“Wait ’til you get to my teeth.”
Thunderball followed fast on the heels of Goldfinger. And while it’s a whole lot longer, and a little slower-paced than its predecessor, the fourth entry in the James Bond series is my favourite of the Sean Connery 007 films. Ian Fleming’s ninth James Bond novel served as the basis for the screenplay which was first developed from the story by Fliming, Jack Whittingham and Kevin McClory. Remember that name, because in a couple of decades he’d resurface to try to tell another Bond film.
The screenplay grew from the story they worked out, with Whittingham taking a swing at it, and then John Hopkins. And Richard Maibaum (who’d penned the other three films) polished it up to the story that hit the screen. Producers Albert ‘Cubby’ Broccoli and Harry Saltzman were delighted to have Terence Young back in the director’s chair after Guy Hamilton knocked it out of the park with Goldfinger.
What he delivers is my favourite Connery Bond, though it feels a little overlong, and slow at times. But there’s so much going on in the film with the locations and actions that made me think of my own life at the time I watched the film. I was growing up in Bermuda. Thunderball was shot in the Bahamas, as well as Florida, and Pinewood Studios in England. I was scuba diving. Bond does that in the film, there’s lots of beach stuff, that was my life. And honestly, beautiful women in bathing suits – did I mention growing up in Bermuda?
In terms of production, all the familiar names are back, and leading the production design was Ken Adam (YAY! – though because of all the exteriors, and exotic locales, he doesn’t get to stretch his artistic legs as much as in the previous films). Rounding out this journeyman’s working school, the production continued to engender a sense of family because the primary crew kept returning and sometimes rising through the departments. Watch for John Glen’s name to show up in the credits once On Her Majesty’s Secret Service rolls around and track his rise!
The film’s story sees SPECTRE back. Though we still don’t get a look at Blofeld (Anthony Dawson again, with Eric Pohlmann providing a voice). With a plan involving imposters, SPECTRE plans to hold the world hostage with two stolen warheads. Their plan is overseen by Largo (the suitably imposing Adolfo Celi who can be both charming and menacing by turns. A perfect foil for Connery’s dangerous, quip-delivering 007), who lives and works out of his glorious home and luxury yacht stationed in Nassau.
Following a lead left by one of the imposters, a dead pilot, Bond connects with Largo’s kept woman, Domino. Played by Claudine Auger, a former Ms. France, Domino became one of my favourite Bond girls. She’s simply stunning. Her onscreen voice was provided by Nikki Van der Zyl, something I didn’t learn until years later. Though I did realise she sounded like other female characters that had appeared in the series.
Speaking of other character, Felix Leiter make another welcome appearance in the series. This time, however, he’s played rather forgettably played by Rik Van Nutter. And while there are a couple of henchmen, no one on par with Goldfinger’s Odd Job.
The film series does introduce a couple of things that would be recurring throughout the series – the bad girl who can’t be corrupted by Bond’s charm or libido. In this case Fiona (Luciana Paluzzi), who is wonderfully devious, and seems to revel in her allegiance to SPECTRE.
The other final piece of the Bond puzzle was the title sequence, featuring Tom Jones belting out the theme song, featuring music by John Barry, who also delivers a beautiful, bombastic score, and re-introduces The 007 Theme, which first appeared in From Russia With Love, which was created by Maurice Binder, who, much like other crew members, and department heads, would be with the series for quite some time.
The film doesn’t give Bond a lot of characterisation beyond what has already been established in the other films. Instead, the character slips into women’s arms with ease, throws a punch, and fires a gun as easily as he deals out the quips. And he’s got some brilliant ones in this film. Instead, the locations and the gadgets seem to take centre stage. And while it’s fun to see Q (Desmond Llewelyn) outfitting Bond on the run, as it were, there are a few too many of them in the film. Though it’s hard to beat the appearance of the Aston Martin DB5 at the beginning of the film, and a rocket pack, there’s just a few too many gadgets for this entry.
That being said, none of that detracts from my love of the film. It’s just a big rambunctious entry in the series, despite it’s slower-pace. That being said, the violence in the film has more of an edge than it did in Goldfinger. Young’s direction brought that grit to the fore while Guy Hamilton’s style was more smooth-edged and colourful.
In advance of the film’s release on 21 December, 1965 (having its premiere in New York, before opening wider in the western world in a week’s time), theatrical posters began to make their appearances. This time the North American and UK posters share the same art. And it’s gorgeous, featuring a trio of panels highlighting set pieces, moments, and beauties as featured in the film. The painting was done by Robert McGinnis and Frank McCarthy. They definitely call to the modern mind how beautiful film posters used to be. And how they aren’t works of art any more, but just advertisements.
On a side note, I rather dig the Japanese one sheet. It features hand-tinted shots that form a collage and just conveys, excitedly, the sense of adventure and fun viewers could expect as they settled in for this adventure.
And what an adventure it was, sharks, spear guns, nuclear weapons. A massive underwater battle directed by Ricou Browning, chases, betrayals, gadgets, beautiful women. And at the centre of it all, unflappable and cool, Bond, James Bond, as only Sean Connery could play him.
The film closed out with the reminder that James Bond Will Return. It was originally planned that On Her Secret Service would be next. But when pre-production on that continued to flounder, they producers decided they would send 007 to Japan in You Only Live Twice.
John Barry’s soundtrack for Thunderball wasn’t the only tie-in piece of material fans could get. The books were constantly in print, now with images from the films on the covers. And toys were continuing to appear. Bond fever, and spy-fever in general continued to sweep the cinematic world. And while there would be countless imitators (even to this day) there was only one 007 franchise.
I wish to extend my thanks again to DK Canada for allowing me use of their 007 reference books, James Bond: 50 Years of Movie Posters, Bond By Design: The Art of the James Bond Films, and The James Bond Encyclopedia.