"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
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
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