Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Thunderball - Boring Mr. Bond

Thunderball - 1965

Bond: Sean Connery
Directed by: Terrence Young
Produced by: Harry Saltzman & 
Albert R. Broccoli
Theme: "Thunderball" performed by Tom Jones 

I don't like Thunderball. I never have. I find it tedious and uninteresting. Unfortunately, because they remade it in the 80s as Never Say Never Again, I have to slog through it twice in order to complete this exercise. Yawn.

As mentioned previouslyThunderball was the subject of a massive legal battle that lasted from over 40 years and could be the subject of a book all to itself. Briefly: Fleming worked on a film script for a Bond film in 1958 with several other writers, including Kevin McClory. That project died, but Fleming novelized the script and published it in 1961 without crediting the other writers. Legal wars ensued. The result was that McClory is listed in the credits as the film's producer, but he had to wait at least 10 years before he could make his own movie based on the original Thunderball script. It would take him 20 and more legal battles before Never Say Never Again was finally released.

Thunderball is boring, plain and simple. Clearly I'm the only one who thinks this however, as it ends up on just about every Top 10 Bond Film list, and in adjusted dollars, it's still the highest grossing bond film ever. I like to think that's more the result of it following on the heels of the far superior Goldfinger than being any good itself. Like how baseball players always make the All-Star Team the year after they have a good season. Sean Connery even liked it so much, he agreed to come out of Bond-retirement for a second time to be in the remake. Personally, I just don't get it.

After revolutionizing film editing with Dr. No, Peter Hunt seemed to relapse into old editing habits. This film is rife with long slow scenes where we are made to watch people do things that we really don't need to see them do, such as countless scenes of Bond walking down hallways. The movie runs 2 hours and 10 minutes, but I'd say you could easily trim about 40 minutes out of the movie without missing anything.

I'm always left with the feeling that nothing really happens in this movie. They spend a great deal of time developing the Angelo Palazzi character in the beginning of the film He's the one impersonating NATO pilot François Derval. Only they kill him off right away. Then Derval ends up being more important to the plot. The stakes seem focused on the fact that Western powers will have to pay 10 million pounds if Bond isn't successful rather than the possibility that millions of people might get killed. And too much of the film happens underwater. You just can't have a fast moving action sequence with people in scuba gear. It just doesn't work.

After having such success with Goldfinger, the only Connery Bond film that doesn't involve SPECTRE, why go right back to SPECTRE for your villain? Thunderball seems to deliberately be as different from Goldfinger as possible. In the latter Bond is completely incompetent. He only succeeds because he's able to persuade Pussy Galore to switch sides after rocking her world with his amazing sexual prowess. In the former, Bond has to actually be a good spy, which oddly makes the film less interesting. We don't really want to see our heroes succeed at everything they do. Not that Bond is perfect in this movie. He fails to get the female villain Fiona Volpe to switch sides after making love to her. She even makes an oblique reference to Pussy's flip-flop when she scolds him for thinking so well of himself, which serves as the film's only nod to Goldfinger.

I can see why Connery liked the film. It's really Bond at his male chauvinist peak. He pretty much treats women like shit the entire movie, using over-the-top pick up lines that I suppose might have worked out for a movie star like Sean Connery in the 60s. The movie plays like a long Sean Connery fantasy.

In the beginning of the film, Bond is recuperating at some sort of spa-type place where he hits on all the female staff mercilessly. He corners physiotherapist Patricia Fearing and forces her to kiss him. She struggles, frees herself, and... I guess we're supposed to just laugh off the attempted sexual assault? Bond is immediately nearly almost killed when the spinal traction machine he's strapped to is tampered with. He's only saved by Fearing's intervention. Bond returns the favor by threatening to reveal his attempted murder to her superiors and thus blackmails her into having sex with him. She does nothing but swoon over him the rest of her appearance in the film.

His next lover in the film is the aforementioned female villain Fiona Volpe. Bond surprises her in the bath. When she asks for something to put on, he brings her shoes. Ok, that's funny. Their interaction then plays out as a comment on commitment and marriage. They make love, twice. Then she kidnaps him ("marriage"). He runs away. She finds him on a dance-floor with another woman and cuts in. The other woman even says "You didn't tell me your wife was here." Bond has no use for this woman who won't switch sides, and he can't be tied down to her, so he maneuvers her to catch a bullet, then jokes about her death. Ah that Bond, he just loves 'em and gets 'em killed. He'll never settle down.

Then there's Domino. She swoons over Bond as soon as he meets her, but they can never be together because her "guardian" Largo, the main villain in the film, never leaves them alone. Until finally Largo asks Bond to be Domino's escort at the Junkanoo festival, sort of a Bahamanian version of Carnival. Bond leaves their date early to investigate the disappearance of his female assistant Paula. He breaks into Largo's house to save her but is too late, which I guess is supposed to be sad even though Paula's had all of two lines in the entire movie. Bond escapes, goes back to his hotel, and has his entire encounter with Fiona all in the same night without ever returning to his date with Domino. Then somehow, when he sees Domino next, she swims up to him for a sensual embrace as if they're kissing, but they can't because they have swim masks on. Then they sink to the sandy ocean floor where it is implied they make love while breathing through scuba gear. In the end, she doesn't even help Bond because he got freaky with her under the sea but because Largo killed her brother. 

There's really only one thing I like about Thunderball. In the beginning Largo arrives late for a meeting of SPECTRE. He comes in. He takes the last empty seat. All the SPECTRE big boys go by a number. Largo is Number 2. Then later in the film, Bond arrives late for a meeting of 00 operatives. There are 9 chairs facing the other way. One for each 00 (assuming they can only go up to 009). Bond takes the seventh chair and sits down. I like they symmetry and the rare glimpse at other 00s.

That's about it.

1965 Context
President: Lyndon B. Johnson
He gives his "Great Society" State of the Union address.
Queen: Elizabeth II

A Charlie Brown Christmas debuts.

Best Picture Nominees:
The Sound of Music
Doctor Zhivago
A Thousand Clowns
Ship of Fools

1 comment:

  1. I'm working through the Bond films myself and I'm so happy someone else finds Thunderball as tedious as I do. Yaaawn.


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