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Movie Review: Thunderball

Directed by Terence Young
Written by Richard Maibaum and John Hopkins from an original screenplay by Jack Whittingham, from a story by Kevin McClory, Ian Fleming, and Whittingham based on the novel by Fleming
United Artists, 1965

The story behind the making of Thunderball, the fourth Bond adventure, begins before the Bond films were ever made. As you can see from the army of writers credited, the original screenplay was written by Jack Whittingham, and was set to be the first Bond film. It was eventually re-written by Bond regular screenwriter Richard Maibaum with John Hopkins, and there was some legal wrangling, and the movie finally got made, as the fourth.

Director Terence Young returned for his final Bond picture, a movie that in my mind is completely overblown, choppy, and long. James Bond Mania had hit a pre-Star Wars behemoth marketing extravaganza with Goldfinger, as the movie spawned all sorts of collectibles, toys, trading cards, etc. There’s a sense that the filmmakers wanted to make something “bigger and better” every time they made a new 007 picture. The results are a tedious experience.

Once again, the movie begins with a pre-title opening that has nothing to do with the main story; a nice touch from Goldfinger that suggests that Bond is always on some sort of mission, even if you’re not seeing it on the big screen. This opening involves beating up a man in drag and then taking off in a jetpack. And for a moment, I thought the giddiness of Goldfinger was about to cross over into this picture.

After the pre-title sequence with song belted out by Tom Jones, Bond (Sean Connery, in the fourth year in a row) is getting some relaxation at a spa, where he runs into some pre-mission intrigue involving a Major Francois Derval (Paul Stassino), who is killed and replaced with an exact double named Angelo Palazzi (Strassino again). It’s here we meet Bond villainess Fiona Volpe (Luciana Paluzzi).

This is all part of a master plan by eye-patched SPECTRE “hench-villain” Emilio “Number Two” Largo (Adolfo Celi). After SPECTRE took a break in Goldfinger, it returns here. The idea is to get the fake Derval to infiltrate a NATO plane carrying two atomic missiles down into the water, where the weapons of mass destruction can be pillaged and taken to Largo’s Nassau lair. So far, so good.

Bond again is dispatched to make niceties with the villain, all the while trying to find the downed plane and more importantly, the bombs, which SPECTRE has threatened to use against a major British or American city if they don’t get 100 million pounds worth of diamonds. Here, he meets Largo’s “kept woman” Domino Perval (Claudine Auger), sister of the slain Major.

The action of the movie is so confusing and all over the place, mainly because 25% of the movie takes place underwater. It’s hard to keep up with everything that is going on, even though the good guys wear one color, and the bad guys wear another. Never before has there been so many expendible characters in one Bond film as this one. Scenes of the movie seem to never build any steam.

A lot of work went into the movie, there’s no doubt about it. It just isn’t presented well. Now, some might even find this Bond to be one the best because of the magnificent scale of it all, but I think this is where the rush to come out with a Bond in the fourth consecutive year hurt the overall movie. The style of Bond is still there, there’s even a classic scene where the naked Fiona asks Bond to get her something to wear, and he returns with shoes. But I feel this is where Bond’s character started becoming so ingrained in the public consciousness that there wasn’t any time to explore it further. The need to make things “bigger and better” took away from the simple enjoyments.

But that could be forgiven if the action had been crisper. Though built up in a nice manner, the faceless drones and confusing action of most of these scenes were a letdown to me. Just exhausting to watch.

Follows: Goldfinger

Next: You Only Live Twice


Comment from Jonathan
Time: October 31, 2006, 6:42 pm

I agree; worst of the Connery films. As overblown as “Diamonds are Forever” is at least it’s fun. “Thunderball” is just hard as hell to watch; it always feels like I’m watching a four hour movie.

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