Thunderball DVD Review: James Bond in High-Stakes Action at Sea

Beautiful women, exotic locations, and criminal masterminds threatening nuclear holocaust? These are business as usual for M16 agent 007, James Bond. The fourth entry in the franchise, Thunderball is based on the book of the same name, the ninth in Ian Fleming’s successful series, which itself was based on an original screenplay Fleming collaborated on with screenwriters Kevin McClory and Jack Whittingham. It was one of the most successful Bond films and, adjusted for inflation, is the highest-grossing Bond film of all time.

Thunderball begins with Bond (Sean Connery) attending the funeral of SPECTRE operative Colonel Jacques Bouvar, only it is not Bouvar’s funeral as he has faked his death. Bond discovers and kills Bouvar and, in one of the classic Bond scenes, escapes with his jet pack. These actions catch SPECTRE’s interest and they send their operatives after Bond.

We next find SPECTRE agent #2, Emilio Largo (Adolfo Celi), arriving at a mysterious meeting of SPECTRE operatives. We never see #1’s face, we only hear his voice and see him petting his white cat, one of many scenes parodied so well in the Austin Powers series. In fact, many of those movies’ site gags – from #2 having an eye patch, to the ill-tempered sea bass – are based on scenes from this movie. Number 1 gets status updates from all his operatives and, when he suspects one has been embezzling from the organization, electrocutes him in his chair, promptly disposing him in the floor below. Number 2 reveals his plan, which is the basis of the film. SPECTRE is in possession of two atomic warheads, which they will detonate unless they are paid a ransom of $280 million (100 million English pounds). SPECTRE agent Angelo Palazzi (Paul Stassino) has plastic surgery to impersonate French NATO pilot Francois Derval in an attempt to hijack a jet carrying the warheads.

No Bond movie is complete without the Bond girls and Thunderball does not disappoint in that area either. While trailing Largo in the Bahamas, Bond encounters Domino (Claudine Auger), Largo’s mistress. Bond seduces her (of course) and she longs for someone like Bond as he is not like Largo. The femme fatale of the movie is Fiona Volpe (Luciana Paluzzi). Volpe was the mistress of the real Derval before revealing herself as a SPECTRE operative. She later tries to kidnap Bond as he hunts down Largo.

Thunderball features numerous underwater scenes that, while well filmed, sometimes run a bit long. Still, they are an impressive bit of cinematography for 1965. The DVD has audio commentary from director Terrance Young among others and features DTS Surround and Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound audio.

Thunderball was not the last word for this story. A legal battle between McClory, Whittingham, and Fleming led to the film being remade as Never Say Never Again in 1983. Both movies are fine interpretations of the original novel and it’s hard to go wrong with Connery, especially in his 1965 prime, making Thunderball a worthwhile entry into the Bond canon.

Operation: BOND will return in You Only Live Twice.


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