Critics and filmmakers may prefer “From Russia With Love” and “Goldfinger,” and many complain about those long underwater sequences but, to a lot of fans, Bond #4 remains the ultimate in spy action, intrigue, gadgets, and girls, girls, girls. It also remains the all-time box office record holder of all the Bonds. It’s also only the second, and so far final, Bond film to ever win an Oscar — for special effects of course.
Unperturbed by the 007-related deaths of Dr. No, Red Grant, Rosa Klebb, and countless other operatives, the amalgamated baddies of SPECTRE return with their most diabolical plot yet. The plan this time is nuclear blackmail, as SPECTRE Operative # 2 takes possession of two hydrogen bombs and informs England and the U.S. that they’ll either part with £100 million or kiss one or two of their favorite cities goodbye. Without any viable strategy other than complete capitulation, the only respectable option for the free world seems to be sending Bond to kill, copulate, and skin-dive his way to victory over nuclear terrorism.
With the series chugging along at the rate of roughly one movie a year and a worldwide spy craze underway, an observer might well have expected that the James Bond phenomenon had peaked with the blockbuster success of “Goldfinger.” Then again, a lot of people in 1965 were also figuring that those flash in the pan teen idols, the Beatles, had peaked with “I Wanna Hold Your Hand.”
The EON Production team led by producers Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli and Harry Saltzman knew that their hot streak was still very much in play. They cannily chose to triple-down with a budget roughly three times higher than the already relatively high ($3 million!) “Goldfinger” budget and all-out marketing and cross-promotional blitz. As luck and skill would have it, the most eagerly anticipated Bond film would ultimately top the box-office success of “Goldfinger” by $20 million with a worldwide take of $141.2 million — not quite enough cash to satisfy a Bond villain, but getting there.
The amazing part is that the film was ever made at all, as the project had been plagued by legal difficulties for years. “Thunderball” began life as a screenplay that James Bond creator Ian Fleming developed with, among others, screenwriter Jack Whittingham and producer Kevin McClory. Fleming eventually tired of the complexities of getting a Bond movie on the screen and abandoned the project. He nevertheless used a great deal of the abortive script’s story in his 1961 novel of “Thunderball.”
Things got complicated when producers Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli and Harry Saltzman entered the mix. Broccoli and Saltman’s EON team originally initially saw “Thunderball” as the best kick-off for the Bond series, even if its action would have to be scaled back considerably to fit their budget. A lawsuit brought by Kevin McClory nixed the idea, even though writer Richard Maibum had already completed a screenplay.
The suit was eventually settled out of court by an ailing Ian Fleming. With Fleming having passed on and an obvious cash cow of enormous magnitude before him, victorious rights holder McClory agreed to an EON-produced film of “Thunderball” on certain conditions, including that he be the sole credited producer.
With McClory on board, it was time to reassemble the Bond team. Though flush with success, “Goldfinger” director Guy Hamilton pleaded exhaustion. In his stead, original Bond director Terrence Young was induced to return for one final outing, while such key personnel as editor Peter Hunt, director of photography Ted Moore, production designer Ken Adam, stunt man/action choreographer Bob Simmons, and composer John Barry all happily returned. As per the writing MO on the early Bond films, the work of American screenwriter Richard Maibum was given a more English make-over by a Brit, TV scribe John Hopkins. To handle the considerable challenge of filming underwater, EON turned to nature film specialists Ivan Tors Productions, who had achieved great success filming aquatic material for television with their hit shows,”Sea Hunt” and “Flipper.”
As for the stars, while the pressures of true superstardom were starting to weigh on Sean Connery, he was still on board and not yet ready to kill the golden but increasingly painful goose that was Bondage. For his leading lady, EON passed on three actresses soon to become superstars — Raquel Welch, Julie Christie, and Faye Dunaway — before settling on their final choice. More about that below.
The Bond Girls (Rule of 3 + 2)
Bond keeps up his sexual batting average with his usual three trips to home plate in “Thunderball.” Oddly enough, while more than maintaining his rascally ways when it comes to women, he manages what appear to be purely professional relations with two of the film’s five “Bond girls.”
Madame LaPorte (Mitsuoaka): The part was uncredited, and we never find out much about the French operative who assists Bond’s revenge mission against Jacques Bouvar in the opening sequence. Even so, the subtly exotic Madame LaPorte definitely lends an air of intrigue to the opening adventure. The French-Eurasian actress, Mitsuoaka, born Maryse Guy, was a former stripper who seems to have spent a lot of the sixties riding the spy wave around Europe, having already appeared in such early sixties capers as “License to Kill” and “Agente 077 Missione Bloody Mary.” She passed on in 1995.
Paula Caplan (Martine Beswick): Bond’s gorgeous “island girl” assistant appears to be an entirely competent MI6 operative. Even though we’ve barely seen them even flirt, Bond is clearly upset when she meets an unpleasant but honorable end under the custody of SPECTRE — though not so upset that he can’t handily boff an attractive enemy operative. Very much a cult star in her own right, this marks either the second or third and final Bond-girl appearance for actress Martine Beswick. She had also played one of the feisty-but-affectionate Gypsy women in “From Russia with Love” and might have appeared as one the dancing silhouetttes in the “Dr. No” credit sequence.
Patricia Fearing (Molly Peters): The well-intentioned physical therapist who rescues Bond from a wrenching encounter with a fitness machine is repaid for her trouble by Bond exercising his license to sexually harass. Since it’s still the mid-1960s, Molly quickly gives in to the manhandling, leading to a relatively explicit encounter in a sauna which reveals what appears to be her naked backside through a glass screen. Bond softens up towards her later, massaging the cute-as-a-button beauty with a mink-lined glove. Although she introduces a note of Doris Day-like spunk to her part, “Thunderball” proved to be pretty much the end of the movie line for Molly Peters.
Fiona Volpe (Luciana Paluzzi) — James Bond might have a stunning track record of getting antagonistic women to switch teams, but Ms. Volpe turns out to be an impossible nut to crack, though not so difficult to get into bed. We first see her luring her lover, an unsuspecting NATO pilot, to his doom. She later offs her ex’s lookalike replacement (Paul Stassino) as he, in turn, is trying to kill James Bond. In this case, however, sex or no sex, the enemy of Bond’s enemy turns out to be an enemy. When a seriously irritated Bond uses her as a human shield against SPECTRE bullets, it’s an easily one of the most indelibly brutal kiss-offs in the Bond canon.
Luciana Paluzzi lost out to Claudine Auger for the lead role or “Thunderball,” but she clearly relished playing her joyfully irredeemable villainess and remains one of the most exciting of the early Bond girls. Though Paluzzi never became an international superstar, the actress racked up a total of 83 credits between 1954 and 1978.
Dominque “Domino” Derval (Claudine Auger) — In the novel, Bond’s first appreciative reaction to meeting the mercurial and seriously rude Domino Vitali is to smile and utter the word, “bitch.” Her French filmic counterpart has a sweeter disposition but is still the “kept woman” of Emilio Largo, a wealthy older brute who is hiding his true nature as an international supervillain. Like the character in the book, she proves to have a dark and nervy side of her own, especially when it comes to avenging crimes against her family.
Scores of talented actresses vied for the part of the woman originally written as Dominetta “Domino” Palazzi, but the gently beautiful Claudine Auger wound up with the part, and she is as sympathetic and alluring as she needs to be. (Even so, EON felt it necessary to soften her French accent by dubbing her part.) Auger had argued that she could relate to the role of Domino, who is under the romantic thumb of a much older man, because her career had begun after marrying 41 year-old writer-director Pierre Gaspard-Huit at age 18, and her scenes with Adolfo Celi as Largo do benefit from a hint of psychological realism. Her best known films — at least to English-speaking film geeks –are probably the fact-based World War II espionage thriller, “Triple Cross,” also directed by Terrence Young, and “Black Belly of the Tarantula,” a well-regarded Italian horror-mystery giallo from 1971 that united Auger with fellow Bond girls Barbara Bouchet (the 1967 Bond spoof “Casino Royale”) and Barbara Bach (1977′s “The Spy Who Loved Me”).
Friends and colleagues
Felix Leiter (Rik van Nutter) — The shape shifting ways of 007′s opposite number at the CIA continue as the avuncular everyman Cec Linder of “Goldfinger” is replaced by prematurely grey, suavely macho Rik van Nutter. If DVD commentaries are to be believed, the EON team was pleased enough with van Nutter’s stiff but watchable performance that he was signed to a contract for more appearances as Leiter. The story goes, however, that the writers could not figure out a proper role for Leiter in the next two Bond films. When the CIA man finally reappeared in 1971′s “Diamonds are Forever,” he was once again played by an entirely different actor. Van Nutter also appeared in a number of Italian action films under the name Clyde Rogers, but his post-”Thunderball” movie career seems to be mostly nonexistent.
Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell) and M (Bernard Lee) — Bond’s stern boss and his eternal partner in flirtatious byplay are back again. The comic business with both is fairly limited this time; there’s nuclear terror to be dealt with and not much time to spare.
Q (Desmond Llewelyn) — With the success of the gadgetry in “Goldfinger,” it was only natural that the part of the gizmo-bearing quartermaster would be beefed up further in the fourth 007 outing. So we have an extended and extremely funny sequence as Q, dressed like a typical British tourist with a tropical shirt and sporty fedora hat, gripes that he finds it “highly irregular” that he be forced to travel to the Bahamas to bring Bond the dangerous toys 007 clearly does not properly appreciate. Bond doesn’t seem particularly happy to see Q either. Oh, the buddy action comedy these two guys could have made.
Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Anthony Dawson and Eric Pohlman) — The cat fancying supervillain is back and more dangerous than ever, especially if you work for him. Once again, Blofeld’s face is left unseen. As in “From Russia With Love,” his lower body is once again supplied by Anthony Dawson of “Dr. No” and his dialogue comes courtesy of actor Eric Pohlmann. Audiences would have to wait until the fifth Bond film before finally beholding the face of SPECTRE’s #1.
Emilio Largo (Adolfo Celi)– An up-and-comer within the SPECTRE organization, Largo is Bond’s primary “Thunderball” antagonist, both in his attempt at nuclear blackmail on a massive scale as well as for the affections of Domino. Compared to the pirate Blackbeard by Ian Fleming, the film version of Largo sports an eye patch and a bit of piratical swagger. He is also a chip of the old Blofeld block when it comes to slaughtering his SPECTRE colleagues should they fall short.
Sicilian actor Adolfo Celi appeared in over 100 films, including a number of English language films where his performances were routinely looped on account of his thick accent. (In “Thunderball” he is dubbed by voice actor Ronald Rietti.) A fine performer who, for whatever reason, doesn’t quite manage to be as memorable as past Bond villains, Celi also appeared in the notorious Bond spoof, “Operation Kid Brother” with Neil Connery (Sean C.’s real life younger brother), as well as John Frankenheimer’s “Grand Prix” and Mario Bava’s Bondean comic strip fantasia, “Danger: Diabolik.”
(Short-lived) Lesser Bond Baddies
“Thunderball” features numerous disposable crooks and henchman. Not all of them rate a mention, but the memorable ones include…
Jacques Bouvar (Rose Alba/Bob Simmons) — An assassin very much in touch with his feminine side with whom Bond tangles in the pre-credit sequence.
Quist (Bill Cummings) — A would-be killer whom Bond regards as a “little fish” to be thrown back into the criminal sea. He soon meets a much bigger fish, Emilio Largo’s pet shark.
Count Lippe (Guy Doleman) — The aristocrat with ties to SPECTRE and Chinese Tongs tangles with Bond at Shrublands and is roasted in a sauna for his trouble. Surviving that unpleasantness, Lippe’s luck fails to improve as he later winds up being charred to a crisp in his car, thanks to a kill-order from Largo and the well-aimed bullets of Fiona Volpe.
Angelo Palazzi (Paul Stassino) — You spend years studying to fly, undergo painful plastic surgery to turn you into the exact double of a NATO pilot, ruthlessly murder him and all of his crew, steal two atomic bombs. Then, basking in afterglow of a job well done, you ask for a little raise. Next thing you know, the airhose that’s keeping you alive underwater gets cut with a knife by your supervisor, who leaves you behind for fish food. Working for SPECTRE sucks.
Vargas (Phillip Locke) — Probably out of respect for his skills as an assassin, Largo actually does not kill his apparent right hand man. He does, however, embarrass him in front of James Bond by somewhat mentioning that he avoids all distractions, neither smoking, nor drinking, nor “making love.” In any case, it’s Bond who ends up killing Vargas with a spear gun after Vargas’s bullets fail to do in the superspy, adding insult to terminal injury with a not so witty quip.
License to kill
After the cold blooded murder of the craven Prof. Dent in “Dr. No,” Bond was on relative good behavior in “From Russia with Love” and even more so in “Goldfinger,” generally only offing bad guys in fairly clear-cut cases of self-defense. “Thunderball” is a different story right from the start; the opening climaxes with Bond successfully completing his mission of death by very deliberately breaking the neck of Jacques Bouvar with a crowbar. Later, it appears that Bond intends to assassinate Largo when Domino, furious at the news that Largo has killed her NATO pilot brother, begs Bond to kill him for her, and 007 responds with a passionate kiss. (Of course, it’s Domino who eventually performs the deadly honors.) Later Bond saves his own life by using the extremely treacherous Fiona Volpe as a human shield against a SPECTRE assassin. Although most of the other killings we see are in self-defense, the biggest Bond film yet has its hero racking up by far the largest body count of any of the films so far.
Interestingly, the original novel is almost a pacifist tract in comparison. The scene where Domino requests Bond kill Largo has Bond confidently informing his new girlfriend that such things don’t usually happen, but that any SPECTRE agents captured are likely to get life in prison. It’s enough to make you imagine the literary Bond might have considered voting Labour from time to time.
A great deal of the financial success of “Goldfinger.” both at the box office and in terms of marketing tie-ins, came from the enormous appeal of the gadgets. No surprise, therefore, that “Thunderball” makes maximum use of all kinds of gadgetry, starting with the opening sequence in which Bond flees from his assassination of Jacques Bouvar with the use of a jet pack, setting off a 100 million youthful fantasies that someday we’d all be flying to work. Though that never happened, the jet packs were not miniatures, as you might assume, but very real military prototypes flown by actual test pilots.
The opening sequence also featured a return appearance of Bond’s Aston Martin DB5, presumably a different iteration than the one that got trashed in “Goldfinger.” This version includes a bullet-proof shield and handy water cannons. That’s only the beginning as Q arrives in Nassau with a plethora of devices and others appear out of nowhere, including:
- A waterproof wristwatch with a built-in Geiger counter, perfect for detecting underwater nuclear bombs.
- An pocket sized “rebreather” providing a few minutes of air when other sources of oxygen are unavailable or impractical under water. The U.S. military found the device so believable they were reportedly disappointed to find out that the production team could not provide details on how to make one work.
- A flare gun in a convenient pocket sized canister.
- A “harmless,” just slightly radioactive, homing “pill” which Q wants Bond to swallow immediately. A reluctant Bond waits until much later to do so. No word on whether Q ever got this gadget returned to him.
- Infrared camera with a built in Geiger counter, perfect for revealing your spy status to a cruel supervillain.
- A water jet, perfect for rapid underwater propulsion and leaving a trail of bright yellow gas behind it; clearly it wasn’t created with camouflage in mind.
- A tape recorder hidden inside a hollowed out book.
- A massive skyhook.
Not to be entirely left out, SPECTRE also has some gadgetry of its own this time around. Spiffiest of these is the electrified, retractable conference room chair which conveniently kills theiving and/or incompetent agents with a gigantic electric shock. It then conveniently drops down into the floor and disposes of the body, returning as a clean and seemingly harmless chair. Also noteworthy, and definitely the largest gadget in the film, is Emilio Largo’s yacht, the Disco Volante. It’s actually becomes two boats in times of high duress and also features a smoke screen and built in machine guns.
The exotic locales
“Thunderball” certainly doesn’t fall short on the scenery. The main setting for much of the film is the colorful Bahamas city of Nassau and and the nearby resort, Paradise Island. (Some additional material was shot in and around Miami.) In Nassau, the filmmakers went the extra step of asking the locale residents to re-stage the yearly Junkanoo, a Mardi Gras-like street parade usually held on Boxing Day (December 26). With Bond-mania in full-swing, the residents complied almost too enthusiastically for the production team: some of the floats and groups of marchers were James Bond-themed, presenting a challenge for the production team.
A bit less exotic but no less visually arresting, the pre-credit opening sequence featuring the death of Jacques Bouvar and Bond’s airborne escape is set at the spectacular Château d’Anet. It’s a massive renaissance era construction, originally built for the mistress of England’s Henry II, 50 miles outside Paris. The chateau remains both a private home and a tourist attraction to this day.
It might not qualify as “exotic,” but the Shrublands Health Clinic, which is given an amusingly satirical treatment in Ian Fleming’s novel, was a real sanitarium. Nevertheless, the visually impressive buildings used in the film actually belonged to a suburban aluminum company.
The outrageous villains lairs and good guy haunts
We suppose the great production designer Ken Adam can only take partial credit for the amazing interior of the Château d’Anet, but it’s still pretty outrageous. On the other hand, the secret SPECTRE boardroom, located inside the prosaic offices of a faux charity, is pure Adam insanity along the stylized, ultra-mod lines of his war room in “Dr. Strangelove” and the famed rumpus room from “Goldfinger.” Full of clean lines and exaggerated ultra-modern furniture, we find just how uncomfortable a chair can be as an untrustworthy SPECTRE member is given the electric sack by Blofeld and disappeared via a retractable chair.
Even more spectacular is the MI6 conference room where M and various dignitaries hold forth. With an oblong table where Bond sits with the other, mostly unseen, 00 agents and absurdly gigantic tapestries replaced by giant maps in later scenes, it’s a Fantasyland version of an English government building. Just as over the top, in its way, is the Nassau offices of local MI6 contact Pinder (Earl Cameron). The character of Pinder has little to do other than appear vaguely competent, but his office is more interesting and a good example of Ken Adam’s sense of humor. It’s an intelligence center in an island nation trying very hard not to look like an intelligence center, and so it winds up looking kind of like a U.S. based Tiki bar.
The death of SPECTRE assassin Colonel Jacques Bouvar (spelled “Boitier” in the credits) is one of the more cleverly designed of the James Bond openings for a number of reasons. For starters, it appears to be another entirely disconnected James Bond mini-adventure while actually being partially connected to the main plot — Bouvar turns out to be a SPECTRE operative — and even foreshadowing later scenes.
It opens with the funeral of the seemingly dead Bouvar in a lavish French chateau. As Bond and his beautiful local contact, Madame LaPorte, watch a funeral, the nature of Bond’s assignment is made clear when he admits that he’s sorry Bouvar died of natural causes. Still, all is not as it appears as Bouvar’s beautiful widow — first played in a bit of a cheat on the audience by actress Rose Alba — turns out to be Bouvar himself, played in turn by James Bond stuntman #1 Bob Simmons. The fight, one of the most well-choreographed of the series, turns out to be literal bone-cruncher as Bond dispatches Bouvar by breaking his neck with a metal poker from a fireplace, throwing some nearby funereal roses on the corpse for good measure. Then it’s on to Bond’s escape from the chateau, which he accomplishes with a conveniently placed jet pack and his waiting Aston Martin DB 5′s handy-dandy bullet-proof shield and water-jets, which humorously impede Bond’s pursuers while cuing the aquatic themed credit sequence.
All in all, the opening sets the tone of “Thunderball” as the series entry which fully ups the ante on the James Bond formula following the huge success of “Goldfinger.” There’ll be more kills, more silliness, more blatant sex, more everything.
Maurice Binder, who designed the credits on “Dr. No” as well as the iconic 007 gun barrel intro is back with one of the more visually beautiful Bond credit sequences. This time, silhouettes of bathing beauties and armed scuba divers blend with underwater imagery and bursts of fiery color. From this point on, Binder would design every EON Bond title through 1989′s “License to Kill.”
John Barry had established credibility as a pop songwriter as well as a film composer, and then some, with the massive success of the “Goldfinger” title song and soundtrack album. Originally re-teaming with “Goldfinger” cohorts singer Shirley Bassey and lyricist Leslie Bricusse, Barry and his collaborators took a cue from the oft-quoted Italian nick-name for James Bond with a sinister yet swinging ditty called “Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.” A reasonably killer version was recorded with Bassey but, for reasons which remain vague, her appropriately dramatic vocal stylings were replaced by the more subtle, jazz inflected approach of the very up-and-coming American songstress, Dionne Warwick, best known today for such Burt Bacharach-Hal David standards as “Walk On By” and “I Say A Little Prayer.”
Frankly, Warwick’s understated approach didn’t quite click with the song, though Barry was apparently satisfied. Even so, the word came from on-high at MGM that the “Thunderball” title track should actually contain the word “Thunderball.” The only problem was that the songwriters were stymied by the title, which didn’t seem to lend easily lend itself to pop lyrics.
Nevertheless, 27 year-old lyricist Don Black was enlisted to cobble together some couplets which may have been intended to describe the character of James Bond, but which could almost as easily apply to bad guy Emilio Largo. So odd and slapdash were the lyrics that emerging pop superstar Tom Jones was a bit baffled himself when tasked with singing the song. Following instructions to “sell” the song as hard as possible, Jones is said to have fainted as he completed the very lengthily sustained final note.
The result was was easily the campiest of the early Bond themes, but a memorable hit nevertheless. The song, its lyrics, the final note, and Maurice Binder’s “Thunderball” credit sequence were all spoofed very nicely by none other than “Weird Al” Yankovic in a 1998 music video for his theme for the Leslie Nielsen spoof film, “Spy Hard.”
Simultaneously the most remarkable and the most widely criticized aspect of “Thunderball” are the lengthy underwater action scenes, particularly the colorful final battle in which armed frogmen from the U.S. Coast Guard and SPECTRE face off, including Bond and Emilio Largo. Without a doubt the fights are well staged and, especially in the recently restored Blu-Ray/digital version, visually splendid. Nevertheless, the argument has been made by many that they slow down the film and it’s hard to disagree. In fact, editor Peter Hunt had fashioned a shorter version of the climactic final battle, but was asked to lengthen it to include more of the spectacular footage the various photographics units had assembled. The completed version of the sequence ran roughly nine minutes and “Thunderball” was by far the lengthiest Bond film up that time, with a running time of 129 minutes.
Of course, “Thunderball” also features numerous land-based action sequences; so many that at times it feels like a frenetic modern-day action flick. Additional highlights include the opening fight-to-the-death with Col. Bouvar, the car chase that ends with Fiona Volpe’s destruction of Count Lippe, an on-foot chase through the junkanoo parade, and the final exciting hand-to-hand battle between Bond, Largo, and assorted henchmen aboard the Disco Volante. As with the final big hand-to-hand fight from “Goldfinger” and “From Russia With Love,” staging the final fight meant weeks of work for the cast, the director, and especially stunt man/coordinator Bob Simmons.
Though the story has a slightly serious atomic age edge, the silly side of Bond that had emerged in “Goldfinger” continues. “Thunderball” gives us more of those famous James Bond movie one-liners that are often witty but also often strike a precarious balance between cleverness and groan-inducing stupidity, not that there’s anything wrong with that. For example…
Bond (having just shot Vargas with a spear gun): I think he got the point.
Fiona Volpe (getting out of her car): Some men just don’t like to be driven.
Bond: No, some men don’t like to be taken for a ride.
Bond (deppositing the bullet-ridden body of Fiona Volpe with a dance club bystander): Do you mind if my friend sits this one out? She’s just dead.
Bond (after making underwater love to Domino): I hope we didn’t scare the fishes.
Felix Leiter: Well, James, did you kill him?
James Bond: You know me better than that.
Bond (depositing his jet pack): No well-dressed man should be without one.
Bond (having just made sanitarium whoopee with Pat Fearing): Keep in touch.
Pat Fearing: Anytime, anyplace, James.
Bond: Another time, another place.
Bond (leaving “irrigation therapy”): See you later, irrigator.
Cocktails and other beverages
With a city or two on the edge of annihilation and the fate of the free world at stake, there’s only a little time for boozing it up. Bond has a martini or two, but he never bothers to explain how it should be prepared. Moreover, if you look closely you can see Bond whipping up what appears to be a martini served on the rocks for himself and Felix Leiter and, indeed, in the book they do drink them that way. Cocktails aficionados may find the thought of Bond and Leiter drinking martinis in this heretical fashion disturbing, but we must present the facts as they are.
Also, Emilio Largo is nice enough to serve Bond a Rum Collins. Bond, who was very specific in his drink requests with Auric Goldfinger, is too busy trying to intimidate Largo to fuss about the brand of rum or to insist on fresh lemon juice and simple syrup rather than Collins mix.
* “Thunderball” is the first film in the series in which Bond habitually introduces himself as “James Bond” and not even once as “Bond, James Bond.”
* Despite the fact that the movie of “Thunderball” is a pretty straightforward adaptation of Ian Fleming’s novel, the legal settlement with McClory meant the film had to be credited as based on a screenplay by Jack Whittham and a story by McClory, Whittingham, and Fleming. It would have been more true to say it was based on a novel drawn from work by Whittingham, McClory, and others.
* The scene where Bond and the other 00 agents are told about Operation Thunderball was originally supposed to feature silent cameos by a number of other actors who were portraying assorted international men of mystery of film and television fame, of which there was an ever growing number. The gag was dropped as being overly broad and difficult too negotiate.
* Speaking of overly broad gags, fans of the Austin Powers series will notice a number of familiar moments in “Thunderball,” starting with the plot of “Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery.” After having a number of his diabolical, but seriously outdated, plans dismissed, old-time spy supervillain Dr. Evil relents. “Oh, hell, lets just do what we always do. Hijack some nuclear weapons and hold the world hostage.”
* The success of “Thunderball” left Kevin McClory hungry for more and so his renewed lawsuit became endless fodder for entertainment news stories through the seventies and on into the 1980s. As the conflict escalated, McClory threatened to start a second Bond series of his own, even though he only held the rights to “Thunderball.” He eventually did make his own Bond movie and with Sean Connery in it to boot, the 1987 “Thunderball” remake. “Never Say Never Say Never Again.” McClory’s threat to continue remaking “Thunderball” in a series of Bond films fortunately never materialized, however. A 2008 book about the affair,”The Battle for Bond” by Robert Sellers, was itself caught up in legal issues with the Fleming estate.
* “Thunderball” is so far, one of only two Ian Fleming James Bond stories to have been remade. The other is the first James Bond novel, “Casino Royale,” which Fleming sold off the rights to separately.
* Efx wizard John Stears won the second and final James Bond Oscar. He would go on to win two more Oscars for the film we now call “Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.”
* According to Robert Sellers, prior to settling on “Dr. No” as the first Bond film, the Bond producers approached Alfred Hitchcock, who seriously contemplated adapting “Thunderball” into the first Bond movie. Ian Fleming, apparently mad with enthusiasm to get the movie made, enthusiastically entertained the nation of having Hitchcock favorite James Stewart play Bond. We know, it sounds like the premise for a bad SNL sketch, but there it is.
* Despite the fact that Bond had badmouthed his rock and roll band in “Goldfinger,” Beatle Ringo Starr was apparently seen hanging around the “Thunderball” set. He had recently finished filming the Beatle’s somewhat Bond-esque follow-up to “A Hard Day’s Night,” “Help!,” which was also largely made in Nassau.
* Rik van Nutter may have been cast as Felix Leiter, it appears, as something of a favor and/or money saving move by Cubby Broccoli to appease van Nutter’s then wife, actress Anita Ekberg. Sex symbol Ekberg had been the female lead of the EON produced Bob Hope comedy, “Call Me Bwana.” A poster for the film featuring Ekberg had appeared in “From Russia With Love” and casting van Nutter may have been in lieu of an appearance fee.
* Most film productions employ a second unit or two to gather additional film material such as action sequences and inserts. “Thunderball” employed as many as seven units at various points in the production.
* A question for anyone who’s seen a real atomic bomb. Do they really have “Handle like eggs” written on them?
* While the song “Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” was left out of “Thunderball,” parts of the melody appear in the score and the song was on the original soundtrack album. There is, however, another unissued “Thunderball” theme that never got included on anything relating to the film. Country music great Johnny Cash took a wack at entering the 007 mythos with a theme song reminiscent of his version of “Ghost Riders in the Sky,” but it was rejected. Cash’s “Thunderball,” was not officially released in the United States until 2011, eight years after Cash’s passing. It would never have worked in the film but we kind of dig it, On the other hand, Cash’s song creates the incorrect impression that “Thunderball” is the name of the vehicle carrying the atom bonds.
* Director Terrence Young left “Thunderball” during post-production to work on another film, essentially leaving editor Peter Hunt as the creative head of the production. Like an awful lot of critics, Young also apparently felt that the finished film was slowed down by too much of the underwater footage.
* Ricou Browning, who directed the underwater footage for Ivan Tors Productions, is better known to entertainment obsessives as both the creator of the “Flipper” television series and the aquatically skilled actor who portrayed the monstrous title role in “The Creature from the Black Lagoon.”
* Kevin McClory’s best known non-Bond film was the highly successful and Oscar-winning, but not so critically respected , spectacular, “Around the World in Eighty Days.” The massive spectacle was overseen by mega-producer Mike Todd and starred Ian Fleming favorite David Niven.
* Probably because of the rushed editing of the film, it appears that there were small differences and inconsistencies in various theatrical, television, and home video versions of “Thunderball.” Eagle-eyed fans have, of course, had plenty of fun spotting the discrepancies.
* Fans have also spotted numerous apparent continuity errors. Many of these “errors” are actually quite deliberate. Editor Peter Hunt was a master of figuring out creative ways to move the story along more quickly. That often involved changing the order of scenes or doing other bits of cinema sleight-of-hand which create the appearance of an accidental error when, in fact, the error was highly calculated.
The Romantic Ending
In keeping with the more action-packed tone of “Thunderball,” Bond and Domino don’t waste any time cannoodling in the rubber raft they end up after the destruction of the Disco Volante. Instead the embracing pair is quickly whisked away via skyhook.
“James Bond Will Return”
This is noticeably absent from nearly all extant versions of “Thunderball” though the original version promised that 007 would return in “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.” Since the next film in the series was later changed to “You Only Live Twice,” the graphic was removed from most prints and never replaced.
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