Thunderball ★★★½

Thunderball is arguably the last of the classic Bond films, i.e. those featuring the original lead actor giving a damn. Connery remains on, or close to, his ‘A’ game. He still looks great – and appears to be enjoying himself. And the storyline is remarkably easy to follow (even if it does meander quite a bit) – although, I did confuse Domino (Claudine Auger) and Fiona Volpe (Luciana Paluzzi) a couple of times, which might have something to do with similar hair and make-up. I like both characters, though, particularly the proactive Fiona – and especially when she chastises our hero…

“James Bond, who only has to make love to a woman and she starts to hear heavenly choirs singing. She repents and immediately returns to the side of right and virtue…”

(I wonder if she was having a dig at Pussy Galore.)

Unfortunately, the film’s arch-baddy, Largo (Adolfo Celi) lacks the personality of, say, Goldfinger. Come to think of it, he doesn’t have a personality and matters aren’t helped by Robert Rietti's terse voiceover. And Rik Van Nutter’s Leiter is several steps down from Jack Lord or even Cec Linder. However, and despite meeting a perfunctory end, Largo henchman Vargas (Philip Locke) makes for an interesting presence – he’s a real lurker. Largo says of the underling that he doesn’t drink, smoke or show any interest in sex. What a deviant! And I enjoy Guy Doleman’s Count Lippe, who makes for a smoothly saturnine first-act antagonist.

The direction is decent if a little comic book-y at times and the conspicuous use of camera under-cranking tips certain scenes – the speeding Disco Volante sequence, in particular – into unintentionally amusing territory. There’s a sense of the production feeling a little rushed in places. Perhaps the extensive underwater scenes were a drain on resources. If that’s the case, it’s a compromise that’s worth making because they're mightily impressive, possessing an otherworldliness the series has rarely if ever managed to duplicate (Moonraker notwithstanding).

Two stand-out sequences: the plane-jacking by a SPECTRE doppelganger, securing the criminal organisation a pair of nuclear devices, all the better for holding the UK government to ransom. The casual cruelty of the 007 films is ramped up quite considerably here, what with the double-agent summarily murdering the RAF bomber’s crew. And when his SPECTRE buddies locate him, they just as quickly dispense with his services, simply because he demanded extra money. (Memo to self: never haggle with SPECTRE.)

And the scene in which Bond tries to elude Fiona and her cronies while a Junkanoo is in full swing is a bit of a corker. Rather than just using the parade as local colour, Terence Young and co. integrate the actors into the spectacle. This particular sequence plays out to a tune called Street Chase, which reworks John Barry’s earlier 007 theme, and culminates in Death of Fiona (oops, spoiler!), a cheeky cha-cha-cha version of the film’s secondary theme, the classy Mr Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Yep, if anything, Barry moves up a gear with his Thunderball score, which is a hypnotic, brassy, shimmering delight.

BOND – from top to bottom

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