Sometimes, what one person considers a great James Bond movie may be another’s ideal cure for insomnia. Case in point: “Thunderball.”
I happen to think it’s a great Bond film, very well made, and I’d even go so far as to say that the first 30 minutes merit comparison with “From Russia with Love” in terms of quality. Not too surprising when you consider that both movies have the same director, Terence Young.
“Thunderball” had the potential to be the best Bond movie of all. However, it does have some flaws that prevented that from happening. At times, the writing is a bit flabby and some of the plotting strains credibility. For instance, early in the movie Bond is recuperating at a health clinic and the whole reason he is able to play a crucial role in this mission is because some of the bad guys happen to show up at the clinic while he is there. What are the odds? It might have been better if Bond deliberately had to set out to infiltrate their ranks, instead of the crutch of having them miraculously come to him.
But the more serious problems are these: As everyone knows, the movie gets bogged down in slow-paced, boring underwater “action” scenes during the final half-hour. And, given the serious nature of the threat here (nuclear destruction), the film’s pace is at times surprisingly nonchalant. This should have been a story where the tension and suspense keep mounting right up to the very end when Bond finally locates and disables the bombs. The feeling it should have is that the clock is constantly running down and Bond should be more desperate with every passing moment.
Instead, the film often plays like some sort of travelogue as Bond makes his way through the Caribbean, pursuing every woman in sight and going on about conch chowder, etc. Some urgency would not have been amiss here.
As slow as the final underwater confrontation is, it is followed by a final fight between Bond and the main villain, Largo, that is comically fast, and it often seems as if the film was being played at a faster speed. Maybe they were trying to get audiences awake again after the underwater tediousness.
Often, a Bond film is only as good as its villain, and unfortunately, Adolfo Celi as Largo is not one of the greats. For one thing, his voice was dubbed, which actually happened in the Bond movies of the 1960s more often than you might think. (In fact, Ursula Andress’ lines in “Dr. No” were all dubbed, and the same with Claudine Auger as Domino in this movie.) But the character was not really fleshed out enough to be interesting. Largo comes off more as a generic thug, especially when compared to the great villains of the two previous films.
And we’ve got another second-rate Felix Leiter, this time played by Rik Van Nutter. He at least looks the part as Fleming described him, but he comes off as stiff and boring and really does not contribute much to the plot.
Still, the movie benefits from smart dialogue and, overall, a solid script. Good use is again made of SPECTRE, and I like how they keep Blofeld out of sight and in the shadows, which gives the character a lot more menace. The women are gorgeous, there are great set-pieces like the pool of sharks, and the story has elements of identity theft, stolen nukes and world powers held to ransom.
If only they could have tightened things up in the second half.
Rating overall: 9 out of 10
Previous films (had forgotten to add these in my last blogs):
From Russia with Love: 10 out of 10
Goldfinger: 9 out of 10