Friday, August 17, 2012

Thunderball (1965)

Director: Terence Young
Producers: Kevin McClory, Albert R. Broccoli, Harry Saltzman
Writers: Richard Maibaum, John Hopkins
Cinematographer: Ted Moore
Composer: John Barry
Editor: Peter R. Hunt
Theme Song: "Thunderball" by Tom Jones
James Bond (Sean Connery) is resting at a health clinic when SPECTRE No. 2 Emilio Largo (Adolfo Celi) and fellow agents Fiona Volpe (Luciana Paluzzi), Count Lippe (Guy Doleman) and Angelo Palazzi, disguised as NATO pilot Francois Derval (Paul Stassino), steal two NATO atomic weapons.
When SPECTRE threatens to fire the bombs on either England or America unless a ransom of £100 million in white diamonds is paid, M (Bernard Lee) calls all double-0 Agents in to find the bombs. Bond, recognizing Derval from a picture taken in Nassau, travels to the Bahamas with Felix Leiter (Rik Van Nutter) to foil Largo's plot and rescue his mistress and Francois' sister, Dominique "Domino" Derval (Claudine Auger).
Despite the overwhelming success of Goldfinger, Thunderball is more akin to the Dr. No; the tone is more straightforward, the jokes are less frequent, Bond is back in the tropics, the plot revolves around SPECTRE once more, and original director Terence Young is back to reclaim the series as his own. Unfortunately, franchise fatigue is starting to set in, for this fourth Bond film lacks the quick pace and quality storytelling seen in the previous two films. The first 30-40 minutes, with Bond at the health clinic, are not only sluggish and dull, but also come off as a contrived, lazy way to work Bond into the story. The plot holes continue to pop up throughout, such as how Bond knows that Dominique is in Nassau, why Largo had his mistress' brother killed and why he and Largo socialize with one another for so long.
Furthermore, Largo's plot doesn't quite work; the purpose is to hold the U.S. and England ransom and while extortion is part of the organization, SPECTRE is more frightening as a terrorist group out to spread chaos. To make matters worse, the screenwriters reveal all the plot details early on, robbing it of any suspense or atmosphere. By not having any buildup and letting the audience know everything right away, the film we're left with spends a lot of time showing the characters interact and not moving the story forward. Acting wise, Adolfo Celi is good enough as Largo, but there's nothing unique or different to make him a standout villain.
But as with any Bond film, these flaws can be overlooked if the finished product is entertaining and Thunderball is definitely a good time. While not as epic as From Russia With Love in terms of production values, Young is as good as ever, delivering impressive visuals to go with the Bahama locations. In addition, the character relationships, though excessive to the detriment of the story, are amusing and allow the actors to show off, especially Connery, both charming and deadly, and Paluzzi, devilishly fun as Fiona Volpe; everyone else works fairly well, save for Philip Locke's dull henchman Vargas and Rik Van Nutter's bland take on Felix Leiter.
Without a doubt, the most impressive aspect of Thunderball is the underwater scenes, choreographed by Ricou Browning, best known as the Gill Man in The Creature From The Black Lagoon, and shot by underwater photographer Lamar Boren. Considering how slow people move underwater and how their faces are obscured by scuba masks, huge props go to Browning and Boren for their work here. All the underwater scenes, even nearly 50 years later, are still breathtaking to look at and the action scenes are well filmed and staged, especially the awesome final fight between Bond/Coast Guard divers and Largo's troops. 
With the formula established by its predecessors, Thunderball has very little new to offer and sports a very weak screenplay, filled with plot contrivances and bad one-liners. That being said, the finished product is still fun and delivered in a classy, attractive package, with a great Bond, engaging villains and thrilling action scenes, especially the climactic underwater battle. While it might not be good storytelling, Thunderball is most certainly good entertainment.

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