THUNDERBALL (1965). Director: Terence Young.
Overlong but generally very entertaining Bond film is a handsome production with excellent photography and some great set-pieces. SPECTRE, headed by an unseen Blofeld (voice of Dr. No's Joseph Wiseman), assigns Number 2, Emilio Largo (Adolfo Celi), to arrange the theft of two atom bombs with which to blackmail the world's governments into a huge pay-off. Bond, accompanied by Felix Leiter (Rick Van Nutter) and female agent Paula (Martine Beswick) travels to Nassau to investigate Largo, where he meets the man's beautiful mistress Domino (Claudine Auger), who winds up helping him. The theme song, sung with zest by Tom Jones, is memorable, as is the prologue sequence, wherein Bond exposes and kills an enemy agent who attends his own funeral in drag. The bit with the sharks in Largo's swimming pool that eat a couple of his henchmen and nearly munch on Bond, is interesting, and the finale on the speeding, runaway hydrofoil is thrilling [none of these sequences are in Fleming's novel; neither is Bond's souped-up car or the lady assassin, Fiona (Luciana Paluzzi)]. Another change from the novel is that Domino's late brother is a good guy. He doesn't steal the atom bombs and kill his colleagues, but is murdered by Fiona and replaced by a double.
Thunderball is a nearly excellent 007 adventure but it does have its detractors. Sometimes the music, while attractive, is much too languid for an action picture, making the pace seem slow. It doesn't help that some sequences could certainly have been trimmed. The sequence when Largo and his men recover and move the bombs from the downed plane goes on forever, for instance. Another problem is that Claudine Auger, while competent enough as Domino, exhibits little personality [Paluzzi is much better as the evil hit woman]. Adolfo Celi is somewhat striking and dynamic as Largo, but his performance isn't that great. Of the supporting cast, Martine Beswick makes the best impression, but she has little to do and is quickly killed off [she also appeared in From Russia with Love as one of the battling gypsy women]. There are a couple of dumb moments. In the novel the lovely gal at the Shrublands health spa uses a mink glove to soothe Bond's muscles after his “accident” on the rack (a well done sequence in the movie). In the film, Bond uses the mink glove on her and tells her how soothing it is as if it's his glove that he carries around in his luggage. When Bond tries to convince Domino how evil Largo is, he says “Largo had him [your brother] murdered – or it was on his orders.” Of course, that means the same thing. What Bond really meant was “Largo killed your brother – or it was on his orders.” Thunderball was remade as Never Say Never Again with the same star.
Verdict: Whatever its flaws, Thunderball is one of the best of the Sean Connery Bond adventures. ***.