Monday, November 7, 2011

Bondage, Pt. 4: Thunderball

It had been a long time since I'd seen this one, so it held my attention a little better than the others so far. Let's just jump right in, shall we? But first, a fun fact: Johnny Cash submitted a version of the theme song that was not used. That would have been weird, huh? Well, see and hear for yourself!

Synopsis: Bond travels to the Bahamas to deal with a plot by S.P.E.C.T.R.E. No. 2 Emilio Largo to use hijacked nuclear missiles to destroy an American or British city unless he is paid a ridiculous sum of money.

The Villain: This time it's high-ranking S.P.E.C.T.R.E. agent Emilio Largo, who has a penchant for yachts, card-playing, and eye patch-wearing. He is played by Italian actor Alfonso Celi, who, like Goldfinger, had his voice dubbed in to make it more understandable. Largo is certainly not my favorite Bond villain by any stretch, but he gives 007 more of a run for his money than some others. Honestly, I don't have really strong feelings about Largo one way or the other.

The Henchman: Some might say the Henchman in this film is Vargas, Largo's personal assistant, who is said to have given up smoking, drinking, and sex in order to focus on murder. But as he's killed rather handily by Bond on a beach with one shot of a speargun, he doesn't really live up to his reputation. No, the true Henchman in this movie is Fiona Volpe, played by Luciana Paluzzi, a fiery and resourceful motorcycle-driving redhead. The character was supposed to be Irish, but the producers changed the character's last name to reflect Paluzzi's accent. Fiona joins Grace Jones as one of the few female henchmen in the series.

The Bond Girl: Domino, the mistress to Largo, who murdered her brother, is pretty but run-of-the-mill as far as Bond girls go. The actress, a former Miss France, beat out Faye Dunaway, Julie Christie, and Racquel Welch for the part. Legend has it this was after she told the producers that she "enjoys being with older men." She took English lessons but they still had to dub her voice in anyway, which more-or-less confirms my theory that no Bond girl was ever chosen for her acting ability.

The Sidekick: Say hello again, Felix Leiter, who brings his buddy Pinder along for the ride. The CIA is pretty closely involved with Bond on this one, as he's operating very close to their shores (just like in Dr. No). Since consistency of character portrayal is something that never bothered the producers, they went this time with a new actor, Rick Van Nutter. Felix provides some vital support for Bond at the finale of the film - a really, really, really long underwater fight scene. But mostly he just follows Bond around in a helicopter.

Gadgets: They started getting way out there on this one. It all starts in the pre-title action sequence, when Bond takes off in a flying backpack after assassinating a S.P.E.C.T.R.E. agent. Bond also gets a tiny little device that lets him breathe underwater, along with standard wet suits and spearguns. The "sky hook" that saves Bond at the end of the movie is actually real and was in use by the American government at the time to extract agents.

Music: The original song for this movie was called "Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang," after a name for Bond coined by an Italian journalist; it was recorded by both Shirley Bassey and Dione Warwick. But the producers felt that it just wouldn't do to have a song that didn't feature the title of the movie, so John Barry scored one at the last minute and they gave it to Tom Jones. Jones has a ridiculous, over-the-top, unnecessarily dramatic voice, and it works perfectly here. Jones later said he passed out in the recording studio after holding the final note of this song for too long.

The Director: Terrence Young, who directed the first two Bond films, returned for this one. It would be his last. He deserves credit for tackling some pretty tough underwater filming - about a quarter of the movie features underwater scenes.

Fun Facts: Believe it or not, this is the first Bond movie to feature Connery in the iconic opening gun barrel scene. The earlier ones actually aren't him, but a stuntman named Bob Simmons. They re-shot this sequence because Thunderball was the first Bond film to be shot in Panavision so they had a chance to throw Connery in there. Also, the opening credit sequence was the first to feature actual nudity, though it was obscured by shadow, making it the first Bond movie to technically have nudity.

Favorite Line: "My dear girl, don't flatter yourself. What I did this evening was for Queen and country. You don't think it gave me any pleasure, do you?" - Bond to Fiona after they make love. Another good, if obvious, line is "I think he got the point" after Bond spearguns Vargas.

Other: This movie was plagued with legal disputes that weren't ultimately settled until 2008, and are the reason there was a non-series Connery comeback in the Eighties with Never Say Never Again. It seems Ian Fleming, the author of the Bond books, had developed a screenplay with another guy way before the Bond movies started shooting, in a prior, failed attempt to get a film made. Later, he dusted it off and turned it into Thunderball, the ninth book in the series of novels. The other guy sued, got his name on the film as a producer, and retained the rights to a bunch of characters and elements of the plot. The producers treated him with kid gloves because they didn't want a rival Bond film that they had nothing to do with. They needn't have worried - it would take until 1983 for that nightmare to come true with Never Say Never Again (the title is a reference to Connery saying previously he would "never again" play the secret agent). Never Say Never Again has so many similarities to Thunderball that it might as well be a remake.

From what I've read, this is where the honeymoon ended for Connery. He was not even on speaking terms with one of the producers by this time, was angry about the press intruding on his life, and wanted to move on. He announced after the end of this one that he'd do only one more. As it turns out, he did two (or three, if you count Never Say Never Again) more. He actually refused to do interviews about the film with anyone other than Playboy. It seems he was already in the toupee by this time, as well. I believe it was about this time when Connery was famously quoted as saying, when asked about how he felt about James Bond:

"I hate the bastard."

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