Thunderball (1965)

Posted: May 3, 2019 in James Bond
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Sean-Connery-Thunderball

And we’re onto the fourth Bond film, hurrah! I possibly need to pick the pace up a little, still although a lot has been announced about Bond #25, it still doesn’t have a title, so I figure I still have quite a bit of time!

Maybe I was a bit lax because I wasn’t looking forward to this one. Oh, sure, there was a time when I loved it (a long time ago) but the last couple of times I’d seen it I remember being underwhelmed. So, has my opinion changed?

Irritatingly, yes and no. There’s actually a lot to like here, and yet the whole never quite lives up to the sum of its parts for some reason.

SPECTRE steal two nuclear bombs and threaten to blow up a British or American city unless the UK government pay £100 million (note to Mike Myers, see that joke really wasn’t even funny now was it? Because even in 1965 Dr Evil would have asked for more than one million dollars.) All 00 agents are assigned to find the bombs and Bond deftly avoids a posting to Canada (seriously, M?) by suggesting his time might be better spent chasing young women in the Bahamas, and as crazy as it sounds, he’s actually right!

After a drab pre title sequence when Bond punches out a man dressed as a woman (yes, ok Myers you can have that one) the film picks up the pace. It’s always nice to see 007 doing some detective work, and whilst recuperating at a health spa he becomes rightly suspicious of Count Lippe and a mysteriously bandaged patient. Sure, Bond’s investigations are a tad clunky, and I don’t think either he or Lippe do well in the undercover stakes, but it is always nice to see 007 using his brains.

The theft of the atom bombs is superb, from the reveal that poor old Major Derval has been copied, to Angelo’s takeover and crash landing of the plane underwater, closely followed by Angelo paying the price for being a greedy so and so, in a scene that still gives me the shivers.

And what’s 007 doing while the Vulcan’s being nicked? Oh, just blackmailing a woman into sex by threatening to get her the sack, you know, the usual…ok, you could argue that Patricia just assumes he could get her the sack, but it isn’t like James disabuses her of this notion. Minus marks, 007, must try harder.

largo_gunHaving seen the dead Derval, Bond’s lead is his sister Domino who’s the mistress (any pretence of ward is quickly dispensed with) of Emilio Largo, a man with an eyepatch and a liking for white dinner jackets who’s also known as Number 2 in SPECTRE (ok Myers, but this really is the last one!). Adolfo Celi is a forceful and sadistic presence, very different from Goldfinger, even if his eyepatch screams villain. He’s dubbed (as actors so often were in these early Bond films) because although his English was very good, his accent was, apparently a trifle thick.

As Domino, Claudine Auger is a so-so Bond girl, pretty but somewhat vapid for the most part, although fair play, she does get a bit of agency in the end by being the one to off Largo, but not a great Bond girl.

Unlike the film’s femme fatale. As Fiona Volpe, Luciana Paluzzi is amazing. Gorgeous, vicious, smart, ruthless, commanding and with a swagger many male villains would give their prosthetic claws for. From killing Count Lippe (seriously, does no one in SPECTRE ever just get a warning? See the guy electrocuted in his chair earlier) to literally driving Bond to distraction, she has agency in abundance, and for perhaps the first time a woman calls 007 out on the preposterousness of his reputation. “Bond, James Bond, who only has to make love to a woman and she starts to hear heavenly choirs singing.” Not that Fiona switches sides after a shag, no siree, this girl, this woman, is not for turning, and whether that quote is a sly did at Pussy or not, arguably Fiona Volpe is the best Bond girl so far. Even if she does end up dying in 007’s arms.

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Bond has a fair few gadgets here, even if many of them are shoehorned into the pre-title sequence. The jet pack probably looked amazing at the time but now seems ridiculous, though it’s nice to see the tricked out DB5 getting another airing. Other than this Bond’s got a mini rebreather which comes in handy more than once (a pleasant rarity for a Bond film), a Geiger counter in a watch and a camera, an underwater jet pack and a tracking device he has to swallow. It’s always fun to see Q out in the field and here’s the first occurrence. We get our third Felix into the bargain as well, though I quite like Rik Van Nutter’s dishevelled take on the role, and he at least looks more like Jack Lord than the last guy!

tb-beach-pink1-e1426555103685Let’s talk Connery though, is it me or does he seem to be phoning it in a little more? Maybe not all the time, but he definitely doesn’t quite have the presence he’s had before, though there are some nice scenes, and his “Wait till you see my teeth” line is wonderfully delivered. I suppose we can’t blame him for getting a trifle tired of the role, this was his fourth Bond film in as many years (remember that Daniel Craig will end up with a six-year break between films!) At least he’ll get a bit of a breather before the next film in the series.

As stated, the theft of the Vulcan is fantastic, and the 00 briefing scene is wonderfully staged as well, as is Bond hiding out in the carnival. So why does Thunderball leave me a little cold?

thunderball-underwater

Maybe it’s the action scenes, most specifically the underwater action scenes. Don’t get me wrong, I can tell this was a big deal back in 1965, and the underwater filming is clearly impressive, except it feels like the producers thought it was so impressive that we needed to see as much of it as possible! Connery seems to spend a third of the film underwater, and whilst the final underwater battle starts well, it doesn’t half go on a bit. Really, once you’ve seen one guy get harpooned underwater you’ve seen them all, and the fact they’re underwater ensures everyone seems to be moving slowly, all of which combines to turn what should be a tense and exciting battle into something that just drags.

Perhaps to compensate, once Bond and Largo are fighting it out on the boat, the camera is speeded up, presumably to add to the tension, though it just seems plain silly. The pick up via sky hook equipped plane s a wonderfully surreal final shot however (and it’s a real thing).

On a final note it’s interesting that we get Tom Jones singing Thunderball rather than Shirley Bassey’s Mr Kiss Kiss Bang Bang when the producers baulked at not having the title of the film in the song lyrics. Quick fun fact, Jones supposedly held that final note so long he fainted!

One last fun fact, Martine Beswick makes her second appearance in a Bond film having been one of the gypsy gals in From Russia With Love.

Do I hate Thunderball? No, because there’s much to like here, notably the Vulcan scenes and every second Fiona Volpe’s on screen, and in small doses the underwater stuff is genuinely impressive, I just can’t help feeling this is a film that could have easily lost five or ten minutes in the editing room and been better for it. Decent enough but probably the weakest in the franchise so far.

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