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Thunderball

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4

All-Reviews.com Movie Review: Thunderball

Starring: Sean Connery, Claudine Auger
Director: Terence Young
Rated: PG
RunTime: 129 Minutes
Release Date: December 1965
Genres: 007, Action, Suspense, Classic


*Also starring: Adolfo Celi, Luciana Paluzzi, Rik Van Nutter, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell, Desmond Llewelyn, Roland Culver



Review by Dragan Antulov
3 stars out of 4

"Which Bond film is the best?" is a question commonly asked among filmophiles. There are different answers, but most of the Bond fans usually name one of the first five films of the franchise - Bond classics that made character of James Bond inseparable from the image of Sean Connery. Among those five films the most popular choice is GOLDFINGER, but judging by strictly commercial standards, the best Bond film was made a year later. THUNDERBALL, directed by Terence Young in 1965, was most profitable film in the history of the franchise. Eighteen years later, the same film was subjected to remake in the form of NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN, but the reason had less to do with the general quality of the script and more with unsettled copyright issues. The original novel was co-authored by series' creator Ian Fleming and Kevin McClory, who later claimed copyright on the character. In 1965 producers and McClory were trying to co-operate, and McClory took part in the screenplay.

The plot begins with British secret agent James Bond (played by Sean Connery) recuperating in English health spa after another dangerous but successful mission. By accident, the spa is located near RAF base that hosts pilots from different NATO nations. One of them, Lieutenant Derval (played by Paul Stasino) gets involved in a hijack of Vulcan bomber that carries two nuclear bombs. This is the work of SPECTRE, global criminal organisation that blackmails British and US government, demanding huge amounts of money in exchange for safe return of the bombs; if SPECTRE doesn't get paid, the bombs would be detonated on UK and US mainland. Faced with unprecedented case of nuclear terrorism British secret service gathers all their top agents, including Bond, in order to locate the missing plane and possibly thwart SPECTRE plans. The only clue leads Bond to Bahamas where he meets pilot's young and beautiful sister Dominique (played by Claudine Auger), who is currently cruising Bahamas on the yacht owned by her "uncle" Emilio Largo (played by Adolfo Celi). Largo doesn't like this, because he happens to be top SPECTRE operative who had executed the operation. When Bond and his CIA colleague Felix Leiter (played by Rik Van Nutter) begin investigating, they would be faced with many of Largo's henchmen, including seductive but deadly female assassin Fiona Volpe (played by Gabriella Paluzzi).

THUNDERBALL was supposed to be the first Bond film, but aforementioned copyright problems caused producers to choose DR. NO instead. It turned out to be a good thing for THUNDERBALL - in 1965 success of previous three films guaranteed both the huge budgets and huge hype which led to record performance at the box- office. This success was justified, because THUNDERBALL fits all the high standards we might expect from a Bond classic - intelligent script, realistic characters, breath- taking stunts, spectacular action, exotic locations and even more exotic women - all that under superb direction and highest production values of its time. What was unfortunate for this film is the fact that it was made a year after GOLDFINGER. In most cases the unavoidable comparisons between the two usually favour former over latter. THUNDERBALL is already showing some weaknesses that would plague Bond series in decades to come.

The script by Richard Maibaum and John Hopkins is not one of those weaknesses. The motive of nuclear blackmail still retains down-to-earth realism of the first Bond movies and it is even more realistic in today's world, when more nations possess such weapons. The plot, despite a minor hole or two, works well. Characters, on the other hand, don't.Character of Bond was, naturally, unchanged; evolution of the role ceased and that meant that Connery can play him without contributing anything original. This was supposed to be compensated with other intriguing characters, but THUNDERBALL, at least partially, disappoints. Chief villain Emilio Largo is portrayed as intelligent, efficient yet menacing, which makes him superior to the laughable villains of later Bond films. Unfortunately, his character remains one- dimensional and talents of great Italian actor Adolfo Celi seem wasted (for the author of this review additional problem is in the fact that he remembers Celi as much superior villain in SANDOKAN and mini-series BORGIAS).

Bond girls, another important element of the formula, are here represented with three ladies that would satisfy all the different tastes, at least when the hair colour is an issue. Bond's partner Domino, which represents brunettes, is played by former Miss France Claudine Auger. Although stunningly beautiful, Domino lack depth in character and Auger's romantic scenes with Connery lack the right amount of chemistry. Molly Peters, girl representing blondes, has smaller but more effective role of Bond's nurse. Both of them fall in the shadow of Luciana Paluzzi, Italian actress that represents redheads. Physically attractive, yet immoral, ready to use her body for nefarious purposes as well as kill in cold blood, Fiona Volpe could be viewed not just like femme fatale but also as some kind of Bond's opposite. To make her character even more rounded, Fiona Volpe is given some lines that could be interpreted as screenwriters' answer to feminist accusations over sexist stereotypes used while creating character of Pussy Galore in GOLDFINGER.

The lack of dimension within film's character is hard to notice, because the main attraction of the film lies in action. Terence Young, who had directed first two Bond films, does his job more than capably and we hardly notice that the film lasts more than two hours. The action scenes are perfect, especially the Vulcan hijacking - one of the best moments in the history of Bond series. Another interesting thing about THUNDERBALL is extensive use of underwater photography; this film is the first to feature underwater battle scene that would later become one of trademarks of Bond franchise. The same scene is often criticised for being too long, but it also provided something quite new and spectacular for 1960s audiences. Today's viewers are perhaps less patient, and less able to overlook obvious gratituitousness of certain scenes (like Bond using jetpack and thus ruining quite effective opening scene), but they remain attractive and they don't hinder the plot (which is not going to be the case in future instalments). THUNDERBALL is also helped with the creative talents of composer John Barry who provides new, original material. The film also feature very goo title song by Tom Jones, combined with first true Bond-style opening titles.

THUNDERBALL is not the perfect Bond film, but it still represents the series in its zenith and provides excellent entertainment even after more than three decades. There is one flaw, though. True fan of classic Bond could hardly watch this film without some sadness, knowing that the each consecutive instalment is going to be worse than before.

Copyright 2000 Dragan Antulov

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