Thunderball (1965)

thunderball

“D’you mind if my friend sits this one out? She’s just dead.”

The Scoop: 1965 PG, directed by Terence Young and starring Sean Connery, Adolfo Celi and Bernard Lee

Tagline: Look Up! Look Down! Look Out! Here Comes The Biggest Bond Of All!

Summary Capsule: The one where Bond shoots a bunch of guys, sleeps with multiple women, and uses some really cool gadgets.

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Drew’s rating: Yes I still remember the words to the James Bond Jr. theme song, and no I’m not ashamed to admit it. (“Look out he’s comin’ through, he’s got a job to do… while he rescues the girl! James Bond Jr. chases SCUM… around the world!”)

Drew’s review: As hard as this may be for some of you (those with a Y chromosome) to believe, there are people who don’t like James Bond movies. No, it’s true. These people feel that they’re outlandishly sexist and degrading to women. These people claim that they’re unabashedly formulaic and hopelessly outdated. These people say that they encourage sexual promiscuity and glorify violence and objectify females and cause ringworm.

These people are, of course, absolutely correct. But putting all that aside, Bond films are just damn entertaining movies that everyone should see at least one or twelve of in their lifetime, so nuts to all the rest. Enter Thunderball. The tagline promises us “The Biggest Bond of All,” and until James Gandolfini is unveiled as the latest 007, that’s probably not far from the truth. Widely acknowledged as one of the best in the series, it’s not hard to see why — Connery had by this point truly made the role his, the writing is clear and sharp, the story engaging (no matter how many times it’s been copied since), and a perfect balance is struck between action, humor, and espionage thriller. In other words, all the quintessential elements of a successful Bond film were in alignment, and it shows; there’s no simply going-through-the-motions for the franchise just yet.

The plot… well, you already know the plot, even if you’ve never even heard of Thunderball. Under the direction of Emilio Largo, Number Two (heh) man in terrorist organization SPECTRE, a NATO jet carrying two nuclear warheads is stolen and held for 100 million pounds ransom. If the money isn’t delivered, SPECTRE — led by perennial Bond archfoe Ernst Blofeld — will destroy a major city in Europe or America. Enter Bond and CIA agent/best friend Felix Leiter, who must pinpoint the stolen jet’s location, infiltrate the organization, recover the warheads, and nail several stunningly attractive women along the way. All in a day’s work for Bond… James Bond.

It’s interesting, but one thing you don’t always see out of Bond is stealth; sometimes it feels like he lives in formal wear. The tuxedo’s a classic, of course, but it’s a nice departure to see 007 carrying out more Mission: Impossible-style spying at one point, rather than just shooting and wooing his way through life. It’s also gratifying to observe that the gadgets haven’t started to completely dominate the films yet — they’re neat, yes, but Bond is presented as a resourceful individual who’s capable of making do with a bottle of hooch and a lighter if need be. MacGyver, eat your heart out. On the other hand, not everything works… I’m sure the ending fight sequence was captivating in 1965, when underwater photography was the big new thing, but now it seems to drag on twice as long as necessary, and the shots of the boat aaaaalmost hitting the rocks about 50 times are laughably bad. Hey, you take the good with the bad; but fans used to the cutting-edge special effects of recent entries might feel let down.

Earlier I mentioned that I liked this movie’s balance, and it’s true — none of the stereotypical Bond elements predominate over the others, which is crucial for the most engaging and outright fun 007 flicks. But while it may not hit the extremes in any one category — the plot is nearly believable, the women are beautiful but not especially memorable compared to some of Bond’s liaisons, and Largo is no Goldfinger or Dr. No — it’s a solid effort that’s inspired many a remake, imitator, and parody in its day. Is Thunderball for everyone? No, of course not… if you hate Bond, this movie’s certainly not going to make you change your mind. But for anyone with even a passing interest in the world’s greatest secret agent, this is definitely one of the better entries in the series. A true Connery classic.

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Kyle’s rating: Well, I mean, the fight usually truly is worth it all!

Kyle’s review: I have to pretty much agree with everything Drew said in his review. For some reason, I can’t really muster much enthusiasm to get into a heated argument about any element of Thunderball; it’s never been one of my favorites. As I’ve mentioned in other reviews of Bond films, Diamonds Are Forever is far and away my least favorite of the series. However, Thunderball is up there along with Dr. No and You Only Live Twice as James Bond installments that I generally just don’t care to watch for fun. Which isn’t to say (as I’m sure it seems) that I’m not a fan of Sean Connery or his Bond movies. But for my tastes, although the Connery films defined the Bond film formula, and essentially established all that is “great” about James Bond, I’ll watch every other film before I end up with one of his. Other than Goldfinger or From Russia With Love, that is.

If you want some solid times with good ol’ James Bond, however, and simply accept no substitute for Connery, Thunderball is an excellent film to view to get familiar with the Bond mythos either again or for the first time. Actually, I rather agree with a review I read recently, either online or in a magazine: Thunderball would handily be one of the absolute best films in the series sans the absolutely tedious underwater scenes. Edit those down to the bare minimum, and suddenly Thunderball can legitimately compete with Goldfinger or From Russia With Love as Connery’s best. As it is, though, Thunderball is solidly “just okay.” Sad but true!

Strangely, I always find Connery’s Bond in Thunderball to be too distant and vaguely unlikeable. I’m not sure if it’s just something about the film itself, or if Connery was just getting super-fed up with the role. But there isn’t much fun going on here. I know it might be weird, if you’re a non-Bond fan, to consider the cinematic exploits of a womanizing, quip-happy super-violent secret agent to ever be thought of as fun. But the best Bonds (and for me, most of the series) are absolutely positive totally fun films. Yeah!

For sure, though: Thunderball is much more deserving of praise than scorn. If it were the only film adaptation based on Ian Fleming’s excellent book series, I think James Bond would still be a pop culture catchphrase. Maybe not anywhere near the omnipresent reference material status that name carries with it in reality, but still bandied about with vigor. Thankfully, it’s nothing we’ll ever have to worry about. Hooray!

“Jaaaaane! Stop this crazy thing!”

Intermission!

  • You can really see how Austin Powers took about 3/4 of its jokes from just this one Bond movie. Woohoo, deathchairs!
  • Bond wears the world’s worst sunglasses. Seriously, they’re just terrible.
  • Desmond Llewelyn (Q) looked exactly the same age in 1965 as he did in 1999. Creepy.
  • Bond threatens to spank Moneypenny, hangs up on her, then blackmails a nurse into sleeping with him… and they call this guy sexist? Come on, that’s just really overreacting.
  • In the climactic end sequence, Bond’s wetsuit is the only one that leaves his legs bare, I guess in case he runs into some hot mermaids or something.
  • I love how Bond explains away his philandering by saying he only does it for his country. Yeah, if not for your job you’d forget all about dipping your wick, guy. It’s a tough life.
  • The scene where Bond joins numerous double-0 agents to be debriefed was originally scripted to feature cameos by other famous actors who’d played secret agents over the years.
  • Thunderball was remade years later as Never Say Never Again, the final film to star Sean Connery as Bond (after a lengthy replacement by Roger Moore). NSNA is considered an “unofficial” Bond movie and is definitely inferior to its predecessor, but did feature one cool scene with Bond and Largo playing a bitchin’ holographic video game for money. Man, that thing had it all over baccarat.
  • Adjusting for inflation, Thunderball is the highest-grossing Bond film of all time.

Groovy Quotes

    • Bond: Do I seem healthy to you?
    • Nurse: Too healthy.

Nurse: Funny-looking bruise. Fall?
Bond: Poker. In the hands of a widow.
Nurse: I’m surprised… I’d have thought you were just the type for a widow.
Bond: Oh, not this one. He didn’t like me at all.

Nurse: What sort of work do you do anyway?
Bond: Oh, I travel, as sort of a… licensed troubleshooter.

Moneypenny: Uh-uh, in the conference room. Something pretty big, every double-o man in Europe’s been rushed in, AND the Home Secretary too.
Bond: Somebody’s probably lost a dog.

Moneypenny: Smashing figure. I don’t suppose that had anything to do with your request?
Bond: Was there ever a man more misunderstood?

Moneypenny: James, how else will you recognize her?
Bond: Couldn’t miss – she has two moles on the left thigh.

Q: It is to be handled with special care!
Bond: Everything you give me…
Q: …is treated with equal contempt. Yes, I know.

Bond: That gun… looks more fitting for a woman.
Largo: Do you know much about guns, Mr. Bond?
Bond: No. I know a little about women.

[Walks in on Fiona bathing]
Fiona: Aren’t you in the wrong room, Mr. Bond?
Bond: Not from where I’m standing.

Bond: My dear girl, don’t flatter yourself. What I did this evening was for King and Country. You don’t think it gave me any pleasure, do you?
Fiona: But of course, I forgot your ego, Mr. Bond. James Bond, who only has to make love to a woman and she starts to hear heavenly choirs singing. She repents and immediately returns to the side of right and virtue. But not this one!

Bond: D’you mind if my friend sits this one out? She’s just dead.

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