Starring Sean Connery as James Bond, Adolfo Celi as Emilio Largo, Claudine Auger as Domino Derval, Luciana Paluzzi as Fiona Volpe and Rik Van Nutter as Felix Leiter.
Directed by Terence Young, produced by Eon Productions and released by United Artists.
In 1965 Lyndon Johnson was President of the United States, Harold Wilson was Prime Minister of England, Leonid Brezhnev was the General Secretary Of The Central Committee and Mao Zedong was The Chairman of the Communist Party Of China. The U.S. Air Force begins operation Rolling Thunder in Vietnam, a sustained bombing campaign of the North. NASA launches Gemini 3, their first two man spacecraft, with Gus Grissom and John Young aboard. The Beatles and United Artists release the film Help! a comedy spoof of the Bond series. And on December 9th, 1965 Thunderball made its theatrical debut.
After tracking down and killing SPECTRE agent #6, Bond is sent to a spa to recover. While there he spots a patient with a tattoo from the Tong, a Chinese criminal organization. When he contacts MI6 he is told that he is still on leave and to file a report when he gets back. Meanwhile Count Lippe, the man with the tattoo, attempts to kill Bond but fails. While investigating Bond finds Francois Derval dead, although 007 doesn’t know his name, yet.
It turns out Derval is an observer for NATO and is suppose to ride along on a nuclear test flight aboard a British Avro Vulcan bomber. He has been replaced by a SPECTRE agent Angelo Palazzi, who was having reconstructive facial surgery at the spa to double for Derval. Once on board Angelo gasses the rest of the crew and crash lands the plane in the ocean. He had tried to force SPECTRE to pay him more money so the henchmen leave him behind to drown. Once they have collected the bombs they cover the plane with a camouflage net then return the weapons to the yacht of Emilio Largo, SPECTRE agent #2.
Bond returns to London where all the 00 agents have been called into a special meeting over the missing plane. He recognizes the photo of Derval and requests to be assigned to watching the dead man’s sister, Domino, in the Bahamas. There Bond meets her while snorkeling and pretends his boat engine is stalled and needs a ride back to the island. It turns out Domino is the mistress of Largo.
Bond later meets up with Domino at a dance where he tries to get information from her but she won’t talk. Later he plays a game of Baccarat with Largo and wins. Since they each know about the other they start a game of cat and mouse trying to get the other to trip up.
With the help of Q and Felix Leiter Bond sets out to find the missing plane and check out Largo’s yacht, The Disco Volante. While snorkeling Bond finds a set of underwater doors on the ship but is attacked by Largo’s henchmen and barely escapes. Bond hitches a ride back to the hotel and just happens to be picked up by Fiona Volpe, a top SPECTRE assassin. She is so devoted to assassinating Bond herself that she killed Count Lippe before he could shoot 007.
Later at the hotel Fiona kidnaps Paula Caplan, Bond’s assistant. She is taken to Largo’s estate where his henchmen plan to torture her until she talks but she breaks open a cyanide capsule and kills herself. Bond attempts a rescue but he is too late.
When Bond returns to his hotel he finds Fiona waiting for him. After a tryst Bond answers the door where her henchmen are waiting and they take 007. The henchmen get stuck in a Junkanoo parade, a drunk man spills rum into the car which Bond sets on fire and escapes into the crowd. Fiona tracks him to a nearby bar and as they dance she tells Bond he has no choice but to surrender to her. Bond spots a gunman aiming for him and spins her around at the last second, the gunman shoots Fiona and Bond once again escapes.
Bond and Leiter locate the missing plane and discover the nuclear bombs are gone, they figure the underwater doors on Largo’s yacht were designed to retrieve the bombs, now they needed to find out where they are hidden. Bond also retrieves Derval’s dog tags and his watch from the dead impostor.
Bond meets up with Domino and informs her that Largo killed her brother and gives her the watch and tags as proof. She agrees to help Bond by taking a Geiger counter onto the yacht and seeing if the bombs are on board. She also tells Bond about a place where Largo’s men meet. Vargas, Largo’s spy, overhears the conversation but before he can do anything James shoots the henchman with a spear gun.
Bond heads to the gathering spot of Largo’s men and mixes in with them during the dive. He finds out the target is Miami and the hiding location of the bombs but is discovered and trapped in the underwater cave. He manages to work his way to an opening and Felix rescues him thanks to a tracking device Bond swallowed. He informs the CIA agent of Largo’s movements so they send a team of SEALs after the bomb, an underwater battle ensues, one bomb is recovered but Largos escapes to his yacht.
Largos heads towards Miami but he doesn’t realize his nuclear technician Ladislav Kutze has disarmed the bomb and rendered it inoperable. Kutze also helps Domino to escape, she was discovered with the Geiger counter and is now being held prisoner aboard the boat. Meanwhile Bond manages to get on board.
The Navy attacks Largos but his yacht separates in two and he outruns them. He and Bond get into a fight on the bridge, the villain pulls a gun on James but just before he fires Domino shoots him with a spear gun in order to avenge her brother’s death. They jump off the ship just before it crashes into the reef and explodes in a fireball.
The Navy does a flyby and drops a raft to Bond, he and Domino climb on. James then inflates a balloon and straps himself to the tether. On the next pass the plane catches the cable and Bond and Domino are carried off.
About The Film
Thunderball is the fourth Bond film and is based on the ninth book. Ian Fleming wanted Thunderball to be the first in the series but he, Kevin McClory and Jach Whittingham had collaborated on the original screenplay. The other two writers sued for copyrights, eventually settling out of court including the right to do their own production of the film. In 1983 they produced Never Say Never Again (the title derived from Sean Connery’s answer to the question would he ever play Bond again after Diamonds Are Forever) Never Say Never Again put Connery into the small club of actors who played the same character in both the original and the remake of a movie.
This is the first Bond film to have Sean Connery appear in the opening gun barrel shooting sequence. In the previous films a stuntman appeared as just a silhouette. Since this was the first Bond film to be shot in Panavision the producers decided that with improvements in filming people would be able to see his face and made the switch.
The original closing credits said:
Will Be Back
“On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”
However filming had to be cancelled for the next movie due to a warm winter and a lack of snow in Switzerland, the second time it was delayed. The decision to go with the different story was made after Thunderball had been released to theaters and there wasn’t time to change the closing credits. The producers had projectionists fade out the end before the message rolled up on the screen.
The original opening credits song was Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Shirley Bassey (of Goldfinger fame) returned to perform the song but after it was recorded the producers decided to replace her with Dionne Warwick. However United Artists wanted the title of the film to be used in the song just like Goldfinger so they hastily wrote a new song and hired Tom Jones to sing it. The original song remained in limbo for the next 30 years due to a lawsuit by Bassey over who had the right to release their version first. Johnny Cash also wrote and recorded his own song titled Thunderball which he offered to the producers but they decided to pass. All three versions can be heard on Youtube.
Emilio Largo, aka #2 as played by Adolfo Celi. Emilio Largo is an international businessman who is really the second in command at SPECTRE. He hatches a plan to steal two nuclear bombs and hold the world for ransom. He is killed by his mistress Domino who wanted revenge for the death of her brother. The eye patch wearing villain would become a popular character in spoof spy films.
Adolfo Celi had been an actor in his native country of Italy but migrated to Brazil after World War II. There he cofounded Teatro Brasileiro de Comedia. After appearing in several movies he was cast to play the villain in the Bond film, which would become his most recognized roll. Celi’s accent was too hard to understand so his dialog was dubbed by Robert Rietti.
Domino Vitali as played by Claudiner Auger. Domino is Largo’s mistress but their relationship has soured, however she is afraid to leave the villain. She is seduced by Bond and later helps the spy after she is informed that Largo has killed her brother. Her trademark in the film is that she always wears black and white clothing although she is seen in a red diving suit for the film publicity stills.
Claudine Auger was Miss France in the 1958 Miss World pageant. She was spotted in Nassau by Kevin McClory, who suggested she try out for the part, ironically it was McClory who had sued Fleming and delayed production of the film. The producers rewrote the character from Italian to French to suit Auger’s accent but in the end Nikki van der Zyl dubbed her lines. Auger acted in various other films but Domino was her largest roll.
The producers originally wanted Julie Christie to play Domino but were disappointed in her screen test. They almost cast Raquel Welch but she had signed on for the movie Fantastic Voyage and wasn’t available.
Fiona Volpe as played by Luciana Paluzzi. Volpe is a classic Femme Fatal who seduces her targets before killing them. She takes such pride in her work she protects Bond in order to take credit for killing him later. She also seduces Bond before trying to kill him but is shot by her own men in the end.
Luciana Paluzzi was an Italian actress who had tried out for the part of Domino and was disappointed when she didn’t get the roll but later was glad to play the villain which she said was more fun. However she complained that later she had trouble in her career as she was typecast as the seductive villain.
Felix Leiter as played by Rik Van Nutter. Leiter returns as Bond’s CIA counterpart and has a more active roll in this film.
Rik Van Nutter was an American actor who was featured in small parts in a number of films. He was the third actor to play the part of Felix Leiter. He was married to actress Anita Ekberg whose poster for the film Call Me Bwana was featured in the movie From Russia With Love.
Paula Caplan as played by Martine Beswick. Paula is an MI6 field agent who assists Bond in both the assassination of Jacques Bouvar, aka #6, and then in Nassau. She is kidnapped by Volpe and kills herself rather than give information to Largo’s henchmen. This is the third Bond appearance for Beswick. In Dr. No she is one of the silhouette dancers in the opening credits and in From Russia With Love she plays Zora, one of the Gipsy women who gets into a fight and later spends the night with Bond. This makes Beswick the first main Bond girl to appear in three films.
#1 as played by Anthony Dawson and voiced by Eric Pohlmann. The face of #1 is once again not seen in the film nor does anyone address him by name. Both Dawson and Pohlmann reprieved their part as seen in From Russia With Love making them collectively the only actors to play a Bond villain in two movies. Dawson had also played Professor Dent in Dr. No. Neither actor is named in the film’s credits.
In Thunderball we see the return of Bond’s super car, the Aston Martin DB5. In this film we only see two of the cars gadgets engaged. Bond uses the bullet shield that we saw in Goldfinger and he also uses rear water cannons to knock down several henchmen after killing Jacques Bouvar. Bond also uses a jetpack to escape from the roof of Bouvar’s hideout.
At the start of the movie we see a meeting of the top SPECTRE agents. As they are reporting their takings one of the agents comes up short. #1 suspects the agent is skimming off the top so he flips a switch and the man is electrocuted. The floor opens and his body is dumped, then the meeting goes on as usual. This is the second time we see a SPECTRE agent being killed for failing in their job.
Mounted to the front of Volpe’s motorcycle are two RPG’s which she uses to blow up Count Lippe’s car. After she is done she dumps the bike in a nearby lake.
When Bond returns to his room he checks a hollowed out book where he has a hidden motion activated tape recorder. As he listens to the playback the camera pans across the room tracing the path of the henchman sent to snoop around. When the henchman returns to Largo’s estate to report that he didn’t learn anything Largo throws him into a pool full of sharks. This will become a standard method of villains dispatching people and will become a popular element in spoof films.
Among the items Q brings for Bond to use on the mission are an underwater infrared camera that doubles as a Geiger counter, a pocket flair gun, a radioactive pill that Bond swallows and then can be tracked by the CIA. Bond is also given a small breathing apparatus that comes in handy during several underwater fight scenes.
The film also has multiple underwater vehicles used by Bond, the Navy SEALs and Largo’s henchmen. Many of them have spear guns mounted to the front.
Largo’s yacht is designed with underwater doors for the recovery of the bombs & has multiple guns mounted on deck. The rear of the boat detaches and the front turns into a high speed hydrofoil.
Ian Fleming liked to incorporate the idea of coincidence into his books. Bond just happens to be at the same spa as Francois Derval and Angelo Palazzi. Bond goes to Nassau to spy on Domino Vitali, who just happens to be the mistress of Largo and sister of the dead man Bond found at the spa. This film stays truer to the concept of the novel’s story line than the previous three films.
In the film SPECTRE threatens to use their stolen nuclear bombs on a city unless they are paid a ransom of 100 million Pounds worth of white diamonds. This is the first time in a Bond film that a villain threatens to destroy a city as part of an extortion scheme. It will become a popular theme in evil genius movies and comedy spoofs. Since the value of diamonds is based upon a stone by stone assessment and the market was dominated by the De Beers monopoly, which could set any price they wanted, it is hard to say what the monetary equivalent of those diamonds would be in the modern world.
Volpe as the seductive female assassin is new to Bond films. Rosa Klebb was the first femme fatal but she was far from seductive. Volpe will set the standard for the sexy killers in future Bond films.
In the film we see the other 00 agents for the first time. They are all called in to investigate the disappearance of the plane and its nuclear payload, although the movie only follows Bond on his mission. We see the backs of their heads and not their faces so we still don’t know anything about the other spies who are Licensed To Kill.
In the films Q’s roll had steadily increased. In Thunderball we see him visiting Bond in the field to deliver equipment and helping with the case.
There aren't many cultural references in Thunderball however in the Junkanoo parade several of the participants are wearing costumes bearing the letters UN on them. At the time the Bahamas were trying to get the United Nations involved in their democracy movement, known as Black Tuesday.
In the movie we do see another instance of Bond forcing himself upon a woman. Despite her objections James persists and wins her over. In the modern world there would be outrage if a character who is the hero had acted in such a manner.
At the end of the film Bond and Domino are rescued using what is known as the Fulton surface-to-air recovery system. A person is tethered to a balloon, a passing airplane with a hooking system catches it and the person is carried off. The system was developed by the CIA in 1952 and was used during Operation Coldfeet in 1962 to recover two agents who had parachuted onto an abandon Soviet weather station in the Arctic. After several accidents the Air Force discontinued the practice in 1992.
Coming on the heels of Goldfinger, Thunderball didn’t receive a very positive reception from the critics. They noted that Bond lacked the charm and humor he had in the previous film and they found the underwater fight scenes to be confusing and went on for too long. The fans didn’t seem to mind and the movie was a box office success. The film generally ranks in the top ten on the popularity charts.
Bond will return in
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service….You Only Live Twice
To learn more about Thunderball visit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thunderball_(film)