THUNDERBALL (United Artists, 1965)
★ ★ ★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). Running time: 129 minutes.
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.
|James Bond||Sean Connery|
|Emilio Largo||Adolfo Celi|
|Fiona Volpe||Luciana Paluzzi|
|Felix Leiter||Rik Van Nutter|
|Paula Caplan||Martine Beswick|
|Count Lippe||Guy Doleman|
|Patricia Fearing||Molly Peters|
|Miss Moneypenny||Lois Maxwell|
|Foreign Secretary||Roland Culver|
|Major Derval/Angelo||Paul Stassino|
|Madame Boitier||Rose Alba|
|Jacques Boitier||Bob Simmons|
|Group Captain Pritchard||Leonard Sachs|
|Air Vice Marshall Sir John||Edward Underdown|
|Presented by||Albert R. Broccoli|
|Screenplay by||Richard Maibaum|
|Based on an original screenplay by||Jack Whittingham|
|Based on the original story by||Kevin McClory|
|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|
|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|
|Camera Operator||John Winbolt|
|Location Manager||Frank Ernst|
|Stunt Director||Bob Simmons|
|Title Designer||Maurice Binder|
|Special Effects||John Stears|
|Sound Recordists||Bert Ross|
|Supervising Film Editor||Peter Hunt|