I forced myself to watch Thunderball for the first time in over two years the other day (three years may be more accurate, as I believe I fell asleep during the previous viewing). Sadly, my opinion of it hasn't changed. The most frustrating thing about Thunderball is that I'm sure there's a good movie hidden in it somewhere; however it's lost among the utter tedium and filler that seems to occupy the film.
It actually starts off great. The pre-title sequence, which I used to dislike, has grown on me a fair bit. The opening titles are fantastic, although Tom Jones' theme song is incredibly cringeworthy. The first 15-20 minutes or so are very promising: Bond lazing around at Shrublands is a lot of fun, the hijacking is very tense and the SPECTRE scenes are top-notch. Every time I watch Thunderball I tend to find myself thinking "this movie isn't that bad at all, why on earth did I hate it so much?" for the first 15 minutes or so. However, as soon as Bond gets to Nassau the quality drops immensely.
Thunderball is by no means a badly written film. Unlike many future Bond films, Thunderball's flaws don't come from cheesy dialogue or poor plotting. The main problem with Thunderball is simply that it is one of the most boring films ever made. After a few viewings, I've come to realise that Thunderball is quite a well written film ruined by uninspired casting and luckluster direction. Terence Young, who did a pretty good job with Dr. No, and was brilliant in From Russia With Love, seems to be completely zapped of creativity during this film, and apart from a couple of good scenes (Quist being eaten by sharks being the main example that comes to mind) there's nothing that really catches the eye.
The three big problems I have with Thunderball are as follows:
1) The casting. What the hell happened here!? Dr. No and Goldfinger might have their flaws, but the casting of the villains was always inspired. With Thunderball, each character is as dull as dishwater. Fiona Volpe is the only character with anything resembling a personality, and even she is nothing to write home about. Adolfo Celi’s Largo is boring and unimposing; he is creepy at the start, but there is nothing remotely interesting about him, and I find myself wishing that they had not dubbed over his voice, if only for the fact that an indecipherable accent would have at least given him some sort of quirk. One of the worst villains in the entire Bond series.
The henchmen are even worse. They just feel like stock standard action movie henchman. Vargas’s only interesting feature is the fact that he IS incredibly boring (“Vargas does not smoke, does not drink, does not love”), and that other guy (I can’t even remember his name) is just... nothing – a stock baddie who is tough and imposing but who you immediately forget as soon as the movie is over. Domino is hot but forgettable, I’ve never been able to get involved with her character or her torturous relationship with Largo; I know there’s an interesting story in there somewhere, but it just never seems to show itself. Rik Van Nutter does a decent Jack Lord impression as Felix Leiter, he’s a definite improvement on Cec Linder but not particularly great either.
2) The length. Dear god, this is a long, plodding movie. Like Dr. No this could have been edited down tremendously; there are so many long, pointless shots of Bond wandering around aimlessly in his hotel room or of a villain or Bond girl not doing anything of much interest. Considering Bond is on a strict time limit and has to find the warheads within three days, he certainly takes his time, lazing around Nassau like a tourist on holiday.
However, despite the incredible length, there is an underlying sense that a lot has been cut out of this movie. I’ve read that the original cut of Thunderball was about four hours, and I don’t have trouble believing that. It feels like there are lot of subplots that were only hinted at in the final cut; particularly that of Dr. Kutze, the physicist working for Largo who eventually rescues Domino. That entire scene comes completely out of the blue – Dr. Kutze had only appeared at the start of the film, and the sudden reappearance of the character comes completely out of nowhere. It’s a shame actually, because I feel spending some of the screen time focussing on someone him would have been far more interesting than some of the tedious padding that seems to consume this film.
3) That damned underwater battle. It has to be one of the most overlong, confusing and ultimately dull scenes in the entire Bond series. I’ve come to realise despite having seen this film about five times, I could not recite to you what happens in this sequence. That’s because not once have I ever felt compelled to pay attention to what happening on screen. I’ve always been distracted by a friend talking, or something on the computer, or, hell, by the blank wall beside the TV, because even that is more interesting. The whole sequence is just so poorly edited, so confusing and just so pointless that all the obviously immense work that went into choreographing and filming the sequence just goes to waste.
The score is a shocker too. After From Russia With Love’s fantastic score and a decent offering in Goldfinger, Thunderball’s score is, like the movie, just so dull and tedious. It also contains copious amounts of the “007” theme, which I absolutely loathe. Thank god John Barry stopped using this tune regularly after this film.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some good, even great moments in Thunderball. As I’ve already said, the first 15-20 minutes are a lot of fun, Bernard Lee and Lois Maxwell are on top form, there are some great one-liners (Connery’s sheepish expression after the “She’s just dead” line cracks me up every time – one of the best deliveries of a Bond one-liner ever) and Domino is admittedly drop dead gorgeous. There is a great movie hidden in Thunderball somewhere, and with better direction, some more inspired casting and more vigilant editing it could have emerged. Unfortunately, as it stands, Thunderball remains a dull, tedious and overlong film, and my least favourite Bond movie.
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 Terrence 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, 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. The story is 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 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 is probably one of the more relevant plots of any Bond film.
Aside from the underwater sequences, Thunderball turned out to be an elegant and exciting thriller with excellent drama, a solid plot that managed to avoid any major plotholes, a classy score by John Barry and a first-class cast. Sean Connery portrayed James Bond for the fourth time in this film. Thankfully, he seemed to be at his top game in this one. It is a vast improvement over his performance in 1964’s Goldfinger, in which he seemed to come off as an immature prat. And he is ably assisted by a first-class cast – 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 villainess Fiona Volpe.
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.
Speaking of dialogue, below is what I consider to be some of my favorite lines:
- 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.
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.