Review: 'Thunderball' (1965) Dir. Terence Young
Updated: Aug 20, 2021
It was time to maintain the heights set by 'Goldfinger' and push the limits of James Bond into new, underwater territory...
When two atomic bombs are stolen by SPECTRE, British MI6 agent James Bond (Connery) is part of Operation Thunderball; locate the bombs before they can be used to destroy a major city in the United States and the United Kingdom.
Sent to Nassau in the Bahamas by M (Lee), Bond is on the trail of one Emilio Largo (Celi) who is a SPECTRE operative, along with fellow assassin Fiona Volpe (Paluzzi). He is also looking for Domino Derval (Auger), sister of a murdered nuclear jet pilot.
With the help of Domino and CIA agent Felix Leiter (Nutter), it’s down to 007 to locate the bombs, stop Largo and prevent SPECTRE from unleashing a new reign of destructive terror across the world...
Sean Connery and the team take us to the depths of the Bahamas in the first 'aquatic' Bond adventure which gives the film more visual spectacle with cutting edge underwater sequences which really show off the quality of the cast and crew working to push film boundaries. Espionage has never been so dangerous and sun-kissed across the Bahama beaches.
‘Thunderball’ also continues the story of SPECTRE, growing them even more as we see a now classic scene of suited hoods sat around a boardroom, a globe behind them with a masked mastermind relaying their plans and taking note of all the criminal profits made. They even have sharks in private swimming pools to make short work of those who cross them. It’s wonderful, textbook villainy. SPECTRE deserve their place in the hall of villain fame with James Bond, and the Connery films establish a link between nearly all the films with this sense of threat and danger. It’s a shame the organisation was fizzled out due to legal issues, and even on their return in 2015, fell flat.
An eye-patch wearing Adolfo Celi encapsulates that Bond villain grandeur as much as Gert Frobe did as ‘Goldfinger’, a sinister staple for future villains.
The Connery-era Bond films are almost fantastical B-movies or comics, bursting onto the big screen in a larger than life form thanks to the villains. We even get our first real villainess in the seductive form of Luciana Paluzzi who rides motorbikes, flies planes and has no quarms about killing anyone in her way.
It’s also good to note the MI6 team are growing with their screen-time and becoming part of the family. Lois Maxwell as ever-dependable Miss Moneypenny and Desmond Llewelyn as cantankerous Q who gets more and more involved with Bond on each mission. It’s a joy to see and one of those moments you always wait for to see. Story wise, it’s another classic template of villainy - atomic bombs are stolen from a mighty Vulcan bomber, and the world is pretty much held to ransom. The clock begins a countdown for the hero to find the bombs, stop the mastermind and save the world.
The locations range from the classical rural stage of Paris to the countryside of England to the beaches of Nassau, but more often than not revolve around the underwater exploits of searching for bombs, hidden caves or frogmen. The pace really drops when we go under the waves unfortunately.
The main irk for some is that it may suffer from bouts of boredom once the dreary underwater sequences take over, but it's all personal taste. The slow, broody score by 007 vet John Barry reduces the pace once underwater, and it feels very slow, laborious and repetitive, whether searching sunken wrecks, diving for clues or tracking the enemy ship. It’s the one factor of Bond that doesn’t always work unless the pace is quick and the soundtrack can carry you through an otherwise restricted sequence, thankfully something they improved on later in the series.
On land though, the action and espionage is great. Explosive car chases with another time to shine for the Aston Martin DB5, and more of that heart-racing cat-and-mouse thrill from a night-time carnival and stakeout on the villain’s lair.
'Thunderball' proved that neither land, sea or air was enough to keep 007 grounded with new areas of espionage to keep it fresh. It just struggles to maintain momentum during some sequences and feels bloated around the edges.
'Thunderball' is an EON Productions production