Sophie continues our countdown to Spectre with Thunderball. Once again Blofeld proves to be the biggest pain in Bond’s arse as he sends his right hand man Emilio Largo to steal some nuclear warheads; and holds the world to ransom for $100 million.
After the incredibly entertaining and gleefully daft Goldfinger – something of a peak for the franchise – the next film in the series struggles to outdo it. As such, Thunderball has the unfortunate stigma of beginning a decline in quality for Connery’s Bond, with the hard-as-nails, cool espionage stuff making way for abject silliness.
Indeed, Thunderball was utilised as the main reference point for 1997’s Austin Powers, and re-visiting it now it reads more like a comedy than perhaps was intended. From Blofeld electrocuting his henchmen in their chairs when they fail to please, to his right-hand man Number 2 and his pool full of man-eating sharks, you half expect Connery to come out with ‘shagadelic baby!’ at any given moment.
Adding to the comedy, we have a scene where Bond is put in grave peril when he is almost murdered by excessive use of a spine-traction machine, and later he and Largo’s mistress Domino (Auger) seemingly have sex whilst scuba diving. ‘I hope we didn’t frighten the fish!’ he exclaims, while everyone else is trying to figure out the logistics of aquatic copulation, and any possible enjoyment it could afford.
Still, the rife and fairly repugnant misogyny of Goldfinger seems to have dissipated here, at least for the most part. Aside from one brief moment where Bond forcibly kisses his masseuse, only to be met with an ‘Eeh James what you like?’ (or words to that effect), there is not as much here to get too riled about. In a neat twist in the finale, it is actually Domino who saves Bond’s life as she shoots Largo from behind with a spear gun. Not to say that Thunderball is flying the flag for Women’s lib or anything, but it’s nice to see a little role reversal.
After Goldfinger pretty much established the Bond formula as we know it, Thunderball feels like routine. Director Terence Young didn’t direct Goldfinger, but he helmed Bond’s previous two outings so was a veteran of the series by this point. What disappoints most is the action, of which far too much takes place underwater. Slow and uninspiring, it doesn’t so much set the heart racing as it does lull you into a slightly nonchalant coma.
Still, it makes it perfect fodder for a Sunday afternoon, with sequences where you can take strategic naps. It also remains the only canon Bond to be re-made, when Connery would reprise the role some twenty years later for the risible and utterly pointless Never Say Never Again. This is hardly Connery’s high water mark, but there is almost certainly worse to come.
Bond theme: Thunderball by Tom Jones. A fairly standard Bond theme, with Jones giving it full welly. He allegedly passed out in the recording booth after belting out the final note; an admirable effort, but it doesn’t quite match the bombast of Bassey’s Goldfinger.
Best one liner: Schwarzenegger may have said something similar 20 years later in Commando, but Connery did it first after Fiona Volpe is accidentally shot dead by one of her own henchmen: ‘Do you mind if my friend sits this one out? She’s just dead.’
Glamorous locations: Kicking off in France at the Chateau d’Anet, Spectre’s hideout is also not too far away in Paris. We know this because we can see the Eiffel tower in the background, obviously. Moving on from Europe, the majority of the film takes part in Nassau, revisiting Ian Fleming’s much loved Caribbean after the Jamaica set Dr. No.
Girls: Initially Bond gets it on with his masseuse Patricia (Molly Peters), who saves him from the terror of the spine-traction machine, and whom he shags mere moments after. He encounters (and sleeps with) two other women in the course of the film: first Fiona Volpe (Luciana Paluzzi), an assassin working with SPECTRE, specifically for Blofeld’s Number 2, Largo. Then there’s Domino (Claudine Auger), Largo’s mistress, who after being closely guarded and emotionally and physically abused throughout their relationship justly delivers his final fatal blow.
Gadgets: Most memorable is the jetpack, which in a hilarious ‘thank God I had the foresight to leave this here’ moment, he casually glides to safety after escaping some henchman in the film’s pre-credit sequence. His Aston Martin is also equipped with a water cannon (and presumably an incredibly heavy water tank), and later Q outfits him with a Geiger counter watch, an underwater camera and an underwater breathing device. High-tech stuff.
Classic Moment: Has to be this. Bond at his most shamelessly rakish and downright seedy. Absolutely hilarious.
TELSTAR’S BIG BOND COUNTDOWN WILL RETURN WITH… YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE.