"THUNDERBALL" (1965) Review
I had just viewed the 1965 Bond movie, "THUNDERBALL" for the first time in several years. And I can see why this movie is considered to be one of my all time favorite Bond flicks. But I do not think I can state why in one or two sentences.
“THUNDERBALL” turned out to be director Terence Young’s third and last Bond film. Most Bond fans consider it to be his least superior film, but I consider it to be his second best, following 1963’s “FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE”. The story was based upon an unfinished script called “Warhead”, co-written by Ian Fleming, Kevin McClory and Jack Whittingham. The unfinished script eventually became Fleming’s 1961 novel, “Thunderball”. This resulted in a major lawsuit between McClory and Fleming and eventually, EON Productions became dragged into it. "THUNDERBALL" told the story about SPECTRE’s theft of NATO nuclear warheads and how they used it to blackmail the U.S. and British government for the sum of 100,000,000 pounds. Naturally, MI-6 sends all of their “00” agents to recover the warheads before SPECTRE can carry out its threat to detonate the weapons on U.S. and British soil. Many moviegoers in 1965 and 1966 found the movie’s plot a little hard to buy and viewed it as part of the realm of fantasy. But considering the current obsession of terrorism and the high illegal weapons market, “THUNDERBALL” has probably become one of the more relevant plots of any Bond film.
Aside from the underwater sequences which threatened to drag the movie at times, “THUNDERBALL” turned out to be an elegant and exciting thriller with excellent drama with a solid plot that managed to avoid any major plotholes. It also possessed a classy score by John Barry, elegant photography by Ted Moore and a first-class cast.
Sean Connery portrayed James Bond for the fourth time in this film. Although his Bond seemed at his most human in "FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE", he seemed to be at his top game in this one. In "THUNDERBALL", his Bond is more mature and sure of himself. Yet at the same time, he managed to retain a good deal of wit and humanity. It was a vast improvement over his performance in 1964’s “GOLDFINGER”, in which he seemed to come off as an immature prat. And he was ably assisted by a first-class cast that included Claudine Auger as Domino Duval, Adolfo Celi as villain Emile Largo (SPECTRE’s Number 2), Rik Van Nutter as CIA Agent Felix Leiter and especially Luciana Paluzzi as SPECTRE villainess Fiona Volpe. Well, I do have a few qualms about Mr. Van Nutter's performance.
Below is a list of positive and negative aspects of the film. I have decided to start with the negative, since there was little that I did not care about the movie:
*Rik Van Nutter as Felix Leiter – Do not get me wrong. Van Nutter’s performance as Leiter was competent and very personable. My problem was that his role was written as a “less-than-bright” sidekick of Bond’s, instead of an ally. Bond has been assisted by Leiter in other movies, but they have never come off as some dumb sidekick . . . except for Cec Linder in “GOLDFINGER”.
*Theme Song – I will not deny that the movie’s theme song, performed by Tom Jones is slightly catchy. But I also found the lyrics to be slightly sexist and off-putting.
*Underwater Sequences – Yes, the underwater sequences had threatened to drag the movie a bit. Actually, I can point out two sequences that came close to boring me – the sequence that featured Largo’s acquisition of the warheads and the final battle between Largo’s men and U.S. Navy frogmen.
*Luciana Paluzzi – Let us be honest, folks. The red-haired Paluzzi came dangerously close to stealing the picture from Connery. Like Honor Blackman before her, she radiated sexiness and a strong on-screen presence. She seemed to be even more of a threat than Emile Largo and his men.
*Adolpo Celi – What I like about Celi’s performance is that he does not come off as an over-the-top villain. He was elegant, intelligent, ruthless and egotistical. Perfect villain.
*Nassau setting – The setting in Nassau gave the movie an exotic, yet elegant feel that really added substance to the movie.
*Dialogue – The dialogue in this movie was unusually sharp and witty. But what really appealed to me was that Connery’s puns did not come out of his mouth every other minute, as it did in his previous two movies. In fact, the movie featured what I consider to be one of Connery’s best lines during his tenure with the franchise.
Speaking of dialogue, below is what I consider to be some of my favorite lines:
* Moneypenny: In the conference room. Something pretty big. Every double-o man in Europe has been rushed in. And the home secretary too!
Bond: His wife probably lost her dog.
*Bond: My dear, uncooperative Domino.
Domino: How do you know that? How do you know my friends call me Domino?
Bond: It's on the bracelet on your ankle.
Domino: So... what sharp little eyes you've got.
Bond: Wait 'til you get to my teeth.
*Do you mind if my friend sits this one out? She's just dead.
*M: I've assigned you to Station "C" Canada.
Bond: Sir, I'd respectfully request that you change my assignment to Nassau.
M:Is there any other reason, besides your enthusiasm for water sports?
*Pat Fearing: James, where are you going?
Bond: Oh, nowhere. I just thought I'd take a little, uh... exercise.
Pat Fearing: You must be joking.
*But of course, I forgot your ego, Mr. Bond. James Bond, the one where he has to make love to a woman, and she starts to hear heavenly choirs singing. She repents, and turns to the side of right and virtue...[she steps on Bond's foot]... but not this one.
I would like to conclude with this little note - in 1983, Kevin McClory – one of the original authors of "Thunderball/Warhead”, produced his own version of the story, starring Sean Connery as Bond. The movie, "NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN" was not terrible, but it almost seemed like an overblown version of the 1965 movie.