Thunderball

Thunderball ★★

3rd Terence Young (after To Russia With Love and Wait Until Dark)

I imagine that, if I were to go to Jeremy Clarkson's ideal home, I would find a room where this was playing on repeat. In fact, I'm 99 percent certain that I've heard one of the musical cues in a Top Gear race. Maybe the Bugatti Veyron one, or perhaps the Aston DB9. But metaphorical flourishes aside, Thunderball is a dated relic of a bygone era, one that is looked back on fondly by certain groups but holds up terribly to the light of modern expectations.

But the problems aren't just about moral values, as I'll get to that in a second. Thunderball is dead in the water thanks to a terrible screenplay, the first of the original screenplay Bonds. The problem starts as soon as the film hits Nassau; the plot has been well set up and Bond's mission is clearly set out. But it all collapses into a series of loosely connected episodes that contain a lot of action but don't ever seem to hang together coherently. The juggling of these various balls (Fiona Volpe, Bond's underwater adventures, the CIA presence) do sort of come together in the final ten minutes, but they're so messily arranged that you really don't care, because the line of the action has been muddied almost completely. Visually, the film does look superb, thanks largely to Ken Adams's excellent set design- the British War Room, complete with sliding paintings, is a highlight. But the remaster I saw had an Achilles Heel, which is that the back projections and dummy shots stuck out like a sore thumb. Most egregious of these involves a scene on the beach between Bond and Domino, where the shots between location and the Pinewood studio are all too obvious. It can even become retrospectively hilarious, like the iconic silhouette opening credits which now seem ridiculously pretentious and silly.

But what dates Thunderball most of all is its sheer misogyny. Bond's first seduction of a worker at a health clinic is pure sexual harassment; he first entraps her into a kiss while she's doing her job, and then blackmails her into sexual relations. It's nauseating and astonishingly brazen; even my parents, who grew up watching Bond, were disgusted. The lyrics of Thunderball are a mission statement for this ('his days of asking are over'... how very rapey), and considering how attractive and appealing the figure of Bond was for young men in the 60s and 70s, perhaps its not surprising how certain attitudes towards women were fostered or encouraged. Mr. Bond has a lot to answer for.

I've carped on enough about what I perceive to be the faults and failings of this film, so it's only fair that I name some of the things I do like. There's the aforementioned sets and production design, which looks fantastic, but I must confess to having a distinct fondness for Claudine Auger and Luciana Paluzzi. Both are gorgeous women, especially the dark-haired Auger with her great soulful eyes, though Paluzzi's red-haired danger is equally alluring. While it may seem hypocritical of me to lambast the film's sexual politics and then drool over beautiful women in the very next breath, I've always maintained that it's foolish to deny emotional responses to basic stimuli like sexual desire if you have those desires. You can have two parts of your brain operating at the same time.

In any case, Thunderball is a creaky, outdated film, bloated in length and positively a dinosaur in its sexual politics. Watch From Russia With Love instead.

Terence in Order:
1. To Russia With Love
2. Wait Until Dark
3. Thunderball

Ethan liked these reviews

All