Following the success of Goldfinger, James Bond returns to battle SPECTRE. This time, the crime syndicate has stolen two hydrogen bombs and is ransoming them off to both the British and American government. If the governments do not, SPECTRE will bomb an undisclosed British or American city. James must find the bombs and stop their detonation. Also, underwater footage!
Bond, James Bond:
Sean Connery returns for the fourth of six performances, and he’s fine. Nothing particularly noteworthy here, but that’s just kind of this movie in general. He does not do anything as atrocious as the barn scene in Goldfinger but he also does not give any performance moments that come close to the laser table scene from that same film. It’s a “meh” performance for a “meh” movie.
The script does give him some pretty strong moments though. The first is probably less script and probably more direction/Connery on set. After knocking a dude out cold while faking a phone call, James then wraps the phone around the guy’s neck. It seems like a hugely unnecessary step to take when the guy is already knocked out, but it was weird enough that I appreciated it. The second is better viewed than explained. Comedic bits like that always work for me, and that holds true especially in a movie devoid of much entertainment value.
Tom Jones of “What’s New Pussycat?” fame won the unfortunate task of having to follow Shirley Bassey’s classic “Goldfinger” with this film’s title track. As is the case for just about everything else involved in this movie, this song is fine. Jones doesn’t showcase much of a range here, except at the very end when he hits a relatively impressive sustained note. In response to Bassey’s ode to the villain, this song’s lyrics are about our hero, and how impressive he is, which, yeah we get it. I will say, and sorry to harp on the prior film’s barn scene again (Spoiler alert: I’m not sorry), the lyrics of “any woman he wants, he’ll get/He will break any heart without regret/His days of asking are all gone,” are hardly encouraging that Bond is a guy we want to cheer for. I will say, the line about “his days of asking” is coupled with “His fight goes on and on and on,” so it might not necessarily refer to his prowess with women, but the juxtaposition is unfortunate, should that be the case. In my ranking, this one is solidly in the middle third at #15 of 24, which is fine. Like I noted in my From Russia With Love reaction, the rankings can be misleading. On a scale, a song like this is much closer to my favorites than it is the songs that I loathe, which you will see when I get to the Brosnans (yes, it takes that long for me to hate one of these songs).
This film yet again has the head of SPECTRE shrouded in a bit of mystery. Much like From Russia with Love, Blofeld’s face remains hidden, although Anthony Dawson and Eric Pohlmann both return to portray the physical body and voice (respectively) of Bond’s nemesis. We will finally properly meet the character in the next film.
In the meantime, we are given SPECTRE’s Number Two (as referred to by Blofeld), Emilio Largo, played by Adolfo Celi, and voiced by Robert Rietty. He has an eye patch and a boat and was the one who developed the film’s nefarious plot. He isn’t particularly memorable, which isn’t necessarily Celi or Rietty’s fault. It’s this movie’s fault as a whole. I watched this very recently (this isn’t a Goldfinger situation) and I already feel like I don’t have a lot meaningful to say. I’ll go into the major issue with this film at the end, and I think that issue casts such a dark shadow over this film as a whole, that I’m left with nothing meaningful to say about a performance that otherwise might have been enjoyable.
Before I get into the two main women of this film, I do want to touch upon one of the other two named women who get very little to do in this movie: Patricia (Molly Peters), a physiotherapist that James visits while in a health clinic at the beginning of the film. I mentioned above that nothing as bad as the barn scene from the previous film happens in this film, but this does get kind of close. Patricia hooks James up to some weird contraption that I guess is going to stretch out his back and, after she leaves, Count Lippe (we’ll discuss him a bit more below) jacks the machine up to a higher speed (this scene is unintentionally hilarious, thanks to some really weird filming choices). Patricia is able to stop the machine before James dies (this would have been the death he deserves), but knows she could be fired if her supervisor finds out about the fact James almost died (I don’t know). James then effectively says “I won’t tell him for a price.” And, sure, it’s meant to be playful, and it’s playfulness comes through better than the barn scene, but after she scolded you for kissing her without her permission, maybe don’t proposition her under the threat of getting her fired. Again, 1965 or whatever. But still. I genuinely want to root for this character, but he’s such a skeezeball, it’s hard to want him to succeed.
Anyways, onto the female characters that influence the plot. The first is Domino, played by Claudine Auger and voiced by Nikki van der Zyl (marking the fourth time she has dubbed a character in a Bond film, and the third she’s voiced one of James’ love interests). Domino is Largo’s mistress but falls for James almost immediately upon meeting him (gasp). After having underwater SCUBA sex (why?), she learns that Largo is an evil dude who killed her brother. She ends up working for James and is actually the one to kill Largo (saving James in the process). Actually typing that sentence out makes me think this character is a lot better than I initially gave her credit for, but the more I think of it, outside of that one moment, she’s just there to be a body. She’s there to be a love interest/sexual conquest for James, is basically a sex object for a much older Largo, and then is tortured by Largo upon him discovering that she is helping James. Auger does fine with the role, but again is not given much to work with. Her finding out her brother was killed is a relatively quick moment, not giving her much time to react. Her final act of revenge against the man who killed her brother and who tortured her could have been beautifully cathartic one, but we aren’t given enough time to care for her as her own character for it to really work.
Fiona Volpe (Luciana Paluzzi), on the other hand, is probably my favorite henchperson so far in this franchise. For one, the fact that she seems to be Largo’s second in command marks the second time in a row that our villain’s immediate assistant is a woman, and we get to see her do more with that power than we did Pussy Galore (ugh) in Goldfinger. She takes out a low-ranking member of SPECTRE for being bad at his job, and does it astride a grenade-launching motorcycle. She sleeps with James (less than ideal), but then doesn’t switch sides because he loved her so good (again, different from Galore). It’s a wonderful character moment for her (it really shouldn’t be, but here we are), and even James seems impressed with her restraint. Her demise left a little to be desired, as James basically uses her as a human shield while they dance, and then he drops off her body at a nearby table (“My friend is gonna sit this one out,” he tells the occupants. “She’s just dead!” My reaction to that pun.)
I’ve already touched on Fiona. There are a couple of other named henchpeople, including Count Lippe (Guy Doleman), Angelo Palazzi (Paul Stassino) and Vargas (Philip Locke), all of whom aren’t really around long enough to make an impression. Lippe and Palazzi have bigger roles in the plot, with Pallazi assuming the face and voice of a French Air Force pilot (and Domino’s brother) so that SPECTRE can steal the plot’s atomic bombs, and Lippe being the man who hired him. Both are quickly dispatched, Palazzi for requesting more money for the job and Lippe for not anticipating Palazzi’s greed. Most of this happens before we hit the film’s main issue, so I remember them as fondly as I can remember something from this movie. More than can be said for Vargas, who doesn’t like to eat, drink or have sex. That’s all I remember about him, other than that he gets harpooned to death (“I think he got the point,” Bond quips.)
There aren’t any new sidekicks for James, but Felix and Q both get some memorable moments in this one. Felix, played by Rik Van Nutter (the third actor in three performances) is memorable because of how striking his costume choices are. We first meet him when he’s in a full suit on a beach, which feels, I don’t know, a bit excessive for a CIA agent who theoretically should be blending in with his surroundings. The other costume is a Hawaiian shirt that appears to be the only casual shirt that he owns. He flies a helicopter with James on three occasions and every time he seems to be wearing the exact same shirt. I was so confused when I found out that this was Felix. Surely he can do better than this, not only in the overall quality of the shirt but also in the variety of his wardrobe.
Q (Desmond Llewelyn) is more happily memorable, though. We first see him in a very similar Hawaiian shirt to the one we see Felix in, but, for whatever reason, it works on him (he wore it better). The chemistry that Llewelyn and Connery have is splendid, as these two guys seem to hate each other, for one reason or another. Their back and forth is probably my favorite section of this movie, and I’m excited to see how Llewelyn interacts with the rest of the Bonds, as he sticks around until his death, during the Brosnan films.
Lois Maxwell and Bernard Lee both return as Moneypenny and M, respectively. Both are fine, with the little bit that they are given. I will gladly remind you that Moneypenny can do better than James, though.
The Aston Martin from Goldfinger returns, with added water jets. The car looks like it is in terrible shape, which honestly might explain why Q seems to detest James so much in this movie.
James also flies a jetpack in the films cold open, and, after the initial surprise of its appearance, it’s a fun little moment. It apparently could be used genuinely, although for very small amounts of time. For a movie that felt very short on fun or entertaining moments, watching James fly away from armed opponents truly stands out above the rest.
Q also gives James a waterproof watch that includes a Geiger Counter to aid in the search of the missing hydrogen bombs. Similarly, James receives an infrared camera that also includes a Geiger counter. Neither feature in a particularly memorable way, although it is her use of the camera that leads Largo to discover Domino’s true allegiance.
We also get the rebreather which is basically a smaller version of a SCUBA apparatus. It somehow grants James four minutes of air, despite being the size of a large pencil. We see James use it a small handful of times in the countless underwater sequences.
Miscellaneous Spy Business:
-James Bonding episode for Thunderball. Initially, this was not one of my favorite episodes, but having watched the movie, I appreciate it more. I’m excited to go through episodes that didn’t initially strike me and gain a deeper appreciation for them because of a better understanding of what they are discussing.
-This movie starts at a funeral, and the dialogue is recorded so quietly, I had to rewind and turn up the volume. Seconds later, the action sound effects were set to “destroy your earbuds.” It was an unfortunate transition.
-I know that in the SPECTRE numbering system, Blofeld is Number One. But, deep down, I also know that the true Number One is Smitty Werbenmanjensen. RIP
-There is one scene where James utilizes a recorder in his room. Rewinding it, he is able to hear someone walk into his room. The camera work gives us his point of view as he watches the path that the uninvited individual likely has taken, and it’s a neat little trick of filmmaking.
-On two occasions, this movie hard cuts to a parade, and it scared me both times. I don’t know why I admitted that.
-There are a lot of sharks in this movie, and I feel like the way some of these shark deaths were filmed, I’m convinced they legit killed sharks. I don’t want to research to find out I’m correct and then have to mourn sharks.
-So Largo has an eye patch (I literally referred to him as eye patch when I tweeted my way through this movie) but he SCUBAs. Don’t you lose depth perception when you only have one eye, and wouldn’t depth perception be helpful when SCUBAing? I’m not an expert on either so I’m genuinely wondering.
-So the city SPECTRE decides to bomb is Miami, which feels random. Unless my personal canonical theory is correct: Largo is a timetraveler. He time traveled from 2011 Cleveland to bomb Miami so LeBron would never leave them.
-Another strangely handled action scene is the boat scene at the end. The way it is filmed, I’d guess the boat is going at least 1,000 mph. And most of these characters are just casually walking around on it. Fiona, who just woke up from being knocked out, is able to walk upstairs. None of this feels legit.
Let’s get into this movie’s issue. It’s boring, predominantly because we spend a lot of time underwater. I’m talking extended, minutes-long sequences underwater. And they’re all tremendously bland. Either the action itself is not interesting, like the sequence where we watch SCUBA divers painstakingly put a net over a submerged military plane so that it cannot be seen from above water (which James is able to find shortly after beginning his search for said plane), or inherently interesting action is handled so poorly, it’s robbed of the excitement it should contain. Towards the end of the films, the United States Coast Guard arrives to fend off the advances of several dozen SPECTRE henchmen. This is all underwater, and all the action is shot so that we are mostly just watching guys react to getting harpooned. Any close hand-to-hand combat is choppily edited, or shot from so far away, that you really can’t see the action. This is all underscored with the sound of the combatants’ breathing apparatuses. What should have been a tense final confrontation ends up being a chore to view, and that is the overall impression this film as a whole left on me.
It isn’t a terribly made film, it’s just unexciting. Which, in a lot of ways, is worse.
002 out of 0010.
TJ Hizer Will Return With: You Only Live Twice
Information Sources "Thunderball" Lyrics https://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/tomjones/thunderball.html Thunderball Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thunderball_(film) Thunderball Gadgets Page on 007James website http://www.007james.com/gadgets/thunderball.php Photo Credits Cover photo http://nerdsontherocks.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/thunderball_ver4_xlg.jpg All gadget pictures from http://www.007james.com/gadgets/thunderball.php Smitty https://vignette2.wikia.nocookie.net/spongebob/images/f/f0/Smitty.jpg/revision/latest?cb=20160213220608