Across the Bond: Thunderball


I think we’ve come to the first film that Xander and I don’t fully agree on. I’ll admit to Thunderball being watchable, but I find its pacing and and plodding make it one of the Bonds I don’t go back and watch that often. Xander on the other hand can definitely push past the inconsistencies and dig in. There’s definitely some good stuff there, but it’s interesting to note how two Bond fans can have different takes on the same film. I’m sure there will be more to come.

Check out our takes and then lets us know where you land. We’re not drastically conflicted on this — Connery is Bond after all, and that makes for good Bond. Make sure you check out all the Across the Bonds as well.

Matthew Razak

I’ve watched Thunderball over and over again trying to get into, but I just can’t. I find that the fantastic parts do not build up to a fantastic whole, and while no Bond movie is bad in my mind, this one is definitely the first in the series that doesn’t get me as excited as the others. 

I think a lot of the issues arise from the fact that Thunderball followed up Goldfinger and thus had to be bigger, better and cooler than its predecessor. That’s a lot of pressure to put on a film, and director Terrence Young, who after directing the first two Bonds missed out on Goldfinger. It’s pretty obvious that Young was a bit out of his depth with the new big budget, action oriented Bond. After all when he left the franchise he was making spy films, now he had an international blockbuster on his hands. He lets the film ramble along, aided by a bigger budget and lots of gorgeous scenery to shoot, and by the time the big action sequence commences (and then goes on and on) not even Connery’s quips can keep the film afloat. It doesn’t help either that this might be one of the most poorly edited films in the series. I disagree with Xander’s assessment of the opening fight below; it was ambitious, but it’s so poorly put together I think their ambition got ahead of them.

That’s not to say that it’s all bad. Connery is still in fine form in this film, though his Bond has shifted from a rough-and-tumble smart ass to a dashingly smooth world saver. I think that Connery himself got a bit more arrogant after the success of Goldfinger and it made his Bond a bit less edgy. The screenplay offers him a few less opportunities to play it dark as well, instead focusing on the snark that had made the previous film so quotable. There’s still great lines to be had though, especially when Bond tells bad girl Fiona that he only slept with her for “crown and country.” Speaking of the women, Lucianna Paluzzi (Fiona) and Claudine Auger (Domino) might just win the contest for most attractive Bond women.

It does need to be pointed out that the underwater war at the end of the film was a stunning achievement in filming at the time, and judging from how well that’s put together in comparison to the rest of the film I think they got a little obsessed with it. It’s still one of the most impressive action set pieces in a Bond, and Thunderball should be watched at least once just to see it. Despite being all over the place in quality, and featuring a less than worthy villain Thunderball still has plenty of impressive parts.

Xander Markham

I enjoy Thunderball more than Matt does, although still consider it the series’ first noticeable stumble. It comprises a huge number of memorable scenes, has the most gorgeous set of girls to date (Claudine Auger in revealing swimwear was everything a young boy could ask for) and a wonderfully sleazy villain in the eyepatched Largo, but the pacing feels slightly off and parts of the movie drag as a result. There’s not much momentum to the plot, especially since Bond spends so much time investigating Largo when the audience already knows he’s responsible, and the early scenes at the health spa aren’t particularly clear for anyone unfamiliar with the plot. The underwater fights, while a terrific technical achievement, also go on far too long. Bond‘s missile-firing underwater propulsion thingy is mighty cool, but probably responsible for killing every Bahamian reef for miles around.

There’s still a huge amount to enjoy in the movie: the pre-credits sequence is a hoot, with Bond‘s fight against Colonel Bouvard (who had marvellous legs while disguised as a widow, it must be said) one of the young series’ most ambitious, followed by the famous, if totally nonsensical, jetpack escape. The hijacking of the NATO jet is also terrific – and a very original and scary plot for the time – as is Largo’s swimming pool full of sharks, the chase through the Junkanoo, Bond‘s dismayed reaction to Q’s appearance (his ‘oh no’ gets me every time) and the brilliant rebreather, a gadget so cool even the British Army Engineers wanted to find out whether it really worked (it didn’t). Having Domino execute the coup de grâce against Largo is an intelligently played twist, giving retribution to the woman who has really suffered at the villain’s hands. Not sure Largo’s torture methods were up to much though – ice cubes? What was he planning on doing, drizzling chilly water down her spine? Bond also gets some terrific one-liners, from his muttered response to Domino’s flirtatious comment about his sharp eyes (‘Wait ’til you get to my teeth’) and ice-cold quip when depositing the corpse of Fiona Volpe at a table of partying tourists (‘Do you mind if my friend sits this one out? She’s just dead!’). Thunderball has its issues and is overshadowed by Goldfinger‘s imposing legacy, but remains terrifically watchable.

Fleming’s book is identical in every noteworthy way bar the absence of jetpacks and Fiona Volpe, although due to the complicated circumstances surrounding the movie’s pre-production, technically counts as the first novelisation. A few years prior to Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman getting the series started with Dr. No, Fleming had been in talks with Ivar Bryce and screenwriter Kevin McClory about developing a Bond movie of their own. Thunderball (originally titled Longitude 78 West) was the script they came up with. In 1961, with the movie still being touted around, Fleming wrote a novel based on the script without permission from his partners. The novel was released, but McClory twice pursued legal action against the author, first in 1961, a case he lost, and again in 1963, where an out-of-court settlement granted him the movie rights, hence his prominent position among the Thunderball movie credits and later independent remake, the abysmal Never Say Never Again. Fleming, meanwhile, suffered his first heart attack under the pressures of the trial, and died just under a year after it was settled.

Matthew Razak
Matthew Razak is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Flixist. He has worked as a critic for more than a decade, reviewing and talking about movies, TV shows, and videogames. He will talk your ear off about James Bond movies, Doctor Who, Zelda, and Star Trek.