The James Bond Film Festival. Part 4: Thunderball

The James Bond Film Festival. Part 1: Dr. No
The James Bond Film Festival. Part 2: From Russia with Love
The James Bond Film Festival. Part 3: Goldfinger

Nuclear terrorism! Although Thunderball was made in 1965, the subject matter seems rather topical.

SPOILERS AHEAD! No spoiler boxes!

In this outing, Bond is recuperating after being whacked with a poker in the pre-title sequence. At the Shrublands clinic, he meets Count Lippe (Guy Doleman), whom we know is part of an ambitious SPECTRE plot. But first, the pre-title sequence.

Bond is attending the funeral of a SPECTRE operative. Noticing the “widow” opens her own car door, Bond surmises that the veiled figure is actually a man. He and his French associate go to a mansion where Bond lies in wait for the “widow” who turns out is the man who was supposed to have been in the coffin. A fight ensues, where Bond kills him. He makes his narrow escape using a jet pack that is conveniently on the roof. (One assumes that that’s how he got into the mansion in the first place) and drives away with his lovely assistant. One item of note is the pre-pre-title shot – the trademark one looking down the rifled barrel of a pistol as Bond walks into frame. This is the first time Bond was shot in colour for this sequence.

Count Lippe has hired a man by the name of Angelo Palazzi (Paul Stassino) who has been surgically altered to look like NATO Major Francois Derval (also Stassino, obviously) in order to take the major’s place on a NATO training flight. SPECTRE wants the two nuclear bombs that will be carried on the British Vulcan bomber. They plan to blackmail the Crown for £100,000,000 in exchange for the nuclear weapons. Trouble is, Bond recognizes Palazzi/Derval at the clinic. Derval has been killed and Palazzi takes his place – but not before demanding $250,000 for his part in the plot instead of his agreed-upon $100,000.

SPECTRE agent Fiona Volpe (Lucianna Paluzzi) agrees to the extortion and Palazzi is on his way. He takes off in the Vulcan and uses poison gas to kill the crew. Stretching credibility, he ditches the aircraft in the Caribbean. (The Vulcan would have broken up on impact, but the intact plane makes for a really cool shot as it lowers its landing gear while it sinks to the ocean bottom.)

Emilio Largo (Adolfo Celi) is waiting on his yacht, the Disco Volante (“Flying Saucer”). Aware of Palazzi’s greed, he sever’s the man’s oxygen hose as the pilot sits trapped within the aircraft. (Another amusing thing is that as Palazzi is trapped, he tries to activate the ejection seat.) The bombs are removed from the bomb bay and transported to the Disco Volante with a specially-built mini-sub. To avoid detection, the Disco Volante has underwater access through large doors in the hull.

Bond attends a meeting where he is provided of details of the extortion plot. (Incidentally, the folders are stamped “O.H.M.S.S.”) He flies out to Nassau to try to retrieve the bombs before the extortion deadline.

There he meets the lovely Domino (Claudine Auger), Maj. Derval’s sister. She is the “niece” of Largo. (“It sounds better than ‘mistress’ or ‘kept woman’.”) With the help of Felix Leiter (Rick van Nutter) and Paula Kaplan (Martine Beswick) he discovers the means by which Largo plans to move the bombs. He is joined in Nassau by Q (Desmond Llewellyn) who distributes the “gadgets”.

The gadgets this time are a geiger counter disguized as a Breitling Top Time watch, an underwater camera that takes eight infrared shots in total darkness, a miniature Very pistol, a miniature underwater breathing apparatus, and an ingestible radioavtive tracking device.

Bond reveals to Domino that her brother Francois has been killed on the orders of Largo, and prooves it by giving her his identification disc and Breitling Navimiter watch. She agrees to avenge her brother by alerting authorities when the bombs are aboard the Disco Volante. In what appears to be a major continuity error, bond tells her – and she uses it later – that the camera is a geiger counter. Nothing had been said about this capability earlier, and indeed the Breitling Top Time had already been established as one.

Domino is caught in the act by Largo and is about to be tortured. But the cavalry is on its way! A Special Forces air drop results in a spectacular underwater melee with knives flashing, hoses cut, masks smashed, and spears flying everywhere! It’s a reall donnybrook!

The Disco Volante reveals its startling secret. It’s not a yacht at all, but a hydroplane! Hapless henchmen are left to fight off the authorities on the rear “cocoon” while the flying front end speeds ahead. But during the earlier fighting, Bond had managed to find one of the hydrofoils and he held on. Meanwhile, a Polish physicist, Ladislav Kutze (George Pravda) frees Domino. Bond makes it to the bridge where he fights Largo and the remaining henchman. Just as we think Bond has had it, Domino arrives unexpectedly to save the day – with a speargun! Too bad Largo’s corpse has jamed the steering. ( :rolleyes: ) The Disco Volante speeds toward a reef. There is no option but to jump. Kutze (who has secured the bomb that they got aboard so that it would not detonate) complains that he can’t swim, but he’s pushed over anyway and that’s the last we see of him. The Disco Volante explodes on a reef.

A B-17 “Dumbo” flys over and drops a raft. Once Bond and Domino are aboard, Bond inflates a miniature “barrage balloon” and sends it up. The other end is attached to a harness he is wearing. Domino holds on tight as the “Dumbo” returns to snag the cable and pull our heroes to safety.

This was not an entirely unbelievable movie. The Bond Franchise was still using plausible stories. Sure, there were stretches; but it played well. Some things chafe, however.

In the Shrublands Clinic, bond is “nearly killed” on a theraputic spine-stretching machine. Why would such a machine be designed to violently and rapidly yank a patient? The nurse thinks she’s at fault for leaving Bond unattended (actually, it was Lippe who turned the machine on “high”), and Bond lets her think so. When he makes a remark that “someone will pay”, the poor PT thinks she will lose her job. Bond basically says, “Have sex with me, and I won’t tell.” Talk about your sexual coersion!

Then there’s the bit in the shark tank. Bond and a henchman are fighting in Largo’s pool. Largo orders a grate to be closed over it, trapping bond had Largo’s loyal follower. After knifing the henchman, Largo releases sharks into the pool. It had never been established that it was a saltwater swimming pool. I guess you just have to suspend your disbelief there. Bond escapes through the shark hatch and into the shark pool. What? The baddies weren’t sticking around to watch the grisly finale? Not even a single guard? How could they not notice Bond swimming away?

And Largo seemed to be pretty lax about his security. Before the underwater showdown, Bond had infiltrated Largo’s team of divers. You think somebody would notice. I just didn’t think that was played well.

Overall though, this was a rollicking good time.

Next week: You Only Live Twice

When you get to Never say never again: it’s basically a Thunderball remake, and while it’s a while since I’ve seen both films, I daresay NSNA is a vastly superior film.

I read a review at Amazon a couple of years ago that the DVD is missing a scene. I think it’s the one where Bond first meets Domino. I didn’t buy the DVD because I don’t like having an incomplete film.

In any case, I’m only planning to do the Eon films. Should we discuss NSNA v Thunderball in this thread?

How the hell does one “strike like Thunderball”, anyway?

Even though there is a “Harry Saltzman and Albert R. Broccoli present” credit, Kevin McClory is credited as producer. McClory owned the film rights to the book Thunderball, and McClory has claimed over the years he co-created the literary Bond, which led to many things over the years, including co-credit on authorship of a screen treatment that inspired the book. McClory has tried for many years to make his own Bond film series. Never Say Never Again was his only successful attempt, though he was able to change a bit of The Spy Who Loved Me since it came too close to his first treatment of a Bond film. Recently, MGM won a case against McClory, who planned to do a Bond series with Sony.

A very unique gadget shows up in the pre-credit scene of this movie: a jetpack. It was a real jetpack. Bond puts it into his car, which couldn’t actually be done with the real thing.

The only thing I didn’t like about this film is that the sharks in the pool didn’t have fricking lasers on their heads.

Although they were ill-tempered.

This is the first of the James Bond films that have been ruined for me by Austin Powers. Which is a good thing, because the series, for the first time, starts to show some wear here. Too much emphasis on underwater shots.

I thought this movie began life as a play, and the novelization came later. It shows.


I don’t think so. I think they work quite well. Remember that the early-1960s was when SCUBA started to get very popular as a recreational activity. I think it was only a few years later that The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau made its debut.

Showing the extent to which Largo & Co. used the underwater arena set up that fantastic underwater battle at the end of the film.

On the other hand, I can see how the earlier underwater stuff (retrieving the bomb, Bond finding the Vulcan, etc.) might get tiring after repeated viewings. But on a first-viewing, and especially in 1965, the u/w was awesome.

All I can say:
I find the idea of Para-Divers pretty darn cool.

Also the way the Vulcan bomber just sort of glided into the ocean (lights and all), like it was designed for underwater landings.

I think this version is better than the later Never Say Never Again, although it does seem dated…

Yeah. What does the title mean? Is there any explanation in the film that I missed?

According to an envelope of info Bond recieves, the mission to get back the stolen missiles is code-named “Operation Thunderball.”

Isn’t this the film where the villain requests that they do something like make Big Ben ring three times at 2:00 to show they’re going along with his Evil Plan?

IIRC, “Thunderball” was a 50s era NATO term for a stolen nuclear bomb.

Still doesn’t explain the line very well.

Yes–not only does he stuff the jet-pack (which would be to hot to touch) into the trunk of the Aston-Martin, he then proceeds to douse the pursuing bad guys with hundreds of gallons of water pumped from the very same trunk!

My favorite goof in this one is when he’s escaping from the festival after having spun the bad girl in front of him to take a bullet - if you look closely there’s an obviously fake stuffed dog in the middle of the road, mean to be real and a part of the street commotion. This is significant for me because it’s the very first movie goof I ever noticed - I pointed it out to my parents when I was something like 6 years old.

Favorite quotes
Largo: “You let him get the best of you!” <Slaps him, then kisses his ring to clean it off>

Largo: “Vargas does not drink. Vargas does not smoke. Vargas does not make love. What do you do, Vargas??”

Bond: (while skeet shooting) “This looks really difficult…” (shoots from the hip and hits the clay pigeon) “Why, no it isn’t, is it?”

This is also recognized in my family as the single worst acting performance in Bond history, possibly acting history:

We got into a discussion last Christmas of what Bond acting job was the worst - Tanya Roberts in A View to a Kill, Denise Richards in The World is not Enough, and the guy that played Felix Lighter in Thunderball. We then watched Thunderball and unanimously agreed it was him.

Watch his acting closely the next time you see Thunderball - it truly is horriffic.

The Disco Volante was a hydrofoil

Lump me in with the “overly long” crowd. Most of the underwater scenes are downright confusing… “are the good guys in red or black?” And I think some of those guys were dying two or three times, for the number of people seen.

Anyway, Thunderball is one of my favorites. It has a good mix of gadgets and action while still maintaining some of the 60s-era suave-ness. Lucianna Paluzzi is my favorite of all the “Bond women,” if for the accent alone.

And NSNA doesn’t count as a Bond movie in my mind…


From (hydroplane):
2. A motorboat designed so that the prow and much of the hull lift out of the water and skim the surface at high speeds.


  1. A winglike structure attached to the hull of a boat that raises all or part of the hull out of the water when the boat is moving forward, thus reducing drag.
  2. A boat equipped with hydrofoils. Also called hydroplane.



And to your counter-nitpick, I say this, sir:

Another thought while watching tonight:
When Fiona Volpe tells Bond

Is this a direct reference to the events of Goldfinger, when Bond got Pussy Galore to “switch teams” in more ways than one?

Hm. I never saw that as a reference. (And I don’t remember the book that well.) I took it as Bond being vain and trying to save face, and Fiona seeing through it and shooting him down in flames. I didn’t see what Bond had to gain by insulting her with the “king and country” line, and he just seemed petty.

I’d have to watch it again, but I thought that Vargas stole a look at the other guy. On the other hand, he may have just been demurely averting his gaze from Largo. Like, “Oh, Stop talking about how great a killer I am. You’re embarassing me.”

av8rmike: Oh, I liked your anti-counter-nitpick. It made me laugh. :slight_smile:

It reminded me of a scene in some movie or another:

ACTOR 1: “But why is (blahblahblah)?”
ACTOR 2: (Delivers a hard head-butt) “That’s why!”

Also like Damon Runyan’s best line.

“Shut up”, he explained.