50 Years of Bond: ‘Thunderball’ Review

Director: Terence Young

Cast: Sean Connery, Adolfi Celi, Claudine Auger, Luciana Paluzzi, Rik Van Nutter, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell, Desmond Llewelyn

Plot: After dispatching a SPECTRE agent Bond is ordered into a day spa to recover from his injuries. While there he notes suspicious activity. When he, along with all the other Double-Oh agents, are tasked with locating two missing warheads SPECTRE is using to hold Europe to ransom he connects the case with what he saw in the day spa.

Review: To say that Bond had really started to get his grove on by this point is redundant. The formula was set in stone and the films around this time each followed a specific theme. Next week it will be Japanese themed, but right now it’s Bahamas’ themed! Practically all of the action takes place in the tropics on a range of expensive watercraft, hotel pools and scuba diving hotspots.

As a result it is certainly a good looking film. Awards were invented so the groundbreaking underwater photography could be properly credited. It does look spiffy even today, with the finale fight between two groups of scuba-equipped soldiers being pretty speccy. The rest of the film is spent on golden beaches, crystal clear waters and bright, colourful parades.

When the film opens it takes a slightly different tack as previous films. In Goldfinger and Dr. No the viewer follows Bond’s journey of discovery while Thunderball goes with the From Russia With Love approach of showing the audience the evil scheme and then builds tension by showing how Bond manages to defeat it. Unlike From Russia With Love we don’t have it spelt out us but see the plan unfolding. It creates a great sense of intrigue as we see the pilot with the surgery being manipulated into playing his part, and more inner workings of SPECTRE and the mysterious Blofed.

Goldfinger casts something of a shadow of Thunderball with the writers clearly trying to emulate the success of the previous film. The villainous Fiona Volpe seems to exist to provide an equivalent to Pussy Galore and make the point that not every bad girl Bond sleeps with turns to the side of good (this claim has since been proven to be false) and the little used detachable boat only turns up at the end so it has a set piece on par with Fort Knox.

What really breaks the tension at a number of times throughout the film is the number of times the villains have Bond at their mercy and do nothing about it. Auric Goldfinger keeps Bond around for the bragging rights and no-one knew he was there or was even plotting a heist, but Largo has the entire British and American secret services after him in force, he’s given them an ultimatum and as Bond has been reporting back to his superiors about what he has found. Keeping Bond alive at this point is only making his plan less likely to succeed. Volpe has Bond in her car, unarmed and unsuspecting, in the middle of nowhere and she drops him off at his hotel. Largo has Bond in his villa, surrounded by guards and Largo is holding a gun – so he gives Bond one and they practice shooting together.

Villainy. You’re doing it wrong.

This silliness winds up making Largo and company far less threatening. While Largo himself is pretty rad with his eye-patch and pet sharks the rest of the villains and Bond girls are uncharacteristically bland. Overall this is a good looking and fun Bond outing, lacking a strong supporting cast to make it really stand out.

Score: SEVEN outta TEN