CAST: Sean Connery, Claudine Auger, Adolfo Celi, Luciana Paluzzi, Rik Van Nutter, Bernard Lee, Martine Beswick, Guy Doleman, Molly Peters, Desmond Llewelyn, Lois Maxwell, Roland Culver, Earl Cameron, Paul Stassino, Rose Alba, Bob Simmons, Philip Locke, George Pravda, Michael Brennan, Leonard Sachs, Edward Underdown, Reginald Beckwith
RUNNING TIME: 130 mins
BASICALLY…: When SPECTRE agent Emilio Largo (Celi) steals two nuclear warheads, James Bond (Connery) is sent in to retrieve them…
NOW FOR THE REVIEW…
With No Time To Die being pushed back all the way to November, the world needs its fix of Ian Fleming’s ace secret agent to tide them over until then. That’s why, every week until it finally comes out, we’re going to be taking a look at each previous movie in the series to see if, and how, they hold up today.
This week, the ball gets rolling with Connery’s fourth entry as James Bond, and as the first Bond film after Goldfinger it’s obviously going to falter in comparison – but there are aspects to it which still remain impressive even to this day.
Thunderball sees Bond being called into action when SPECTRE’s “Number Two” agent Emilio Largo (Adolfo Celi) steals a pair of nuclear warheads, threatening to detonate them in major British and American cities unless NATO forks over a large amount of ransom money. Heading to the Bahamas to investigate, Bond encounters both Largo and his young mistress Domino (Claudine Auger), and makes his way through many of Largo’s henchmen – and women – in order to locate the warheads and stop Largo from achieving his diabolical plans.
What most people remember about this movie – other than the jet-pack briefly used during the pre-credits sequence, as well as Tom Jones’s bombastic title track – is its heavy use of underwater footage for several sequences; roughly a quarter or slightly more of the movie takes place underwater, as both Largo’s henchfolk and later Bond himself venture deep beneath the surface for several instances, whether it’s covering up (and then later uncovering) a NATO plane originally being used to transport the bombs, or a great big punch-up that serves as a large chunk of the film’s climax. For one, these sequences are exceptionally filmed, especially at a time when this sort of extensive underwater shooting was a massive challenge (of course, shooting underwater had been done multiple times before then, but surely nothing as major as what you see here), which to the filmmakers’ credit they were able to accomplish despite the massive difficulties they undoubtedly faced while doing so. However, the fact that there are so many of these sequences which take place underwater means that there is a limit as to how much they can do other than just swimming around and occasionally coming face-to-face with several sea creatures. Because of that, they can get a little tedious after a little while, with that final battle sequence in particular seeming to go on forever because the water limits the amount of fight choreography that can be used for a major fight scene such as this.
Much like From Russia With Love, the film also suffers from a storyline that is, on occasion, quite difficult to completely follow. You get the basic gist of things, but some of the details in between seem needlessly complicated; for example, to acquire the nuclear warheads in the first place, they have someone go through some heavy plastic surgery to facially resemble the captain of the plane carrying them, before then subduing the real captain and faking his death from a heart attack, which seems like quite an elaborate step beyond what is necessary (and perhaps more expensive than perhaps they may have been planning; no wonder they want so much ransom money). There’s lots of little non-sequiturs like this that are only there to fill in the gaps, but from a personal standpoint it seemed to make the film feel a little emptier than some of the previous films, as though it had to fill those holes with extra bits of filler to make up for the fact that it’s a pretty thin plot that does not need to be as long as it is (at 130 minutes, this is the first Bond film to go over two hours).
The good news is that Thunderball still manages to keep things entertaining for a reasonably consistent amount of time, from some well-choreographed fight scenes (the one just before the credits, which features that famous jet-pack, is surprisingly brutal) to the film’s stunning use of the Bahamas location, including a sequence taking place during a night-time Junkanoo parade. Claudine Auger’s Domino is a memorable Bond girl, and it’s fun to look back on a villain like Largo – with his giant eyepatch which might as well have the word “villain” stitched across it – especially after the character and certain scenes involving him have been spoofed in the likes of Austin Powers. This would also be director Terence Young’s final film in the James Bond series, having previously been behind both Dr. No and From Russia With Love, and he makes the most of his final bout in this universe, not only upping his game with the numerous underwater sequences but also squeezing as much charm out of the likes of Connery and his co-stars as much as can before he departs. A shame, then, that Young could not translate this level of charm and entertainment to most of his later projects, such as the notorious flop Inchon which features way more needless explosions than all three of his Bond films combined.
While far from the best of the Connery era, Thunderball strikes just hard enough to keep itself from sleeping with the fishes.
SO, TO SUM UP…
Thunderball is a slight step down from Goldfinger but still manages to contain some impressively filmed sequences, including the several taking place underwater, although a needlessly complicated plot muddies the water a bit.