UK / USA, 1965
Review by Rumsey Taylor
Posted on 19 March 2005
Source MGM VHS
Features: The Genealogy of James Bond
In the immediate aftermath of Goldfinger’s commercial and critical success came the responsibility to up the ante in each subsequent film in the Bond franchise. By this measure, Thunderball is as volatile a transition in the twenty film series, as of this writing, as the introduction of new actors to play the promiscuous secret agent. With the possible exceptions of a laser aimed at slicing Bond in half, or the decapitating bowler hat of the diminutive Oddjob, Goldfinger was more distinguished for its subversive dialogue and characterizations than it was by its gadgets and action. Generally hereafter, the wit and sophistication of Bond was superseded by more elaborate action sequences, more context-specific gadgets, and eventually product-placement and enormous merchandising tie-ins. Thunderball introduces this tendency that depreciates the later films, but it loosely maintains the series’ early wit, which may be solely attributed, perhaps, to ease with which Sean Connery inhabits the role of Bond.
As illustrated in its triptych poster, Thunderball finds Bond in a variety of different climates and elements. In the opening sequence, his escape is via rocketpack, and much of the remainder of the film occurs beneath the sea, somewhere off the shore of Cuba. These undersea sequences are generally anticlimactic, and most are bereft of any music. Late in the film, Bond and other 00 agents engage in an undersea battle with members of the terrorist collective SPECTRE. The sequence – one of the film’s multiple climaxes – is awkward and unnecessary; can you imagine the difficulty of hand-to-hand combat under water? Save for an occasional harpoon, the whole scene has the appearance of slow motion. In keeping, most of the remaining action sequences are infeasible.
Sporadically in between the overripe action set pieces, Bond interrupts the conspiracy by meeting Fiona Volpe. She is extravagant, voluptuous, Italian, and redheaded, a contender for one of the best of all Bond Girls. Her great beauty is a signifier of threat (if only Russ Meyer had cast this woman), and she is conceptually the greatest opposition Bond can encounter: she is his doppelganger, only of the opposite sex and employed by his enemy. Appropriately, in Bond’s first encounter with Fiona, he hitches a ride and asks, “How far do you go.” She replies by gassing her vehicle suddenly, resulting in one of the few moments in which Bond is noticeably uncomfortable in the presence of a woman.