Directed By: Terence Young
Starring: Sean Connery, Claudine Auger, Adolfo Celi
Tag line: "Look Up! Look Down! Look Out! Here Comes The Biggest Bond Of All!"
Trivia: The title song was originally to be "Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" sung by Dionne Warwick, but was changed at the last minute to "Thunderball" sung by Tom Jones. The producers were concerned about a main title song that did not include the film's title as the song title
Whereas Goldfinger ushered in a brand new style of storytelling, the next film in the Bond series, 1965’s Thunderball, upped the ante by featuring more action than its predecessors, making it one of the franchise’s most exciting entries.
In its never-ending quest to terrorize the world, the criminal organization SPECTRE assigns one of its top agents, Emilio Largo (Adolfo Celi), to oversee the hijacking of a NATO bomber equipped with two nuclear warheads. Once the bombs are safely tucked away, SPECTRE issues its demands to the world: turn over millions of dollars in uncut diamonds, or a major city in either Britain or the U.S. will be destroyed. Figuring the bombs are being stored somewhere in the Caribbean, agent James Bond (Sean Connery) of her Majesty’s Secret Service heads to Nassau, where he cozies up to Domino (Claudine Auger), Largo’s main squeeze, in the hopes she’ll help him track down the bombs before it’s too late.
Along with Connery’s return as 007 (a role he had mastered by this point), Thunderball also showcases such series staples as a pre-title sequence, in which 007 is attending the funeral of a rival who, over the years, killed two of his associates. But when Bond notices something a little unusual about this funeral, it leads to plenty of fisticuffs, as well as a daring escape by way of a jet-pack. This is followed by an elaborate main title sequence, where naked women in silhouette swim across the screen as Tom Jones belts out the title song.
Many familiar characters are on-board for Thunderball, including M (Bernard Lee), Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell), C.I.A. agent Felix Leiter (played this time by Rik Van Nutter) and, of course, Q (Desmond Llewelyn), who supplies Bond with high-tech gadgetry you know will save his life at some point in the movie. As for SPECTRE, Largo, with his black eye patch and stone-cold brutality (he has a swimming pool full of sharks, for God’s sake!), makes for a memorable villain, and early on we even spend a little time with SPECTRE’s leader, the elusive Ernst Blofeld (an uncredited Anthony Dawson), who’s holding a meeting with many of the organizations top agents, discussing the results of their criminal endeavors (during the meeting, Blofeld deals rather harshly with an agent who’s been embezzling thousands of dollars). And then there are the “Bond girls”, all of whom are beautiful; along with Domino, there’s Paula (Martine Beswick), Bond’s assistant in Nassau; and Patricia (Molly Peters), who 007 hooks up with during his brief stay at a spa. Even SPECTRE has the gorgeous Fiona (Luciana Paluzzi), one of the organization’s best assassins. On a scale of 1 to 10, the ladies of Thunderball register an eleven.
But where Thunderball truly distinguishes itself is its action sequences; the extended scene where the plane is hijacked is positively electrifying, and features some impressive underwater photography. In fact, the movie’s most sensational moments happen underwater, culminating in an all-out battle between SPECTRE and the forces of good, in which dozens of combatants duke it out with knives to spear guns. A few thrilling scenes do occur on dry land (there’s a tense chase through the streets of Nassau), but the real excitement takes place deep beneath the sea.
Prior to today, it’d been a good 15 years or so since I last watched Thunderball, and in that time, I’d forgotten how well-paced and entertaining it was. Arguably the last great Bond film to star Sean Connery, Thunderball ranks as one of the series’ most exhilarating motion pictures.