James Bond heads to The Bahamas to recover two nuclear warheads stolen by SPECTRE agent Emilio Largo in an international extortion scheme.
What I did this evening was for Queen and Country. You don’t think it gave me any pleasure do you?
For Terence Young’s final stint in the 007 directorial chair, ‘Thunderball‘ represents if not the pinnacle then perhaps the last of the conventional Bond films in the Connery era. The fourth entry in the series sticks largely to the by now well established template for Bond films, with the pre-titles escapade (a punch up with a French widow no less!), the interplay with M, Q and Moneypenny and the fiendishly conceived conspiracy, and the ? trademark villain. However, the inclusion of the spectacular climatic battle scene in itself actually puts down a marker for future Bond films.
The plot centres around SPECTRE’s latest dastardly plan to extort money from the British Government by hijacking a NATO Vulcan bomber carrying two atomic bombs which the evil organisation threaten to detonate in either a British or an American city unless they are paid £100,000,000. We are given more insight into the workings of MI6 as all of the ’00’ agents are called in to begin investigating the incident, nine chairs set out in a semi-circle for agents – of course true to form and much to M’s displeasure 007 is the last to arrive. However, one thing that stands out in the Bond/M relationship this time is just how much trust M places in Bond and how much weight he places in the evidence Bond presents, chastising military colleagues who doubt the validity of his claims when he reports that he has seen a recently deceased NATO pilot at a health spa in England.
The mission takes Bond to the Bahamas where a game of cat and mouse commences between Bond and the villainous Largo, SPECTRE’s number two. Both men know who the other man is but are also aware of what is at stake should either of them succeed or fail. Caught in the middle of this verbal fencing is the beautiful Domino (played by Claudine Auger), who’s brother has been an unwitting pawn manipulated by SPECTRE’s own femme fatale, Volpe (Luciana Paluzzi).
This Bond film can’t be watched without being reminded of parodies such as the Austin Powers films, from the amounts of money involved in the extortion plot to the look of the main villain, with his eye patch and pool full of hungry sharks, although ‘Thunderball‘ is relatively restrained compared to other Bond films.
Bond is this time equipped in the field by Q, whose arrival is greeted by a clearly dismayed 007 “oh no”. The gadgets are, as with the previous three films, quite orthodox compared to those that crop up in later films, with more mundane items like a harmless radioactive tracking device, signal flare and geiger counter watch and camera. Prior to this though, we get a cameo from Bond’s Aston Martin DB5 (this time with added water cannons) and probably the most outlandish gadget to date, the rocket pack which 007 uses to make good his escape from a chateau.
Young and his director of photography Ted Moore certainly make the most of the locations particularly in the Bahamas – there are several scenes in ‘Thunderball‘ which call to mind Terrence Malick’s ‘The Thin Red Line‘ as it cuts away to various forms of wildlife during key action sequences. The most famous of these scenes is the underwater confrontation between the U.S. and SPECTRE frogmen (helpfully colour coded for the viewer with orange and black wetsuits respectively) which is a brilliantly choreographed and filmed set piece which later films attempt to transpose to settings such as volcanos and even outer space.
The peerless John Barry returns to score the film, with the title song performed with gusto by Tom Jones, and several renditions of the famous ‘Mr Kiss Kiss Bang Bang’ tune. Barry’s score is as atmospheric as ever, particularly so during the underwater scenes.
‘Thunderball‘ isn’t faultless, with the now customary questionable treatment of women, the rather leisurely pacing of the film, Connery’s slightly aloof performance and of course the villain failing to eliminate Bond when the chances arise but there’s something reassuringly comfortable about the early entries in the James Bond’s series and there’s more than enough in there to keep Bond fans happy. It may not set pulses racing but it’s a functional entry in the series that sits well with the classic Connery Bond films.
Review by Mark Thatcher
Directed By: Terence Young
Starring: Sean Connery, Adolfo Celi, Claudine Auger, Luciana Paluzzi, Rik Van Nutter, Bernard Lee, Martine Beswick, Guy Doleman, Lois Maxwell and Desmond Llewelyn