Thunderball review

"Do you mind if my friend sits this one out? She's just dead."

The pre-credit sequence of Thunderball sees James Bond attending the funeral of Jacques Boitier, a SPECTRE operative who had killed two British agents. Bond sees a woman open open a car door for herself at the funeral and suspects Boitier in disguise. He offers his condolences and punches him in the face before eventually killing him after an exciting fight sequence. Bond escapes using a jetpack to fly to his Aston Martin DB5. He then uses water cannons on the car to complete his escape. Tom Jones belts out the title song over Maurice Binder's excellent aquatic titles.

Thunderball deals with SPECTRE's attempt to hold the world hostage by hijacking two nuclear bombs. The Vulcan carrying the bombs is hijacked by a SPECTRE operative who has undergone plastic surgery to appear as a NATO observer. Once in control of the plane, the operative lands it in the middle of the ocean near the Bahamas where Emilio Largo (known as "Number Two" in SPECTRE and played by Adolfo Celi) and his men take the warheads and hide the plane. Largo kills the man posing as the NATO observer after he demands more money for completing his mission.

Prior to this James Bond is sent to Shrublands health-farm by M to improve his condition. While enjoying a massage he meets Count Lippe (Guy Doleman) and notices a criminal gang tattoo on his arm. Lippe is aware of Bond's interest in this and attempts to murder him  on the traction machine but 007 is rescued by a member of staff who he promptly seduces. He takes his revenge by trapping Lippe in a steam bath but the Count isn't killed. Bond finds a dead man wrapped in bandages and another attempt to kill him is averted.

Bond arrives late at an emergency conference where all of the 00-agents are briefed and given assignments. M decides to send Bond to Canada but 007 recognizes a photo of the NATO observer as the dead man he saw at the health club. Since the NATO observer's sister is in Nassau, M allows Bond to journey there to investigate. The sister, Domino, played by Claudine Auger, is Largo's mistress. Bond uses this connection to get close to Largo after meeting Domino scuba diving.

Fiona Volpe (played by Luciana Paluzzi) attempts to kill Bond in Nassau. She is shot in the back by a bullet intended for Bond while dancing at a nightclub with him. Bond leaves her body at a table and delivers one of the most memorable deadpan one-liners in the series.

Bond meets up with Felix Leiter (Rik Van Nutter) and the two find the hijacked plane with the corpse of the phoney NATO observer. Bond tells Domino that her brother was killed by Largo and asks for her to help him in find the nuclear bombs. She gives Bond information that allows him to replace a SPECTRE agent on a mission with Largo. Largo is retrieving the nuclear warheads from underwater in order to place one at its target off the coast of Florida. After an aquatic battle 007 he is rescued by Leiter from the underwater cave where the bombs were hidden. Bond gives Felix the location of the bomb and the US Army head there whereupon an underwater battle takes place.

Largo escapes to the Disco Volante which still has one of the two warheads aboard but 007 follows. Bond and Largo fight but as Largo gains the upper hand he is shot in the back with a spear gun by Domino. Bond and Domino escape as the out of control hydrofoil runs aground and explodes and are rescued by a sky hook-equipped aeroplane.

A criticism of Thunderball now (from modern viewers who feel the film becomes a bit waterlogged and dreary in places) is that it could have been edited a bit more. The underwater sequences could do with a trim but then that may be because they don't have quite the same freshness to a modern viewer. They are however superbly done and were very radical for the time. The photography by Lamar Boren is stunning at times. Thunderball has been called he first epic Bond film and you can see why.

Luciana Paluzzi makes an excellent second villain and while Largo is not quite up to Goldfinger and Red Grant he is suitably stylish and menacing. Blofeld returns after being introduced in From Russia With Love. He is again a shadowy figure whose face is not shown. Claudine Auger makes her mark as Bond's love interest Domino.

With jet-packs, cruise-ships that seperate, DB5 water canons, radio-active pills, an underwater jet-harness, exploding chairs etc Thunderball is heavy on the gadgets. The production design by Ken Adam is suitably gargantuan for what remains the biggest grossing James Bond film of all time. It is all wonderfully organised by director Terence Young and features Oscar-winning special effects from John Stears. The widescreen cinematography is impressive and John Barry's score is amazing as you would expect.

Of course the best thing about Thunderball is the lead actor. Some regard this as the first film where Connery can be seen to be coasting and yawning now and again but I disagree. Graceful, ruthless, sardonic, snobbish and charming, Connery's performance in Thunderball is his high-water mark. As much a part of the sixties as The Beatles and Cassius Clay demystifying Sonny Liston, Sean Connery IS James Bond. No other tagline has such a permanent ring of truth.

Thunderball did not match up to the previous three entries but it stacks up pretty well against the films that followed over the years. Not the best film in the series but anyone who has an escapist bone in their body will find much to enjoy in what remains the biggest Bond of them all.

- Michael Cooper   


c 2006 Alternative 007