Thunderball was one of my favorites growing up. I don’t know if it was the setting in Nassau or the big underwater battle but it was one I always looked forward to seeing. Rewatching it now you can see some of the cracks that started to become apparent in the style over substance philosophy that began in Goldfinger. Terence Young makes a welcome return after handing off the reins to Guy Hamilton but the genie is out of the bottle and Bond will rarely go back to those gritty, spy roots that we saw in Dr. No and From Russia with Love.
Thunderball is a great story. It’s not surprising that Fleming originally developed this plot as a screenplay for a Bond film and in fact it was was supposed to be the first EON film as well. When those initial plans did not materialize it became one of the novels. Legal disputes moved it from first to fourth in the EON canon but it worked out for the best. Bond has slowly been building in this more grand direction and if they had started here, the series might have taken a wholly different form. Instead SPECTRE has been allowed to build over the first few films (taking a break in Goldfinger, the only film in the Connery/Lazenby era that does not feature the organization). Their ransom demand has global implications but still allows for a gripping story in mainly one beautiful location.
My biggest grievance is you could have excised the Shrublands scenes from the film. They reek of plot contrivances and weigh very little on the overall story. Bond and Lippe decide to mess with one another when really one should just kill the other. We also get sexual blackmail which seems totally uncouth for the modern day. Once Bond gets to Nassau however, the plot takes over and it doesn’t slow down until the end.
Bond and Domino actually develop a sweet romance. Bond doesn’t have to seduce her to get him on her side but there’s a real attraction and sweet chemistry between the two. The film actually makes a meta-comment on Bond’s lovemaking abilities being able to sway women to his side given the climax of Goldfinger. Giving that statement is the real scene-stealer, Luciana Paluzzi as Fiona Volpe. Sexy, dangerous and well able to hold her own against 007, she positively burns on the screen. The intensity between her and Connery light up the film and it’s a shame her role is not larger or that she’s not used in later films.
The rest of the supporting cast is dependable but nothing too exciting. Rik Van Nutter has shades of Jack Lord’s more suave Felix Leiter but appears in so few scenes that he’s not given a real chance to shine. Adolfo Celi as Emilio Largo is a fine villain maintaining an aura of cool and steely determination however he doesn’t pop as much as the previous villains have. Desmond Llewelyn continues to steal the show in his scenes as Q and the second half of the relationship is solidified here as Bond carelessly plays with the gadgets during his briefing.
Thunderball is a 7/10. It doesn’t hold up quite as well as when I was younger but it’s still a good film. Some of the underwater scenes do go on for a bit long but the film rarely drags in those moments. The final battle is enlivened by the music and cinematography and it provided a new type of final assault on enemy forces rather than just two sides shooting at each other. Hands down my favorite moment is when Bond catches Volpe in the tub and and when asked to hand her something to put on, he hands her a pair of shoes and sits down right in front of her. Not many people could pull that off. But Connery proves once again that he is James Bond.
1) From Russia with Love
4) Dr. No