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By John Chard January 28, 2017
Sir, I'd respectfully request that you change my assignment to Nassau.
Thunderball is directed by Terence Young and adapted to screenplay by Richard Maibaum and John Hopkins from a story by Kevin McClory, Jack Whittingham and Ian Fleming. It stars Sean Connery, Adolfo Celi, Claudine Auger, Rick Van Nutter and Martine Beswick. Music is scored by John Barry and cinematography by Ted Moore.
The fourth outing for James Bond (Connery) sees 007 assigned to the Bahamas to try and thwart SPECTRE's number 2 operative, Emilio Largo (Celi). Largo has hijacked two atomic bombs from NATO and sets about extorting huge ransoms of money. If his terms are not met he will blow up major cities.
It was meant to be the first James Bond film, but Thunderball became part of a long drawn out legal battle between Kevin McClory, Jack Whittingham and Ian Fleming. Eventually an out of court settlement was reached and Thunderball rolled into theatres in 1965. After the colossal success of Goldfinger, and Bond as a pop culture phenomenon, producers Albert Broccoli & Harry Saltzman knew that they had to try and up the ante to keep Bond on top. They were also acutely aware that many imitators were springing up on film and TV. These facts led Bond to go epic, with the producers going for a more is more approach, however, Thunderball is a considerable step down from Goldfinger.
As with many other Bond movies, Thunderball polarises opinions amongst the fans. Some are happy to laud the pure entertainment value on offer, the reliance on hardware and gadgets viewed as an aid to the Bond persona and not a hindrance to his humanistic worth. Technically the film is often exceptional, be it on or under the water, director Young really crafts some Bondian quality. The exotic Bahamas locale is beautifully realised by Ted Moore, Barry's blunderbuss score is one of his best for a Bond movie and Connery has charisma in abundance. The girls, too, are delightful, particularly Auger who positively sizzles with sexuality. Bond's by play with M, Q and Felix Leiter (Nutter very enjoyable and more charismatic than Cec Linder in Goldfinger) is well scripted and performed. While for those who adore the gadgets and daring stunts? Thunderball excels with its assortment of trick vehicles, under water weaponry, aids and radioactive pills! Without doubt the near $6 million budget is all up there on the screen.
Yet for other fans, and this is the category I fall into, it's a film of too many flaws to be considered one of the greats. Whilst it's undeniable that when it hits the high points it excites royally (the extended underwater battle is eye popping brilliance), but there's too many languid passages in the overlong running time. Young himself lamented that he couldn't get the pace right on account of the plot structure. The other major problem for me is Celi as Largo. Visually he's striking, with his white hair and eye patch, he looks well villainous, but physically he's wrong and someone you can't buy into as a man able to not only take on Bond, but to overcome him as well! While the finale lacks a grandness to reward those having sat for over 2 hours with the film. But what do I know? Film made a stunning $141 million at the box office! And the fanaticism that began with Goldfinger had now reached epic proportions.
The more is more approach worked for the makers, and it ensured that for the time being Bond was going to stay in this epic, gadget effects strewn groove. Connery wasn't happy though, he had voiced his concerns about Bond becoming characterless, while he hated the mania surrounding the films and his role within them. He would return for the next instalment, You Only Live Twice, but the question was, would it be his last performance as Bond? 7/10