Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Double Oh...4: Thunderball

Thunderball preamble:  Not being all that much familiar with Connery-era Bond, Thunderball seems to be primarily notable for the legal entanglements surrounding it that led to the another studio making quasi-rehash Never Say Never Again at the same time MGM was prepping Octopussy.  

Villain(s):  This one is just chock-a-block with them starting off with Bond's takedown of S.P.E.C.T.R.E.'s Agent No.6, which leads into a secret "roundtable" meeting of S.P.E.C.T.R.E.'s top dogs, including No.1 (pre-Blofeld), assessing all their monetary victories from chaos-wielding.  The meeting contains the "disposable" chairs with which No.l can express his disappointment for any agent's failures.  Prominent in the meeting is the eye patch-sporting No-2 (eventually called Largo quite some time later in the film).
There's a whole host of S.P.E.C.T.R.E. agents and Largo's henchmen none of any real repute, except Fiona (who we'll get to in the "Bond Girls" section). Largo is the focus here, with much diving expertise, his fondness for sea life, a tremendous array of wicked-cool underwater toys, and of course, the legendary Shark grotto in his back yard.   Largo is as ruthless with killing his henchmen for their failures as No. 1.  Having only one eye, hes quite observant, and his key trait here is how much he doesn't want to deal with Bond face-to-face, instead continuously leaving him to his henchmen.  Bond is a pesky flea he can't get rid of but he generally pays him little mind as he goes about his underwater bomb transporting business.

Bond Girls: Domino (Claudine Auger) is Largo's ingenue - the pretty face Bond can use.  Or so Bond thinks.  Domino eventually figures out Bond's game but is no less grateful for his opening her eyes to the true nature of the cyclops she's been cavorting with.  In probably her best moment, she doesn't flinch an in when Bond harpoons the stalking henchman Vargas. In the end it's Domino that saves Bond, showing that maybe the series had some awareness at that point of how formulaic the Bond relationship had become.
In fact I know it did, considering the wonderful line Fiona (Luciana Paluzzi) delivers to Bond:
But of course, I forgot your ego, Mr. Bond. James Bond, the one where he has to make love to a woman, and she starts to hear heavenly choirs singing. She repents, and turns to the side of right and virtue... but not this one!"
It's a pointed commentary on Romanova  and Pussy from the previous two films. Fiona is awesome, a buxom redhead who is totally ruthless and cunning.  She's easily the smartest and most capable hench-person in the series thus far.  From her first meeting she has Bond all figured out, and generally she knows how to use her sexuality and is as capable of using it as well as, if not more so, than Bond 
Finally, there's Paula: (Martine Beswick) Bond's agent in Nassau.  First, she doesn't even get an introduction to Felix when Bond takes the CIA agent into his circle of associates, so she kind of gets shafted throughout.  She's also not so smart or tough, but she's willing to kill herself to protect what little she knows from Largo.

Theme/Credits:  Oh man, Tom Jones gives a rollicking Tom Jones-esque ballad played over swimming silhouetted nudes, pursued by silhouetted harpoon-armed divers.  It's the Beta version of the Bond opening credits we've come to expect, so not quite perfected yet, but that theme song just fills me with Tom Jones-y joy.

Bond: Connery plays a less serious, more quippy Bond than previous.  His penchant for vengeance is limited to the opening sequence (after discovering poor Paula's body on Largo's compound he doesn't swear vengeance on anyone).  Bond's darker libido still surfaces early when he retires to a rehab/spa and thrusts his arms around the nurse and forcefully kisses her.  He doesn't toss her around like he did Pussy Galore, but after having a misadventure on some ridiculous 60's electronic "therapeutic" contraption called "the rack", he basically blackmails the nurse into sexing him up in the steam room.  The Connery Bond charms seem to be providing diminishing returns, as he's nowhere near as smooth or silver-tongued... he's more forceful and his innuendo is barely innuendo.  He's also not nearly as good at sneaking around as he thinks.

Movie:  The opening fight with the S.P.E.C.T.R.E. Agent 6 in drag (posing as his own widow at his own funeral) is an everything plus the kitchen sink tussle.  It's far from the expertly choreographes fisticuffs and mixed-martial arts throwdowns in modern action films, but it's got a giddy logic to it.  After Bond gets his revenge he escapes with a jetpack... vintage Bond moment   The crux of the plot finds S.P.E.C.T.R.E. sending its No.2 to orchestrate the stealing a NATO bomber. With the bombs in their posession, they request ransom of 100 million pounds sterling, else they destroy a UK or US city. Bond's intuition takes them to the Bahamas, where he engages in tons of underwater action and takes part in a festive parade (hiding out in a float adorning a bevvy of bikini-clad models, because of course he does).  The film climaxes in a totally epic G.I. Joes versus Cobra water battle, with people getting harpooned, stabbed, having their rebreather tubes slashed, their goggles removed, and, of course, there are sea creatures aplenty.  Notably sharks (not so awesome, at least two sharks were killed in the making of the movie).  It's a prolonged but totally awesome sequence that is still amazing and unparalleled today.

Q gadgets: A geiger counter disguised as a camera which doubles as an underwater camera, there's a mini underwater rebreather (Batman still uses these frequently in the comics), a flare gun, an ingestible homing signal.  Nothing too exciting (but perhaps a little more exciting back in the 1960's).

Classification (out of 01.0):  00.8 (a big -0.1 for, boo, shark killing)