THUNDERBALL

(1965)
With Sean Connery, Claudine Auger, Adolfo Celi, Lucianna Paluzzi, Martine Beswick, Bernard Lee, Desmond Llewelyn, Lois Maxwell
Directed by Terence Young
Reviewed by JL and JB

Of course I'm evil! I have an eyepatch, don't I?     With THUNDERBALL, producers Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman decided to emphasize the elements that had made the James Bond films successful and downplay the elements that made them good. This is not to suggest that THUNDERBALL is a failure; it's one of the stronger entries in the series, in fact. But it's the film in which the cartoonish aspects of the Bond films started to encroach upon the overall credibility. The premise of the film -- criminal organization SPECTRE steals two nuclear bombs and threatens to blow up a major city if a ransom is not paid -- is a natural for suspense and tension, but those elements are smothered beneath the film's "bigger is better" mentality. There's too much needless complexity (especially in the film's second half) in what should be a clean and straightforward plot; there are too many lingering panoramic shots of exotic locales; and the too-few action sequences are padded out and lethargic (especially the climactic underwater battle, which would still be too long if trimmed by half). And Adolfo Celi, while suitably menacing (especially during the "heat and cold, applied scientifically" business), is a low-rent thug compared to the likes of Dr. No, Red Grant, and Auric Goldfinger. Still, THUNDERBALL has much to offer, including three of the most beautiful and memorable Bond girls; a compelling first hour that lays out the exposition in a most entertaining manner; gorgeous widescreen photography; a nail-biting sequence involving Bond in a tank of sharks; and of course Sean Connery. THUNDERBALL's strengths slightly outweigh its deficiencies, but it's very much the DAY AT THE RACES of the Bond films. 4 - JL


     On a good day there is enough going on in THUNDERBALL for me to call it a classic 1960s Bond film. The faceless Blofeld casts an eerie, powerful shadow over the whole film and Adolpho Celi looks effectively sinister as Number Two SPECTRE agent Emilio Largo, the kind of larger-than-life Fleming villain who keeps a swimming pool full of sharks just for kicks. Connery's performance easily matches those for FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE and GOLDFINGER, and he is given a sharp supply of quips and post-kill one-liners. There are at least two gorgeous "Bond Girls", or four if you include Pat from the health spa scenes and Bond's assistant Paula. And to top it off, there is Tom Jones belting out one of the better Bond theme songs, backed by the kind of of far away yet in-your-face horns that you only find in sixties pop music.

      But when compared to the first three, there are definite problems. Celi looks terrific as Largo but the character himself is unimpressive, with nothing really distinctive about him except his eye patch and white hair. There are also several scenes in which everything he says includes the unnecessary adjective "underwater". Turn on the underwater landing lights! Open the underwater hatch! Okay, Largo, we get it, you're underwater! Now shut up and be evil already! By this time in the series, many of the clever, original elements of the James Bond world were already becoming clichés, and a general air of laziness and carelessness began creeping into the series. The moment where Bond escapes with a jet pack is funny, but you have to wonder where he got it from. In the early section at the health spa Shrublands, Bond is treated on a mechanical spinal stretcher that, like Dr. No's nuclear reactor, has a huge red danger zone built into its settings. Why? Later comes the switcheroo, first seen in FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE and later repeated in YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE, where Blofeld kills the agent you don't expect to die, only this time, because you don't expect it, you expect it. Of course, the biggest Bond cliché of all - the villain knowing James Bond is a spy yet refusing to just flat out kill him -  was exploited hilariously in AUSTIN POWERS: INTERNATIONAL MAN OF MYSTERY.

     As for laziness, how about a pilot being killed with an instantly lethal gas, a gas so potent and deadly, it can only be blocked by hankies held loosely over the nose and mouth. Or a scene of Bond stuck in an enclosed swimming pool filled with sharks, a bit of potentially exciting business completely undermined by an obvious stuntman who looks about as much like Sean Connery as I do. ("Release the underwater Bond!").

     And with this plot - SPECTRE threatening to blow up two cities with atomic bombs - the film has about as much suspense as an afternoon trip to the stationery story. Despite the beautiful Bahamas setting, the film is too often flat and colorless, thanks to uninspired set design and occasionally murky underwater photography. Some of the same problems plagued the remake NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN. Maybe some day, somebody will make a really great film out of this classic Ian Fleming tale. 

     As I said, on a good day this is a classic 1960s Bond film. On an average day, I find its weaknesses outweighing its many good points. Still, refer back to paragraph one for what I would say on a good day.  3 - JB

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