007 One by One – Thunderball

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.

“Thunderball” (1965)

The Plot

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.

The Backstory

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.

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007 One by One – From Russia with Love

We continue our look at the film adventures of the world’s most beloved killer spy with the James Bond flick many critics and fans consider the best movie in the series, based on probably the most well regarded of Ian Fleming’s spy novels.

“From Russia with Love” (1963)

The Plot

After the death of their operative, Dr. No, SPECTRE is one rather peeved diabolical organization bent on world domination. Also, they could use some cash. The villains’ collective therefore devises a plan to steal a hugely prized Lektor decoding device from the Soviets by using the superspy responsible for No’s demise as a pawn. Endgame: Sell the device for a huge sum and kill James Bond. The bait will be the defection, with the Lektor, of a beautiful and unknowing Soviet operative working out of the Russian embassy in Turkey. She is another pawn, a loyal low-level agent who is tricked into cooperating and told to develop a romantic fixation on Bond. The proposal is such an obvious trap, and the Lektor such a desirable prize, that there’s no way the British secret service can possibly resist going to Istanbul for a look. It all wraps up in a sexy and violent trip on the legendary Orient Express and an exciting and dangerous (for stunt men) boat chase.

The Backstory

Following up on the success of “Dr. No,” the EON production team of Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli and Harry Saltzman elected to follow the lead of the series’ most famous fan. President John F. Kennedy had singled out Ian Fleming’s novel, From Russia with Love, as one of his ten favorite books in an issue of Time Magazine. Despite nearly 100 opening pages in which Bond does not appear, the story was more or less tailor made for a movie, and the rest was a matter of bringing back “Dr. No” writers Richard Maibum and Johanna Harwood to make the story more Hollywood friendly.

First of all, the relatively simple Stalin-era plot of the original novel was updated and complicated to avoid controversy. In light of the more morally complex Khrushchev era and the recent Cuban missile crisis, many viewers were likely to disagree with Ian Fleming’s extremely hawkish, if somewhat tongue-in-cheek, take on the Cold War. And, so a story about ultra-evil Russians trying to take out the West’s most effective counterspy with maximum collateral PR damage, became a tale involving SPECTRE’s desire to grow its cash and power reserves while manipulating MI6 and the KGB into a costly and unnecessary battle. Seeing as the production code was growing weaker even as the Bond budget was growing larger, the sex and violent action quotients was also bumped up considerably from the novel.

Along with newborn superstar leading man Sean Connery, dashing director Terrence Young returned for his second Bond outing after the success of “Dr. No.” Aside from allowing the talented Young to firmly set the tone for the series, bringing him back proved to be a wise choice. Often described him as something of a real-life James Bond, Young was the kind of steady hand the difficult shoot would require.

The challenges Young would face included several changes in locations, numerous reshoots, plus lots of difficult and dangerous stunt work. A scene involving hundreds of rats proved especially tricky because English law permitted only the use of white rats. When the animal wranglers placed cocoa powder on the rats to give them a less hygienic look, the rats were distracted, licking the tasty cocoa powder off themselves and each other. The scene wound-up being shot in Spain.

Murphy’s law was certainly in force on the second Bond film, but director Young took events in stride. He was reportedly back at work within hours after being involved in an apparently minor helicopter crash, though we’re not sure how a helicopter crash can be anything less than a big deal. More tragically, Young also had to deal with the news that key actor Pedro Armendáriz was terminally ill. (More about that below.)

The Bond Girls (Rule of 3 or, in this case, 4)

Yes, an apparent threesome boosts Mr. Bond usual number of consummated movie affairs. The “From Russia with Love” Bond girls are…

Sylvia Trench (Eunice Gayson) — Bond’s Chemin de Fer opponent from “Dr. No” returns. Trench was supposed to be an ongoing liaison in each of the films, but her lakeside tryst with Bond was to be her final appearance. We’re guessing that even a hint of sexual repetition was seen as too much of a hindrance to 007′s womanizing ways. Ironically, Gayson had originally tried out for the longer-lasting but more chaste role of Moneypenny.

Vida and Zora (Aliza Gur and Martine Beswick) — Bond watches with interest, and some concern, as a pair of extremely jealous Gypsy girls stage a to-the-death fight over a man,  but are interrupted by a sudden violent intrusion by a group of Russian-paid Bulgars. After Bond helps save the day for the Romany, it is strongly hinted that the hot blooded trio spend the rest of the evening making love, not war. (In the novel, Bond is more of a passive observer of some kinky bloodshed.)

As for the talented and lovely ladies who played Vida and Zora, Aliza Gur was a former Miss Israel and Miss Universe semi-finalist. She would later appear in such spy-themed TV shows as “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” and “Get Smart.” The Anglo-Jamaican Martine Beswick, who may or may not have been one of the dancing silhouettes from the “Dr. No” credits, would return to Bondage as Paula Caplan in “Thunderball” and enjoy a lengthy career as a busy working actress. A supporting role in 1966′s “One Million B.C.” would be followed by such low-budget productions as 1967′s “Prehistoric Women,” 1971′s “Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde,” and 1980′s “The Happy Hooker Goes Hollywood.” More upscale roles from the eighties and nineties included “Melvin and Howard,” “Miami Blues,” and the 1993 version of “Wide Sargasso Sea.”

Tatiana Romanova (Daniela Bianchi) — An idealistic operative who thinks she’s working for the Soviets in an operation designed to pass false information to MI6, Tatiana finds it easy to play the role of a love struck defector when she meets the dashing James Bond. Though her loyalties may be divided, her attraction to Bond is undeniable.

Since her character was described as resembling 1930s film star Greta Garbo in the novel, it was a sure bet that former Miss Rome and Miss Universe semi-finalist Bianchi would be lovely and charismatic, if not quite up to the acting standards of the great Garbo. Ms. Bianchi does, however, deliver a credible and very sexy performance, though her Italian accent was removed with a total voice assist from veteran English actress Barbara Jefford. Unfortunately, her best remembered non-”From Russia with Love” outing remains the notorious Eurospy spoof, “Operation Kid Brother,” which starred real-life Sean Connery kid brother, Neil. (Check out this slideshow for more pics of Daniela Bianchi)

Friends and Colleagues

M (Bernard Lee) and Moneypenny (Louise Maxwell) are both back for more banter. By this point, the pattern is being set for the character’s inevitably fun but equally exposition-heavy scenes throughout the series: It’s Moneypenny’s job to provide some flirtatious silliness and M’s job to make sure the frivolity doesn’t eat up too much screen time. The business with Bond throwing his seemingly unworn bowler hat on the hat stand makes a return as well. However, “From Russia with Love” gives us two additions to Bond’s onscreen colleagues, each in their own way legendary.

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