00 Saturdays Week #7 – Thunderball Movie Review

“Try to be a little less than your frivolous self, 007.” – Q

Welcome back to 00 Saturdays here at Film Seizure.  This is our weekly walk through the Bond films.  We continue in this seventh week with 1965’s Thunderball.

As I mentioned in the first article for 00 Saturdays, the first three films would be reviewed in a little more clinical style with very structured sections per movie.  There are a couple reasons for this.  First, I was playing around with formatting of these articles and wanted to try that format.  Second, and possibly more accurately, I reviewed those three rather clinically because the first three Bond films have three different feels to them.

Dr. No was the first film in a long series.  While at the time producers Albert “Cubby” Broccoli and Harry Saltzman probably couldn’t imagine the impact Agent 007 would have on pop culture, they surely hoped for as many movies as they could potentially produce.  Ian Fleming had several books.  So Dr. No had to be a movie to introduce the character and the style of the series.  From Russia with Love expanded on Bond’s character and his potential enemies, SPECTRE (as well as possibly Russians).  It certainly leaned more into the idea of the thrilling spy and intrigue genre.  Goldfinger turned James Bond into a near super-powered comic book hero with high action, high brow wit, and high amounts of over the top machismo and smug confidence from our hero.

That said, after the third outing, James Bond became what many feel would be the ideal a male action hero that men want to be and women desired to sleep with.

Goldfinger set the stage for the rest of the series pretty much forever.  So much so, producers, writers, and the director of the upcoming No Time to Die film decided it might be time for Bond to approach situations in a more updated fashion – particularly how he deals with women.  Before you get all bent out of shape about a supposed liberal takeover of everything cool in movies and TV, this isn’t the first time Bond will go through those changes.  We’ll see that over the course of this series.  No Time to Die is just being released in a time where some updating is required which also coincides with a time of great sociopolitical strife.  But I digress.  My point is that, going forward, my movie reviews will be more along the lines of a regular movie review and less structured as before.  Let’s dig in!

Oh boy, Thunderball is where we are today and does that have a fascinating history.  Thunderball was one of the Bond novels from Ian Fleming, being written in 1961.  It was originally intended to be the first Bond feature film as well.  However, trouble arose when Fleming was sued by writers Kevin McClory and Jack Whittingham.  The writers alleged that Fleming took elements from their proposed screenplay to write his novel without their approval.  This was a looooooong running dispute lasting about 45 years.  The more immediate issues with the court battle was that it prevented the novel from being turned into a movie.

This also led to a very nervous time for Broccoli and Saltzman.  If a judge ruled that the novel could be adapted for a film, it could allow McClory and Whittingham to release a rival Bond film right when they were at the peak of the popularity of Broccoli and Saltzman’s EON Productions series.  This might severely damage EON’s films.  Broccoli and Saltzman cut a deal in 1964 to adapt Thunderball as the fourth Bond film.  This deal would allow McClory to be listed as a producer on the film with all sorts of extra writing credits for McClory and Whittingham.

All that would not satisfy the situation though…  McClory and Whittingham still owned rights to Thunderball adaptations and another would be made in 1983, Never Say Never Again.  This would be released the same year as EON’s Octopussy and starred Sean Connery, who had since had a severe falling out with producer Cubby Broccoli.  It’s a messy situation and a very fascinating story of how one book nearly allowed for two Bond series between two warring studios and chilly rival producers.  I would recommend finding more information on this on the Google machine nearest to your fingertips.

This new adventure starts with a rousing, and somewhat brutal, fist fight between Bond and a SPECTRE operative who had killed some of Bond’s MI6 brethren.  It also has a fun little identity angle as well with the SPECTRE operative, Bouvar, disguised as his wife attending his funeral, but Bond is wise to the game.  It’s a great opening that doesn’t outstay its welcome, but also shows that Bond is more than happy to dish out some justice with that license to kill of his for anyone who dares attack Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

Also, it has that bitchin’ jetpack flight moment too.

If you remember the review I did two weeks ago with Goldfinger, I found Guy Hamilton’s Bond to be kind of a dick, right?  Well, things recenter quickly now that Terence Young is back.  Bond feels a little more human, a little less of a jerk, and is much more polite to the lady French agent helping him get rid of this SPECTRE jerk.

As the film unfolds, Bond is seen in a somewhat vulnerable state.  He spends a portion of the movie at a health spa getting some kinks worked out from past missions’ injuries.  He’s placed onto a motorized traction machine that gets cranked up to high speed by a SPECTRE agent that is currently there for a mysterious piece of the organization’s big master plan.  He’s nearly killed on that machine and then shot later in the leg and is chased by a femme fatale who chases his blood trail.  Bond is nearly in over his head dealing with SPECTRE this time out and it helps make this one of my very favorite films in the series.

Speaking of femme fatales, this movie has two drop dead gorgeous women.  First, we should probably start with Luciana Paluzzi who plays an operative for SPECTRE named Fiona Volpe.  I assume that name translates into something stunningly inappropriate.  She is similar to the idea of of Pussy Galore.  She’s a bad girl working for the bad guys.  However, unlike Pussy Galore, Bond isn’t going to charm her.  She’s evil through and through.  She ultimately makes for this quintessential type of really, REALLY bad girl.  She’s a true believer in SPECTRE.   In fact, she even chides Bond about how his lovemaking would turn a girl toward the side of right and good as seen with Pussy Galore.  She is involved in the main plot of having a NATO pilot impersonated and swapped out to steal a new nuclear weapon.  She is involved with that moment I mentioned previously in which Bond is wounded by a gunshot and is being chased by her and various other SPECTRE goons.  How Bond escapes her is one of my very favorite kills in the entire series.  Paluzzi would serve to be popular enough for the next movie to also feature a redheaded bad girl.

Our primary Bond Girl for Thunderball is Claudine Auger as Dominique “Domino” Derval.  Domino is my all time favorite Bond Girl for two reasons I’ll get to momentarily.  As I write this near the end of 2019, Ms. Auger sadly passed away a week ago after a lengthy illness.

Now, for the first reason why Domino is my favorite is that Claudine Auger is ridiculously beautiful.  She was a Miss World contestant for France in 1958.  It was Kevin McClory who spotted her and recommended her for Domino.  She beat out the likes of Julie Christie, Raquel Welch, and Faye Dunaway.  She even beat out her co-star Paluzzi.

Why she would be able to do that is for the main reason why she’s my favorite Bond Girl.  Sure, anyone can be sexy and fit the bill as a Bond Girl, but Auger has to play Domino as maybe the most sympathetic Bond Girl ever.  Why she is sympathetic in this is because she isn’t someone who is in the wrong place at the wrong time or an agent that gets herself into trouble, but it’s because of who she is and what it costs her.  Domino is the sister of the NATO fighter pilot that SPECTRE needs to grab the nuclear weapon.  Our main villain, Emilio Largo (the wonderful Adolfo Celi), takes her as a mistress.  Despite being a kept woman, she’s still playful and kind of spunky which only increases her sex appeal in Thunderball.  However, sadly, Bond has to tell her that SPECTRE killed her brother and she is devastated by it.  However, she also has nowhere to run and needs to rely on Bond to get her out of this really shitty situation.  It’s a truly sad character and plot she’s wrapped up in.  Auger is so good in showing how hurt and angry she is.

Playing off Auger, Connery is particularly good in this film too because he is able to show how sorry he is that 1) it happened and 2) he had to reveal to her the news.  Such a huge departure from Goldfinger in which you’d likely have thought he’d use Domino’s pain and suffering to bed her.  This is why it is so good to have Terence Young back in the director’s chair.

As I mentioned, Adolfo Celi is the classic Bond villain.  It’s not so much that he’s just a guy with seemingly unlimited resources, or that he’s incredibly confident and powerful, it’s because he most definitely is these things.  SPECTRE had been seen in the first two films, but in smaller ways.  Dr. No was high ranking, Rosa Klebb was the third highest ranking person in the organization, but we’re dealing with the right hand man of Blofeld himself.  He’s surrounded by a ton of goons, and specific henchmen of note – two guys who just look like stone old killers who never utter a word, and Volpe who is more than happy to kill Bond FOR Largo.  There is something about Celi and how little he emotes or even shows any kind of pleasure like a normal person that is unnerving.  And like any good villain in a spy thriller… Celi has that awesome eye patch.

Thunderball is a movie in which we see SPECTRE get a super weapon with the goal to extort something on the order of $100 Million from the United States and Great Britain.  There are plenty of twists and turns in the movie that makes this every bit worthy of its 130-minute run time as well as the budget that is more than the three previous films combined.  However, what makes this movie a true cinematic experience is the production design and Oscar-winning effects shots.

25% of this film features underwater scenes.  Plenty of movies had underwater shots.  None this extensive.  An entire final fight between agents from all over the world and SPECTRE goons takes place underwater.  Lots of scenes that required people to be in close underwater quarters with sharks – hungry sharks.  It was a series of scenes and sequences that required the top of the line underwater cameras, stuntmen at the top of their game, and someone who can shoot underwater scenes better than anyone else.  Enter Riccou Browning.  Who’s he?  Why he played the gill man in Creature from the Black Lagoon!  He was part of that award winning team that created the effects for Thunderball and directed all the underwater shots used in the film. What a lovely little intersection of two things I love a great deal – James Bond and Universal Classic Monsters.

Last but not least is the production design by Ken Adam.  Adam worked on a bunch of Bond movies, and his design work for Dr. No got him the gig with Stanley Kubrick for Dr. Strangelove and the war room set there.  He’d later win an Oscar for Kubrick’s period film Barry Lyndon.  It takes hardly any time at all for you to see Adam’s work in full display when we see all the top guy sat SPECTRE meeting in this wonderful wide open conference room full of trap doors to send people caught embezzling from the organization down a flaming pit.  Even the good guys have a huge conference room to meet about Operation: Thunderball.  What I love so much about how Adam designs the look of Bond films is the modern deco of spaciousness.  Hotel rooms, conference rooms, even Largo’s yacht, the Disco Volante, feels like it has a bunch of head room and space.  I feel like that is very much of the time.  You see a lot of older Hollywood homes built in the 50s and 60s with that same idea of horizontal space across a single floor.  It gives off an impression of being luxurious even if it is unrealistic or perhaps a facade.  It is something your eyes may not always see, but your mind is given this nudge to think.

Overall, Thunderball is still my very favorite Connery film in his run.  It’s a gorgeous movie in a warm and tropical locale.  Connery’s Bond is not that jerk that I found myself kind of not liking at all in Goldfinger.  More than the previous three movies, it is this movie that I feel is most closely followed in future films in terms of pacing and of how to tell a good spy thriller with these larger fantastical ideas.  It’s a culmination of interesting characters, a seasoned Bond, a spectacular Bond Girl, and great action.  I think it is an often overlooked film in the series because it has the unenviable duty of following Goldfinger and, apparently, everyone thinks the world starts and ends with that one.

I think you get the point.

Join me next week for a look at the music of Thunderball.  In two weeks, I’ll be taking a look at the fifth Bond film, You Only Live Twice.

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