Director: Terence Young
Cast: Sean Connery, Adolfo Celi, Claudine Auger, Luciana Paluzzi, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell, Desmond Llewelyn
Plot: SPECTRE steal two nuclear missiles and threaten 10 Downing Street, unaware that James Bond (Connery) may have accidentally uncovered a lead.
While there is nothing overly wrong with Thunderball, it is one of the more forgettable Bonds out there. In short, it is ‘just another Bond film’, which is alright in itself. By the time Roger Moore comes around, we will be craving for movies of this standard. But at the time, Thunderball was the first ‘just another Bond film’. Dr No started the franchise and the other two sequels were fantastic. Of course, Thunderball looks a little less impressive, when held up against them, but I still find this one of the greater Bond movies.
It begins with Bond on some time off at a spa, when he stumbles across another customer with a tattoo he recognises from SPECTRE. He does some investigating and soon uncovers the dead body of a pilot. When he gets back to the UK and learns that the same pilot somehow crashed a plane carrying two nuclear warheads at the same time, M sends him to Nassau to try and figure out how the pilot could be two people at the same time. This puts him in contact with SPECTRE’S number two agent, Dr No’s replacement, the terrifying Emilio Largo.
As I have said before there is something very average about this film. There is a nuclear threat and Bond ends up investigating a megalomaniac mission. While Adolfo Celi’s performance as Largo is pretty good, there is nothing but an eye patch to separate him from the rest of the Bond rogue gallery. Bond slowly tries to find his way in, predictably through the one weak link in the organisation, the pretty girl who instantly picks up a crush on Bond. Before long, the assassination attempts end up getting thrown his way and the investigation escalates into an explosive climax. Despite the simple approach to this story, I quite liked the format. Bond teams up with a group of agents in Nassau, including Felix Leiter, and the mission kind of gets a system, where Bond goes out for clues, takes the clues back to the base for analysis and goes out again. I think it broke the story up nicely and kept everyone up to speed, while Goldfinger saw Bond kidnapped for most of its running time.
People also said this was the time where Sean Connery got lazy with Bond. I didn’t feel that here. I felt that Sean Connery had complete control of his character. It was laziness, it was coolness: the same performance he had perfected in Dr. No. Connery is given some fantastic lines here. While sometimes he clearly comes across as a little creepy (he pretty much blackmails the spa instructor for sex), there are some fantastic lines here. When Volpe asks for something to wear, he hands her a pair of shoes. When a bad guy dies, he has the perfect quip. One of the best moments Connery is remembered for is here: when he is sneaking out of a bad guy’s room, he still has time to take a grape from a fruit bowl. It’s a funny moment that shows the viewer just how awesome our favourite spy is.
The best thing about Thunderball is easily Fiona Volpe, played fantastically by Luciana Paluzzi. She is the first female villain in many regards, channelling every trademark you expect from a femme fatale and a Bond girl. Her character is perfectly evil and Young even uses her to mock Pussy Galore, after what I assume was criticism for her weak transformation to the good side. She laughs at Bond, when he assumes their love-making would make her see the error of her ways. It was a good moment and goes to show that Young knew what he was doing with the story. One thing I realised when rewatching this was her dynamic with Largo. She is not a henchwoman, like I remember, but his equal sent by Blofeld to oversee his operation. There is a scene, where they discuss the different approaches to the plan and I though it made her quite a strong feminist figure (for that day and age, at the very least). I also liked how Luciana Paluzzi was one of the first foreign actresses to actually hold her own, acting-wise. Even Claudine Auger in this film isn’t too effective an actress, either due to the language barrier or no talent, but Paluzzi isn’t held back by that. She uses it, even, and makes Volpe a memorable addition to the Bond canon.
But Thunderball isn’t without its problems. The biggest, and only really major, problem is the underwater scenes. It is a big thing in the film; we could argue underwater fighting is this film’s gimmick. However, the technology just isn’t there to make it work. Young goes for exciting, but it just slows the movie right down. The worst scene is the long sequence, where Largo steals the warheads, as it takes far too long to get through. The final fight is a little better, but I could still think of far better ways to spend the climax of this movie. So no, underwater is not fun, but it’s not for lack of trying on Young’s part. The soundtrack for the fight is awesome, we have some brutal deaths and Young cuts to interesting sea creatures to keep you entertained.
Final Verdict: While not the best Connery, it still promises an exciting adventure and finds a comfortable format to spend the franchise in.