Posted November 24, 2010 by editor in Retrospectives


By the time Terence Young’s Thunderball was released in 1965, James Bond was getting bigger: bigger crowds, bigger plots, bigger stunts and most significantly, a much bigger ego. Thunderball sees Bond at his most suave and confident, completely fearless and ready to take the world by storm.


From the word go, Bond is up to his old tricks; revealing weeping widows as supposedly deceased SPECTRE agents, dropping delightfully cocky one liners like flies and taking advantage of the latest technology available to him with carefully placed jet-packs. Classic moments… 

Cut to credits and Tom Jones warbling his way through Thunderball whilst naked, underwater, women gyrate across the screen armed with harpoons. A good chunk of the film is set under the sea, and unfortunately, without a singing lobster to liven things up – this makes Thunderball one of the lower-calibre Bond films with decidedly paced action scenes (there really is only so much scope for action scenes which can logistically take place underwater).


However, Thunderball is by no means a weak film, but whereas ‘From Russia With Love’ and ‘Goldfinger’ brought explosive action unlike anything audiences had ever seen, Thunderball takes a step back and allows Bond a bit more freedom as a character. Although the plot is just as tension-laden as its predecessors, we see less of the action from Bond himself – Thunderball really is more of a triumph of personality and wits than gadgets and explosions.

Sean Connery once again excels in the role of the ‘double ‘0’’ super agent. He immerses himself in Bond like a second skin and accordingly gets away with plenty of mischief and self-congratulating misogyny (I’m sure blackmailing a woman for sex wouldn’t be acceptable coming from anyone but Bond!). At the same time Bond is true to form, following through with the traditional saving the world, this time from the greedy, more-money-than-sense, nuclear bomb stealing  Emilio Largo (Adolpho Celi), SPECTRE’s No.2, and getting the girl.


The majority of the film is set on the picturesque island of Nassau, in the heart of the Bahamas and the laid back, beautiful-people’s-club feel of the set lends itself to Bond’s decidedly laid back tactics for foiling the plot: these rarely stretch further than scuba diving with Largo’s beautiful mistress Domino (played by the sumptuous Claudine Auger), this installment’s Bond Girl, and taking advantage of his “pretending” to befriend Largo by paying regular visits to his private island with its shooting range, shark tank and on-tap cocktails.


That is not to say that Thunderball is without its tense moments. These are instigated for the most part by Fiona Volpe (Luciana Paluzzi), Largo’s right hand woman who is intent on putting an end to Bond’s meddling ways once and for all. Volpe has one of the most memorable lines of the film; despite her distain for him, she too falls victim to Bond’s charms only to be hit with Bond’s sharp tongue as he defiantly states that “what I did this evening was for Queen and Country!” (Dubious, but admirable.) Her biting response; “But of course, I forgot your ego, Mr. Bond. James Bond, the one where he has to make love to a woman, and she starts to hear heavenly choirs singing. She repents, and turns to the side of right and virtue…” voices what many women were perhaps thinking when the film was released: with Women’s Rights campaigns at their loudest during the ‘60s, Thunderball’s inclusion of this line shows recognition of the strong Sixties woman which Bond attracts as an adversary, as well as delivering him a much needed kick to his oversized ba… ego.


Accompanying the plot is an absolutely magnificent score from the unsurpassable John Barry, one of the few people who has ever managed to capture James Bond, albeit through music. Thunderball makes excellent use of Barry’s alternative Bond theme simply titled ‘007’ originally written for ‘From Russia With Love’. In Thunderball it yet again proves the perfect musical accompaniment to Bond’s devilish exploits. Also making a subtle appearance in Thunderball is ‘Mr Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.’ No, this is not a rival to our beloved super-spy, but a song originally composed as the theme for Thunderball, the full version of which never appeared in it. It’s a shame, as Shirley Bassey’s belting vocals are a healthy match for Tom Jones’s powerful ‘Thunderball’ (and yet even the final version of the song doesn’t use her voice!), but at least a light orchestral version of the song is included during the more sedate scenes of the film.


It is also worth paying due to the set design, where present. Much of the film was shot on location either in Paris or the Bahamas but the interiors are wonderfully lavish thanks to the artistic eye of Peter Lamont, without whom the world might never have been blessed with the joy of the tapestry-hidden satellite viewer. The Whitehall assembly of ‘00-‘ agents is memorable as a perfect work of set-design, and SPECTRE’s metallic conference room captures their evil intentions through interior decor alone – accordingly Thunderball’s set has become the foundation for many a spy flick since, and not forgetting the inspiration for much of Dr Evil’s secret mountain lair.


For its characters alone, Thunderball is one of the more successfully matured James Bond films. ‘Debonair’ has no expiry date after all, and if there is one thing that Thunderball has in excess, it’s ‘debonair’.  Not one to re-visit if you’re looking for an edge-of-your-seat thriller, but certainly a relaxing and absorbing watch; besides, if the prospect of about fifty minutes of Sean Connery in a body hugging wet-suit doesn’t draw you in, I don’t suppose anything will.

 Dani Singer