BOND: Revisiting THUNDERBALL - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

Home Top Ad

Post Top Ad


Matthrew Kresal strikes like (you can fill in the rest, surely?)...

With the success of 1964's Goldfinger, producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman prepared to make their fourth James Bond film. Originally set to produce On Her Majesty's Secret Service, a unique legal situation regarding the novel Thunderball (itself their original first choice to be filmed back in 1962), led to producer Kevin McClory approaching Broccoli and Saltzman with the idea of a partnership. And so Thunderball came to be made in place of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. With original Bond director Terrance Young at the helm and a production team growing more and more confident with each passing cinematic installment, Thunderball became not only a box office hit but an even better film then Goldfinger before it.

Like those films before it, much of Thunderball's success is down to Connery as James Bond. Back to the rough and tumble Bond of the first two films, Connery is letter perfect from the opening scenes at a funeral right up until the climatic sequence aboard a yacht more then two hours later. Connery excels at the fight sequences in the film, from the incredible pre-credit sequence right up until the one at the film's end. He also proves to be quite the charmer thanks to his excellent chemistry with all of his female co-stars/characters from nurse Patricia Fearing to Miss Moneypenny and, of course, Domino. Connery even excels in giving Bond a sense of vulnerability for a few effective instances in the film as well. Indeed, Thunderball might well be Connery's best performance as 007.

On the villainous side is Adolfo Celi as Emilio Largo. Largo is everything a Bond villain should be: suave, charming, evil and above all believable as a threat to our hero. Celi brings a lot to the role simply by staying quiet for the most part, shouting or becoming angry only to punctuate a scene at the right moment. Celi's physicality works well as does the superb dubbing of him by actor Robert Rietty, something which I have to confess took me getting the DVD to catch onto. As a result, Largo is a compelling villain and something which many of those that followed lacked: a real menace.

Claudine Auger plays Domino in perhaps the best complex role of the early Bond women. Auger, despite being very much a newcomer when Thunderball was made, nevertheless brings this sometimes conflicted, yet pampered woman to life. Along the way, Auger holds her own against her co-stars and has considerable chemistry with them as well, especially Connery with whom she has an instant chemistry. As the character, Auger disproves the notion that 1960s Bond girls were merely window dressing easily, and gives what ranks alongside Honor Blackman in the previous film as among the best Bond women of the series’ early days.

From the excellent main cast, we go into Thunderball's equally strong supporting cast. Of special mention is Luciana Paluzzi as Fiona Volpe, the film’s femme fatale, who is not only supremely attractive but also a lurking mysterious, and of course dangerous, presence throughout her appearances. Rik Van Nutter becomes the third Felix Leiter and indeed comes across as an excellent choice for the role, ranking as perhaps the most Fleming-esque of the cinematic Leiter’s. Making early appearances are Molly Peters as nurse Patricia Fearing, Guy Doleman as Count Lippe and Paul Stassino in a duel role who both help to get the plot moving nicely along. Not forgetting of course the regular supporting cast of the series including Bernard Lee as M, Lois Maxwell as Moneypenny and Desmond Llewelyn as Q who all give some of their best performances in their roles.

Thunderball's large budget (at least for the time it was made) gets put to use onscreen throughout. Ken Adam once again returns as production designer and the result is some of his best work, from the SPECTRE conference room to the various craft used by Largo and his henchmen in the underwater sequences. The film features excellent cinematography all around, from the many underwater sequences that are splendidly, even beautiful at times (photographed by Ricou Browning and his team) to the ever excellent work of Ted Moore above the waves. The Academy Award winning special effects of John Stears serves the film well, from model work to explosions proving to be worthy of such an award. The result is a fine looking film to say the least.

Thunderball is an action film and it excels at being one. Ranging from the truly spectacular opening fight sequence, that destroys every piece of furniture in the room before Bond escapes via jetpack to a chase through a parade, to the climatic underwater battle and fight sequence above the waves. Many of those sequences showing of the superb work of stunt coordinator Bob Simmons. Below the waves can be a bit of a different story though as there seems to be only so much one can do in terms of underwater hand to hand combat before it becomes a bit repetitive. Thankfully the combination of Peter Hunt's editing, John Barry's music and the direction keep the excitement up even when that begins to happen. Even after fifty-five years, the result is a thrilling action film.

Composer John Barry continues his excellent work for the previous two films and takes it up a level here, as well. Barry's score does what any really good film score should do: set the mood of a given scene, from the build-up to the opening fight through the hijacking of the Vulcan bomber and beyond. Barry's suspenseful music masterfully turns into action pieces in an instant. In fact the best sections of the Thunderball score might be its action pieces, from the opening fight sequence to the underwater battle and the film's climatic fight sequence. The result is one of Barry's best Bond scores and one of the whole series' best ever.

Thunderball is also served by an excellent script. From action sequence to witty lines, suspenseful plotting and interesting characters, the script by Richard Maibaum and John Hopkins hits all the right notes in bringing together everything that makes a great Bond film. Together, they find the right balance between the more realistic style of From Russia With Love and the gadgetry and over the top elements of Goldfinger. In particular, the gadgets that Bond uses don't seem to be over the top or unrealistic at all and actually compliment the film rather then threaten to overwhelm it, as happened in Goldfinger. The result, especially combined with the direction of Terrance Young, is excellent.

Despite Goldfinger's towering reputation, Thunderball is the better film for my money. From Connery's performance as Bond to a better villain in Largo, the intriguing Domino and an excellent supporting cast, it is perhaps a better acted film. Thanks to its production values, score, script, and the direction of Terrance Young, it has excellent production values as well. All of which makes Thunderball a first class Bond film and, perhaps, even the best of them all.

Revisiting Dr. No
Revisiting From Russia With Love
Revisiting Goldfinger 

Matthew Kresal lives in North Alabama where he's a nerd, doesn't have a southern accent and isn't a Republican. He's a host of both the Big Finish centric Stories From The Vortex podcast and the 20mb Doctor Who Podcast. You can read more of his writing at his blog and at The Terrible Zodin fanzine, amongst other places.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Post Top Ad