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  Thunderball And he strikes like...!
Year: 1965
Director: Terence Young
Stars: Sean Connery, Claudine Auger, Adolfo Celi, Luciana Paluzzi, Paul Stassino, Rik Van Nutter, Guy Doleman, Molly Peters, Martine Beswick, Bernard Lee, Desmond Llewelyn, Lois Maxwell, Philip Locke, Anthony Dawson
Genre: Action, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  8 (from 4 votes)
Review: Assigned to a health clinic to recuperate from past injuries, James Bond (Sean Connery) stumbles onto the theft of two nuclear missiles orchestrated by foxy Fiona Volpe (Luciana Paluzzi) and a look-alike of RAF captain Francois Derval (Paul Stassino). The clues point to SPECTRE, the criminal organization led by arch-fiend Blofeld (Dr. No’s Anthony Dawson, faceless and voiced by Eric Pohlman). 007 trails the organization’s number two, wealthy playboy Emile Largo (Adolfo Celi), to the Bahamas and sets about romancing his mistress, Derval’s sister, the divine Domino (Claudine Auger). Being Bond he takes time to bed Fiona too. With Domino’s aid, Bond sets out to foil SPECTRE’s schemes.

Objective reviews are next to impossible when you’re dealing with lifelong favourites. Thunderball ties with You Only Live Twice (1967) as this writer’s most cherished Bond movies. From a youthful perspective, they had the most amazing action sequences, the most eye-catching credits, the most memorable theme tunes, and arguably, the best Bond girls. Criticisms usually centre around the foregrounding of relentless, over the top set-pieces and gadgetry at the expense of tight plotting and “credible” Cold War menace. Fair enough. If that’s your bag we have From Russia with Love (1963) and a fine film it is too, but the plots of Thunderball and YOLT (glutton for punishment: I’d argue for Diamonds Are Forever (1971) as well) serve their function exceptionally well, which is to keep us wholly engrossed as we’re flung from one outlandish incident to another.

These films are rocket-propelled with a kind “one damn thing after another”-verve, unsurpassed until Steven Spielberg and George Lucas concocted Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). We get off to a cracking start as Bond gut-punches a grieving widow (probably the inspiration for the “that’s not a woman, baby” gag from Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997), flies off in his amazing jet-pack (It’s the 21st century and those things are still unavailable to the public - what gives?), and floors the baddies with yet another gadget-laden sports car. This was the first Bond movie filmed in scope; ideal for the spectacular underwater battle between orange wet-suit clad NATO troops and shadowy SPECTRE frogmen, the breakneck brawl aboard Largo’s hi-tech hydrofoil the Disco Volante, and the languorous curves of Claudine Auger.

Few people argue Domino’s case for being one of the great Bond girls, by comparison with Tracy di Vincenzo or Pussy Galore, so let’s set that right. She is stylish and alluring, has a talent beyond beauty (expert scuba diver), an interesting back-story, banters seductively with Bond instead of just succumbing to his advances, holds her own in a fight and against torture, and gets to off the bad guy. Despite being dubbed by Nikki Van der Zyl, Auger delivers a credible, charismatic performance. The former Miss France was third choice for the role after initial candidates Julie Christie (whom “Cubby” Broccoli apparently thought wasn’t quite as sexy in the flesh?!!) and Raquel Welch didn’t work out, but so impressed producers that Domino was rewritten from Italian to French.

Equally impressive is voluptuous Luciana Paluzzi. Initially crestfallen at being overlooked for Domino, she went on to have a ball playing surely one of the finest bad girls in Bond history. When she blasts a traitor with her motorcycle rockets, removes her crash helmet and nonchalantly tosses back those titian curls, you realise how weak Barbara Carrera was in the remake: Never Say Never Again (1983). Thunderball introduces a nice touch of self-parody to the Bond mythos when Fiona remarks all our hero has to do is “make love to a woman, then she starts to hear heavenly choirs and immediately rejoins the right!” Bond’s wry response: “Well, you can’t win ’em all.”

Thunderball was also almost the Bond movie that never was, owing to producer Kevin McClory’s intent to sue over the story he co-authored with Ian Fleming to be 007’s first cinematic venture. He was appeased when given the chance to co-produce the fourth James Bond adventure, whose box office success (the highest grossing Connery Bond) made him a millionaire. McClory returned to plague Broccoli and Harry Salzman with rival Bond project Never Say Never Again, a film with its own strengths but a lesser cousin in most ways. At the centre of Thunderball’s maelstrom of mayhem is ultimate Bond, Sean Connery. If, as some critics claim (and I don’t see it myself) his disinterest is apparent, it manifests as a certain louche cool; as when a bathing Fiona asks him to hand her something to wear and Bond offers her high heels, or as a puzzled Domino declares “I’m not with you” and he replies: “No, but you soon will be.” Connery’s Bond is so cocksure he knows he can’t fail, and charms us into believing it too.
Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

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