeld is manipulating them to feel a sense of surveillance and observed paranoia, even in the presence of colleagues with shared operational goals. Blofeld is also at the head of the “table” in this briefing room, like a king or lord, giving his malicious sermons to his followers from behind a screen that masks his face from view. The ceiling is low with a geometric print resembling a window pane cut into its surface, reminiscent of the giant barred circle that dominated Adam’s design for Dr. No’s anteroom.
Adam also has brilliant creations once the action takes us to the Bahamas. It was he and his team who designed the hotel rooms of Bond and Paula Kaplan, giving them a suitably tropical, warm feeling, as if they were made from the nature of the Bahamas itself. The Kiss Kiss club that appears when Bond sneaks into it following the Junkanoo parade chase also had to be created by Adam and his crew, because the production team failed to find an already existing area in the Bahamas that had the space or atmosphere they required for the scene of 007’s final face-off with Fiona. It’s a stunning design that uses much of what was already there, including the shot up palm trees, to hang ornate and illuminating lights around the space to give it a festive feeling suitable for a club. The square dance floor in the center of the space is another clear sign that Adam was heavily involved in the club’s design, and how the extras are packed around the area where Bond and Fiona literally and figuratively dance with death adds to the chaos and brouhaha of the chase as 007 fends for his life, outnumbered and surrounded. Apparently the locals of the Bahamas loved the Kiss Kiss club set so much they pleaded with the production crew to keep it running as an actual business once Thunderball was done shooting. Like everyone else in the world afflicted with Bondmania, the people of the Bahamas couldn’t get enough of the secret agent and his vibrant world.
All in all, Ken Adam’s work on Thunderball is nothing short of astounding. He wore so many hats and completed so many jobs outside of set design for this film that it’s astounding to read about. The reason this film was so successful and why Young was able to face the challenges in shooting it to come out through the light end of the tunnel is partly down to the work of Adam and his design team, core members of the Bond crew whose talents overcame these straits to create something truly legendary.[/quote]
I don't do quantitative ratings on a 1 to 5 or 1 to 10 scale as a principle of mine, but Thunderball has always had the honor, along with Dr. No, of being high up in my top 10, falling second in line behind only From Russia with Love amongst the classic Connery era films.
In Thunderball we see the perfect culmination of Terence Young's landmark work with the character of James Bond, which I believe still remains the most iconic take on the character, and he the supreme director. Young's Bond is my Bond, the kind of man I picture in my head when cinematic 007 is on my mind. He was as much a detective as he was a spy, going to great lengths to catch his foes with little traps he set around his hotel rooms, always ahead of the game. This Bond made a conscious effort to check for bugs everywhere, and Young treated us to these kinds of quiet moments in the character's spy work to let us into the man's psyche, to see how he experienced the world around him. We didn't watch this Bond simply deal with threats, we faced them head-on with him, every step of the way, and we always understood the motives behind his choices intensely. It was this kind of twelve-steps-ahead thinking that made Sean's Bond the absolute 007, and because every newly turned corner could reveal yet another gun barrel pointed directly at his heart, this man made a conscious decision to partake in women and drink in equal measures to savor the quiet moments.
After surviving the dastardly SPECTRE and its best agents twice now, this Bond has faced hell to get to this point, and now knows how the organization plays their twisted spy game, meaning there's not many surprises they can deliver to him. Because of this, the agent feels more capable against the threat than ever before, and Connery oozes this confidence. The boyish portrayal of Bond in Goldfinger has grown into a man, leaking machismo. We also get one of his finest hours as the character-second only to his time with Donald Grant on the Orient Express-as he faces Fiona Volpe head on. Nearly dead to rights, Sean's Bond exudes Fleming's creation as he watches fearfully while he’s swarmed by armed SPECTRE gunmen after spilling out of the Junkanoo parade. Heading to the dance floor he is out of luck, finding Fiona in his path to salvation yet again. The pair share a true dance of death, and, as the band drums reach a percussive rise around him, Bond spots the gun coming from behind the curtain afar. In a last second move, he spins Fiona into the bullet’s path as the instruments disguise the concussive hit of the shot. The camera lingers on Bond dancing with Fiona's corpse as blood runs down the dress and over his fingers, his arms the only thing holding her upright as a look of disgust forms on his face. Her head limp on his shoulder like a sleeping lover, the spectators mistake their shared moment for a romantic dance, while only Bond knows the truth of the dark act he just had to commit for Queen and country-and himself. He puts on a jovial face for a second to drop the villainess into a chair surrounded by relaxing couples before he rips the facade away again and the distaste returns to mark his face. This is Bond!
Beyond all this, Thunderball is the movie where we get to see SPECTRE forming their plans at home, right inside their very headquarters, and receive a crash course in how dangerous it is to be an agent for the organization. Images of the SPECTRE headquarters and how they operate clash with those of the MI6 staff in their briefing room as Bond and all his fellow 00s are called in on the theft of NATO nukes, an alarming scheme that still remains one of the most dire in Bond history. Seeing Bond saunter on in (late, mind) and watch M give him a talking to is to realize that this time, all bets are off. It is downright thrilling to know that while Bond is in the Bahamas trying every avenue of strategy to locate the nuclear missiles as the clock winds down-from causing an island-wide blackout to crashing Largo's estate and manipulating his mistress-the people of Miami have no idea how close they are coming to being bombed. And even when the film completes and Bond's team stops the SPECTRE scheme from coming to fruition, the denizens of Florida don't know James from Adam, even though he's the only thing that came between them and utter vaporization. Thunderball goes a long way of showing us what a thankless job Bond has when he can walk down the street staring people in the eyes who wouldn't still be around if it weren't for his expertise in spy craft. Bond goes all in for humanity with his every breath, but can never share his feats and gambles with anyone outside the agency on professional principle. His sacrifices must go on unnoticed and unrewarded, cast in shadow, never to see the light.
To consider all of this in light of just one film more than supports the staggering cinematic accomplishment Thunderball represents as one of the grandest Bond adventures. It’s earnest without being dour, ambitious without melting its wax wings mid-flight, operatic without exhausting itself to ruin through its brashness or maddening scale. For Young and his team to be able to balance just the ambition of the film’s narrative would be one thing, but their collective effort is realized as an absolute miracle as we watch them juggle the staggering logistical challenges posed by it on top of it all. Hundreds of extras had to be prepped and managed across the shooting period and tourists and ardent fans needed to be herded out of shots as “Bondmania” overtook their minds-there were hungry sharks aplenty, too. On top of all this, more than a dozen tons of production equipment had to constantly be operational and ready to move around the Bahamas, and the team had the thankless task of choreographing the single greatest underwater action piece I have ever seen that closes out the picture in near paralytic style.
All of these elements of splendor combine to produce a movie that’s less a spy thriller, and far more a spy epic. To play the plot of this movie back in your head is to ponder one of 007’s absolute wildest onscreen hours, a true journey film that tests every fiber of his being to make it out alive. Bond's enemies pull no punches to realize their evils, meaning he cannot rest on his laurels, instead forging himself into an immovable object to obstruct SPECTRE’s maniacal force. To quote Tom Jones, “he thinks that the fight is worth it all, so he strikes like Thunderball.”
To start out with the positives we have probably the last good Connery performance in this movie, Connery is just on fire in Thunderball and he really elevates the movie. I also quite liked the character of Domino Derval and found her a Bond’s relationship to be pretty well done especially the build up. John Barry’s score here is once again nothing short of fantastic, especially the title theme. This film also houses some really great set pieces such as the spectre meeting room and really nice exotic locations. Last but not least there is some great action scenes here as well as really good stealth moments.
Now as for the negatives we start out with Emelio Largo who imo is just bland and boring in every sense of the word, his only good scenes are with Connery and maybe Domino, he has the look down but doesnt have everything else and that’s due to the writing of his character. The henchmen are also very lame and unmemorable other than maybe vargas and even he is more memorable for his name alone. Desmond and Connery’s chemistry in this film seems to be off as if desmond does not want to be there, which is disapointing. The worst part about this film is the slow and terrible pacing, like the film is so slow and boring a lot and it takes me out of the film, I dont like watching Bond be ten steps behind me the viewer and play catch up with me.
As a whole this one is pretty meh and maybe even mediocre, still it isnt a terrible movie or bad, but heavily flawed. My final rating is a 6/10
The early 1960’s era of James Bond will always be remembered fondly. The smash hits of Dr. No, FRWL, and Goldfinger helped propel Sean Connery from an unknown actor, to the worlds biggest film star. It helped propel James Bond from pulp literary hero, to big screen phenomenon. It also changed filmmaking as a whole, with its mixture of casual violence and sheer elegance being a template for not only other spy films, but other action films at the time as well. Thunderball was one of the most anticipated films of the 1960’s. Everyone was excited to see the next chapter in the Bond series; to see how the series could top itself after the smashing success of Goldfinger. But would Thunderball ultimately live up to expectations? To many yes, to others no. For me, it’s a film that’s only gone up.
Sean Connery is a big reason as to why the movie works for me. It’s hard to top what Connery did with the character from 1962 - 1965, and in Thunderball, we’d get one final dose of Connery at his absolute best. I think it’s a shame that the quality of Connery’s performances would decrease in some aspect following Thunderball, because here Connery projects so much swagger, charm, and elegance, while still being incredibly tough and brutal. The scene that always stands out to me is when he finds Fiona Volpe in his bathtub, and he just hands her shoes when she asks for her clothes. Classic Connery. He’s habit of going back and forth with Largo is another fun element of the film.
Adolfo Celi as Largo on the other-hand...not so memorable. It’s not entirely the fault of the actor, the character just doesn’t feel strong or memorable. I feel he just lacks what made Dr. No, Rosa Klebb, and Goldfinger such memorable villains. This is also reflected in his henchmen. The henchmen of Thunderball (with one exception) are all weak and generally forgettable. Vargas and the other faceless goons are like dimwits and fools compared to the henchmen of the previous two films, but at least Vargas has one memorable scene where he gets a harpoon through his chest.
Claudine Auger as Domino is one of the weaker Bond girls in my opinion. She had an interesting story, with her being the kept woman of Largo, and her brother being murdered on his orders, but something feels lost in translation. I don’t feel as if she stands out in the film in any major way. She just seems like eye candy. Luciana Paluzzi as Fione Volpe on the other hand is one of the best characters in the series. She’s fun to watch, beautiful, elegant, and sophisticated. I buy that she’s as every bit as dangerous as Bond is, and that’s what makes her so much fun. To see 007 running in fear for his life is something we don’t see in the franchise often, and in this film, it’s a real tense moment all down to her character.
For me, Thunderball has always been a mixed bag of style and substance. On my latest viewing however, I came away much more in favor of the film purely because of its style. I’ve criticized films like Spectre on this website for focusing too much on style and pretty shots while not giving any kind of interesting story to play with at all, and for a long time it was the same with Thunderball for me. This was one of the last Bond films I saw when going through the series for the very first time, and it never really caught my attention the way other Bond films have, but in the context of 1965, and just where the franchise was, it’s easy to see the it was the biggest of the series so far, with its stakes, action scenes, and plot. Hell even the aspect ratio changed to match this new, bigger and better aspect brought to the series in the wake of Goldfinger’s smash success. The underwater scenes, though dated today in my humble view, do provide the film with sort of an edge against its action contemporaries back in the day, and in that way was very revolutionary. The editing and jump cuts do leave a lot to be desired however, and I point to the fight on board the Disco Volante as the worst of those excesses. But in the end, I’ve come around to appreciating with Thunderball brought to the table. It’s not the best Bond film, nor does it sit amongst the bottom. But it is a unique entry in the series. It would be the last Bond film that original director Terence Young would helm, and as I previously stated, features one last glimpse of Sean Connery as Bond at his glorious best. It really was the end of an era.
Final Rating; 8/10
Next...I’ll be reviewing what could possibly be the best Bond film of the Roger Moore era...1981’s For Your Eyes Only.