Thunderball

Thunderball

***

Reviewed by: Stephen Carty

Three movies in, and the James Bond franchise is off to a vodka martini-supping flyer. However, after the grim plotting of critics' choice From Russia With Love and the classic iconography of fan-fav Goldfinger, Thunderball sadly pales in comparison. It's not a terrible instalment (Sean Connery in his prime ensures that alone), but it sees the beginning of 'the standard Bond flick'.

Having stolen a couple of nuclear missiles, SPECTRE agent number two Emilio Largo (Adolfo Celi) blackmails the government. With M (BernardLee) putting all the 00 agents on the case, James Bond (Connery) is sent to the Bahamas to investigate. Encountering vicious assassin Fiona Volpe (Luciana Paluzzi) and Largo's supposed niece Domino (Claudine Auger), Bond races against the clock to save the day...

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With expectations understandably raised and the formula now established (cool pre-credits sequence, big-ballad title number, M sends Bond on a mission where he meets hot ladies, eeeevil villains and killer henchmen) this time the inflated budget does all the heavy lifting. As such, we get the start of grand excess; shark-infested swimming pools, booby-trapped chairs, detachable cruise ships... Still, the jetpack is undeniably cool.

Despite the fact that it’s (debatably) where Bond started to become the worldwide phenomenon it now is, there are also problems with the too-long running time (trim? Yes please) and the overused underwater set-pieces. Credit where it's due - they are well-filmed and obvious care has gone into their photography. But, the end results are more dull than thrilling and some aquatic scenes - such as the climactic frogman battle - seem to go on forever.

You could complain that Celi's bad guy and Auger's love-interest aren't really memorable (well, aside from the former having a nifty eye patch and the latter suiting a bikini), but Paluzzi's femme fatale makes up for it, being attractively lethal and offering brilliant post-coitus character-dissection of Bond’s sexual habits. Elsewhere, Rik Van Nutter is the third different Felix Leiter.

And yet, while it's an undoubtedly stop-start affair, there's enough to keep you going. The opening has a brutal and inventive cross-dressing dust-up, there's a few flashes of classic 007 cheek (tossing flowers on a corpse, pinching grapes) and Tom Jones' theme tune is a warbling belter (legend has it that he passed out while wailing the final BAAAAAAAAAAAAALL! bit). Additionally, with director Terence Young returning (he did the first two but missed Goldfinger) and the usual team in place (composer John Barry, screenwriter Richard Maibaum...) the non-water scenes feel consistent with the early Bonds.

But, of course, the highlight, as ever, is Connery. Confident, charming and purring inappropriately-forward chat-up lines into suave panty-peelers, he pretty much defines macho cool. Ironically, while it grates that he's becoming a bit more invincible than previously (where he was beaten up, tortured, imprisoned...), the shark tunnel scene contains a real look of fear from Sir Sean as one of gliding beasts actually got past the Plexiglas partition which he understandably insisted Ken Adams build...

A decent instalment but marred by too much water and without any overly-memorable moments, Thunderball is where the franchise began to slide into excessive parody. Still, compared to unofficial remake Never Say Never Again (which was made 18 years later due to script ownership rights), it’s a masterpiece.

Reviewed on: 03 Aug 2009
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The super-spy hunts stolen nukes in the Bahamas.
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Director: Terence Young

Writer: Richard Maibaum, John Hopkins, Jack Whittingham, Kevin McClory, Ian Fleming

Starring: Sean Connery, Claudine Auger, Adolfo Celi, Luciana Paluzzi, Rik Van Nutter, Guy Doleman, Molly Peters, Martine Beswick, Bernard Lee, Desmond Llewelyn, Lois Maxwell, Roland Culver, Earl Cameron, Paul Stassino, Rose Alba

Year: 1965

Runtime: 130 minutes

Country: UK

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