“Miss Moneypenny: In the conference room – something pretty big; every double-o man in Europe has been rushed in. And the Home Secretary, too!
James Bond: Somebody’s probably lost a dog.”
Hello everyone and welcome to the fourth installment in my series of reviews chronicling the classic (and not so classic) movies of the James Bond film franchise. This time out the film up for reviewing is none other than ‘Thunderball.’, a wild fun romp from beginning to end, with lots of cool gadgets, cars, and more Bond girls than you can shake a dry martini at. Is it a classic on the level of Goldfinger or From Russia With Love? I personally, do not believe so, but, that is not so much an insult to this film as it is a compliment to those two most excellent movies themselves. Fundamentally, though it achieves more than many of its successors would, Thunderball is still a pretty much a ‘by the numbers’ James Bond movie. It begins with a nifty little action sequence punctuated with what for its day must’ve been a state of the art special effects scene involving the now legendary James Bond rocket fueled ‘jet pack’. Then it transitions into the customary trippy psychedelic title sequence filled with hordes of beautiful naked ladies’ silhouettes (yes, they really were naked) as they float by the screen to the tune of ‘Thunderball’ as sung here by Tom Jones… After this it digresses into the movie’s main storyline, which is yet another dastardly plot being performed by those oh so lovable lunatics from the criminal enterprise known as S.P.E.C.T.R.E. who make their grand return in this movie after taking a brief hiatus during Bond’s last outing ‘Goldfinger’.
This time the scheme involves stealing two nuclear bombs and using them to force several countries to pay a huge monetary sum for their safe return. If they do not pay, several hundred thousand people will die. Alas, it appears as though there are no options left, and payment will have to made, however, Her Majesty always has one Royal Ace up her sleeve, who has yet to fail her in several trying times thus far, and if you think he’s about to start now, this is obviously your first dealing with one Mr. Bond, James Bond that is. First, the incidentals, Bond here is once more played by the incomparable Sean Connery, who is on top of his game still. It is commonly said that ‘Thunderball’ was Connery’s favorite of all the Bond movies he participated in. He apparently liked it so much in fact that nearly two decades later, he would basically produce a remake of it in the ‘non official’ James Bond movie called ‘Never Say Never Again’… If you want a stark contrast between a Sean Connery who is absolutely on top of his game, versus a tired and bored Connery who is just ‘phoning it in’ watch this movie back to back with the next official Bond film ‘You Only Live Twice’ and see for yourself the difference. That’s a topic for another review at another time though, and I think we’ve got quite enough on our plate here as it is with this stuffed to the gills James Bond picture.
The main villain this time around is a wealthy eye patched fiend named Emilio Largo, who besides owning a marvelous yacht and collecting sharks for his island manor, also happens to be the new ‘Number Two’ man in the S.P.E.C.T.R.E organization after the events of ‘From Russia With Love’ transpired a few years prior. The plot described above is his brainchild, and it is his responsibility to see that every last detail is carried out with zero room for failure. In an early scene in the movie we are given a rare glimpse into the S.P.E.C.T.R.E organization’s conference room presided over by Mr. ‘Number One’, Ernst Stavro Blofeld himself, still at this point filmed either from behind or from an angle in which his face is obscured from view and referred to in the end credits simply as a question mark…. During this conference session we get a glimpse of S.P.E.C.T.R.E’s ‘employee retention program’ as one of the chairs sat in by a member of the organization who is suspected of embezzlement is lowered into the floor via a mechanical device while below we hear sounds of faint screaming and the hissing buzz of electricity coursing presumably into his soon to be extra crispy corpse. Seconds later the chair is returned to the table, empty…. I doubt anyone at the table failed to get the message.
One puzzling piece of the plot to steal these nukes involves henchman Angelo Palazzi, who is sent to a hospital retreat for massive amounts of plastic surgery in order to resemble exactly one of the pilots of the soon to be hijacked plane that is carrying the bombs to their destination. That pilot, François Derval, (played by the same actor) also happens to be the brother of a girl named ‘Domino’ who also happens to be the present captive girlfriend of Mr. Largo himself… So I always ask myself whenever I pop this movie in, why not just use Domino to blackmail Derval into giving S.P.E.C.T.R.E the plane himself? Surely it would be less expensive and time consuming than having to pay for all those multiple sessions of facial alterations over a period of what must’ve been a considerable amount of time. I suppose I am guilty of looking too deeply into this film though. The plot is what it is, and while it is not meant to be held up under extreme scrutiny from the likes of yours truly, it does its job of holding up under many repeated viewings quite well. That aforementioned clinic I spoke of also happens to be the location of Agent 007, who is recuperating there after his last number of taxing missions have been completed. He spends his time there seducing the head nurse and also casually catching wind of this latest intrigue. In true James Bond fashion, no evil plot to destroy the world is really worth worrying yourself about if you can’t enjoy a few of the finer things in between bouts of outwitting the enemy. The plan eventually does get carried off though, and now the only thing Her Majesty’s Secret Service has to go on is a lone suspicion of Bond himself, who has an interesting altercation with Angelo Palazzi at the clinic and also happens to run into Derval, after he has been murdered. So with that, Bond is sent along to investigate, and once again, the fate of the free world is placed in his hands. Can a boy get a break every now and then? Jeez.
The bulk of the action in this movie takes place on the beautiful tropic island of Nassau, which like Jamaica did for Dr. No, provides a wonderful back drop for a James Bond movie, as the hot and steamy climate fits his personality like a glove. All the usual suspects are back helping out Bond for this movie, from Moneypenney, to M, to the grandfatherly yet cantankerous old Q and his gadgets, to the slick CIA agent and Bond contemporary Felix Leiter, as well as a few new faces like Bond’s lovely tactical assistant Paula Caplan who (I think) unbelievably does not make love to 007 at any one point in the movie. Although speaking of that, Bond is quite busy in this movie in that regard, from hospital nurses, to the buxom red headed beauty employed by Largo and S.P.E.C.T.R.E to assassinate Bond before he louses up the works by foiling yet another of their devious plots, to the main Bond Girl of the movie, Domino, who in terms of looks alone, ranks very high on my all time list of Bond girls. With all these distractions going on around it is amazing that Bond finds the time to bother with all this hero business of his in the first place, but bother with it he does, and quite effectively at that. The exchanges he has with Largo during the movie’s middle sections are particularly well done as both Bond and Largo by this point know who each other is working for, but both, for reasons of their own play along with each other in order to not upset the delicate situation at hand involving the lost nuclear weapons.
In terms of action Thunderball definitely lives up to its moniker, as it contains in my mind some of the most memorable action scenes in Bond movie history including several high octane car chases and a riveting finale involving a multi-million dollar yacht owned by Mr. Largo. Particularly memorable is the massive climactic underwater battle between scuba divers from S.P.E.C.T.R.E and those sent to battle them from the U.S military that takes place in the depths of the ocean as both sides vie for nuclear supremacy under the sea. The staging of that whole battle scene alone is reason enough to give this film a solid three and a half star rating from my point of view, as I could hardly contain the smile on my face while it was going on. My research tells me this movie also won an Oscar for Special Effects, so there you have it. Bottom line, this movie has everything you could want in a Bond film. Hot girls? Check. Diabolical villains and interesting henchmen? Check. Tons of cool gadgets? Check. And of course, lots of endless witticisms, relentless action, scorching romance, and of course that classic laid back but badass attitude from Agent 007 himself? Quadruple check. So while it may not quite live up to the level set by Goldfinger and From Russia With Love in terms of overall movie making quality or originality, I would by no means advise anyone to skip ‘Thunderball’ when going through a James Bond marathon or just watching the series casually like I am doing. So if you happen across it on television someday, stop and give it a watch. You’ll be glad you did. James Bond will return next in my review of ‘You Only Live Twice’… Until then I am afraid he will need some good old R&R (rest and relaxation), so until next time I simply say thanks for reading and bid you a fond Bond farewell.