THUNDERBALL (United Artists, 1965)

Entry Source: The James Bond Movie Encyclopedia by Steven Jay Rubin


★ ★ ★1/2 The fourth James Bond film produced by Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, this time in conjunction with producer Kevin McClory. US release date: December 29, 1965. Budget: $5.6 million. Worldwide box office gross: $141.2 million (US domestic gross: $63.6 million; foreign gross: $77.6 million).[1] Running time: 129 minutes.

The Setup

After liquidating SPECTRE assassin Jacques Bouvar (Bob Simmons) in a French chateau, James Bond (Sean Connery) is sent to the Shrublands health clinic for some much-needed R&R. There he meets sexy physical therapist Patricia Fearing (Molly Peters) and her patient Count Lippe (Guy Doleman), who sports a suspicious tattoo of a tong sign on his wrist. What Bond doesn’t know is that Lippe is another enemy agent, working closely with assassin Fiona Volpe (Luciana Paluzzi), who has seduced NATO observer François Derval (Paul Stassino). Replacing him with an exact duplicate, SPECTRE plans to hijack a NATO jet bomber with two atomic weapons on board. The price to get those deadly nuclear weapons back: a $280 million ransom. Otherwise, a major city in the US or Great Britain will be destroyed. It’s the most audacious and ambitious operation ever conducted by SPECTRE—an operation that leads Bond to Nassau in the Bahamas and to wealthy international businessman Emilio Largo (Adolfo Celi) and his voluptuous mistress, Dominique Derval (Claudine Auger), sister of François.

Behind the Scenes

Thunderball is an epic film in every sense of the word—a big caper on a big canvas, capturing a worldwide sense of alarm that has never been duplicated in the series. The capers in other Bond films have been equally ambitious, but director Terence Young and screenwriter Richard Maibaum also managed to infuse this film with a very realistic menace. In The Spy Who Loved Me, Stromberg’s nuclear threat is a fantasy. In Thunderball, you believe that SPECTRE can and will detonate an atomic device if their ransom is not paid. When Bond walks into the Secret Service briefing room and takes his seat with all the other double-0 agents in Europe, you sense that an incredible adventure is about to begin, with the fate of the planet potentially on the line.

As in the previous films in the series, there are simple touches in Thunderball that anchor the film in reality. The hijacking of the NATO bomber is treated realistically, as is the resulting concern that ripples through NATO command. And although Bond appears to be a bit cavalier at times—spending far too much time bedding one conquest after another—when duty calls, he responds quickly and decisively.

Much has been written over the years about how Thunderball’s underwater sequences slow down the pace of the film. Certain fight sequences are repetitive, but the underwater setting contributes enormously to the romance of this picture—particularly as a backdrop to the love affair between Bond and Domino. Nowhere is this more evident than in the sequence in which Bond first meets Domino in the waters off Nassau. Directed by Ricou Browning, photographed by Lamar Boren, and scored beautifully by John Barry, this sequence has a poetic quality that perfectly establishes the interplay between the two future lovers.

Thunderball harnesses the romantic lure of Nassau throughout the film. One of the most evocative sequences is a brief moment when Bond arrives for a night of gambling at the Paradise Island casino. As he gets off the boat, he hears the laughter of a group of well-dressed vacationers who are leaving for the night. “See you tomorrow!” they shout, and the viewer suddenly gets a tremendous sense of the tropics—of carefree vacations, cool drinks, and moonlight romance.

There’s also the super-confident quality that Sean Connery brings to the picture. After three films, the character of 007 has been firmly established. Now, it’s time for Sean to have a little fun—for instance, the moment in the chateau when he kills Jacques Bouvar and takes time to throw flowers on the body, or the scene in Shrublands in which he discovers the dead Angelo and steals a bit of fruit as he leaves. Touches like these set Thunderball apart from other Bond movies.

The film also features one of the most beautiful women ever to grace a 007 adventure. Claudine Auger, a French beauty contest winner, has an electrifying presence on screen that matches Connery’s own, ensuring that their romance never lacks for fire. Luciana Paluzzi is also fetching as Fiona Volpe, the voluptuous redheaded siren. The film’s only real problem is the Shrublands sequence early in the film, which, aside from 007’s interplay with the very desirable Patricia Fearing, is just too slow-moving to sustain audience interest.

The Cast
Role
Actor/Actress
James Bond Sean Connery
Domino Claudine Auger
Emilio Largo Adolfo Celi
Fiona Volpe Luciana Paluzzi
Felix Leiter Rik Van Nutter
M Bernard Lee
Paula Caplan Martine Beswick
Count Lippe Guy Doleman
Patricia Fearing Molly Peters
Q Desmond Llewelyn
Miss Moneypenny Lois Maxwell
Foreign Secretary Roland Culver
Pinder Earl Cameron
Major Derval/Angelo Paul Stassino
Madame Boitier Rose Alba
Jacques Boitier Bob Simmons
Vargas Philip Locke
Kutze George Pravda
Janni Michael Brennan
Group Captain Pritchard Leonard Sachs
Air Vice Marshall Sir John Edward Underdown
Kenniston Reginald Beckwith
Quist Bill Cummings
Mademoiselle LaPorte Mitsouko

The Crew
Role
Crew Member
Presented by Albert R. Broccoli
Harry Saltzman
Director Terence Young
Screenplay by Richard Maibaum
John Hopkins
Based on an original screenplay by Jack Whittingham
Based on the original story by Kevin McClory
Jack Whittingham
Ian Fleming
Produced by Kevin McClory
Director of Photography Ted Moore, B.S.C.
Music by John Barry
Title song performed by Tom Jones
Lyrics by Don Black
Production Designer Ken Adam
Art Director Peter Murton
Assistant Art Director Michael White
Set Dresser Freda Pearson
Costume Designer Anthony Mendleson
Wardrobe Mistress Eileen Sullivan
Wardrobe Master John Brady
Makeup Paul Rabiger
Basil Newall
Hairstylist Eileen Warwick
Production Manager David Middlemas
Assistant Director Gus Agosti
Underwater sequences Ivan Tors Underwater Studios
Underwater Director Ricou Browning
Underwater Cameraman Lamar Boren
Underwater Engineer Jordan Klein
Continuity Joan Davis
Camera Operator John Winbolt
Location Manager Frank Ernst
Stunt Director Bob Simmons
Title Designer Maurice Binder
Special Effects John Stears
Sound Recordists Bert Ross
Maurice Askew
Supervising Film Editor Peter Hunt


[1] “Thunderball (1965),” The Numbers, accessed July 16, 2020, https://www.the-numbers.com/movie/Thunderball.