Bond Goes Under the Sea: “Thunderball” (1965)

James Bond (Sean Connery) continues on his 4th mission; his aim is to recover 2 warheads stolen by the criminal org SPECTRE. The world is held hostage as Bond heads to Nassau in the Bahamas. He is aided by assistant Paula Caplan (Martine Beswick) and faces off against redheaded femme fatale Fiona Volpe (Luciana Paluzzi). Bond makes a connection w/ Domino Derval (Claudine Auger), the girlfriend of a top SPECTRE agent, Emil Largo (Adolfo Celi). “Thunderball” is a military term used by U.S. soldiers to describe the mushroom cloud seen during the testing of atomic bombs. In North America, this was the 2nd highest-grossing movie of 1966, after Doctor Zhivago.

Connery performed the gun-barrel sequence for the 1st time b/c of the new Panavision process used in the movie. Tom Jones sung the title song. Bond’s jetpack was flown by engineer Bill Suiter, as he was one of only two people qualified to fly it. It was originally invented for military use in the 1950s. This is the only Bond movie where we get a glimpse of all 00 Agents in one shot when they’re summoned to M’s briefing. Largo’s yacht, the Disco Volante, was adapted from a hydrofoil vessel which cost $500,000 to acquire in Puerto Rico, then transfer for refitting/refurbishment to Miami. It was given a cocoon shell 50 ft. feet long which could be separated from the main boat (as seen in the finale).

One time, we’d finished filming for the day, and there were hundreds of people milling around on the beach, all roped off watching. Sean called to the set hairdresser, ‘Here, you’, and then he simply pulled off his toupée and threw it at the hairdresser. The hairpiece sailed over like a Frisbee and as the hairdresser caught it, Sean said something like, ‘That’s it, I’m off.’ Everyone just collapsed. It was the funniest thing. -Martine Beswick, recalling a memorable moment from the filming

Julie Christie, Raquel Welch, and Faye Dunaway tried out for the role of Domino; Dunaway was a candidate to be a Bond girl in later films also. Molly Peters (Pat- the nurse in the health club) was the 1st Bond girl to be seen taking her clothes off onscreen; she is (briefly) seen from behind in the steam room. Beswick (who played one of the Gypsy girls in From Russia with Love) is tanned in this movie; before shooting, she was pale (due to years of theater work in England). Before filming, she was required to spend 2 weeks sunning herself to get a tan like that of a native. Fiona derides Bond’s ability to turn women to his side (unlike previous Bond girls). Paluzzi (who does a fine job) first auditioned for the role of Domino. To suit her name, Domino’s clothes are always in black and white. Auger (whose voice was dubbed and acted rather stiff) did her own underwater scenes, being a strong swimmer.

What was memorable re: this Bond movie (now that I’ve seen several in this franchise)? There is a good/realistic fight scene between Bob Simmons (the franchise regular stuntman) and Connery. Simmons (uncredited) plays Col. Bouvard, the man in drag, in the pre-title sequence. I liked the chemistry between Bond and Fiona; I wish she had a bit more to do. Domino and Bond lacked sparks, but she had some fab bathing suits. The various fights in the last 20 mins. (shot underwater) were unique and interesting. Bond’s underwater camera is a Nikonos Calypso I, an evolution of the Calypso-Phot, originally built for Jacques Cousteau- wow!

[1] I’m afraid I don’t consider this among the best of the Bonds, but I certainly don’t it one of the worst. If anything it is a solid if rather middling instalment. My main problems come with the bloated plot which tries to squeeze too many plot twists and high-tech software, pedestrian pacing and… Domino is one of the least memorable Bond girls.

[2] Thunderball has some great underwater cinematography as the forces of SPECTRE battle the US Coast Guard and James Bond on the ocean floor as SPECTRE tries to take the bomb into Miami Beach harbor.

[3] This film could have been called “By Land or By Water” as it would be a fitting title but it would also explain the good and bad here. The bad stuff is pretty much everything on land. When the movie started it just had a “been there, done that” feeling to it that really seemed to sink things and in many ways it just felt like we’ve seen this type of film countless times before and much better.

[4] There is something missing here, a kind of spark that even the great Sean Connery can’t provide.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

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