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 – Goldfinger

Bullz-Eye continues its look back at every James Bond film, 007 One by One, as part of our James Bond Fan Hub that we’ve created to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first Bond film.

The third Bond film is more than one of the most enduringly popular movies in the series and the final template for James Bond movies from that point forward. In many respects, it actually set the pattern for actions films in general. It was also perhaps the first modern-day blockbuster in that it was intended as an event as well a movie — complete with mega-bucks generating merchandizing opportunities. Sadly, it’s also the first movie in the series that Bond’s 56 year-old creator, Ian Fleming, didn’t live to see completed. He could not have conceived of how insanely popular his creation would become within months of his passing.

“Goldfinger” (1963)

The Plot

007 locks deadly horns with a mysterious millionaire known for cheating at gin rummy, golf, and the exportation of gold. That naturally turns out to be only the tip of the iceberg as James Bond discovers a diabolical plan aimed at destroying the economy of the free world and making portly Auric Goldfinger (Gert Fröbe) the world’s richest man. The aptly named, gold-obsessed supervillain’s target is, of course, Fort Knox.

The Backstory

With the back-to-back success of “Dr. No” and “From Russia With Love,” the money conscious EON producing team of Harry Saltzman and Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli were ready to spend what was actually pretty big money in early 1960′s movie production terms — $3 million! (The 2008 Bond entry, “Quantum of Solace,” had a reported production budget of $200 million.)

Dashing director Terrence Young, who had launched the series so ably with “Dr. No” and “From Russia With Love,” smelled the cash and held out for more money. True to form, EON decided to go with a more thrifty option and brought in an accomplished journeyman director who was, nevertheless, a new hand when it came to staging elaborate action scenes, Guy Hamilton.

American writer Richard Maibum was back on board, this time with an assist from British screenwriter Paul Dehn. A very probable inspiration for the dashing English spy played by Michael Fassbender in “Inglourious Basterds,” Dehn was a former film critic and admitted World War II assassin. His next gig was, ironically, helping to adapt John le Carré’s specifically anti-Bondian espionage classic, “The Spy Who Came in From the Cold.”

Most importantly to the financial bottom line, Sean Connery had made himself synonymous with 007 and was also on board for another go round, though he wouldn’t appear on set until he finished off his highly dramatic starring role in Alfred Hithcock’s “Marnie.” Connery was starting to worry a little about this whole business of being typecast as a veritable superhero; he would continue to go out of his way to remind the public he could be someone other than Bond.

In any case, everyone working on the film seems to have understood what kind of opportunity “Goldfinger” represented. That bigger budget meant one thing: more — more action, more gadgets, more violence, and an extremely fast pace by the standards of its day. It was just the kind of wretched excess that could lead to a film so enormous it could launch what has to be the longest lasting and most consistently successful franchise in movie history.

The Bond Girls (Rule of 3 + 2)

Bond keeps to his usual score of three sex partners per movie. However, as befits the more lavish “Goldfinger,” we actually have five legitimate “Bond girls” this go-round. It’s just that Bond respectfully keeps his hands off of one and apparently never quite reaches home plate with another. To be specific…

Bonita (Nadia Regan) — She gets kissed while naked at the end of the pre-credit sequence, but it appears that actually doing the deed with Bond was never in the treacherous beauty’s plans, and she ends up with only a nasty bump on the head for her trouble. The adorable, Serbian-born Nadia Regan was actually on her second Bond go-round, having played a very brief kittenish role in the just-prior, “From Russia With Love,” where she was the Turkish secretary/girlfriend of Ali Kerim Bey (Pedro Armendariz.)

Dink (Margaret Nolan) – This lovely bathing beauty and amateur masseuse appears to be Bond’s very temporary girlfriend during his very short vacation at Miami Beach’s ultra-lux Fontainebleau Hotel. In true super-sexist style, he dismisses her with jovial rudeness and a smart smack to the backside when his American colleague shows up. Actress and model Margaret Nolan would go on to appear in a Playboy pictorial and several entries in the “Carry On” series of British sex comedies.

Jill Masterson (Shirley Eaton) – Bond wastes little time in seducing the bikini clad Masterson, who has unwisely taken a job helping a certain highly suspicious gold broker cheat at gin rummy. The superspy clearly takes a liking to the spunky, frankly sexual Masterson. He is devastated when he wakes up from a clubbing-induced slumber to find her suffocated to death by being painted completely gold from head to foot. It’s a tragic death, but it gave the movie its poster and one of the most creepily memorable and iconic images in the Bond lexicon. Shirley Eaton, already a busy working actress in the British film industry, would go on to star in a number of mostly not-so-distinguished films before retiring in favor of motherhood in 1969. She came out of retirement three decades later with a memoir, Golden Girl.

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007 One by One – Dr. No

The girls, the gadgets, the stylish violence and absurd deeds of derring-do… It’s no wonder that the handsome and ruthlessly heroic James Bond has been an icon of masculine wish fulfillment and feminine desire for 50 years. Harry Potter and “Twilight” films might sell more tickets at the moment, but Bond belongs to an elite group of internationally popular, impossible to kill, long-running heroes.

One thing that distinguishes Bond from your Superman, Batman and Sherlock Holmes types is that, with three quirky exceptions, the Bond character has been exclusively handled by the same small, family-owned production company which has maintained a tight creative grip on the franchise since the very first Bond movie. This has led to a remarkable degree of consistency, which can be a mixed blessing.

Keeping things fresh is surely a concern on the upcoming 23rd entry in the series, which was intelligently rebooted with 2006′s “Casino Royale,” but it’s been an issue since the Bond craze first kicked into overdrive with “Goldfinger” and “Thunderball” in the mid-sixties. In fact, there’s something enjoyably ritualistic about the Bond films, which repeat the same elements with just enough variation to keep fans returning film after film, even as they might grumble that the series hasn’t been the same since Sean Connery stopped playing Bond. Without the Bond girls, the amazing stunts, the pre-credit sequence and elaborate credits, and especially the theme, Bond just wouldn’t be Bond.

And so, we at Bullz-Eye will be looking at 007 film by film, with a special emphasis on those key ingredients in the Bond martini, both familiar and hopefully somewhat surprising, that have kept so many of us devoted to the series, movie after movie after movie, year after year after year. We’ll start at the beginning…

“Dr. No” (1962)

The Plot

James Bond, an MI6 spy with a “double O” designation which means he is both an investigator and an occasional assassin with a “license to kill,” is sent to investigate the murder of British operative and his secretary in Jamaica. The man behind it turns out to be a Chinese-German millionaire with an unhealthy interest in America’s space program and scores of expendable extras on his payroll. 007 gets his man, kills a few others, and makes a few new female friends.

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