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Thunderball (1965)

Main image of Thunderball (1965)
35mm, colour, Panavision, 130 mins
Directed byTerence Young
Production CompanyEon Productions
Produced byKevin McClory
Screenplay byRichard Maibaum
 John Hopkins
Story byKevin McClory, Jack Whittingham, Ian Fleming
PhotographyTed Moore
MusicJohn Barry

Cast: Sean Connery (James Bond); Claudine Auger (Dominique 'Domino' Derval); Adolfo Celi (Emilio Largo); Rik Van Nutter (Felix Leiter); Bernard Lee ('M')

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James Bond saves Miami from being blown up by two atomic bombs stolen by the evil SPECTRE organisation in order to blackmail the West.

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The phenomenal success of Goldfinger (d. Guy Hamilton, 1964) and the global appetite for greater spectacle and increased fantasy clearly indicated the way forward for the 007 franchise. "Here comes the Biggest Bond of All!" screamed the posters for Thunderball (1965), confirming Eon's new approach. At its most obvious, this was signalled by the movie's huge $5.5million budget and the fact it was the first to be filmed in Panavision widescreen.

More significantly, however, Thunderball departed from the tight narrative structures typified by its predecessors and introduced a more episodic format, in which sprawling action sequences are included for visual effect as opposed to plot advancement.

The most obvious example remains the vast, climactic battle, shot by underwater expert Lamar Boren and employing 45 scuba divers as extras. Director Terence Young clearly felt he was out of his depth shooting these scenes: "all that underwater stuff was anti-James Bond," he later commented, "Because it was slow motion". However, inventive choreography and John Barry's relentless score help rescue the sequences, and aqua-action became a staple of the series.

Thunderball also ushered in the voluptuous villainess who cannot be turned by Bond's sexual and ideological persuasiveness. Domino, played by former Miss France Claudine Auger, exemplifies the archetypal submissive 'Bond girl', but Fiona Volpe (Luciana Paluzzi) - a strong, intelligent enemy agent - created the template for tough, independent females which still endures.

Ken Adam's sets represent another triumph. SPECTRE's cold, gleaming, ultra-modern boardroom, for example, contrasts wonderfully with the Secret Service's conference chamber, a marble and mahogany vision of traditional Colonialism. The juxtaposition quietly implies that the older, more British virtues remain the most reassuring and legitimate.

Although less taut than the opening three Bond movies, Thunderball offers enough to recommend it. John Stears's Oscar-winning visual effects, Ted Moore's lush photography and the spectacular sets all conspire to make this a visually arresting piece of work. Connery's cool, charismatic Bond remains compelling, and he clearly enjoyed working with Young again, who allowed him to improvise many of the film's trademark one-liners.

This was more extravagant and less realistic than previous Bonds, and its takings were unsurpassed until The Spy Who Loved Me (d. Lewis Gilbert, 1977). Producer Albert R. Broccoli in particular noted the correlation between cinematic excess and success, and resolved to replicate the formula. As Bond mutters after harpooning the evil Vargas (Philip Locke), "I think he got the point."

Gavin Collinson

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Video Clips
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Adam, Ken (1921-)
Binder, Maurice (1925-1991)
Broccoli, Albert R. (1909-1996)
Cameron, Earl (1917- )
Connery, Sean (1930-)
Culver, Roland (1900-1984)
Hopkins, John (1931-98)
Lee, Bernard (1908-1981)
Llewelyn, Desmond (1914-1999)
Young, Terence (1915-1994)
James Bond
James Bond: Sean Connery