Wednesday, October 16, 2013

#1,157. Thunderball (1965)

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 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. Believing the bombs are hidden 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 will help him find the warheads before it’s too late.

Along with Connery’s return as 007 (a role he'd 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 with 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.

Some familiar faces pop up throughout 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 just 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 is holding a meeting with the organizations top agents, discussing the results of their criminal endeavors. During the meeting, Blofeld deals rather harshly with an agent who has been embezzling thousands of dollars from the organization.

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 in which the plane is hijacked is positively electrifying, and features some impressive underwater photography. In fact, the movie’s most sensational moments occur underwater, culminating in an all-out battle between SPECTRE and the forces of good, in which dozens of combatants duke it out with knives and spear guns. A few thrilling scenes are set on dry land (there’s a tense chase through the streets of Nassau), but the real excitement happens deep beneath the sea.

Prior to today, it had been a good 20 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.

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