With the fourth James Bond movie, Thunderball, we are firmly in the established Bond formula. There is the over-the-top opening sequence – This time with Bond escaping via jet pack. There are the dancing female silhouettes in the main credits. Bond flirts with Moneypenny, who gives as good as she gets. Our baddie is a one-eyed man who works for the still-unseen Blofeld. And there are beautiful women, one of whom beds Bond before trying to kill him. He turns the tables on her using her as a shield against her own men. And of course, that scene ends with a Bondian quip: “She’s just dead” he informs a couple at a bar when he lowers his would-be assassin’s body into a chair.
Thunderball‘s premise is one that carries the series well into the Roger Moore era: Nefarious evil organization (SPECTRE for the remainder of Connery’s tenure) holds the world hostage for something shy of…
One hundred billion DOLLARS! (More like a few hundred million in diamonds.) Yes, everything that went into the Austin Powers movies is somewhere in Thunderball (and You Only Live Twice. And On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. And Diamonds Are Forever.)
Thunderball is not quite as silly as the later films, but it has its moments. Q becomes more of a foil for Bond. And of course, Felix Leiter is played by a completely different actor.
Early in the movie is a squick-inducing sequence where Bond fairly forces his affections on a reluctant therapist. When Bond is trapped in a spine-stretching contraption (Do they not have chiropractors at that joint?), he informs her his silence can be bought for a price, after which he pushes her into the sauna over her protests. Later, she is moaning with pleasure as he rubs her down with a mink glove. It’s not something that would have gone over well only a few years later, and it certainly would never be shot (at least as written in 1965) in the #metoo era.
On the other hand, props have to be given to Claudine Auger (and voice actress Nikki van der Zyle) as Domino. She is beautiful and feisty, not hard to convince to turn on Emilio Largo once she learns he killed her brother. I do find the producers’ habit of casting one actress then using another to loop lines a bit tedious. It often sounds cheesy, and it’s not like one couldn’t find an attractive actress who could speak her own lines. I have to think this was a conceit of Harry Saltzman’s. When Saltzmen departed EON, the dubbing stopped. Note that, later, Diana Rigg and Jill St. John, along with the troika of on-screen Blofelds (Pleasance, Sevalas, and Gray) also do their own lines.
Adolfo Celi is excellent as the coldly efficient Emilio Largo, who is not done in by his own arrogance but rather is outsmarted by Bond and Leiter. And in Largo’s defense, our intrepid MI6 and CIA agents have to work for it.
Of course, we now have the final piece of the Bond puzzle show up in this movie: The outlandish final battle, which of course, includes blowing up the headquarters, in this case, Largo’s yacht, the Disco Valante.
Overall, it’s actually better than Goldfinger, having more in common with Licence to Kill than, say, You Only Live Twice. But it doesn’t quite have the suspense of From Russia with Love, and is sliding headlong toward the parodies of the Roger Moore era.