The fourth Bond film in as many years, sees the famous spy thunder off dry land and submerge into a water-filled mission. Thunderball would have been the film to kick off the 007 franchise, but legal issues surrounding the writing of the piece back in 1961 meant the problem wasn’t solved until after three movies had been released and the name James Bond was a recognizable brand.
STARS – Sean Connery, Adolfo Celi, Claudine Auger, Luciana Paluzzi
DIRECTOR – Terence Young
RUN-TIME – 130 minutes
BEST LINE – After perhaps my favorite line in any Bond movie ever, featured in Goldfinger, I’m back to the silly post-death quips from Connery himself. The line after a certain red-headed assassin dies is fairly tickling, but it’s the “I think he got the point” that beautifully rounds off a harpoon murder and is the best line in this film.
BEST GADGET – For a scarily long time it seems that the assignment James is on is devoid of gadgetry but thankfully there comes a point when Q crops up and saves us all. With that said, the equipment on offer this time around isn’t much to swoon over. Be it tracking devices or a camera that can take 8 photos in succession, this leads me to pick a metal mouth breather as the best gadget; a handy device that can be pocketed and help the wearer have 4 more minutes of oxygen.
EEK MOMENT – There’s an early scene where a pretend co-pilot is buckled in and sinking fast, his oxygen is removed and that’s for sure a panicky way to die, but this drowning fear is amplified in a sequence that sees 007 in a pool and sealed in by a metal covering. It’s not only this; the key villain orders the release of sharks into said pool, which is a sinister, nightmarish moment of entrapment.
00 UH-OH – Nothing tops the cartoonish moment featured in the pre-credit sequence. James Bond evades a manor house capture by jet-pack which looks especially shoddy and junky in today’s age. I’d imagine even back in the middle of the 1960s it looked fairly amusing and seems an outlandish step too far when ducking and running could have served just as well for the British agent.
ICONIC MOMENT – Dare I say it, but this film doesn’t have a stand out moment that you’ll identify if someone said the word Thunderball to you. Sure there’s the identifiable imagery of Largo with his eye-patch, spoofed by Number 2 in the Austin Powers movies and in a way the watery aspect of James’ duty is recognizable but it’s perhaps the first Bond film without a hugely iconic image.
REVIEW – Blofeld is back, back again, tell your friends. The SPECTRE organisation returns to the fold with director Terence Young, in the longest Bond film yet and one that sees the money making, world commanding schemes of the bald-headed, cat-stroking boss explored a bit more thanks to the services of Blofeld’s number two, Emilio Largo.
The opening credits belted to soulful delight thanks to Welsh maestro Tom Jones feature an onslaught of silhouetted swimmers and this encapsulates the watery focus of Bond’s mission to come. There is a lot of marine based imagery through the film from sharks to subs and divers to flippers. You’d think a water stage would have gotten its time to shine but the extensive underwater sequences were filmed on location and even if some shots are hard to distinguish, the feat is impressive.
James is a much rougher, stonier spy in this story. The charm and gentlemanly manner are dropped as it seems four missions in he’s growing weary of saving the world. The cold open sees a pre-Brie beating a Skree visual, as Bond lands a punch on a supposed funeral mourner and from then on he’s brutish on the trail of nuclear bombs and stopping the resurgence of SPECTRE.
It definitely takes a while to get into this film, the plot is slow and the frequent sub-aquatic theme are left out of the editing room which seems to make them go on for far too long but aside from a long run time that you can feel and a fairly repetitive structure to the past Terence Young outings, this 007 feature does have the most rewarding final act. Unlike the snappy, short-lived climaxes seen before, Thunderball descends into a symphony of sea drama, with oranges and blacks swirling and stabbing underwater. The stakes are higher thanks to this elongated battle and it injects needed impact to the mission.
The women in the film are a stronger quality too, at least in places. Domino, who at first seems to serve as a lady on the arms of men rocking up in fashionable variations of black and white becomes a helpful source of information and an eventual savior due to dispatching the main bad guy with a harpoon to the back. It’s true to say Blofeld views Largo as his most helpful lackie but it’s the vision of Fiona Volpe who is methodical and intelligent, a figure with more thought process in how to best find the time to kill Bond and keep their villainous plan alive. She’s someone who can use 007’s lustful advances against him and she highlights his vain weakness, so it is a shame she’s offed so easily and quickly but let it be said her femme fatale wiles were a definite match for the supposed skill of Bond.
Thunderball might not be the most captivating film from the franchise but with the aptitude of a mermaid and some very deep lungs, James Bond steps up and dives down to tackle an oceanic objective.