The James Bond franchise is celebrating its 50th birthday this year and with the release of Skyfall I wanted to take a look back at the 22 (23 if you count the rogue Never Say Never Again, 24 if you count the 1967 spoof of Casino Royale) films that have come before it. So sit back, grab your shaken-not-stirred martini and follow me on a trip down Bond memory lane.
Synopsis: James Bond heads to The Bahamas to recover two nuclear warheads stolen by SPECTRE agent Emilio Largo in an international extortion scheme.
Stars: Sean Connery, Claudine Auger, Adolfo Celi, Luciana Paluzzi
Director: Terence Young
Running Length: 130 minutes
TMMM Score: (6/10)
With three films under his belt, Connery suited up for his fourth go ‘round with Bond and while some people feel like Thunderball is one of the classier films in the James Bond universe, I found the ride a tad bit bumpy and kinda lethargic. I think that’s just an overall pacing problem with director Young’s style. Returning to the series after Guy Hamilton’s phenomenal success with Goldfinger, I’m sure Young felt the pressure to deliver another Bond adventure that met those standards.
The problem is when you raise a bar so high it can be difficult for anything after it to live up. It happens in films still today…as good as The Dark Knight Rises was, it did disappoint slightly when compared to The Dark Knight that came before it. Both good films but when you hold them both up to the light one just shines a bit brighter. Same is the case with Thunderball.
With Tom Jones cashing in on the title tune, the film does start off like a thunderball as it propels Bond back into the crosshairs of SPECTRE even as their scheme of stealing nuclear warheads begins to develop. As main villain Largo, Celi is a hambone of evil sneers and it mostly works. He’d be parodied in other films over the years but Celi meters his performance just on the edge of reasonable villainy without resorting to moustache twirling.
Our Bond girl here is Domino (Auger, Twitch of the Death Nerve) and she teams with Bond to take down SPECTRE and Largo for reasons of her own. Along the way Bond also pairs up with one of our first evil Bond girls in the guise of Fiona (flame haired Paluzzi). Paluzzi and Connery create a bit more spark than Auger can muster up but with both actresses being dubbed, it can be hard to get a sense for any natural chemistry.
That’s another problem these early films presented for me while watching them again. Especially in the Connery Bond movies (and continuing into the Roger Moore years) many of the European stars that took on the villain or Bond girl roles were dubbed as their heavy accents were deemed too difficult to understand. One woman ended up dubbing several of the Bond girls over time so it can come across to the ear that you are seeing the same performance over and over again. Not that deep characterization was on the forefront of anyone’s mind for these classic Bond films, mind you, but it is a challenge at times.
So Thunderball may not land exactly on target but it still showcases some great underwater photography, a few laughably overzealous performances, and continues the trend of Bond winding up in some raft/lifeboat/capsule at the end with whatever woman lived to tell the tale.
*Interesting to note that Connery made a return to Bond and would remake this film as Never Say Never Again in 1983 when two studios were locked in a dispute over the Bond franchise*