When GOLDFINGER got released towards the end of 1964, the film became a worldwide smash. It’s hard now to explain just how popular the film was- as in this day and age we’re used to seeing box office records being broken all the time. The thing is, GOLDFINGER wasn’t just a successful film- it was a cultural phenomenon on par with Beatlemania. People had never seen anything like it before- and they demanded more. Wanting to strike when Bondmania was at a fever pitch, the producers ambitiously swore that the next installment of the series would be ready for the 1965 Christmas season. The only problem- how on earth do you follow a film like GOLDFINGER??? The answer:
PLOT: Bond is once again pitted against S.P.E.C.T.R.E when they steal two nuclear bombs, leading Bond to the Bahamas- where he’s pitted against the organization’s Number 2 man, Emilio Largo (Adolfo Celi).
REVIEW: THUNDERBALL holds a special place in my heart, as it was the first Bond film I ever saw. I was eight years old, and I caught it on ABC on a New Year’s Eve. The film launched an obsession with the franchise that’s still there nineteen years later. I find it very hard to be objective about this particular film, as it still hold a lot of nostalgia for me- which makes it easy to overlook its flaws.
In many ways- it’s really THUNDERBALL, and not GOLDFINGER that is the prototypical Bond film. The formula is really in full swing here for the first time, and the producers stuck with this formula through DIE ANOTHER DAY, only really shaking it up with CASINO ROYALE in a successful bid to take the series in another direction.
For all its spectacle, GOLDFINGER was still a relatively modest production. With THUNDERBALL, the filmmakers knew that the film was all but guaranteed to be a massive hit- so they threw piles of cash at it. As a result, THUNDERBALL is an extremely lavish film. The locations are beautiful, the women are stunning, and the action is epic- as is the running time, as this marks the first time an installment ran over two hours. Producers Albert R. Broccoli & Harry Saltzman also opted to shoot for the first time in a 2:35:1 aspect ratio- giving the film an epic look.
The only thing wrong with THUNDERBALL is that it’s not as lean as the two previous installments- a complaint that could be logged against many films in the series. Towards the end, some of the admittedly spectacular underwater scenes go on a shade too long. It’s as if the filmmakers got a ton of amazing second unit underwater footage and decided that every scrap of it had to be in the film. About 25% of the film takes place underwater- which is probably a tad excessive. Despite this complaint, the final underwater battle is incredible, and no film since has had underwater photography that even begins to compare to what’s in THUNDERBALL. Also- I’ve always loved the sea and water sports, so the underwater stuff is not really a problem for me.
Once again, Connery is great- but as far as I’m concerned this is the last installment where Connery would be operating at 100%, as he supposedly was not too keen on Bondmania. Nonetheless, he’s amazing in this one, and he has a bunch of great fight scenes- particularly a final epic fight where he takes on Largo and several of his henchmen with his bare hands, while simultaneously steering an out of control powerboat. Probably one of the best action sequences in the series- made even better by the fact that Connery was only doubled for a few quick shots.
This one is off the charts folks. Not only do we get the drop dead gorgeous Claudine Auger as Domino- Largo’s mistress turned Bond bed mate, but we also get Luciana Paluzzi as Fiona Volpe, who remains the prototypical bond villainess. Both women are incredibly hot, but if I had my choice I’d go for Paluzzi- if only for the scene where she rides a motorcycle clad head to toe in leather…drooooool….
BOND MUSIC: John Barry contributes one of my favorite Bond scores to this film- although it’s interesting that much of the score is based on a theme song that did not make it into the final cut. Originally, the theme was supposed to be Mr. Kiss Kiss- Bang Bang (which is how Bond is known in Asia, and inspired the title of the recent Shane Black- KISS KISS BANG BANG), sung by Dionne Warwick. For some reason, the song was dropped probably due to the fact that after the success of the GOLDFINGER theme song, they wanted a track that shared the name of the film. As a result, it was replaced by a great Tom Jones theme song- which I must admit is one of my favorites.
BODY COUNT: 14- most of them during the final underwater assault.
NUMBER OF WOMEN BOND SLEEPS WITH: 3, although it could be four, as at one point in the film he works with a very hot female agent- and one can probably safely assume that Bond has slept with her at some point. I should also mention that there’s a scene early in the film where Bond blackmails his nurse at a health resort into having sex with him in the sauna. Of course- by the next scene she’s madly in love with him. Only Connery as Bond could pull off a scene like this.
BEST ONE- LINER: “I think he got the point”- after shooting a henchman with a speargun- which impales him against a palm tree. Classic...
BEST DOUBLE ENTENDRE: “I hope we didn’t scare the fishes” – after engaging in some underwater lovemaking with Domino.
BEST GADGET: Q actually makes it out into the field in this one, giving Bond several cool gadgets- including a tiny underwater breather that seemingly never runs out of air. Still the best gadget in the film is probably the jetpack Bond uses in the teaser. That’s right- Bond uses a jetpack. It’s THAT type of Bond film…
RECEPTION: THUNDERBALL was an even bigger hit then GOLDFINGER- raking up $141 million worldwide, with $63.5 million in the U.S alone. Adjusting for inflation, that’s equivalent to $527.8 million, making it a bigger grosser than THE DARK KNIGHT. It’s by far the most financially successful Bond movie ever.
GRADE: 8.5/10- not up to par with FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE or GOLDFINGER, but still a classic in its own right.