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BlogalongaBond: Thunderball

With the success of 1964's Goldfinger, producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman prepared to make their fourth James Bond film. Originally planning to film On Her Majesty's Secret Service, a unique legal situation regarding the novel Thunderball, which had nearly been made into the first Bond film in 1962, led to producer Kevin McClory approaching Broccoli and Saltzman with the idea of a partnership to turn that novel into a film. And thus Thunderball came to be made. With original Bond director Terrance Young at the helm and a production team growing more and more confident with each passing film, Thunderball became not only a box office hit but perhaps even a better film then Goldfinger before it.


Like the 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 practically letter perfect from the opening scenes at a funeral right up until the climatic fight sequence more then two hours later. Connery excels at the fight sequences in the film from the incredible opening fight right up until the one at the film's end. Connery 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 at a few instances in the film as well. Overall, Thunderball might well be Connery's best performance as 007.


On the villainous side is Adolfo Celi as Emilio Largo. Largo makes for a big change from Golfinger in that he is a villain who is Bond's match in more ways then one. He is everything a Bond villain should be: suave, charming, evil and above all believable none the less. Celi makes the role realistic by staying quiet for the most part, shouting or becoming angry only to punctuate a scene and he does so brilliantly. Celi's physicality works well as does the superb dubbing of him by actor Robert Rietty. As a result, Largo is a compelling villain and a real menace throughout.


Claudine Auger plays Domino in perhaps the best performance of the early Bond girls. Auger, despite being very a newcomer when Thunderball was made, nevertheless brings the somewhat complex Domino 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. Auger as Domino disproves the notion that 1960s Bond girls were merely window dressing easily.


From the excellent main cast, we go into the film's just as excellent supporting cast. Of special mention is Luciana Paluzzi as Fiona Volpe, the fem fatale of Thunderball, who is not only incredibly attractive but also very dangerous and mysterious throughout her appearances even though we don't learn her name until about an hour into the film. Rik Van Nutter becomes the third Felix Leiter and indeed he comes across as an excellent choice for the role. Making appearances early in the film 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 fogetting 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 their usual best if not better.


Thunderball's large budget (at least for the time it was made) is well used throughout the film. 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 during 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 and the like, 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. The action ranges from the truly spectacular opening fight sequence that destroys every piece of furniture in the room to a chase through a parade to the climatic underwater battle and climatic fight sequence above the waves. Above the surface, the work of stunt coordinator Bob Simmons is excellent and never loses a chance to thrill the viewer. 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 Terrance Young's direction keep the excitement up even when that begins to happen. The result is a thrilling action film even nearly fifty years later.


Composer John Barry takes his excellent work for the previous two films and takes it up a level for Thunderball. Barry's score does what any really good film score should do: set the mood of any given scene. The score overall is one of Barry's most suspenseful from the build-up to the opening fight through the hijacking of the Vulcan bomber and beyond. Barry's suspenseful pieces masterfully turn into action pieces in an instant. In fact the best pieces 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 best ever Bond scores.


Thunderball is served by an excellent script. From action sequence to witty lines, suspenseful plotting and interesting character's the script by Richard Maibaum and John Hopkins hits all the right notes as it were in bringing together everything that makes a good Bond film. The script, and the film itself, finds the right balance between the more realistic style of From Russia With Love and the gadgetry and over the top elements of Goldfinger. Thunderball unfolds quickly, though willing to take its time if need be, yet seems to be fairly realistic as it does so. 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 reputation, Thunderball may well be the better film. From Connery's performance as Bond to a better villain, fine Bond girl 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. Overall Thunderball is perhaps a bit underrated and an excellent Bond film overall.