Thursday, February 23, 2012

Film Review: Thunderball

  • Publisher: United Artists
  • Production Studio: Danjaq / EON Productions
  • Release: 22 December 1965 (USA), 29 December 1965 (UK)
  • Genre: Action
  • Director: Terence Young
  • Producers: Kevin McClory, Albert R. Broccoli, Harry Salzman
  • Writers: Ian Fleming, Kevin McClory, Jack Whittingham

The Girl: Dominique "Domino" Derval (Claudine Auger, dubbed by Nikki van der Zyl). Mistress of Largo, and sister of NATO pilot Fran├žois Derval. Being in the custody of the villain, as well as receiving the shocking revelation that her brother was killed, makes her one of the most sympathetic Bond girls. 4 out of 5.

Other Allies: Felix Leiter (Rik van Nutter), returning CIA agent; Paula Caplan (Martine Beswick), another ally who is captured by Fiona and kills herself with cyanide under torture. Nothing to see here, move on.  Fun Fact: Paula's actress also played Zora, one of the gypsy girls in From Russia With Love.  2 out of 5.

The Villain: Emilio Largo (Adolfo Celi), the number-2 officer of SPECTRE, and engineer of Operation Thunderball. Not that we're far into this franchise, but Largo is the most dangerous-feeling Bond villain we've seen yet. Maybe it's the eyepatch, maybe it's the way he tries to torture Domino in cold blood at the end, I don't know. Shot with a harpoon by Domino5 out of 5.

Other Villains: Fiona Volpe (Luciana Paluzzi), SPECTRE assassin and another of Largo's mistresses, "accidentally" shot by her own henchman; Vargas (Philip Locke), Largo's chaste hitman, shot with a harpoon by Bond. Another mildly awesome bunch, shame they were under-developed. At least Fiona gets her moment to shine when she chews out Bond for making love to her with the intent to turn her to the side of "good". *clap* Truly *clap* brilliant. *clap* 4 out of 5.

The Gadgets: The most famous gadget from this movie is the pocket rebreather, yet unlike most Bond gadgets, this one could not work in real life. Among other things, it needs some sort of air sack that can hold more than one lungful of air. More plausible are the jetpack, the radioactive homing pill, the Geiger counter/camera, and the Aston Martin DB5, now equipped with high-pressure water cannons. 3 out of 5.

The Locations: England, France, and the Bahamas.

The Opening Credits: The first opening sequence designed by Maurice Binder, this one featured silhouettes of men and women swimming in multi-coloured water. Simple, but a visual treat. 5 out of 5.

The Theme Song: Sung by Tom Jones. From the lyrics which paint the target man (Bond? Maybe Largo?) as a cold-hearted, one-track-mind monster, to the high note at the end which apparently caused Jones to pass out after recording it, this track hits you over the head with its bombastic awesomeness. But this was actually a last-minute replacement for another song, "Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang", performed by Shirley Bassey. Despite its late omission, this song is still prevalent in the film's score. Fun Fact: The switch occured because UA wanted the theme song to have the film's title in it. 5 out of 5.

The Novel: Another mostly faithful transition, but that was kind of a forced deal. See, in the late 1950s, Ian Fleming collaborated with Irish director Kevin McClory to develop a James Bond feature film. The project didn't initially pan out, so Fleming went ahead and adapted the script into the novel Thunderball. Not having been credited, McClory was not amused. He sued Fleming for plagiarism, but they settled out of court. When Broccoli and Salzman produced the film adaptation of Thunderball, McClory was credited as a co-writer and co-producer, the damage was far from over. We'll see the further ramifications of the dispute, mostly involving the rights of the name and characters of SPECTRE, when we discuss future Bond movies, so keep this in mind.

The Plot: The film opens with James Bond attending a funeral for another "JB": Jacques Bouvar, a SPECTRE assassin. But it turns out Bouvar is alive, and later tries to take down Bond. Instead, Bond kills Bouvar for real, and escapes via jetpack and Aston Martin. Cue opening credits. M assigns 007 to the Shrublands clinic for some forced R&R. At the clinic, his suspicions are aroused by a mister Count Lippe. Bond breaks into Lippe's room, and Lippe returns the favour by trying to kill Bond on a spinal traction machine. Still at the clinic, Bond chances upon the body of Fran├žois Derval (Paul Stassino), a French NATO pilot who was intended to run a training flight on a plane with two atomic bombs. It turns out he was killed by another SPECTRE assassin, Angelo, who takes Derval's place and crash-lands the flight in the Atlantic Ocean, enabling a SPECTRE team to steal the bombs. The head of SPECTRE announces a £100 million bounty for the bombs, lest a random city in the US or UK be attacked with them. MI6 scrambles the 00 agents to headquarters to begin the search.

Upon receiving his file, 007 starts his investigation in Nassau to seek out Derval's sister, Domino. He meets her once for lunch, and once more at a casino, accompanied with Emilio Largo, for whom she is a mistress. He beats him at baccarat, shares a dance with Domino, and retreats to his hotel room to find Felix Leiter and a SPECTRE mook, whom they shoo out. The next day, Q equips him for a raid on Largo's yacht, the Disco Volante. He discovers that the boat may be used to hold the warheads, but is chased off to shore and hitches a ride to his hotel with Fiona Volpe. The following night, Bond conducts a raid on Largo's estate, Palmyra, and discovers his captured ally, Paula, killed herself under torture. Back at his hotel, he encounters Fiona in his room. They have at it, only for her and some men to kidnap him. He makes a break for it at the Junkanoo parade, but they catch up to him at the Kiss Kiss, an outdoor nightclub. As Bond and Fiona are dancing, one of her henchman accidentally shoots her in the back. (Fun Fact: To this day, fans are divided as to whether or not this was intentional on Bond's part, in which case it would be the first time he kills a woman in cold blood.)
With Fiona out of the way, Bond and Leiter scout the sea and find the downed plane, sans bombs. From there, Bond takes a dive and meets Domino scuba-diving. On the beach, he tells her that her brother is dead, asks for her help, and spears Vargas, the assassin who was trailing them. Armed with Bond's Geiger counter/camera, she starts searching for the bombs on the Disco Volante, but is caught by Largo. Meanwhile, Bond tags along with a SPECTRE team to pick up the bombs, and learns of their first target: Miami. The US Coast Guard engages in an underwater battle and the first bomb is surrendered, but Largo escapes to the Disco Volante. Bond sneaks on board and fights him; in the end, Largo is speared by Domino. Bond and Domino bail out before the ship crashes, and are picked up by a Coast Guard plane. You may now turn off your TV.

As I was first exploring the early Bond franchise, I admit I wasn't that into Thunderball at first. My original hangup was over the pacing, since there are long stretches in the beginning that don't involve Bond. Plus, as a result of the aforementioned rights dispute, this story got a remake in the 1980s, which we'll get to eventually. But as a maturing critic, I've learned to look past all that and can see this for what it is: another solid effort. For all the trouble Fleming had to get this to the big screen (shame he died before it was finished), it was worth it, especially for the character-driven moments involving Largo and Domino. 5 out of 5.

The Call: 90% (A-)

IchigoRyu will return in
You Only Live Twice

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