Section: Reviews
Thunderball Movie Review

Look up! Look down! Look out! Here comes the biggest Bond of all!

Title: 'Thunderball'

Released: 12/29/1965

Budget: $9,000,000

Gross (US; Worldwide): $63,595,658; $141,200,000

Producer: Kevin McClory

Writer: Richard Maibaum & John Hopkins

Director: Terence Young

Based On: 'Thunderball' book, written by Ian Fleming, Kevin McClory, & Jack Whittingham.

Stars: Sean Connery as James Bond 007, Claudine Auger (as Domino Derval), Adolfo Celi (as Emilio Largo), Luciana Paluzzi (as Fiona Volpe), Rick Van Nutter (as Felix Lighter); Also Starring Bernard Lee as M, Desmond Llewelyn as Q, and Lois Maxwell as Miss Moneypenny.


Commentary: 'Thunderball' continues the tradition set by 'Goldfinger' of a larger-than-life plot. The plot is absolutely frightening – a criminal organization, S.P.E.C.T.R.E., steals active nuclear warheads and holds them for ransom against NATO. The problems with the film stem from the poor execution of this terrific concept, making it the worst of Connery's first five films. Nonetheless, it's still fun and gripping, for the most part.

We start with a teaser in which, again, we know nothing about the specifics, but they don't matter. The entire purpose is to show off a pretty neat gadget, the type of thing people have long fantasized about – a jetpack. It's a fun scene and a good way to start the movie. The transition from the water jets on his car to the title credits sequence is effective and neat.

After the title credits and Tom Jones' nonsensical title track, the film places us in a medical rehabilitation facility where Bond is resting and recuperating from a mission. Nothing at the clinic makes any sense and is all too convenient. S.P.E.C.T.R.E. agents are also at the clinic, but Bond doesn't know who they are, and they also don’t seem to recognize him – but they try to kill him anyway. Bond figures out something strange is going on, and indeed, something quite unusual is taking place. With the help of S.P.E.C.T.R.E.'s Count Lippe and Fiona Volpe, a man named Angelo Palazzi has underwent plastic surgery to steal the identity of NATO officer Major Derval. The S.P.E.C.T.R.E. agents kill Derval, and Angelo, who has also been studying Derval's mannerisms and speech patterns, goes to a NATO base, hops on the training exercise flight Derval has been assigned to observe, knocks out everyone else on the plane mid-flight with a toxic gas, and delivers the NATO aircraft to S.P.E.C.T.R.E.'s Number Two agent, Emilio Largo, in the Bahamas. S.P.E.C.T.R.E. wants the plane because it is carrying to real nuclear warheads, which begs this very significant question the filmmakers seem to have overlooked – why is NATO using real, live warheads on a training exercise? The answer, of course, is so that they can be stolen and set the plot of the movie in motion. It's thrilling, yes, but dumb.

MI6 gathers all its 00 agents together to investigate and try to locate the missing warheads. M assigns Bond to Canada until Bond tells him that he found the real Major Derval's dead body at the clinic and that he'd like to investigate the real Derval by paying a visit to Derval's sister, Domino, in the Bahamas. It's a good idea, naturally, but it's also a bit too convenient for the plot – Domino just happens to live with Largo, who's behind everything. The gathering of all the 00 agents is a nice touch – it's important to know that Bond isn't alone, and the scene is nicely juxtaposed with a meeting of S.P.E.C.T.R.E.'s top agents. S.P.E.C.T.R.E. has grown since their exercise of petty revenge in 'From Russia with Love.' This is an organized beast with an agenda, and they've come up with a great way to extort loads of cash from the Western powers – to steal their bombs and hold them ransom. It's a shame the filmmakers couldn't have come up with a more realistic way for S.P.E.C.T.R.E. to steal the weapons.

Bond goes to the Bahamas and enjoys himself. He flirts with Domino, a gorgeous, innocent beauty. Claudine Auger's Bond girl is a refreshing character, especially after the poorly developed girls in 'Goldfinger.' She was once very close to her brother but misses him dearly since he enrolled in the service. Her bikinis call to mind Honey Ryder, but she's not a carbon copy. Bond doesn't reveal to her that her brother is dead because he wants to get closer to her to see if she knows anything. Luckily for Bond, he doesn't have to rely on her too much for information – he runs into Largo at a local casino and quickly figures out that he works for S.P.E.C.T.R.E. Largo is just too suspicious for his own good – he essentially admits everything to Bond without a word and with just the look of his one eye.

Fiona is in the Bahamas too, and Bond puts two and two together. She works for Largo and is both the brains and beauty behind the operation. Fiona, deliciously played by Luciana Paluzzi, is a wonderful contrast to Domino. Whereas Domino is pure and good, Fiona is sociopathic and evil. She's probably the only girl in the franchise who has sex with Bond and tries to kill him – and really wants to do both. Her goons kidnap Paula, a local girl who's been helping Bond. Soon after, she and her goons chase Bond through the Junkanoo, a bizarre Bahamian parade that seems to be like the Mardi Gras but sponsored by the United Nations. The Junkanoo chase is loud, relentless, and mildly claustrophobic. Bond manages to duck into a local club, thinking he's evaded his potential captors, but they soon come in. Fiona and Bond dance, and one of the goons aims a gun at Bond from behind a curtain. The sequence is reminiscent of the climax of Alfred Hitchock's 'The Man Who Knew Too Much' – the music being played in the club slowly builds and builds until the drums blaring cover up the sound of the gun firing. It's a terrifically tense scene with a great conclusion – the bullet hits Fiona instead of Bond, leading to what may be Bond's funniest quip in the Connery era.

At night, Bond and CIA's Felix Leiter, without much to do, try to find the missing plane. During the day, Bond and Fiona fool around in the ocean. After the sex, Bond tells her about her brother's death, and Bond kills Vargas, Largo's goon following Bond and Domino, with a harpoon. At this point, the film isn't really all that exciting or inspired. Bond is no longer the smart detective he was in 'Dr. No.' He acts on some lucky hunches, has sex with a beautiful girl, and convinces her to help him. Largo tries to trap Bond in a pool filled with hungry sharks, but he doesn't even check to see that the sharks kill him.

Domino tells Bond how he can disguise himself as one of Largo's men when Largo goes to retrieve the nuclear warheads. The underwater cinematography is decent, but the whole sequence is just a bit boring. Bond gets stranded and Felix comes by with a helicopter to pick him up. Felix calls in the U.S. navy, who parachute in and fight Largo and his men as they plant one of the bombs off the coast of Florida. The idea of a big battle underwater is cool, but the whole scene is slowed down by the water.

Largo escapes back to his high-speed boat, the Disco Volante, which still has one of the warheads. Bond joins him, and the two engage in a good round of fisticuffs at the wheel of the vessel, which starts going out of control. The stock footage of the rocky waters through the windows of the boat is repetitive and annoying – when somebody turns the wheel, the boat seems to move in the opposite direction but never seems to get any closer to the rocks until the very end. Domino, in a big moment of triumph, shoots Largo, her former lover, with a spear gun. Domino and Bond jump off the Disco, which crashes into the rocks and explodes. The hero and the girl are rescued, and in a great, over-the-top final shot, fly through the air on a sturdy cable attached to a plane.

'Thunderball' takes a great concept, dumbs it down a little too much, and loses its focus after some thrilling sequences. The highlights are the two memorable girls, who manage to keep this reckless ship from crashing into the rocks.


Also in the Thunderball dossier:   Allies | Gadgets | Girls | Pictures | Reviews | Villains
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