James Bond Overdose Part 4 – Thunderball (1965)

“James Bond Does It Everywhere!” the poster exclaims! Teehee. That he does.

Ahem, but anyways, next up is Thunderball. I love this one. It’s more densely plotted than Goldfinger, but maintains a quick pace like Dr. No and offers up some breathtaking scenery a la From Russia with Love. Plus, it’s just a lot of fun, blending plenty of cheeky comedy with some fantastic action.

After the capture of two nuclear warheads from a NATO training flight, SPECTRE holds the world ransom, demanding £100 million in diamonds in exchange for not destroying a Western city. Having recognized the pilot  of the training flight (who had been killed and replaced by a SPECTRE double), James Bond (Sean Connery) seeks out the pilot’s sister, Dominique “Domino” Derval (Claudine Auger), in the Bahamas and learns that she is the mistress of one-eyed SPECTRE Number Two, Emilio Largo (Adolfo Celi). Using Domino to get close to Largo, Bond seeks to uncover the location of the stolen warheads before it’s too late, evading hungry sharks, Largo’s brutal-but-lovely associate, Fiona Volpe (Luciana Paluzzi), and a host of speargun-toting henchmen, both in and out of the water.

Wow, that was quite a mouthful. *takes a moment to catch his breath*

Ok.

The opening credits sequence was designed by Maurice Binder, who returned after designing Dr. No‘s. True to form, we’ve got bright colors, silhouetted (naked) swimmers being pursued by (not naked) bad guys. It’s much more dynamic and exciting than his previous contribution, made all the more bombastic by Tom Jones hamming it up with a song that seems like a male response to Shirley Bassey’s “Goldfinger.” It’s bigger, brassier, and he ends with a note so intense, Jones allegedly passed out while recording it. I don’t know if that’s true (he may just be trying to one-up Bassey who hurt her voice hitting her last note) but it makes for a suitably over-the-top song that inspired THIS glorious Weird-Al Yankovic Thunderball-inspired opening credits song from the action-movie spoof, Spy Hard. I think it’s safe to say that Weird-Al beats out both Bassey and Jones for holding that final note a little too long. *mimes explosion with hands*

Ahem, but I digress.

The critics had mixed things to say about this one, some criticizing the number of underwater sequences, and others complaining about the 2 hr+ run time, but I think this is a fantastic film. It’s not quite as sleek as From Russia with Love, but it’s fun, and, more importantly, it’s consistent. Bond feels like a spy again, as opposed to the goofy action hero of the previous movie. Instead of swaggering from scene to scene, helped along by convenient plot devices and poor villain judgment (*gives Goldfinger a look*), he shoves and punches and swims his way through the movie, pwning everybody, even sharks. Connery does a fantastic job balancing the physicality of the action with the wry humor of the dialogue.

Also, speaking of balance, I love the thematic balance this movie carries. Bond, as a series, doesn’t often venture into “deep” territory, but occasionally, it does manage to be artful in its own way. The pre-credits sequence sees Bond getting to exact revenge on a SPECTRE murderer while Domino’s story has her seeking revenge for the murder of her brother. Both characters follow thematically similar paths and find each other along the way. Although Bond’s revenge story is comparatively minuscule, it does give the overall narrative a nice sense of symmetry. But, then again, Bond’s story has him beating the crap out of a male assassin in a dress and then escaping with a jetpack, so let’s not get too crazy with the philosophical assumptions here. This is still a James Bond movie, after all.

Domino is also a capable Bond girl. She suffers from window-dressing-itis to an extent (often as a result of her fantastic collection of couture bathing suits that, admittedly, really do need to be shared with the world), but she does have more to do, overall. She gets some nice banter with Bond (Him: “You swim like a man.” Her: “So do you!”), and takes on a really active role in the film’s climax, coming to Bond’s rescue, which is nice to see.

Also, I’d like to give extra special mention to Fiona, who’s sort of the “evil” Bond girl of the movie. She’s just fantastic: strong, smart, charming, a killer shot, and she’s able to rattle Bond, which is pretty hard to do. Overall, she isn’t much of an actual threat, and is taken out rather unceremoniously, but, compared to Domino, she has much more screen presence. She’s not just lovely, but she really owns every scene she’s in. I don’t know if Luciana Paluzzi’s performance has really become all that iconic in the Bond canon (certainly not compared to gals like Maude Adams later on) but I really like her. Even when she’s kidnapping and murdering Bond’s female attache in the Bahamas. I know that’s not right, but…I mean, she does it well.

Also, it’s nice to see a competent villain again. Largo is perhaps quite cliche, but at least he’s a believable cliche. Yes, he does toss subordinates into shark pools and carry out unnecessary conversations with Bond, acting all genteel when he knows full well who he is, but he also knows how to get stuff done, and does a lot of it itself. In one scene, he betrays a SPECTRE agent to get him out of the way, and the scene is really quite brutal. Behind the posturing and the eye patch, he’s a pretty good villain. Maybe not the best, but it’s clear to see why he’s made it so far up the SPECTRE ladder.

John Barry also deserves boatloads of praise (see what I did there?) for his score for this movie. He had written some great stuff for previous movies, but this film really has a solid, bold, consistently iconic score, that really feels like it has become an integral part of the Bond universe. Many of the themes that show up here would be re-used for a great many Bond films following this one, and it’s clear to see why. Barry’s at the top of his game here.

I also have to disagree with a great many critics about the underwater sequences. I think they’re beautifully done. They never seem repetitive or dull. Ted Moore, the cinematographer, seems completely at home filming underwater. And not just when he’s filming sequences filled with beautiful tropical fish or sandy shallows, the big underwater fight scene is excellently choreographed and shot. The director, Terrence Young, handles it very well, also, allowing for a brutal sequence of hand-to-hand stabbing and slashing and ripping that segues nicely into the lighter shot of Bond zooming into the screen, propelled by his enormous rocket-esque PUV (affectionally called puvs by my brothers and I).

All in all, this is a fun movie that reconciles the lighter tone Goldfinger was going for with the spy-thriller tension that made From Russia with Love so fantastic. Things are about to get weird after this one, but for this wonderful, beautiful moment, we’ve got a somewhat plausible, well-plotted Bond story.

Random Observations
-Q in a Hawaiian shirt!
-I love the gathering of all the 00 agents. I wonder if the room had to be specially constructed to contain that much awesomeness in one place.
-The first of many Mardi Gras-esque street parades. This one’s a Junkanoo celebration.
-The guy who helps Bond and Domino escape Largo’s hydrofoil vanishes once they jump off the boat. Then Bond and Domino are rescued…and I guess they just leave Unnamed Guy to be eaten by sharks? Not sure what’s going on there…
-Bond, for the third time, ends the movie in a boat with the Bond girl. Sure they’re pulled out at the last minute, but I’m still going to add it to the list. I’m sure there’s a metaphor there…maybe…

I’ll be back next week for the crazy, fantastic, bizarre You Only Live Twice!

Also, in case you haven’t heard yet, the next Bond film is going to bring back an old (new?) nemesis! No word yet if the man, Blofeld, is going to make an appearance, but the film is aptly titled SPECTRE, and I couldn’t be happier. Since everything from Casino Royale onward is part of its own continuity, it was only a matter of time before the Special Executive for Counter-Intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion reared its delightful head. If Blofeld doesn’t appear, I at least want to see a Russia-esque shot of a mysterious, hidden Blofeld petting his signature white cat. I can dream. We’ll see how it turns out.

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