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March 19, 2013

Thunderball (1965)
Director: Terence Young
Actors: Sean Connery, Claudine Auger, Adolfo Celi


Synopsis: SPECTRE – the terrorist organisation – hijack a NATO plane, and take command of two atomic bombs they use as a means to extort the UK government. James Bond (Sean Connery) is sent off to the Bahamas, on the trail of the missing bombs….

Review: Arguably the weakest of the Sean Connery entrants to the Bond series (Diamonds are Forever excepted), after a superb opening coda and nice playing out of the conspiracy plot in England and Paris, Thunderball tends to dribble on to a tame conclusion once it reaches the Bahamas. But what a cracking start to the film it is! It’s one of my all-time favourite Bond opening skits with its ingenious conceit of an ultra-blasé Bond chasing down a SPECTRE agent who has disguised himself as a woman at his own fake funeral. From there the film moves on to a marvellously atmospheric sequence of fiendish malevolence in Paris, where the SPECTRE headquarters are covertly located at the back of an innocuous office building. Thunderball also features the ideal conception of Ernst Stavro Blofeld – a disembodied voice with shutters obscuring his presence from the torso up – and this is far more effective and chilling than the villain we meet in the full in You Only Live TwiceOn Her Majesty’s Secret Service and Diamonds are Forever. It’s a superb sequence as Blofeld goes round his global agents, asking for updates on their latest terrorist and/or extortionist activities, before settling on the obligatory murder of a thieving operative.

Sadly, the story fizzles out when it arrives in the Bahamas. Much has been made of the use of underwater sequences, and there is unquestionably an overkill of these in Thunderball. In many ways it mirrors the contemporary debate about CGI: just because the technology is available and ‘clever’, doesn’t immediately make it of greater value dramatically. Emilio Largo is also one of the more underwhelming villains in the Bond series, and the plot about hijacking atomic bombs never seems to totally make sense to me (just how exactly would SPECTRE launch the bombs if they’re hidden away under the sea?) (March 2013)

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