Monday, June 18, 2012

THE BOND VOYAGE: #4 - Thunderball (1965)

The James Bond Factory was in full force in the sixties, with films being pumped out every year and finding even more success than the previous one.  Thunderball had a tough shadow in which to emerge from, with Goldfinger as the best of the bunch a year earlier.  Despite its flaws and the chinks in the armor, Thunderball still became the most successful and popular in the young franchise, as Sean Connery embodies the character with even more ease and grace.  There are elements of Thunderball which are thrilling and, considering the year, well crafted technologically.  But there are some fundamentally weaker elements to the film, and a strong need for editing. 

SPECTRE is back in Thunderball and up to no good.  This time around, the super power plans on blackmailing both Britain and the United States.  The plan is to steal two nuclear warheads and aim them at the countries, forcing them to pay a ransom for their lands' safety.  This, of course, prompts the action of the "00" agents to seek and destroy this plan.  And wouldn't you know it, 007 just so happens to land the Bahamas as his investigation region.  Ah, some have all the luck.  But I must mention that before he heads to Nassau, Bond fights off some baddies in the famous jet pack scene which, however antiquated it might seem, still works today.

In Nassau Bond finds the baddie in charge, Number 2 from SPECTRE, Largo (Adolfo Celi).  Complete with menacing eyepatch, Largo is less threatening than any of the previous villains.  His mistress, however, serves as a solid adversary to Bond in a number of departments.  Domino is her name, and played by Claudine Auger she is much more intriguing as a villain than Largo.  And perhaps this is due to the Austin Powers influence of my younger years, but Robert Wagner's Number Two (obviously influenced by Celi's character) spoof made it difficult for me to truly buy into the menace of the villain.  And here I am harping on Number 2 as if he was a terrible villain; that isn't the case at all.  But when you have to follow Goldfinger, the warts show a little larger.

Naturally Bond wins the day and saves the world, but these early Bond pictures have begun to understand by this point that it isn't necessarily if he wins, it's how.  We get another meeting with Q where he collects some Bahamas-friendly gadgets like a flare gun, and infrared camera, and a breathing apparatus.  The major action sequence in Thunderball comes in an underwater chase scene that is dragged out far too long.  The film itself runs over 130 minutes, and this scene feels like the main reason why Thunderball wears out its welcome.  It could have been cut significantly. 

Although it is flawed in a few ways, this fourth Bond still has the advantage of having Sean Connery as the title character.  In Thunderball Connery has little use for a tuxedo and more use for swim trunks and beach gear.  It feels like the next Bond picture, but it still works differently than Goldfinger.  Not perfect, but far from a poor entry.