Bond Goes Deep!: THUNDERBALL (United Artists 1965)

cracked rear viewer

THUNDERBALL, the fourth 007 adventure, will always hold a special place in my heart. It’s the first James Bond movie I saw at the theater, released at the height of the Secret Agent/Spy craze, and I was totally hooked! I even had all the toys that went with the movie, including Emilio Largo’s two-part boat the Disco Volante, with which I engaged in mighty battles in the bathtub against VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA’s Seaview (hey, I was only seven!).

SPECTRE is at it again, this time hijacking a NATO jet loaded with two nuclear bombs, and holding the world hostage. Bond, sent to recuperate at a health spa, stumbles on to trouble related to the crisis, and is sent by MI6 to investigate Domino Derval, sister of the NATO pilot. This leads 007 to Domino’s “guardian” Emilio Largo, a rich and powerful man who’s Number Two…

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Book Review: Thunderball by Ian Fleming

After the publication of Goldfinger in 1959, Ian Fleming’s next installment in the adventures of James Bond would be a short story collection, 1960’s For Your Eyes Only.  It would not be until 1961 that another Bond novel would be published.

That novel was Thunderball.

Thunderball originally began life as a screenplay.  In 1959, Ian Fleming met with producer Kevin McClory to discuss the possibility of McClory producing a Bond film.  Working with McClory, Fleming developed not only the basic storyline of Thunderball but also created the villains who, in the 60s, would replace the Russians as being Bond’s main villains.  It was while working with McClory that Fleming first created both SPECTRE and its enigmatic leader, Ernst Stavro Blofeld.

Ultimately, Fleming and McClory had a falling out, putting a temporary end to McClory’s plans to produce the first James Bond film.  Instead, the first Bond film would be produced by Harry Saltzman and Albert Broccoli and Fleming would turn the screenplay into a novel.  This led to problems when McClory and screenwriter Jack Wittingham sued Fleming, claiming that they owned the rights to Thunderball’s story.  As a result of a settlement, McClory won the right to produce the eventual film version of Thunderball, with Broccoli and Saltzman received executive producer credits.

McClory would later claim that, as the producer of Thunderball, he had the right to produce other James Bond films as well.  This led to several years of lawsuits, during which time McClory remade Thunderball as Never Say Never Again.  Reportedly, he was trying to raise money for a third remake when he died in 2006.  (Later, the McClory estate would sell the rights to Thunderball, SPECTRE, and Blofeld to MGM.  The end result was SPECTRE, a film that totally wasted one of Fleming’s most intriguing villains.)

Reading Thunderball, it’s easy to see that Fleming was thinking in terms of cinema when he came up with the story.  Most of the action takes place in the always photogenic Bahamas.  There are lengthy action scenes, involving planes being hijacked and underwater combat.  The storyline, which features two atomic missiles being stolen by SPECTRE’s Emilio Largo, is tailor-made for the movies.

Thunderball even starts with a lengthy prologue, the type that should be familiar to anyone who has seen any of the Bond films.  M sends Bond to a health spa, where Bond ends up getting targeted by an international criminal named Count Lippe.  The health spa scenes are among the most enjoyable in the book.  Not only is Bond forced to drop all of his “bad” habits but afterward, he actually discovers that he does feel healthier and more active.  Soon, he becomes a bit of a health fanatic and gets on the nerves of almost everyone who works with him with all of his “good” habits.  It’s easy to imagine that Fleming was having a little bit of fun at the expense of all the critics who claimed that Bond was  somehow a bad role model.  Of course, by the next novel, Bond was back to all of his old habits.

As for the rest of Thunderball, this was a book that I wanted to like more than I actually did.  After Bond gets finished at the health spa, he gets sent to the Bahamas track down the missiles and it becomes a rather standard thriller.  It doesn’t take long for Bond to both figure out that Emilo Largo stole the missiles and to seduce Largo’s mistress, Domino.  Felix Leiter makes another welcome appearance but, on the whole, it all feels rather slow and uninspired.

However, Thunderball will always be an important work in the Bond canon because it introduced the world to Blofeld.  Though Bond and Blofeld never meet (that would have to wait for later novels), the book’s best chapters deal with Blofeld’s background and the way he manages SPECTRE.  As is typical of many of Fleming’s villains, Blofeld is described as being someone who does not drink, does not smoke, and who has no interest in sex.  A reoccurring theme in all of Fleming’s Bond novels is that a man with a certain amount of minor vices is far more trustworthy than a man with none.  It’s a good thing that Bond eventually recovers from going to that health spa because otherwise, he never would have been able to defeat SPECTRE’s nefarious schemes.

Fleming would follow Thunderball with one of his most controversial novels, The Spy Who Loved Me.  We’ll look at that one tomorrow!

James Bond Review: Thunderball (dir. by Terence Young)

The Shattered Lens is taking on all of the Bond Films, one a day until the U.S. Release of Skyfall on November 9th. Today, we approach the fourth Bond Picture, Thunderball. Before I start, I should note that this film actually has a bit of controversy behind it. Thunderball had the potential to become one of the first Bond films, but a law suit in 1961 stating that Ian Fleming’s novel for the story was based on the screenplay for the film. Producer Kevin McClory was able to win the lawsuit and hold on to the rights. This would later result in 1983’s Never Say Never Again, with Sean Connery returning to play the same role in the same story as he did in 1965. In the meantime, Dr. No, From Russia With Love and Goldfinger were released with great success.

Before watching the movie, I watched a 1965 documentary from NBC called “The Incredible World of James Bond”, which talked about Ian Fleming, James Bond, and the overall popularity of the character. By the time Goldfinger came out, you’d find lines around theatres all around the world. People were buying colognes and watches – if it had 007 written on it, it was an easy sale. Both the books and the movies were doing extremely well. So with Thunderball being the latest release, it was similar to having perhaps the next Harry Potter or Twilight film on the way. I also learned that Q (Desmond Llewelyn) actually has a name, Major Boothroyd. That was cool to discover.

I wish I could say that I enjoyed Thunderball.  It’s the only Bond film I’ve never seen and the production values for the film were some of the most elaborate around at the time of it’s release. They went out of their way to create submersible machines and other equipment, but the fact that so much of the film took place underwater really caused me to lose interest in what was going on. Granted, it may be fun for many people, but I really wanted to them to give me a few more locales under than the major underwater harpoon fight that occurs near the film’s action climax. Both Tom Jones’ theme song (which describes Bond’s approach to things) and John Barry’s score help to set the mood of the story.

Thunderball continues the SPECTRE story started with Dr. No. Originally, this was supposed to be SMERSH, but that was a real group, much like the KGB or CIA. For movie purposes, SMERSH became SPECTRE to avoid giving any of the Bond stories an anti-nation slant. This would also be done with Quantum of Solace, the organization being something private rather than being any kind of counter intelligence group. This time around, the story opens with Bond attending the funeral of one of the SPECTRE members, and on seeing his wife getting into a car on her own (something I didn’t see as wrong), he follows her to her home to confront her. It’s revealed that the widow is actually the SPECTRE agent (I wasn’t expecting the punch that revealed it), and in the fight Bond ends up killing him. He makes a quick exit and uses a jet pack to get out of the building, where his Aston Martin is waiting for him. It was kind of interesting to see that there was that kind of technology in the 60s.

SPECTRE agent Emilio Largo (Adolfo Celi) is given the task to acquire two Nuclear weapons and decides he’s going to blow up Miami if he doesn’t get his way. Bond is assigned to stop him, and along the way he meets Domino (Claudine Auger), who assists him on this.

At the time of it’s release, Thunderball was a major hit and even won an Academy Award. It managed to come out at the height of Connery’s career as the secret agent. It does suffer from one or two flaws. As most of the story takes place on or near a beach, there are tons of underwater sequences, including a full out battle. Even Finding Nemo took some time to stay on the surface once in a while. This doesn’t make Thunderball a terrible film at all, it simply focuses the story on one element. I would have liked a little more variety.

Q’s gadgets for Bond this time around included a Geiger Counter, a rebreather, an underwater camera, and a personal flare gun, all for the life aquatic.

Overall, Thunderball’s a good film to watch if you’re doing what we’re doing here and are watching the films in a series. You may find yourself a little bothered by the amount of underwater scenes, but the movie still manages to keep some of the spy vibe of the earlier films. Below is Tom Jones’ theme to the film. Tomorrow, the Shattered Lens will take on the David Niven / Peter Sellers version of Casino Royale.