Thunderball (Terence Young, 1965)

Thunderball

For a long time, this has been my least favourite official Bond film. It has the outlandishness of Goldfinger – a jetpack! Sharks! The Disco Volante boat with its detaching hydrofoil! – but little of the class or sense of grandeur. And because it’s all larger-than-life, there’s no chance of any From Russia-style verisimilitude to create drama. The elements are there, but it’s all just a little tired. The plethora of underwater sequences is also a serious problem, dragging the film’s pace down to a crawl. On the plus side, the cast look like they’re having fun, the script has its fair share of droll one-liners, and the film’s colour scheme is beautiful – Bahaman blues pick out the warm water, the clear skies and various people’s costumes. Five health clinics out of 10.

Bond: His first meeting with bad guy Emilio Largo is great fun, with Bond dropping heavy hints over the baccarat table that he knows what’s going on.

Villains: Largo wears an eye patch and his SPECTRE code name is ‘Number 2’. Thoughts obviously turn to Robert Wagner in Austin Powers. His second-in-command is the cleavage-flaunting, motorbike-riding, speed-limit-threatening, bad-as-they-come Fiona Volpe. I’m in love.

Girls: Domino Derval, the black-and-white-clad Bond girl, is no Honor Blackman but is a step up from the others. She has some nice character moments to play, and in a nice twist she – rather than Bond – kills the bad guy. There’s also the health clinic’s Pat Fearing, who could give me physiotherapy any time she likes, and Paula Caplan, Bond’s spunky Nassau contact (played by one of the gypsies from From Russia With Love).

Regulars: Blofeld appears again, as does his cat. Again, we don’t see his face. For no readily apparent reason. (Were there plans to one day reveal he’s actually Bond in disguise or something?) Moneypenny returns. M is on fine exasperated form (“Now that we’re all here…” he says pointedly when Bond’s late for a briefing). Felix Leiter’s been recast for a second time: now it’s Rik Van Nutter’s turn to be not very memorable. And Q gets to go out in the field, putting on a colourful shirt and taking his gadgets to the Bahamas.

Action: As mentioned, there’s far, far too much slowly paced underwater stuff. In the film’s credit, there’s a tense chase through a colourful carnival and the climactic boat chase is energetically edited. Earlier, Bond has a pre-titles punch-up with a widow at a funeral…

Comedy: …who turns out to be a fella in a drag!

Music: Tom Jones’s title song is dramatic and effective, but was a late replacement. The DVD allows you to hear what was originally intended as the theme – Dionne Warwick’s Mr Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (which is more laid-back). The title sequence was clearly designed to match the timing of this latter song! John Barry’s brilliant score is full of mystery and tension.

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