Skip to main content

James Bond, who only has to make love to a woman and she starts to hear heavenly choirs singing.


Thunderball
(1965)

Look up! Look down! Look out! Her comes the biggest Bond of all! So advised the poster for the fourth 007 cinematic feast. Biggest it most definitely was, but unfortunately in almost every other respect the finished film is inferior to its three predecessors. Nevertheless, the approach taken by the producers (a favourite of Hollywood generally) was to throw enough money at the screen in the hope it would result in higher box office receipts. Which proved a successful one on this occasion. It remains the highest grossing Bond film (inflation-adjusted), in the US.


Thunderball (even the crass, overbearing title suggests excess, as does barrel-voiced Tom Jones on the theme song) was originally intended to be the first Bond film. Ian Fleming enlisted Kevin McClory and Jack Whittingham to collaborate on a script that floundered, the material eventually being used by Fleming as the basis for the ninth Bond novel (the sixth, fifth and seventh had previously been adapted to film). The legal quagmire that resulted eventually led to the “non-canon” Never Say Never Again (1983), based on Thunderball. McClory would attempt to get a further remake in the late ‘90s, titled Warhead 2000 A.D.


It is slightly ironic that a story/script with such longevity and backstory should be so lacking in substance. Emile Largo (Adolfo Celi) is charged by SPECTRE with stealing a jet carrying two nuclear warheads. The object is to obtain a $280m (£100m) ransom within 7 days or a major US or UK city will be destroyed. So far, so unnuanced (the ransom plot is the inspiration for much mirth in the first Austin Powers). We learn little more about SPECTRE’s machinations in this outing. Their activities are increasingly cartoonish, and their sets match the larger-than-life, broad strokes tone. There’s a suggestion of some sort of masonic code applying to its members.

Blofeld: SPECTRE is a dedicated fraternity, whose strength lies in the absolute integrity of its members.

And, really, that’s it. Bond is called upon to investigate and has the inspiration that Nassau is the place to look (and the person to look for is Claudine Auger’s Domino). Which he does for the next hour-plus.


Part of the problem is that no one has been called upon to ruthlessly cut the fat. Peter Hunt may have worked wonders on the first three films, but it’s 40 minutes into Thunderball before the villains even issue their demands. Sequences that could take a couple of sentences of script are turned into unwieldy set pieces. Was it really necessary to see the whole laborious abduction of the jet? In an earlier film it might have happened off camera. But there’s money to spend now, and spent it is. The underwater photography in this sequence, and throughout the film, is very pretty but it has no dramatic heft to it. This is particularly true of the climax where you can’t make out who is fighting who for much of the time.


Curiously, the film kicks off with an echo of From Russia With Love; a signifier of a dead James Bond, apparently at his funeral. No time is wasted in showing him alive and kicking, and Bond’s knowledge of etiquette also recalls his encounter with Red Grant; instead of red wine with fish there is a SPECTRE agent in drag who attracts Bond’s attention by opening a car door himself. Although, this scenario does suggest the more humorous and flamboyant ideas the series would embrace over the next decade (a man, in a dress, having fight with 007). The jet pack (why is it even on the roof?) has maximum cheese appeal to the modern eye and, even more than its failure dramatically as a bit of highly versatile tech, it bears the uneasy marks of having been grafted onto a scene because someone could get hold of a jet pack, not because it helped the plot.


It seems an extraordinary coincidence that the health spa Bond is sent to is the very place SPECTRE’s operative, who has undergone plastic surgery to replace the jet pilot (who is Domino’s brother), is recuperating. Most of this sequence involves Bond being smug and canoodling with the staff. On the plus side, we see Guy Doleman as SPECTRE’s Count Lippe. Doleman would make an indelible mark in the other great spy series of the ‘60s, playing Harry Palmer’s boss Colonel Ross.


Claudine Auger is undoubtedly one of the most attractive Bond girls, and certainly sports highly impressive designer swimwear. As per the Bond producers’ penchant, she was a former Miss World runner-up. She doesn’t really have much chemistry with Connery, however.


In contrast, Luciana Paluzzi, who plays SPECTRE’s Fiona Volpe, makes a great match for the burring Scotsman. She mocks his sexual prowess and generally will not be intimidated by anyone at any point in the proceedings.

Fiona Volpe: But, of course! I forgot your ego Mr. Bond. James Bond, who only has to make love to a woman and she starts to hear heavenly choirs singing. She repents and immediately returns to the side or right and virtue. But not this one! What a blow it must've been, you having a failure

It’s fortunate that she is so strong, as Celi only makes an impression because he’s wearing an eyepatch. The card game between him and Bond is a tired retread of earlier moments, with witless dialogue and dull threats. Bond’s reduced to making cheap shots such as accusing him of shooting with a girl’s gun (ironic too, considering the actual reason for Bond changing from a Beretta to a Walther PPK).

At least is henchman, Vargas (Philip Locke), is memorable. He does not drink or make love we are informed, which leads one to conclude what one will about his proclivities; Locke certainly plays up the sadistic side. He also provides Bond with his most obvious but effective quip of the film (“I think he got the point”).


The structure is so loose, and the threats against Bond so sporadic, that real tension evaporates. Bond encounters Largo, escapes. Goes swimming to Largo’s boat, escapes. Is fed to the sharks, escapes. Peppered amongst these sections of the film are some strong moments; the shot of Connery (actually Connery!) as a shark swims by him underwater, the Mardi Gras scene where Bond, pursued, falls in dancing with Fiona Volpe at the Kiss Kiss Club. The music is masterfully coordinated with the the scene such that when Volpe is shot the drum roll cuts out.


Elsewhere recognizable characters pass in and out. We already saw M and Moneypenny (the hatstand business saw her throw it in Goldfinger; this time it has moved and Bond must place it on the stand). Q appears in the field, clad in Hawaiian shirt. Felix Leiter (Rik Van Nutter), in his third incarnation, is a definite improvement on his previous self although Jack Lord still comes tops.


The all-action climax, when it comes, is a 20-minute bore. A pretty bore, but a bore nevertheless. It is interspersed with a dose of sadism directed towards Domino on the Disco Volante (she is rescued by the nice George Pravda, who – as a non-swimmer – is unceremoniously left to fend for himself with just a life preserver while Bond and Domino fly into the air (ludicrously) when they are rescued at the climax.

The irony of all this is the return of Terence Young, who so economically delivered the first two films. Thunderball is an unwieldy beast. It holds incidental pleasures, but it neither possesses an intriguing plot nor is it put together as an exciting film. The franchise looks self-satisfied and tired suddenly, even if it’s never been more popular.


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Prepare the Heathen’s Stand! By order of purification!

Apostle (2018)
(SPOILERS) Another week, another undercooked Netflix flick from an undeniably talented director. What’s up with their quality control? Do they have any? Are they so set on attracting an embarrassment of creatives, they give them carte blanche, to hell with whether the results are any good or not? Apostle's an ungainly folk-horror mashup of The Wicker Man (most obviously, but without the remotest trace of that screenplay's finesse) and any cult-centric Brit horror movie you’d care to think of (including Ben Wheatley's, himself an exponent of similar influences-on-sleeve filmmaking with Kill List), taking in tropes from Hammer, torture porn, and pagan lore but revealing nothing much that's different or original beyond them.

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

There's something wrong with the sky.

Hold the Dark (2018)
(SPOILERS) Hold the Dark, an adaptation of William Giraldi's 2014 novel, is big on atmosphere, as you'd expect from director Jeremy Saulnier (Blue Ruin, Green Room) and actor-now-director (I Don’t Want to Live in This World Anymore) pal Macon Blair (furnishing the screenplay and appearing in one scene), but contrastingly low on satisfying resolutions. Being wilfully oblique can be a winner if you’re entirely sure what you're trying to achieve, but the effect here is rather that it’s "for the sake of it" than purposeful.

Outstanding. Now, let’s bite off all the heads and pile them up in the corner.

Venom (2018)
(SPOILERS) A 29% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes can't be wrong, can it? To go by the number of one-star reviews Sony’s attempt to kick-start their own shred of the Marvel-verse has received, you’d think it was the new Battlefield Earth, or Highlander II: The Quickening. Fortunately, it's far from that level of ignominy. And while it’s also a considerable distance from showing the polish and assuredness of the official Disney movies, it nevertheless manages to establish its own crudely winning sense of identity.

You can’t just outsource your entire life.

Tully (2018)
(SPOILERS) A major twist is revealed in the last fifteen minutes of Tully, one I'll happily admit not to have seen coming, but it says something about the movie that it failed to affect my misgivings over the picture up to that point either way. About the worst thing you can say about a twist is that it leaves you shrugging.

Well, you did take advantage of a drunken sailor.

Tomb Raider (2018)
(SPOILERS) There's evidently an appetite out there for a decent Tomb Raider movie, given that the lousy 2001 incarnation was successful enough to spawn a (lousy) sequel, and that this lousier reboot, scarcely conceivably, may have attracted enough bums on seats to do likewise. If we're going to distinguish between order of demerits, we could characterise the Angelina Jolie movies as both pretty bad; Tomb Raider, in contrast, is unforgivably tedious.

If you want to have a staring contest with me, you will lose.

Phantom Thread (2017)
(SPOILERS) Perhaps surprisingly not the lowest grossing of last year's Best Picture Oscar nominees (that was Call Me by Your Name) but certainly the one with the least buzz as a genuine contender, subjected as Phantom Thread was to a range of views from masterpiece (the critics) to drudge (a fair selection of general viewers). The mixed reaction wasn’t so very far from Paul Thomas Anderson's earlier The Master, and one suspects the nomination was more to do with the golden glow of Daniel Day-Lewis in his first role in half a decade (and last ever, if he's to be believed) than mass Academy rapture with the picture. Which is ironic, as the relatively unknown Vicky Krieps steals the film from under him.

The whole thing should just be your fucking nose!

A Star is Born (2018)
(SPOILERS) A shoe-in for Best Picture Oscar? Perhaps not, since it will have to beat at very least Roma and First Man to claim the prize, but this latest version of A Star is Born still comes laden with more acclaim than the previous three versions put together (and that's with a Best Picture nod for the 1937 original). While the film doesn't quite reach the consistent heights suggested by the majority of critics, who have evacuated their adjectival bowels lavishing it with superlatives, it's undoubtedly a remarkably well-made, stunningly acted piece, and perhaps even more notably, only rarely feels like its succumbing to just how familiar this tale of rise to, and parallel fall from, stardom has become.

I will unheal the shit out of you!

Hotel Artemis  (2018)
(SPOILERS) Hotel Artemis is all set up. It's solid set up, undoubtedly – a heightened, John Wick-esque criminal world by way of John Carpenter – but once it has set out its wares, it proceeds to pulls its punches. One's left more impressed by the dependable performances and Drew Pearce's solid footing as a (debut feature) director than his ability to develop a satisfying screenplay. 

I take Quaaludes 10-15 times a day for my "back pain", Adderall to stay focused, Xanax to take the edge off, part to mellow me out, cocaine to wake me back up again, and morphine... Well, because it's awesome.

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Along with Pain & Gain and The Great Gatsby, The Wolf of Wall Street might be viewed as the completion of a loose 2013 trilogy on the subject of success and excess; the American Dream gone awry. It’s the superior picture to its fellows, by turns enthralling, absurd, outrageous and hilarious. This is the fieriest, most deliriously vibrant picture from the director since the millennium turned. Nevertheless, stood in the company of Goodfellas, the Martin Scorsese film from which The Wolf of Wall Street consciously takes many of its cues, it is found wanting.

I was vaguely familiar with the title, not because I knew much about Jordan Belfort but because the script had been in development for such a long time (Ridley Scott was attached at one time). So part of the pleasure of the film is discovering how widely the story diverges from the Wall Street template. “The Wolf of Wall Street” suggests one who towers over the city like a behemoth, rather than a guy …