Genre: Action and Spy Running Time: 2 hrs. 10 min.
Release Date: December 22nd, 1965 MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: Terence Young Actors: Sean Connery, Claudine Auger, Adolfo Celi, Luciana Paluzzi, Guy Doleman, Molly Peters, Martine Beswick, Bernard Lee, Desmond Llewelyn, Lois Maxwell
f “Goldfinger” was the start of the Bond films becoming more flamboyantly imaginative and bombastically unrealistic, “Thunderball” is the official genesis of Bond becoming hokey. Featuring the most modernistic, prevailingly structured opening scene (a swift introduction, suspenseful action, and an unlikely escape), with a cross-dressing enemy colonel and plenty of hand-to-hand combat – which culminates in a hasty jetpack departure from a rooftop, an engagement with his subtly armed Aston Martin, and a set of underwater, nude women to swim across the background graphics (designed by Maurice Binder). And “Thunderball” also boasts the least memorable, most unoriginal title song, sung by Tom Jones and derivatively written by John Barry and Don Black.
French NATO pilot Francois Derval, tasked with flying a training mission with two atomic bombs, is murdered and replaced with a SPECTRE agent who has undergone plastic surgery to be his twin. During the flight, the plane is sabotaged and sunk near the Bahamas, where SPECTRE agent Emilio Largo (Adolfo Celi), codenamed “Number 2,” retrieves the missiles. British MI6 Agent James Bond (Sean Connery) is then assigned to journey to Nassau, where he discovers that Francois’ sister Dominique “Domino” Derval (Claudine Auger) is Largo’s kept woman. While ruthless red-haired henchwoman Fiona Volpe (Luciana Paluzzi) alternates between seducing and attempting to murder 007, Largo entertains him at his palatial estate (complete with private shark tank), receiving his guest as a method of outsmarting and toying with an adversary (a customary activity for Bond rivals). Meanwhile, SPECTRE announces its terroristic demands to NATO for millions of pounds in diamonds to prevent the annihilation of a major city – and only the lone superspy can retrieve the bombs.
The plot is perhaps even more convoluted than the previous films, but in a slower, time-wasting sort of manner. The number of women used and abandoned has increased, the partial female nudity has become more risqué, and the cheesy one-liners feel more annoyingly frequent. Similarly, action sequences are prevalent but pointless, shifting from one explosive setup to the next, changing locations and introducing more characters, but failing to move the story along at a pace speedy enough to hold interest. The most significant update is the inclusion of numerous underwater scenes, clearly overusing this briefly exciting, new environment to the point of exhaustion (the choreography is occasionally thrilling but entirely too time-consuming and confusing). “Thunderball” is the first Bond film to drift past a two-hour running time – and the obvious length doesn’t do it any favors.
Each new Bond movie gains a larger budget, but the potential doesn’t equate to greater creativity or superior filmmaking. Connery appears almost bored with his role, lacking the enthusiasm and authenticity of the three prior embarkations. He still woos the ladies, but never gets to sip a martini or don his signature tuxedo more than once. The new villain is once again given a striking physical abnormality – this time, a patch over one eye, which is just enough to be typical of a Bond antagonist but not functional enough to be of the unforgettable nature of a henchman like Oddjob. The recurring character of CIA agent Felix Leiter (now played by Rik Van Nutter) appears for trivial purposes, adding nothing to the plot; Desmond Llewelyn returns as “Q” to familiarize Bond with new gadgetry; and the conclusion is ill-conceived and rushed. But the music is still outstanding. Despite quite a few more novels by Ian Fleming for storyline inspirations, could this low point be the end of the series? Probably not.
– Mike Massie