I’m up to number four with Thunderball where I kind of think the urge to go bigger, better, faster, more! overshadowed the more fundamental aspects. This happens fairly often with 007 films, but. Of course, the ownership of Thunderball’s story was the subject of some dispute, with Kevin McClory laying claim as it was based on a early screenplay for TV that McClory had collaborated with Fleming on. At least this time around, though, it was produced as an Eon film with no compromise to the brand aside from some credit switches.
Bond attends the funeral of SPECTRE spook Colonel Jacques Bouvar, who is there as his “widow”, and returns to an impromptu wake back at Bouvar’s chateau after the two have a punch-up. The most important thing is that Bond hightails it on a jetpack, because sensible low-key exits by the back gate lack panache.
It’s an aquatic theme! Gee, I wonder what the film is going to be about.
Still hot after cracking the charts with “It’s Not Unusual”, Tom Jones steps up for the title track and belts it out appropriately. For the movie itself, John Barry sticks to the brassy bombast, but changes it up in parts for a chiming theme.
Things kick off in and around Paris, where the SPECTRE meeting is held, but the bulk of the action takes place around Nassau in the Bahamas. The local flava is emphasised with the junkanoo parade and Largo’s pad, Palmyra, where the film’s best action happens. Things finish up off the coast of Miami for the culmination.
The DB5 returns from Goldfinger, apparently none the worse for wear, as well as the jetpack mentioned above. Q’s obligatory appearance comes later in the film as he kits out Bond with various kit like a tiny rebreather, a radioactive tracking device that Bond is supposed to swallow, and some whizzy thing that allows divers to go faster underwater.
SPECTRE is back in full effect with an office meeting from hell, as Blofeld makes use of the organisation’s expedited exit processes to deal with one underperformer.
The main agent, however, is Emilio Largo (Adolfo Celi) who is a big dude with an eyepatch who loves sharks. In that order. As SPECTRE Number Two, he comes up with a cunning plan to steal a Vulcan plane equipped with two nuclear warheads from NATO for extortion purposes.
The process of getting the bombs is a convoluted plan, involves getting a SPECTRE flunky, Angelo Palazzi, get a face change to match a NATO pilot, François Derval, so he can assume Derval’s place and hijack the plane by poisoning the rest of the crew, landing it in the sea. (Both roles played by Paul Stassino) Remarkably, considering the many potential points of failure, the plan works, but when it comes to collecting the loot, Palazzi is allowed to drown by Largo for the heinous crime of demanding too much money for his services.
Luciana Paluzzi plays Fiona Volpe as another main antagonist, firstly seducing Derval, cleaning up another of SPECTRE’s underperformers and later on fooling around with and then kidnapping Bond, although Bond manages to escape after they have a last dance together.
Largo has quite a few human assets at his disposal, although none of them are weird in the Oddjob/Jaws fashion, save perhaps for Vargas (Philip Locke) who is straight-edge and is compensated for his abstinence by a harpoon dart through the heart.
Dominique “Domino” Derval (Claudine Auger) is François’s brother, and is the impetus for Bond’s decision to travel to Nassau after he sees photo of the pair at the MI6 briefing. As it turns out she is also Largo’s mistress. Of course, he gets to use her brother’s death to motivate her to turn on Largo late in the game.
Deeply problematic, as Bond is the full-on sex pest that inspired Connery’s inclusion in Shane Warne’s blokey BBQ mural. For the first act Bond is holed up in a health clinic and of course seduces the nurse seemingly against her will. Bond later gets wrapped around Volpe (who scorns him after the act) and finally Domino, we’re left to assume.
Once again the silver fox Felix Leiter (Rik Van Nutter, this time) from the CIA is the main guy on the ground, and arguably does more groundwork than Bond, rescuing yonder arse a couple of times. There’s also Paula Caplan, who remains untapped by Bond, but alas she gets kidnapped by Largo’s goons and apparently chomps on a suicide pill before being interrogated.
Pretty much the whole last act, frankly. Obviously devised as a novelty, and while cool and impressive at first, I think the underwater battle could’ve been cut by half without an issue, especially given the overall length of the film.
But for me it gets worse: once the action returns to the Disco Volante, the projected scenery outside the boat is sped up to the point that it looks ridiculous. Yes, it’s transformed into a hoverfoil by this stage but they’re not 300kmh quick.
The hoverfoil goes out of control as Largo’s impaled onto the wheel, so Bond, Derval and random nuclear physicist bloke manage to abandon ship before it stacks onto a reef. The explosion is enormous and you remember there’s still a nuclear bomb on board, although obviously it didn’t detonate so the pair are still able to be rescued by skyhook.
Bond’s still banging on about Dom Bloody Perignon. Try something different!
It’s pretty much all about the scuba diving. I thought the most impressive usage was in the sequence where the bad guys hide the plane and made off with the bombs. The military-grade toys that top and tail the film, the jetpack and the skyhook are also impressive.
It’s at this point where I’m seriously questioning the HR principles of both MI6 and SPECTRE. M seems to tolerate Bond’s creepy habits “because he gets results”, while Blofeld obviously does not believe in letting people learn from their mistakes, nor a grievance process.
It’s a Bond film through and through, with exotic locations, charismatic bad guys, ludicrous plot, and beautiful women. But there seems to be some pizazz missing. The early part takes a while to get rolling as the antagonists steal the show while Bond is wandering around some clinic in his togs harassing the staff, the middle part gets a bit Anthony Bourdain travelogue, and the last part is by turns ingenious, tedious and laughable.
Bizarrely, I think the 1983 remake of the story, Never Say Never Again, may have been a better film, although the underwater climax in that one was also a bit crap.
15 out of 20 sharks.