‘Thunderball’ Review: Anytime, Anyplace James

Posted in The Screening Room by - January 03, 2016

I’m a fan of most Bond films. There are a few I dislike, and I’m not so big a fan that I could name all the men who have played the role over the life of the franchise, but all in all I’ve found myself smiling gently through most of the movies about the charismatic British agent. For my first assignment of the month I’ve got Thunderball, the 1965 flick starring the not quite British actor Sean Connery as he swims around with sharks.

In Thunderball, SPECTRE, being slowly whittled down by Bond and by internal power struggles, decide to steal two atomic bombs from the British and use them to force NATO to pay them a boat load of money. They do so by giving an agent plastic surgery till he looks like a British pilot, having him land the plane in the ocean where it sinks to the bottom, and then using a submersible to grab the bombs and hide the plane from search. Bond, meanwhile, is at a spa healing up after an assassination and blackmailing a nurse in to sleeping with him during his stay. The spa happens to be the same one that SPECTRE is using to switch their agent out for the real pilot. They try to kill bond because he’s snooping around the spa. He figures out something is up, but the bombs have already been stolen, and the ransom demand already delivered. This is where Bond begins his standard investigative route of gaining access to the criminal organization via woman, being totally indiscreet about his motive until mooks come after him, and then working his way up the ladder of baddies till he gets to the top.

Where Thunderball differentiates itself is in its setting and atmosphere. The film takes place on a tropical island, where Bond walks around in brightly colored shirts and shorts for most of the run time. There are scenes where he’s swimming underwater. There’s an entire battle during which NATO forces have a harpoon fight with SPECTRE mooks in a corral reef. There’s a pool filled with sharks that stunt men jump in to when they disappoint the big bad, Adolpho Celi’s Largo.

There are a few negative moments in the film. In one narrow escape from the villain, Bond swims through a shark filled tunnel without getting attacked “because”. These sharks are described as the most vicious breed on earth, and they eat everyone else that goes in the pool, but not Bond. That sort of vague, luck based obstacle resolution always bugs me, especially in a series such as this, in which your main character is already supposed to be one of the most resourceful men in the world. Also there is of course a poor depiction of women with any real sort of character. Even Luciana Paluzzi playing Fiona, the “villain” female who seems to be disgusted by Bond, still sleeps with him for no real reason except that he’s Bond. Of course, this is no new complaint, and might as well go unsaid. There’s also a character that is recurring and alive until the final scene. A scientist working on arming the nuclear bombs for SPECTRE changes sides at the last second, and is with Bond and his female companion when they leap from the doomed ship speeding toward the reef. However, when the trio dives in to the water, only Bond and the woman come up to the surface to be picked up by the escape plane, and neither character mentions the existence of the man who helped them escape.

Thunderball, while sometimes a little slow, is an entertaining specimen of the Bond franchise, and while it may suffer from the same problems as all Bond films, the spectacle and scope of Thunderball is certainly the reason it is one of the highest grossing in the series, a feat especially remarkable for the year it was released.

Final Say: Watch It

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Born in Arizona, he currently resides in Denton, Texas. When he isn't watching movies he's playing board games and drinking whatever he can get his hands on. John watches Djimon Honsou movies because he likes Spawn, which had Michael Jai White.
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