“THUNDERBALL” (1965) Review

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“THUNDERBALL” (1965) Review

I had just viewed the 1965 Bond movie, “THUNDERBALL” for the first time in several years. And I can see why this movie is considered to be one of my all time favorite Bond flicks. But I do not think I can state why in one or two sentences.

“THUNDERBALL” turned out to be director Terrence Young’s third and last Bond film. Most Bond fans consider it to be his least superior film, but I consider it to be his second best, following 1963’s “FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE”. The story, based upon an unfinished script called “Warhead”, co-written by Ian Fleming, Kevin McClory and Jack Whittingham. The unfinished script eventually became Fleming’s 1961 novel, “Thunderball”. This resulted in a major lawsuit between McClory and Fleming and eventually, EON Productions became dragged into it. The story is about SPECTRE’s theft of NATO nuclear warheads and how they used it to blackmail the U.S. and British government for the sum of 100,000,000 pounds. Naturally, MI-6 sends all of their “00” agents to recover the warheads before SPECTRE can carry out its threat to detonate the weapons on U.S. and British soil. Many moviegoers found the movie’s plot a little hard to buy and viewed it as part of the realm of fantasy. But considering the current obsession of terrorism and the high illegal weapons market, “THUNDERBALL” is probably one of the more relevant plots of any Bond film.

Aside from the underwater sequences, “THUNDERBALL” turned out to be an elegant and exciting thriller with excellent drama, a solid plot that managed to avoid any major plotholes, a classy score by John Barry and a first-class cast. Sean Connery portrayed James Bond for the fourth time in this film. Thankfully, he seemed to be at his top game in this one. It is a vast improvement over his performance in 1964’s “GOLDFINGER”, in which he seemed to come off as an immature prat. And he is ably assisted by a first-class cast – Claudine Auger as Domino Duval, Adolfo Celi as villain Emile Largo (SPECTRE’s Number 2), Rik Van Nutter as CIA Agent Felix Leiter and especially Luciana Paluzzi as villainess Fiona Volpe.

Below is a list of positive and negative aspects of the film. I have decided to start with the negative, since there was little that I did not care about the movie:

Negative:

*Rik Van Nutter as Felix Leiter – Do not get me wrong. Van Nutter’s performance as Leiter was competent and very personable. My problem was that his role was written as a “less-than-bright” sidekick of Bond’s, instead of an ally. Bond has been assisted by Leiter in other movies, but they have never come off as some dumb sidekick . . . except for Cec Linder in “GOLDFINGER”.

*Theme Song – I will not deny that the movie’s theme song, performed by Tom Jones is slightly catchy. But I also found the lyrics to be slightly sexist and off-putting.

*Underwater Sequences – Yes, the underwater sequences had threatened to drag the movie a bit. Actually, I can point out two sequences that came close to boring me – the sequence that featured Largo’s acquisition of the warheads and the final battle between Largo’s men and U.S. Navy frogmen.

Blackmail of Patricia Fearing – James Bond’s attempt to seduce Shrublands Clinic nurse, Patricia Fearing, came off as disturbing and tacky. It was bad enough to watch him make attempts to kiss the very professional Ms. Fearing without her consent. But when he resorted to blackmail – willingness to conceal his near death experience with the physiotherapy machine aka “the rack” in exchange for sex – the whole situation became rather sordid.

Positive:

*Luciana Paluzzi – Let us be honest, folks. The red-haired Paluzzi came dangerously close to stealing the picture from Connery. Like Honor Blackman before her, she radiated sexiness and a strong on-screen presence. She seemed to be even more of a threat than Emile Largo and his men.

*Adolpo Celi – What I like about Celi’s performance is that he does not come off as an over-the-top villain. He was elegant, intelligent, ruthless and egotistical. Perfect villain.

*Nassau Setting – The setting in Nassau gave the movie an exotic, yet elegant feel that really added substance to the movie.

*Villain’s Goal – Many critics have claimed that the villain’s goal in the movie – nuclear blackmail for money – seemed unrealistic, due to a belief there was little chance that an organization like SPECTRE could get its hands on a nuclear bomb from a NATO strategic bomber. And yet, I have never considered such a scenario unrealistic. Especially in today’s world. In a way, this scenario seems much more possible than some of scenarios featured in other Bond movies from the same period.

*Dialogue – The dialogue in this movie was unusually sharp and witty. But what really appealed to me was that Connery’s puns did not come out of his mouth every other minute, as it did in his previous two movies. In fact, the movie featured what I consider to be one of Connery’s best lines during his tenure with the franchise.</i>

Speaking of dialogue, below is what I consider to be some of my favorite lines:

* Moneypenny: In the conference room. Something pretty big. Every double-o man in Europe has been rushed in. And the home secretary too!
Bond: His wife probably lost her dog.

*Bond: My dear, uncooperative Domino.
Domino: How do you know that? How do you know my friends call me Domino?
Bond: It’s on the bracelet on your ankle.
Domino: So… what sharp little eyes you’ve got.
Bond: Wait ’til you get to my teeth.

*Do you mind if my friend sits this one out? She’s just dead.

*M: I’ve assigned you to Station “C” Canada.
Bond: Sir, I’d respectfully request that you change my assignment to Nassau.
M:Is there any other reason, besides your enthusiasm for water sports?

*Pat Fearing: James, where are you going?
Bond: Oh, nowhere. I just thought I’d take a little, uh… exercise.
Pat Fearing: You must be joking.

*But of course, I forgot your ego, Mr. Bond. James Bond, the one where he has to make love to a woman, and she starts to hear heavenly choirs singing. She repents, and turns to the side of right and virtue…[she steps on Bond’s foot]… but not this one.

I would like to conclude with this little note. In 1983, Kevin McClory – one of the original authors of “Warhead” – produced his own movie version of the story, which starred Connery as Bond. The movie, “NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN” was not exactly terrible, but it almost seemed like an overblown version of the 1965 movie.

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“DR. NO” (1962) Review

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“DR. NO” (1962) Review

This 1962 movie marked the cinematic debut of EON Production’s James Bond franchise, created by Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman. Sean Connery also made his debut in this film as the MI-6 agent, James Bond. Although many critics and fans consider film as one of the more impressive in the franchise, I honestly cannot say that I share their opinion.

Based on Ian Fleming’s 1958 novel, “DR. NO” begins with the murder of MI-6 agent Strangeways and his secretary by a trio of assassins in Jamaica. Fellow MI-6 agent James Bond is ordered by his superior, “M”, to investigate the agent’s death and eventually stumbles upon a plot by Dr. Julius No, an agent of the criminal organization SPECTRE, to disrupt the U.S. space program for the Chinese Republic.

As I had stated earlier, I have never considered “DR. NO” as one of the more impressive entries of the Bond franchise. In fact, it is one of my least favorite Bond movies of all time. The main problem I had with “DR. NO” was the schizophrenic script written by Richard Maibaum, Johanna Harwood, and Berkely Mather that featured an unbalanced mixture of genres. I suppose they had no choice. After all, they simply wrote a close adaptation of Fleming’s novel. And Fleming never struck me as the world’s greatest novelist. The story began as a mystery thriller, as Bond tried to figure out who was behind Strangeways’ death. Unfortunately, the movie transformed into a fantasy-style adventure when Bond and one of his CIA contacts, Quarrel made their way to Dr. No’s Crab Key Island in order to disrupt the villain’s plot. A part of me wish that Young and the screenwriters had made changes in Fleming’s story.

The stilted dialogue peppered throughout the movie only made matters even worse for me. The worst line came out of the mouth of former beauty pageant winner, Marguerite LeWars, who portrayed a photographer working for SPECTRE. It is so bad that I will not even repeat it. Even Connery was guilty of spewing some wooden dialogue. In fact, his performance seemed as uneven as the movie’s story and production style. In many scenes, he seemed to be the epitome of the smooth British agent. And in other scenes – especially with Jack Lord, who was the first actor to portray CIA agent Felix Leiter – he came off as gauche and wooden. Mr. Lord, on the other hand, gave a consistently polished and performance as the sardonic Agent Leiter. Much has been made of Ursula Andress’ performance as “Bond Girl No.1” Honey Ryder – especially her famous first appearance when her character emerges upon a beach. Frankly, I have never been able to sense the magic of that moment. Nor did I find Andress’ presence in the movie particularly impressive. Not only was her character irrelevant to the story, she did not really aid Bond’s attempts to defeat Dr. No.

I first became a fan of Joseph Wiseman ever since I noticed his sly and subtle performance as a 1960s gangster in the Michael Mann TV series, “CRIME STORY”. But I was not that impressed by his Dr. Julius No, a character that simply bored me to tears. I might as well say the same about Anthony Dawson’s performance as SPECTRE agent, Professor Dent. Many fans have been waxing lyrical over a scene featuring his death at Bond’s hand. Personally, I found Bond’s actions unprofessional. The MI-6 could have easily drugged the SPECTRE agent, remove any inconvenient cyanide pills and have the authorities “question” him. Instead, Bond killed him in cold blood . . . and lost any chance to get more information from Dent. Moron. “DR. NO” can boast first-class performances by American-born John Kitzmiller as the exuberant Jamaican CIA contact, Quarrel. And Zena Marshall gave a solid, yet subtle performance as Professor Dent’s Eurasian secretary and SPECTRE agent, Miss Taro. It is only too bad that the producers and Terence Young could not find genuine Eurasians for both the Dr. No and Miss Taro roles. But I guess that would not have been possible in 1962.

“DR. NO” featured some beautiful photography of Jamaica from cinematographer Ted Moore. Monty Norman not only provided a first-rate musical score, he also delivered the original “James Bond” theme. However, some of the movie’s flaws – namely the uneven script and direction by Terence Young, along with the wooden dialogue, makes “DR. NO” vastly overrated in my eyes. But what can I expect from a movie that consistently threatens to put me to sleep two-thirds into the story?