My bond with… Bond: Thunderball (1965)

By Christian DiMartino

I’m not sure if I’ve ever discussed this on this page, but for the last 15 years, I have been a big fan of the James Bond series. I started watching them as a nine year old and even though some aren’t so great, they are usually at least pretty entertaining. I remember how proud I was of myself when I memorized each of the movies in chronological order… again, I’m a dork. So with the arrival of Bond’s next outing, No Time to Die, finally hitting theatres next month (as a Bond-aholic, November is a more fitting month, but it’s whatever), it seemed like an ample time to stroll down memory lane.

Thunderball is the fourth installment in the James Bond series, and as a Bond movie, it checks in off all of its boxes. The women and the scenery are beautiful. The action sequences are a marvel. The villain has a memorable appearance. Plus you have Sean Connery for the fourth time, which is always good to have on your side. The film is a notch below From Russia with Love and Goldfinger, but as a piece of filmmaking spectacle, it’s certainly worth your while.

Revisiting Thunderball last night, I was pretty blown away by the filmmaking. The film is directed by Terence Young, who made the first two Bond outings and would go on to make the great Audrey Hepburn vehicle Wait Until Dark. Watching Thunderball again, I imagined what it must’ve been like to witness this film on the big screen in 1965. The movie is over 55 years old, and I’ll be damned if it hasn’t aged like the finest of wines, give or take a green screen shot or two that is a little less convincing. Still, the thing that burns in the memory most about Thunderball is its underwater action sequences, and Lordy, they are a beaut.

The opening prologue in Thunderball is pretty awesome. As the film opens, we see that there is a funeral, and on the casket is the initials “JB.” Gasp! Well, give it a minute though, and we see that Bond (Connery, always a charmer) is actually attending the funeral, and the funeral is for a fella named Jacques B… something, don’t remember the last name. Anyways, following the service, Bond meets privately with the widow, who has a veil covering her face, to share his condolences. And surely enough, Bond socks her right in the face, in one of the film’s multiple moments that bring glee to anyone who has seen Austin Powers.

As it turns out, the widow is Jacques himself, an agent of SPECTRE. So after fighting him off, Bond retreats out of the building and heads for a jet pack, and flies off. Awesome stuff. Then, we get the opening title song, this time sung by Tom Jones as we see the silhouettes of women floating around in the water. The song, and the sequences, is so Bond, and so Tom Jones, and so 60s, I can’t help but adore it.

As for the plot of this movie, well, it’s a notch below the previous two films because its story isn’t nearly as memorable as its images, but the film is always moving at a great pace. First in command at SPECTRE is… well, he’s just known as Number One at this point. So left in charge of stopping Bond this time is his number 2 man. His name: Number 2. Nah I’m joking, his name is Emilio Largo (Adolfo Celi), but he is Number 2, and the obvious inspiration for the Robert Wagner character from Austin Powers in that he sports an eyepatch. Number 2… I mean, Largo’s, big evil plan is… something involving missiles? I think?

Oh my bad, they’re nuclear warheads. Largo has nabbed two nuclear warheads, and before doing so, sends out a couple of hits on Bond, via massage chair and what not. It’s good fun. But the fun begins once Bond tracks Largo down to the Bahamas, where he carries out his evil plan. While there, Bond flirts with a few women, some good, some not so good, but he catches the eye of Domino (Claudine Auger), who is Largo’s mistress. All of this builds to a sensational underwater climax in which there is a battle under seas. It’s cool stuff.

The women in this film are as beautiful as the sights. Sure, they’re not the most dimensional of characters, but they serve their purpose in a film like this. As for the locations, yeah, they’re pretty stunning. The cinematography from Ted Moore (who worked on the first three films) was snubbed of an Oscar nomination. Not even for just capturing the underwater stuff, but for capturing the beauty of the Bahamas in general. I doubt there was a much better looking movie in 1965.

The plot of Thunderball isn’t as compelling as the hurdles Bond is forced to make through it. The film has a plethora of great set pieces, it’s funny, it’s sexy. The villain, however, doesn’t burn in the memory as much as, say, Red Grant or Goldfinger. You remember his image, mostly because of Austin Powers. Yet his plan and character kind of get lost among the spectacle. Auger is another one who kind of gets lost. She’s absolutely gorgeous, but she’s only really there to look pretty.

No biggie though, for a film that truly does deliver the goods, and sometimes the greats. It doesn’t quite reach the heights of Connery’s previous two Bond outings, but it’s not too far off. In fact, this is kind of an underrated Bond outing, in that nobody seems to talk about it, but it’s honestly pretty fun and it’s an impressive piece of filmmaking. It also makes great use of Connery, as always. He’s funny, and charming, and one of theshe daysh, I will write a Bond review in hish voish. But not today.

James Bond, and I, will return with You Only Live Twice.

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