Bond Breakdown #04: Thunderball (1965)

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Thunderball (1965): Bond Breakdown by Rantbo

SPECTRE is back and in full force. Seeming to have abandoned his vendetta on Bond, Number 1 holds a conference bringing together all his operatives to report on the progress of their various nefarious deeds. Enter Emilio Largo,or as he is known within SPECTRE, Number 2 (stifle the laughter). Largo unveils his plan to hijack a British Vulcan bomber for it’s cargo of two atomic warheads, to be held for ransom for 100 mil-leon pounds “MuWahahahahahaha!”—worth of uncut diamonds. Pleased with his report, Number 1 praises Largo and the plan is set into motion. Stage one of Number 2’s plan begins at an exclusive rehabilitation clinic, where a certain world-renowned British spy is recuperating from the pre-credit’s action sequence…


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Bond is back and striking like Thunder!—ball? OK, what does that MEAN? Naked women in silhouette wither around in Technicolor water, bubbles dancing as the ladies smoothly dodge slow-motion harpoons whilst still remembering to let the occasional nip be slipped. It’s fun, it’s wet, it’s sexy, it‘s THUNDERBALL.

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I’ve seen the film several times and I still don’t really know what the Hell that means. The 00’s mission is code-named Thunderball, but it is never explained why.Whatever it seems to mean, one thing is for sure: it really pumps Tom Jones’s nads. He wails his nonsensical lyrics with lounge room swagger and I sit back and laugh. I’ve never been able to take this style of music seriously. I mean, how can you? But, I understand that this genre of music is about entertainment over substance and it, like many Bond films, manages to deliver what it promises. And for some reason, it works. This credits sequence is one of my all-time favs and would easily be in a Top 5 Bond Credit Sequences List, would I ever be inclined to make one. But don’t bet on it.


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Body Bags Filled [17] Bedpost Notches [3 and probably another 2 as well]

With the massive success of GOLDFINGER, Bond-Mania was officially born. Sean Connery became an action icon and for the time being, he ran with it. Appearing neither shaken nor stirred about following up the worldwide smash of the previous installment, Connery hits the ground strutting just a few months after the phenomenon that was the theatrical release of GOLDFINGER. It takes a lot of chutzpah to jump right back into a role that is sure to be critically compared and heavily scrutinized, but lucky for us, Connery is a pro and didn’t disappoint.

It is hard to talk about Bond without bringing up the an amazing key factor in his on screen creation and success: Terrence Young. Back in the director’s chair, for his farewell performance, Young makes sure to get his views on the character across and put the new budget and success to bloody good use. And it’s easy to spot his return to the helm, even without reading his name in the credits. The main indicator being in the return of a more able 007. Bond is back on top and rarely lets the villain get the better of him. This is something that was clearly, I won’t say lacking, but missing, in the previous installment.

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In THUNDERBALL, Bond spends the better part of the film using his keen detection skills and witty demeanor to stay in step with a villain that has the upper hand. He does this to not only solve the mystery of the missing NATO warheads, but also, I think, to prove to himself (and the audience) that he’s still the MAN. In order to keep up with Largo, Bond spends every scene he shares with him cleverly berating and mocking the man. Both Bond and Largo know that he is guilty, so it becomes a game of wit and class. Can Bond break Largo’s cool and discover how he is hiding the warheads? Or will Largo continue to stay a step ahead of Bond and prove that he is worthy of his position in SPECTRE? These are the questions that keep the (thunder)ball rolling.

As it happens, the only time that Largo actually does manage to get the better of Bond, is when Bond himself screws up. Alerting Largo’s men to his presence by dropping his gun, causing it to miss-fire and give away his position. Young does this, I think, to assure us that Bond is still human. He makes mistakes—BUT, he is STILL James Bond. Rest assured he will still save the day, get the girl and defeat evil, because, as I have already pointed out, Bond is the MAN. He’s not just some sap that allows the villain to control the plot of the movie. This is Bond’s world and don’t you forget it.


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Guy Doleman as Count Lippe and Paul Stassino as Angelo Palazzi

These two rascals play key parts within the film, yet have very little screen-time and are both taken out early on. Though I thought them both worth mentioning as they still gave memorable performances. Lippe is great, simply because he tries to kill Bond with a back-breaking hump machine. They call it a “spinal traction machine” in the film, but I know a pelvic thrust toner when I see one.

As for Palazzi, this guy is hardcore. He has spent two years of his life undergoing flight training and complete facial reconstruction to play the role of NATO pilot François Derval for the course of an afternoon. The problem is the silly bastard thought that he could demand a higher payment the day of the operation and actually expect SPECTRE to pay up AFTER the job was completed. What a maroon.

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Philip Locke as Vargas

This wormy bugger is Largo’s “personal assistant”. From an audience point of view, having just been privy to GOLDFINGER’s Oddjob and having to compete for screen-time with fellow henchman, the distractingly sexy Fiona, this guy almost disappears within the film. His unique henchman characteristic is that he is the founder of the straight-edge movement. Meaning Vargas abstains from alcohol, smoking and hanky panky. He is kind of like a willing version of myself. So for that, I remembered him. Plus he has a bichin’ death scene and allows Bond to deliver my favorite post-mortem one-liner in the film, but more on that later.

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Bob Simmons as Colonel Jacques Bouvar aka Number 6

It takes a real man to pull off whippin’ ass in a pair of 6 inch heals, so thankfully they had such a man: stuntman extraordinaire, Bob Simmons. We only know a little about Jacques, he killed a couple of James’s colleagues, he tried to fake his own death, and he’s the type of man that doesn’t feel the need to have to shave his legs to wear a skirt to a wake. I’ll be covering more on his character in The Best Fight segment, so I’ll just say I’m glad Simmons gets his due on screen. A great fight, by one of the godfathers of modern action. Bob is God.

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Luciana Paluzzi as Fiona Volpe

Holy bulbous flesh-melons, this chick is two-shades of all-right! I start my blurb on this girl with a crude male-chauvinist remark breaking her performance down to a mere objectified physical thrill, because this woman represents the complete opposite. I figured I should take the initiative to knock the feminist movement down a peg or two as Fiona Volpe spends all her screentime building it back up from the rubble left in the wake of Pussy Galore.

Apparently the writers of THUNDERBALL took a slight offense to some of the negative remarks made by critics over the ludicrous presumption that a lesbian henchwoman could or would renounce both her professional and sexual lifestyle after spending one afternoon bumping uglies with Bond in a hay loft. In response, they created Fiona. A villain that mocks James for his ego and gives him an awesome verbal beating:

“James Bond, who only has to make love to a woman and she starts to hear Heavenly choirs singing. She repents, then immediately returns to the side of right and virtue. —But not this one.”

While she is not the first sexy Female SPECTRE agent, she is certainly my favorite. Not only is she stunningly beautiful, she is also a take-no-shit cold-blooded assassin. How cool is that? She seduces, she kidnaps and kills. And the way she handles her rocket-fitted motorcycle with enough grace and skill to make Chuck Norris blush—makes Fiona the perfect villainess.

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Adolfo Celi as Emilio Largo aka Number 2

As his name would suggest, Largo is second in command only to Number 1 (whom I must mention is portrayed once again by Eric Pohlmann and Tim Moxon). And to get to such a high position within the organization, this guy has to know his shit (as his name also suggests… stifle the laughter).  A master planner and head of SPECTRE’s extortion operations, Largo is a return to the more realistic (well, more so than Goldfinger) villain and represents the brain of the Bond nemesis.

Looking like Jay Leno in pirate regalia, Adolfo Celi really had his work cut out for him in following Goldfinger and I think he did a pretty good job. And much like Goldfinger, Largo is a cold calculating man, with plans of grandeur. He differs in that he is never able to one-up Bond, as his temper and pride keep diverting him from the overall goal. Largo openly invites James into his inner circle, daring him to figure out how he is pulling off his global act of extortion. He is so confident that he has pulled off the perfect plan that Bond’s consistent mocking doesn’t sweat him one bit. Until, of course, Bond turns his mistress against him. Women… It is in her that his downfall lies, but also—his most memorable villainous endeavor. When Largo tortures a bound Domino with lit cigarettes and ice-cubes, he truly makes you hate him. It takes a complete lack of morality to perform such an egregious act on someone so beautiful. Hey, I think I figured out the title! Yes, sir, to harm Bond’s love interest in such a way—Emilio Largo shows he truly has—Thunder-Balls.


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Maryse Guy Mitsouko as Madame LaPorte

While on a mission in France, Bond is investigating the “death” of Number 6 and Madame LaPorte is his liaison. Her role is limited to just a minute or two and only a couple of  lines, but in that time the filmmakers did manage to suggest that before his time in France was over, Bond would “tour the Louvre”, if you know what I mean…

LaPorte: “Ez der anyzing else our French station can do for Monsieur Bond?”
Bond [smiling]: “Later, perhapsh.”

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Molly Peters as Patricia Fearing

Sent to a health clinic for—well, his health—Bond is taken under the care of nurse Fearing. First off, I have to say, not the best choice in naming someone that is in the position of health care, Mr. Fleming. Anyways, this girl is special in that she is the first one that I can think of that manages to completely shut Bond down after numerous charming attempts at coitus. Not to say that they don’t have sex, ‘cuz boy do they. It just happens to be against her will. No, Bond doesn’t rape her, but he does the next closest thing.

After Bond is nearly humped to death on the “back” machine, Patricia begs Bond not to tell her superior as she was supposed to be watching him. Bond agrees, provided… Yeah you guessed it. Of course after this steamy instance, she is completely in love and embarrasses herself time and again with her fondness for Bond the remainder of his stay.

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Martine Beswick as Paula Caplan

Paula is Bond’s assistant in the Bahamas. She helps him to get in good with Domino and spends the rest of her time working behind the scenes with Felix, giving Bond intel and helping him search for the location of the missing NATO plane. Paula’s role is also a small one, but she is the second potential Bond lay mentioned above in the tally. Eventually captured by Fiona, she is taken to Largo for questioning, where she takes her own life via cyanide capsule. And it’s very sad. But if you want to see her in a role in which she for certain spends the night with Bond AND lives past the next morning, check her out as Zora in FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE.

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Claudine Auger as Dominique ‘Domino’ Derval

You know the type of beauty that makes you feel like you’re an unworthy zit on the ass of sub-par existence? Claudine Auger, everybody. Arguably THE most naturally beautiful girl to ever grace the Bond stage. Spending almost all of her screen time in skimpy bathing suits, she is almost a threat to the screenwriters’ hard work as I find it hard to follow the plot while staring at her navel. Even her name is sexy beyond all rational fairness: Dominique—Mmm, excuse me while I massage myself for a minute or two…

So, what else do we know about this goddess? Well, according to Bond, she swims like a man and has two moles on her left thigh. Oh, she is also sister to François Derval and mistress to Emilio Largo. The latter two details arguably being the most crucial to the plot—arguably.

I forget how, probably because I was goggling her physique, but Domino is entrusted to Largo as his plaything. On one hand it makes me want to cry, on the other—I should be so lucky. Claudine plays the role like a world class game of domi—checkers. And her subtle character quirks play out like a wet dream. When with Largo, Dominique is quiet and demure, never making eye contact. The opposite when in Bond’s company. She has a sparkle in her eye, a spring in her step and it’s the only time you see her smile. Domino is class personified and though her situation sucks, she handles it with grace. That is until Bond lets her know who killed her brother, right after some underwater escapades (screwing in the ocean). A woman scorned is a dangerous thing, Largo—you pompous bastard. So, Dom decides to help Bond find the stolen warheads and in return she asks him for one thing, that he make Largo pay for his misdeeds with his life. It’s a Deal. Sealed with a kiss.


With the creation of the modified DB5, the Bond franchise got something that had previously been missing from the series: Lucrative merchandising. A mistake they planned not to make again. Not only does the “most famous car in the world” make another appearance, so does Q and a cavalcade of new gadgets.

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Q visits Bond in the field for the first time and boy does he bring the Calvary:
– A Portable Pocket Sized Air Supply with 4 minutes of oxygen
– A Breitling ‘Top Time’ Diver Chronometer Watch with built-in Geiger Counter
– An Underwater Camera with infra-red film and another with a built-in Geiger Counter
– A Portable Pocket Mini-Flare Gun

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Bond also begins the festivity that is the highest budget 007 film (at the time, of course) with the ever memorable Jet Pack. A JET PACK! The fact that this thing was a real working device back in 1965 is crazy. Up until watching this, I had no idea that such a device was probable. Though I did go to a small town public school, in my defense. Even though Bond looks like a total dork in his ping-pong ball helmet, this doesn’t dissuade this from being one of the coolest Bond gadgets of all time. “No well dreshed man should be without one.”

As an added bonus, Bond is also outfitted with an underwater Jet-Pack  late in the film that fires harpoons, has a built in smoke screen (misused in the film), a headlight and a high speed propeller. Q, what will you think of next?


The Body Count [60 + 1 Shark]

Connery gets his second largest Bond Killcount with 17, through a variety of ways you can view here. The rest of the count is quite large and features just as many variations. Electric chair, poison gas, drowning, “heart attack”, a car explosion, eaten by sharks, cyanide, shot, harpooned, knifed and by boat explosion. Whew, now that’s entertainment!

The Best Fight:

We join 007 at the funeral for one Jacques Bouvar, a man responsible for killing two of Bond’s fellow agents. James surveys the proceedings with a sense of uncomfortable uncertainty. Something is clearly up. As the ceremony comes to an end, Bond watches the widow Bouvar enter her car and something suddenly becomes clear to him.

Tailing the widow home to her château, Bond surprises her with a punch to the jaw. She drops like a sack of hammers and Terrence Young successfully manages to top all the misogyny of the last entry within the first couple minutes in his return to the series. Eat your heart out, Guy Hamilton! But wait! A second later the scenario becomes reassuringly PC, as the grieving and now punch drunk woman is revealed to be her “late” husband, SPECTRE agent Jacques Bouvar in disguise! That’s right!—That ain’t no woman! It’s a man, baby!

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Bond saw straight through his ruse, as Jacques failed to wait for a man to open his car door for him. Hmm—This was a pretty thin hunch to act on, but thankfully this was the 60s, and Bond was right to question such un-ladylike behavior. Of course this means that we now have a fight on our hands—and what a fight it is. War has officially been declared on Feng Shui as Bond and Bouvar proceed to mess shit up on a massive level in one totally bitchin WWE-style grudge match. The only thing missing was an into by Michael Buffer and the 10-second tap-out rule.

The two fist-tango until Jacques gets out of hand and whacks James with a iron-poker. Bad form, Bouvar! It’s cool though, James gets him back by strangling him with it and throwing a bunch of flowers on his corpse. Take that, old chap!

The Most Satisfying Kill:

While trying to locate the NATO warheads for Bond, Domino is caught by Largo and subsequently tortured for it. Largo—you sonnovabitch! This seems to be the last straw for Miss Derval. Freed from her bonds—rope, bonds, she takes matters into her own hands and ends up saving James in the nick of time by blasting Largo in the back with a spear gun, effectively getting revenge and making herself appear even MORE sexy.

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Domino: I’m glad I killed him.
Bond: You’re glad!


Best Witticism:

[After impaling Vargas onto a tree via harpoon]

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Bond: I think he got the point.

Best Double Entendre

Bond: Perhaps we can have dinner together?
Domino: No.
Bond: My dear, uncooperative Domino…
Domino: How do you know that!? How do you know that my friends call me Domino?
Bond: It’s on the bracelet on your ankle.

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Domino [walking away]: SoWhat sharp little eyes you’ve got.
Bond: Wait till you get to my teeth.


With the massive success of GOLDFINGER, the producers vowed to the public (and to their wallets) to have another Bond adventure in theaters by the following Christmas season. Just in time for some new plastic replicated gadgets and toys to find their way onto department store shelves…

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So, production began ASAP and in order to one-up the previous installment, the producers turned once again to cinematic Bond maestro, Terrence Young. The theme this time around seemed to be BIGGER than the BIGGER theme of GOLDFINGER. Knowing they had a surefire hit on their hands, producers Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman spared no expense. And it shows. Roughly 25% of the film takes place underwater and that ain’t hay. It’s H20. Lame jokes aside, you have to give them a hand, this film is beautiful. But it is not without consequence.

With the insanely popular Aston Martin making mad cash in appearances at expos and racking it in on the small scale toy side, it was clear that the public liked those nifty Q-Lab creations. How is this a negative? Well, this is the beginning of style overtaking substance. It’s not to a horrifying degree, but it does take a little away from the story and characters.

Rather than a need to be crafty or inventive, Bond merely just needed to whip out whatever it was that Q conveniently created for him a day earlier. It’s a real double edged sword with laser sighting and built-in ball washer.

The other problem that more money creates is grandeur. As in the grandiose underwater sequences filmed for the climactic battle scene. Superbly shot and action packed—they never seem to stop. Editor Peter Hunt has said that the original cut of the sequence was about four minutes, a full minute longer than what he normally kept to. Amazing though it was, the producers clamored for MORE, MORE, MORE! And a tight spectacular little submerged scene transformed into a 10 minute juggernaut. And boy does it begin to wear after the 6 minute mark. I can only watch so many faceless stunt men get hit bloodlessly with harpoons and engage in slow-motion struggles with diving knifes before my attention starts to wear. Again, it’s not bad, it’s just a little too much.

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The only other real issue I have with the film comes directly after the underwater showdown. Escaping with what little he has left, Largo powers up his boat and makes for the equator. Too bad for him, Bond is on board. James confronts Largo and a handful of his men in the ship’s bridge. Of course, nothing can be easy and before long the boat is at high speed and out of control. It’s a thrilling scene of macho fisticuffs, but it comes off as silly because the footage is inter-cut with shots of terrible looking green screen. The screen footage is traveling at ludicrous speed and even with well placed shots of someone dramatically turning the wheel to avoid collision, there is just no believable way that they would be able to dodge the islands at the speed in which they are flying at the screen. It’s just—silly, and it takes away from an otherwise spectacular finale.

That said, THUNDERBALL is still an immensely entertaining entry. The characters, story and action are all top-notch BOND and apparently I am not alone in thinking so. Back when it premiered, this flick made more in it’s opening week than the three predecessors made combined. Increased for inflation, this film has made almost One Beil-Yun Doll-Rs worldwide. That kind of money can buy a lot of James Bond Scuba Dolls, to be sure. A classic entry in the series, THUNDERBALL is also one of the greatest.

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[X] Destroys Evil Doer’s Lair*
[  ] Drinks or Orders a Vesper Martini
[  ] Gets Captured and/or Tortured
[  ] Introduces Himself As “Bond—James, Bond”**
[X] Teams-Up With Felix Leiter
[X] Uses Judo or a Walther PPK to Dispose of an Enemy
[X] Wears a Tux

*Bond destroys the Disco Volante, the boat which Number 2 used for his dastardly deeds.
**Fiona refers to him in this way, but he never says it himself.

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Bond: Thish ish going to hurt a bit.

RANTBO will return in (a breakdown of) YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE

Thunderball (1965) © Danjaq S.A., United Artists, MGM Home Entertainment and Sony Pictures Entertainment