Thunderball (1965)

Welcome to your briefing 007. Your mission: Thunderball. It should appear that our friends at SPECTRE are at it again. This time they have hijacked a NATO training mission that had two active atomic bombs on board. Their plan is to hold the world hostage for 100,000,000 pounds. We have called in all 00s to help solve this situation before we are forced to pay. See what you can do in helping save the world once more James.

The Beginning

The pre-title sequence in this film is somewhat odd, somewhat awesome. We see Bond with a random chick at a funeral. We do not know who is in the coffin, or why James is there, but they follow someone afterward and he gets involved in a pretty neat fight scene, which features multiple edits in the vein of the Bourne films, but obviously much earlier. The fight is a great piece and then Bond’s escape via jetpack, stunning. But we never do find out anything more about the funeral or the man who Bond fights. The title sequence this time goes along with the underwater theme of the film and features beautiful women swimming in great blues and greens. The theme song, “Thunderball”, Is performed by none other than Tom Jones. Now, I know it’s not unusual to love Tom Jones, but this particular song has never done anything for me. It is certainly not a bad song, but it is ultimately forgettable.

Locations

England, France, Nassau

Allies

M

We get a little bit more of M here, and certainly in a new setting, as he presents the situation to all of the 00 agents in the giant conference room. He has associates to help present with him as well as 20 feet tall maps to present to the men of MI6.

Felix Leiter

Felix shows up again here, but once again portrayed by a different actor. This time Rik Van Nutter has the honor. To this point Felix has been a very minor character and here it is no different, but somehow I have not been happy with the men who have portrayed him since Jack Lord in Dr. No. Van Nutter does not give a good performance, and the character of Felix is more than ever shown to be the inferior, follow whatever James tells him kind of guy. This is fine, as we are talking about James Bond here, but thus far I have been unhappy with how little character development and characterization Felix has seen.

Pinder

If Felix had little to do, Pinder had even less. Pinder is supposedly Felix’s assistant in Nassau and is seen to help Bond on a few occasions but goes largely unnoticed.

Paula Caplan

Another ally in Nassau, I decided not to include Paula in the girls section because, while being strikingly beautiful, her role her is solely as ally to Bond in Nassau and there is no hint of further relations between the two unfortunately. And her role is very similar to Pinder’s, very little and almost unnoticed, if it weren’t for her form.

Enemies

Emilio Largo

Largo is #2 in the fames SPECTRE organization and it was his diabolical plan to steal two warheads from NATO. He keeps a lovely home and yacht in Nassau and is marked by an eyepatch, though we never know how he got it. Largo, while his intentions are evil, and he does have a shark tank, never struck me as that terribly evil. Adolpho Celi never convinced me that this was someone I should be scared of and should fear. He even, essentially, lets Bond get away on more than one occasion. Largo is not the best Bond villain I have ever seen, and I would even go so far as to call him rather bland honestly.

Francois Derval / Angelo Palazzi

Derval is not a bad man, in fact he works for NATO, but Palazzi on the other hand is a SPECTRE agent who kills Derval and assumes his identity in order to steal the two bombs. His stint in the film is not much longer than what it takes to complete his mission for SPECTRE, as he is quickly dispatched in an underwater struggle with Largo, who feels the need to get rid of as many henchmen as it takes to save a buck.

Q Branch

Q is an interesting character in this one. We do not see him in his usual lab with all of his gadgets, but rather he makes a field call to Bond in Nassau. Q in this film is the perfect representation of why he very well may be my favorite character in the series. Desmond Llewelyn gives Q such humor and contempt for Bond that it is immensely watchable. He shows up here in a Hawaiian shirt even! The standard PPK is the weapon of choice here, though he also utilizes the ol’ harpoon gun too. The gadgets that Bond receives from Q this time are largely recon items, thus they are almost all waterproof. He gets a camera and a Geiger counter once again in order to investigate Largo’s yacht and see if the bombs are on board. He also is equipped with a mini flare gun for when he needs to get out a jam and if he loses his tank, he has a breathing device that will last up to 4 minutes underwater. The last thing he gets is another homing device, but this time a personal one that is swallowed.

The Girls

Dominique “Domino” Derval

Domino is the sister of NATO pilot Francois and has somehow become associated with Largo as well, though I may have missed the explanation of that, I do not recall why they were together. But Domino is under the control of Largo. She is not evil and does not know of the plot or of her brother’s death. Again, for such a major character, I did not get that much out of her. Claudine Auger is very pretty but I also feel like she is not given much to do, and even if she had been I am not confident she could have handled it.

Fiona Volpe

Volpe is the bad girl here and is played by Luciana Paluzzi. She is a redhead here and let me say that is a plus. I have always had a thing for redheads and I would probably say that Volpe is my favorite Bond Girl from this film. She is not the typical girl, as she is evil, drives fast cars, and shoots a mean shotgun. Again, with Volpe, we see Bond sleep with her despite his knowledge that she was evil, but this time we get an explanation. Bond declares that it was done for King and Country and he got no pleasure out of it. This comment has me wondering. Was he just covering his tracks, or do we get a value piece of character information. Does Bond really get no pleasure out of it? Is he that cold, that wooden that he would do that to a woman, even if she was evil? I think not, but it is hard to tell and interesting to see that he would even make that comment.

Patricia Fearing

Patricia is Bond’s masseuse in the health clinic at the beginning as he is nursing injuries from the pre-title sequence fight one presumes. She is a buxom blond who, for the most part is able to resist Bond’s charm. But like all other girls Bond comes across, she eventually gives in. There is not much to say about her other than Bond takes her to bed as she helps him recover.

The Car & the Chase

Bond once again sports the DB5 fully equipped with all necessary countermeasures. The chase in this film is somewhat disappointing as well. It is rather short and Bond does not even get out of it. A motorcyclist, Volpe as it turns out, fires a rocket that takes out Bond’s tailor, though it is also never revealed who the tailor was.

Mission Debriefing

Terence Young returns to the director’s chair for Thunderball and gives us a middle of the road, mediocre effort. I don’t entirely blame Young however, I just feel like the film was destined for failure in the writing, but the acting didn’t help it either. The allies were not enough, and the villains were too distant and drab. There seemed to be no spark to the proceedings, though I would argue that this film is the most suspenseful thus far.

I honestly felt that the film was far too bogged down by the proceedings both at the health clinic in the beginning and in all of the elongated underwater sequences. Both of them were good ideas, but just poorly executed and did not live up to expectations. I think at the end of the day my biggest problem about the story here though was that I was not concerned for a single minute. Largo was never evil enough and it seemed like not enough weight was put to the situation of the evil organization of SPECTRE having TWO atomic bombs at their disposal.

I was none too impressed by any of the characters, though Volpe was fun, and Bond was only average here. Much like the theme song by Tom Jones, it was good, but immediately, and ultimately, forgettable. The main strength of the film, as it always has been, was the set design once again. Ken Adam has found a way to present great big sets with the simplest design and make them stunning, Adding to the effect is the cinematography. When they shoot these sets, they often shoot up at them, allowing the viewer to see the whole room, ceiling included. The location was also a lot of fun. As has been mentioned before, one of the great appeals in the Bond series is the exotic locations and Nassau is a fine little place.

In the end, the climax of the film was somewhat of a letdown and mainly because the same theme was played over and over again to the point that it became annoying to hear. The very end of the film was very nifty and cool, but it did not save the film from its other flaws. Needless to say, Thunderball is a Bond film which will easily be forgotten by me, and not revisited too soon. In fact, I may not revisit it unless I do another comprehensive Bond marathon somewhere down the line. Somewhat disappointing indeed.

James Bond will return in…

You Only Live Twice

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