Thunderball

Release Date:

  • December 22, 1965

Director:

  • Terence Young

Actors:

  • Sean Connery
  • Claudine Auger
  • Adolfo Celi
  • Luciana Paluzzi
  • Rik Van Nutter
  • Guy Doleman
  • Molly Peters
  • Martine Beswick
  • Bernard Lee
  • Desmond Llewelyn
  • Lois Maxwell

Film Genre(s):

Made in:

Language(s):

  • English
  • French

Screenwriter(s):

  • Richard Maibaum
  • John Hopkins
  • Jack Whittingham, Original Screenplay

Producer(s):

  • Kevin McClory

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If not the best Bond film, clearly the best of Connery’s Bond films. A great film, James Bond or not.

After ‘Goldfinger’ set the tone for an over-the-top James Bond franchise, everything was in place for 1965’s ‘Thunderball’. Producer/writer Kevin McClory had worked on a screenplay with Bond creator Ian Fleming back in 1959, that story became Fleming’s novel “Thunderball”.

McClory won the film rights so Bond producers Harry Saltzman and Albert Broccoli had to work with McClory on this film. McClory’s involvement presumably keeps a more cohesive script. Just as grandiose as ‘Goldfinger’, but ‘Thunderball’ would top that film in almost every aspect.

Sean Connery
James Bond goes aquatic

A much larger budget provided bigger action set-pieces, a larger scope and absolutely magnificent stages and settings for this first “megalomaniac against the world” plot which become the standard for Bond films over the next 40 years.

As we start the film Bond gets into a brutal hand-to-hand against a “disguised” enemy agent and escapes with a backpack rocket ship, the first really ridiculous sequence in the film. Leading us into the first of many “nude women in silhouette” credit sequences–very risqué for 1965.

Emile Largo
Emile Largo, the pirate

SPECTRE (SPecial Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion) would return after a complete absence in ‘Goldfinger’ as the primary adversary for Bond. This time SPECTRE “Number Two” Emile Largo is tasked with a very clever scheme of stealing two nuclear bombs from NATO and then extorting £100 million from Britain and the U.S. for their “safe” return. Within the Bond universe this plot is quite grounded and almost plausible.

While recuperating at a clinic he encounters some mysterious activities/characters and uncovers the beginnings of this SPECTRE plot. These early scenes set the stage for a very well laid-out plot, and Bond has gets some playful interplay with his enemies. Connery is a much more confident Bond this time–relaxed, assured, and remorseless in his killing of anyone who gets in his way. This is Bond as Fleming envisioned him.

SPECTRE has grown in scope and size as well, incorporating more resources and more agents to this scheme. Adding Bond’s first femme fatale Fiona Volpe (Luciana Paluzzi) to the mix. A ruthless, sexy, and deadly agent. One of the strongest women characters in Bond film thus far.

Domino
Domino, nice suit!

Pursuing these bombs Bond ends up in Nassau, Bahamas. There he meets/seduces “Domino” Derval (Claudine Auger). Domino is under the “protection” of Largo but is innocent of his evilness. Auger is very beautiful and although not as strong a Bond-girl, she suits this babe-in-the-woods character well.

In ‘Thunderball’ Bond meets an adversary truly worthy of his skills. Emile Largo, portrayed by Adolfo Celi, is a very clever nemesis. His decisions are mostly based in well-planned logic/not (just) emotion and greed. A psychopathic, ruthless, but resourceful man. He even has a pool full of sharks for dealing with his enemies. One of the best, not overly flashy, Bond villains.

Bernard Lee returns as Bond’s MI6 boss “M”. Lee’s “M” acts more a disappointed father-figure to Bond then supervisor. He gets some classic moments with Connery here. Franchise staple Lois Maxwell as Miss Moneypenny gets one good scene with Bond–her playful flirtation with “James” is always fun and you sense a real bond between these two characters, perhaps Bond’s only respect based friendship with any woman.

Bond and Q
Bond and “Q” bonding

Desmond Llewlyn as gadgeteer “Q” has his best Connery scene, in-the-field. While Bond plays, “Q” instructs and scolds. The collections of gadgets expands this time, as well. The Austin Martin from ‘Goldfinger’ returns, plus the silly rocket-man suit, a handy small breather for underwater adventures, a swallow-able tracking device, hand-held Geiger counter, and a waterproof infrared camera. Other than the rocket-man suit most of these gadgets seem nearly possible.

Lots of great otherworldly underwater action, beautifully photographed. For the end battle Bond actually calls in the calvary, getting British special forces to parachute in and assist–a truly epic “invasion”. The fighting underwater is slow , ballet-like, but there’s lots of blood and some really brutal kills.

Fiona’s introduction to Bond is classic, with her giving him a perilous drive ride. His “finding” her in the tub scene is priceless, “Would you mind giving me something to put on?” Awesome stuff!

An exciting foot-chase through the Bahamas celebration Junkanoo. A spontaneous and playfully violent attempted rescue at Largo’s estate. Lots of savage fighting, lots of sex with at least three(?) woman, ferocious kills, and one VERY cavalier hero. Bond doesn’t flinch once in this film. He unapologetically goes for broke, all the time and loving it.

Fiona
Fiona’s dilemma, What to wear?

Bond also has some truly memorable one-liners. Every kill, narrow escape, sexual escapade, gets a quip. A very confident and cocky “live for each and every moment” performance that would completely define James Bond for the next thirty years.

John Barry wrote one of his best musical scores, with great aquatic themes. The first Bond to be filmed in wide-screen 2.35:1. Some great model work. And decent for 1965 effects work–much better than prior films.

The constructed sets are HUGE. From SPECTRE’s Paris headquarters (with the convenient execution chairs for the operatives that fail), to MI6’s grand briefing room. Everything seems bigger, more ambitious. The photography is vibrant and very epic in scope, making the best use of the Bahamas locations and seascapes.

The closing scene with a silly rescue by plane sours my appreciation some (just like the rocket-man), as does a few overly convenient plot-devices and logic gaps. However, this is one of the most intelligent Bond scripts in the canon. The “reality” of the threat only adds to the tension. No outer-space, laser beams, nor underwater cities anywhere to be seen.

‘Thunderball’ is my personal favorite Bond adventure. It may not(?) be the greatest in the series, but it is Connery’s best performance and a great Bond film. A must see for 007 fans. Just remember, unlike the kinetic and hyper action films of today, back in 1965 films had a more deliberate, confident pace. They stood on performance and plot alone, not needing to constantly distract us. Still a pretty exciting film. Highly Recommended.

Film Report Card

A

Aspect Ratio:  2.35 : 1

Color:  Color

MPAA Rating:  PG

Length:  130 minutes