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Bond Goes Wide: Remembering “Thunderball” on its 50th Anniversary

December 29, 2015 - 2:03 pm   |   by

Thunderball will always be the ‘big one.’ When Bond was bigger than anything on the planet, except maybe the Beatles.” — Steven Jay Rubin

The Digital Bits is pleased to present this retrospective commemorating the golden anniversary of the release of Thunderball, the fourth cinematic James Bond adventure starring Sean Connery as Agent 007 and, notably, the first produced in widescreen and, when adjusted for inflation, the most successful entry in the series.  [Read on here...]

As with our previous 007 articles (available herehereherehere, and here), The Bits and History, Legacy & Showmanship continue the series with this retrospective featuring a Q&A with an esteemed group of James Bond authorities who discuss the virtues and shortcomings of Thunderball. The interviews were conducted separately and have been edited into a “roundtable” conversation format.

The participants…

Jon Burlingame is the author of The Music of James Bond (Oxford, 2012; and recently issued in paperback with an updated Skyfall chapter). He also authored Sound and Vision: 60 Years of Motion Picture Soundtracks (Watson-Guptill, 2000) and TV’s Biggest Hits: The Story of Television Themes from Dragnet to Friends (Schirmer, 1996). He writes regularly for the entertainment industry trade Variety and has also been published in The Hollywood Reporter, Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, and The Washington Post.

Jon Burlingame

Robert A. Caplen is an attorney and the author of Shaken & Stirred: The Feminism of James Bond (Xlibris, 2010). He recently was featured in a segment on SPECTRE for an episode of the BBC World News’ Talking Movies.

Robert A. Caplen

James Chapman is a professor of Film Studies at the University of Leicester and is the author of Licence to Thrill: A Cultural History of the James Bond Films (Tauris, 2007). His other books include Inside the Tardis: The Worlds of Doctor Who—A Cultural History (Tauris, 2006), Saints and Avengers: British Adventure Series of the 1960s (Tauris, 2002), and (with Nicholas J. Cull) Projecting Empire: Imperialism and Popular Cinema (Tauris, 2009). Chapman is also a Council member of the International Association for Media and History and is editor of the Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television.

James Chapman

John Cork is the author (with Bruce Scivally) of James Bond: The Legacy (Abrams, 2002). He also wrote (with Maryam d’Abo) Bond Girls Are Forever: The Women of James Bond (Abrams, 2003) and (with Collin Stutz) James Bond Encyclopedia (DK, 2007). He is the president of Cloverland, a multi-media production company, producing documentaries and supplemental material for movies on DVD and Blu-ray, including material for Chariots of Fire, The Hustler, and many of the James Bond and Pink Panther titles. Cork also wrote the screenplay to The Long Walk Home (1990), starring Whoopi Goldberg and Sissy Spacek. He recently wrote and directed the feature documentary You Belong to Me: Sex, Race and Murder on the Suwannee River for producers Jude Hagin and Hillary Saltzman (daughter of original Bond producer, Harry Saltzman); the film is available on iTunes, Google Play and other streaming platforms. 

John Cork

Lee Pfeiffer is the author (with Philip Lisa) of The Incredible World of 007: An Authorized Celebration of James Bond (Citadel, 1992) and The Films of Sean Connery (Citadel, 2001), and (with Dave Worrall) The Essential Bond: The Authorized Guide to the World of 007 (Boxtree, 1998/Harper Collins, 1999). He also wrote (with Michael Lewis) The Films of Harrison Ford (Citadel, 2002) and (with Dave Worrall) The Great Fox War Movies (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, 2006). Lee was a producer on the Goldfinger and Thunderball Special Edition LaserDisc sets and is the founder (with Dave Worrall) and Editor-in-Chief of Cinema Retro magazine, which celebrates films of the 1960s and 1970s and is “the Essential Guide to Cult and Classic Movies.”

Lee Pfeiffer

Steven Jay Rubin is the author of The James Bond Films: A Behind-the-Scenes History (Random House, 1981) and The Complete James Bond Movie Encyclopedia (McGraw-Hill, 2002). He also wrote Combat Films: American Realism, 1945-2010 (McFarland, 2011) and has written for Cinefantastique magazine.

Steven Jay Rubin

Graham Rye is the editor, designer and publisher of 007 Magazine and the author of The James Bond Girls (Boxtree, 1989).

Graham Rye

Bruce Scivally is the author (with John Cork) of James Bond: The Legacy (Abrams, 2002). He has also written Superman on Film, Television, Radio & Broadway (McFarland, 2006), Billion Dollar Batman: A History of the Caped Crusader on Film, Radio and Television from 10¢ Comic Book to Global Icon (Henry Gray, 2011), and Dracula FAQ: All That’s Left to Know About the Count from Transylvania (Backbeat, 2015). As well, he has written and produced numerous documentaries and featurettes that have appeared as supplemental material on LaserDisc, DVD and Blu-ray Disc, including several of the Charlie Chan, James Bond, and Pink Panther releases. He is the Vice President of New Dimension Media in Chicago, Illinois.

Bruce Scivally

And now that the participants have been introduced, might I suggest preparing a martini (shaken, not stirred, of course) and cueing up the soundtrack album to Thunderball, and then enjoy the conversation with these James Bond authorities.



Michael Coate (The Digital Bits): In what way is Thunderball worthy of celebration on its 50th anniversary?

Jon Burlingame: Where to begin? With Goldfinger, the Bond series really hit its stride in terms of style; the mix of action, suspense and humor; Connery’s performance as 007; and, my special interest, music. Thunderball took it one step farther, and by setting so much of the action underwater, lent a new and intriguing “depth” (sorry) to the screen saga of Britain’s greatest secret agent. I loved the story, in particular; this brought back SPECTRE in a fascinating way—and now here we are, 50 years later, talking about SPECTRE in a new Bond film! Who could have guessed?!

Robert A. Caplen: Thunderball is one of the most intriguing Bond films and novels, complete with the drama of a legal dispute. In the early 1960s, Kevin McClory claimed that the novel infringed upon an earlier screenplay on which he and Jack Whittingham collaborated with Ian Fleming. In light of the pending litigation, Danjaq opted to introduce audiences to James Bond through Dr. No. That decision forever changed the trajectory of the franchise…. When Ian Fleming eventually conceded that his novel reproduced a substantial part of the Fleming/McClory/Whittingham screenplay, a settlement was reached, and Fleming assigned some of his rights in the novel to McClory. McClory then granted Danjaq a license to produce a film version of Thunderball. McClory was given credit as the film’s producer, and the rest is apparently history…. Fast-forward 50 years: the legal issues surrounding Thunderball, once again, reemerged as ownership of SPECTRE and related characters again was the subject of dispute. A recent settlement between McClory’s estate and Danjaq finally resolved the issue once and for all, and paved the way for development and release of the latest Eon Productions installment, SPECTRE. Thunderball is a fantastic film that is more than deserving of renewed celebration during its golden anniversary. But its influence is far-reaching. Thunderball, perhaps more so than other films, plays a central part in an even larger, complex story that enables us to continue enjoying James Bond today.

Sean Connery in Thunderball

James Chapman: Thunderball is a major landmark for the James Bond film series. It was the most successful Bond movie of all when the box-office is adjusted for inflation. It was released at the height of Bondmania and the associated spy craze of the 1960s. It was the fourth Bond movie but also marked several “firsts” for the series. It was the first shot in widescreen (Panavision) and the first with a more or less simultaneous release in Britain and the United States. In a sense it was the first really epic (in the sense of “Big”) Bond movie and to that extent the prototype for other “Big” Bonds such as You Only Live Twice, The Spy Who Loved Me, Moonraker and SPECTRE…. As all Bond fans know, Thunderball started out as a screen treatment by Ian Fleming, Jack Whittingham and Kevin McClory in 1959. This was a couple of years before Harry Saltzman and Cubby Broccoli teamed up to produce the Bond film series. Fleming used material from the screen treatment for the novel. In that sense Thunderball is a very cinematic novel. It was to have been the first film, but due to the court case between Fleming and McClory, and perhaps also because Thunderball would have been expensive to produce, it was decided to make Dr. No as the first film instead…. Kevin McClory is a controversial figure in Bond history, of course. I think that McClory himself probably overstated his role in the origin of the cinematic Bond while Saltzman and Broccoli tended to downplay his role. But McClory deserves credit for recognizing the cinematic potential of Bond. And ultimately Thunderball isn’t very far different from the final version of the Whittingham-McClory treatment. He became rather obsessive over his alleged or perceived “rights” to Bond later in life, but McClory should not be written out of the history of cinematic Bond. Robert Sellers’ fine book The Battle for Bond is the best account of the McClory episode, and he untangles the various contributions of Fleming, McClory and Whittingham to the development of the ultimately aborted project.

35 mm film image from ThunderballJohn Cork: “It’s the biggest.” Thunderball sold more tickets than any other Bond film. It marks the apex of success of the 007 franchise, the point where Bond was the complete focus on popular culture, the absolutely height of spymania. Thunderball is also the film that would come to define how Bond films would be made even to this day. Using multiple crews shooting major sequences simultaneously, building set-pieces around single “gags” like the Bell-Textron Rocket Belt or the Skyhook rescue system, massive product placement deals, coordinating the release with tie-in advertising and cross-promotions: all of these elements of the Bond series began with Thunderball…. Thunderball is also a very good film, but like so many Bond films, a beautiful mess. Where Goldfinger feels like a film where every shot was planned perfectly, Thunderball plays like live jazz. The fan magazine (and now website) for Led Zeppelin is named Tight but Loose, and that describes Thunderball for me. Just when you think the film is about to go completely off the rails, it pulls it back together. If you can go with the film, it’s like a great Led Zeppelin concert: over-the-top, outrageous, a bit silly, but at times absolutely brilliant, and it even has a drum solo. For me, the film remains one of my favorite Bond viewing experiences. It is also the Bond film with the most amazing behind-the-scenes stories, tales that begin with a famed former aid to a New York City mayor in 1958 and echo through to the release of SPECTRE. In the world of Bond, it all comes back to Thunderball

Lee Pfeiffer: Thunderball was a blockbuster in every sense of the word and the film that launched Bondmania into the stratosphere. The degree of success of Goldfinger took the producers and the studio by surprise. There were few merchandising opportunities. It’s hard to believe but no one had the foresight to even capitalize on the Aston Martin DB5 when Goldfinger was released in September 1964. Producers Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman weren’t going to let the next opportunity go by. They geared up for probably the biggest merchandise tie-in program since the Disney Davy Crockett craze a decade earlier. Bond toys and merchandise flooded the international market with predictable results. Thunderball was the peak of the Bond boom in the 1960s. It played to packed houses in an era when films didn’t open “wide” in early engagements. Instead, select theaters in big cities got the movie first. You had to wait in long lines to get a ticket. In New York, the Paramount Theater found that even round-the-clock shows couldn’t accommodate the crowds. The film was probably the biggest action-oriented blockbuster ever released. Critics were less impressed than they had been by the previous Bond films, correctly pointing out that with Thunderball, the emphasis was increasingly on gadgetry as opposed to fully fleshed-out characters. However, the movie did have its defenders. It’s the only Bond film to date to make The New York Times list of Ten Best Films of the Year. In any event, audiences loved the movie and a casualty of that success is that the series did become increasingly preoccupied with special effects and hi-tech equipment. This was a gripe of Sean Connery as well. It was probably with this film that he began to lose his enthusiasm for playing 007. Another critic of the movie was its director Terence Young, who felt the film suffered from the abundance of underwater scenes that, by necessity, slowed the action. Fans tended to disagree. Peter Hunt’s editing and John Barry’s superb score went a long way in keeping the final battle sequence exciting. 

Steven Jay Rubin: For me personally, Thunderball was the high water mark of the series in the 1960s. After the success of Goldfinger, the appreciation level for anything Bondian blasted off the roof—and Thunderball was its culmination. For my money, it was Connery’s last truly great Bond role. It’s also the most romantic Bond because Bond is matched with arguably the most beautiful woman in the series, lovely French actress Claudine Auger. It has the biggest story, plays on the biggest canvas, and just kicks ass all up and down the line.

A Thunderball premiere

Graham Rye: Thunderball was the biggest Bond of all, and nothing that followed ever really matched its overall success, especially for a child of the ‘60s. Ken Adam’s SPECTRE boardroom (far more visually impressive, eerie and effective than its equivalent in 2015’s SPECTRE) and Whitehall Conference Room sets, together with the design of Largo’s yacht/hydrofoil (the Disco Volante) and the visual richness of the film once again immediately told the cinemagoer in 1965 they were unmistakably watching an Eon Productions James Bond film—and to underline that fact, John Barry’s score perfectly complemented the grandeur, action, and intimacy of every aspect of the story—and his composition Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang aptly captured Sean Connery’s confident swagger better than anything else Barry ever wrote. Nobody really understood James Bond like director Terence Young, and in Thunderball it shows in spades. Young undoubtedly molded the young Connery into the Bond role in Dr. No (1962) and in From Russia with Love (1963), in Thunderball his pupil “graduated.”

Bruce Scivally: Thunderball is Bond writ large. From fairly modest beginnings with Dr. No and From Russia with Love to the gadget-filled romp that was Goldfinger, each 007 film had upped the ante from the last. With Thunderball, the film went epic: more gadgets, bigger stunts, and, for the first time, wide screen. After the roaring success of Goldfinger, Thunderball was the film that took James Bond over the top to becoming a phenomenon. The success of those two movies changed cinema and television for the next decade, as spy characters began popping up all over, from The Man from U.N.C.L.E. to Flint to Matt Helm and beyond. But Bond was the king spy of all of them. The Bond films set a bar that, in the 1960s, no other spy adventures would surpass.

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Coate: When did you first see Thunderball and what did you think?

Burlingame: It wasn’t on first release; I can’t recall exactly when, but it was certainly at a drive-in in upstate New York, where I grew up, paired with another Connery, possibly From Russia with Love or You Only Live Twice. I had seen one or two other Bonds at that point and my reaction was, wow, I’ve got to see all of these!

A scene from Thunderball

Caplen: I remember watching Thunderball as a youth and enjoying the film. The underwater fight scenes and the rocket belt left indelible images upon my impressionable mind. As I’ve revisited the film over the years, I can’t help but laugh each time Bond has his initial exchange with Domino and admires her (swimming) form.

Chapman: I first saw it when it came on British TV in the late 1970s. I’d have been about eight or nine. I particularly liked the pre-title sequence with the jet pack. And I remember liking the underwater scenes too. Some critics feel that these slow down the film, but I don’t see that. Yes, the movement is slower; of course it is, but in fact most of the underwater scenes are quite short, while the big battle at the end is edited at such a furious pace that it doesn’t seem slow.

Cork: The evening of September 22nd, 1974. I had started reading the Bond novels that summer and had completed Thunderball sometime in August. I was 13, and if you asked any of my friends they would have told you I was already a huge James Bond fan. Live and Let Die made me a Bond fan, but Thunderball was the first Bond film I saw once I had become a fan. Even with the ads and the cuts for television, it was an electrifying experience for me. Every time I see the film, I’m transported back to being 13 and completely captivated by the film…. By the way, long before I saw the film, a friend of mine found the soundtrack in his family’s record collection. We used to choreograph slow motion fights in his living room to the music. 

Pfeiffer: I saw Thunderball opening week. I was nine years old. Like Goldfinger, it simply blew me away. I think today’s young audiences are so used to seeing amazing effects that there isn’t much left to thrill them visually. But with Thunderball, the effects were truly impressive for audience members—and they were done by real people in the pre-CGI era. I went virtually every day with my friends to see it during the Christmas break from school. Finally, my dad—who was a big Bond fan, by the way—said, “Enough! I’m not going to give you another 75 cents to see Thunderball for the seventh time.” Instead, I told him I wanted to see Battle of the Bulge, so he relented and gave me the money. On the way to the theater, however, I ran into the gang from my neighborhood and they talked me into going with them to see Thunderball again. A few nights later I had forgotten my deception and asked my dad to take me to see Battle of the Bulge. I remember him calling me out on my lie and saying, “You went to see Thunderball again, didn’t you?” I confessed to my crime. He found it amusing and ended up taking me to see Battle of the Bulge. Another personal memory relates to my bringing the souvenir program to my school. The principal saw it. She was a puritanical old maid and went ballistic over the abundance of scantily clad women. She tore up my precious program in front of the class, dismissing it as “filth”! My mom and dad were outraged. They felt it was none of her business, so they bought me another program, which I still have to this day. In terms of their views on social issues, they were pretty liberal for the day, so I benefited from that. I also went repeatedly to see Thunderball on its re-releases as part of those marvelous old Bond double-features, so the film has a special place in my childhood memories. 

Rubin: I saw Thunderball at Grauman’s Chinese Theater on Hollywood Blvd. when the film opened in December 1965. I loved it, for all the right reasons. It was a unique action film with a lot of things going on in and under the water, and that was very unique for its day. Yes, we had a television series with Lloyd Bridges called Sea Hunt, but it was very low key, nothing like Thunderball. But to see an underwater battle scene, and hear that great John Barry music was pretty cool. 

Rye: My earliest recollection of the film Thunderball is visiting the Odeon Hammersmith, London, in early January 1966, in the days when it was still the best cinema screen just short of London’s West End, and certainly a better venue to watch the first Bond film shot in the widescreen format of Panavision than either the London Pavilion or the Rialto in Piccadilly, where the film had been premiered simultaneously on December 29th, 1965…. I arrived late (not unusual for me!), and Sean Connery was just diving off Martine Beswick’s boat into the Bahamian sea to join Claudine Auger in her speedboat. From then on in I was mesmerized. As soon as the film had finished I sat through the whole thing again without leaving my seat (something you were able to do in UK cinemas in the ‘60s without anyone seeming to mind), and marveled at everything once more. I enjoyed the film so much that I returned to the cinema twice the next week and sat through it twice again on each occasion—such was my fanaticism and enthusiasm as a 14-year-old schoolboy! I have long since lost track of how many times I’ve seen Thunderball, but still retain the wonderment for it of a schoolboy—and as I did when I hosted the 25th anniversary screening of Thunderball in 1990 at the National Film Theatre in London with various Bond alumni in attendance, and with its director, Terence Young, sitting next to me in the auditorium imparting his own personal commentary throughout the film—an unforgettable experience!

Scivally: I first saw Thunderball on television, back in the 1970s when ABC was running the Bond films. At that age (my early teens), I was besotted with James Bond, and I’m sure my reaction was enthusiastic, but I can’t remember much beyond that. When I moved to California, where “revival house” theaters in the early 1980s would show double and triple features of James Bond films, I finally saw Thunderball on the big screen. Seeing the films as they were meant to be seen—on a big screen, uncut, with an audience—was an eye-opening experience. The more episodic films held up better on television, where the frequent commercial interruptions weren’t as disruptive to their storylines. The films that had more cogent plots, like From Russia with Love, seemed rather boring on TV, but when I finally saw it in a theater, it became (and remains) my favorite. Thunderball, on the other hand, I liked on TV, but seeing it uncut, I found it overlong and rather dull.

A 35 mm frame from ThunderballCoate: Where do you think Thunderball ranks among the James Bond movie series?

Burlingame: For me, just behind Goldfinger and From Russia with Love in terms of the Connery series. I am not a big fan of the climax, although I love just about everything else. And in terms of John Barry’s score, it’s really phenomenal, although he wound up working very late in the post-production process, all through September and October 1965—a period that saw the unexpected rejection of his original song, Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (with its wonderful Leslie Bricusse lyrics and Dionne Warwick vocal) and the hasty creation of a new title song (with equally great Don Black lyrics and a powerful Tom Jones vocal). But the addition of a new song, and the necessary interpolation of it instrumentally in the score, gives a complex feel to the musical aspects of the film, as Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is the entire foundation of the score and Thunderball is dropped in—not unlike the instrumental addition of the Adele song in the Skyfall score nearly 50 years later!

Caplen: Thunderball is, in my view, certainly one of the best James Bond films. By the time he suited up for his fourth mission as James Bond, Sean Connery was very accomplished as Agent 007, and it shows. I think the film still ranks within the top 5 in the franchise, even as Skyfall and SPECTRE continue to challenge the older installments for higher places on the list.

Chapman: Thunderball was the first genuinely “big” Bond movie—even more so than Goldfinger—in terms of budget, production values and visual spectacle. When you look at the budgets of the first three films—$950,000 for Dr. No, $1.9 million for From Russia with Love, about $3 million for Goldfinger—they weren’t all that expensive by the standards of the 1960s…. There’s a view that Thunderball was the film where the Bond series started to become a bit formulaic, reliant on set pieces rather than strong narratives. This point was made in a number of the contemporary reviews. And to be fair the middle part of the film from Bond’s arrival in the Bahamas to the departure of the Disco Volante is a bit episodic. But the whole point of the Bond films is that they’re formula films, and Thunderball was still early enough in the series to have new variations on action and pursuit scenes…. For me, it’s probably somewhere at the top of the bottom half of my top ten Bond movies (if that makes sense!), let’s say sixth or seventh overall.

Cork: It is in the top five for me. For years, I proclaimed it my favorite Bond film. I do recognize that parts are slow, that some scenes are a complete mess, that unless you are very forgiving the out-of-control hydrofoil looks absurd, that the back projection does some scenes no favors, that one can plant, grow and harvest crops during the sinking and camouflaging of the Vulcan and the stealing of the bombs, that Bond wears a magic color-changing diver’s mask, and one would get very drunk in a game based on the number of times Bond’s watch changes from his Rolex to the Breitling TopTime and back. But I love the film just the same. It has some of the most fun dialog of the series (”You swim like a man.” “So do you.” “Well, I’ve had quite a bit of practice.”), some of the sexiest Bond women moments (Fiona Volpe asking Bond to give her something to wear), some great moments of villainy (”This for heat; these for cold—applied scientifically and slowly, very, very slowly…”) and brilliant action. 

Pfeiffer: There are a lot of people who think Thunderball is a rather boring film. My wife and daughter each saw it once and never wanted to watch it again. I disagree entirely. There are some rather slow-moving scenes, but they only appear to be a bit boring to me after having seen the film dozens of times. I don’t recall thinking it was slow when I first saw it, but then again, “boring” is in the eye of the beholder. I would say it still holds up as great entertainment. I would rank it in the top five Bond films. 

Rubin: I would place it in 5th position—behind Goldfinger, Casino Royale, From Russia with Love, and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Some people have complained over the years that its first third is very slow, but I disagree.

Rye: On my personal list of the Top 10 Bond Films Thunderball is placed at Number 3, after From Russia with Love and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. The first three James Bond films had been undoubtedly great entertainment, but Thunderball was indeed the biggest Bond of all! Regardless what you might have read anywhere else in the last 50 years, Thunderball is the highest-grossing Bond film of the series—more people saw that film in a cinema than any other Bond film! Simply, nothing could top it! Every successful fad had its time—and 1965 and Thunderball was James Bond’s zenith year. The film was released at the height of Bondmania and everyone couldn’t get enough of Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, as the Italians had nicknamed him, which the filmmakers neatly used as an in-joke in one of the film’s cutest set pieces…. Sean Connery’s performance in Thunderball must rank as his best as Bond, as he glides effortlessly through the narrative dispensing lust and death in equal dispassionate measure. Richard Maibaum’s and John Hopkins’ script sparkles with style and panache as Bond plays cat and mouse with Emilio Largo and Fiona Volpe, SPECTRE’s agents of doom in The Bahamas—and the Blofeld and SPECTRE organization in this 1965 film seem a far more tangible, impressive and dangerous threat than in 2015’s woefully cartoonish SPECTRE.

Scivally: Many of the “old guard” Bond fans—which is to say, those of us over 50 who were first introduced to the character through the films of Sean Connery—place Thunderball in the Top 3 films of the series, if not the number one film. My top 3 are From Russia with Love, Goldfinger and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. I’m not sure Thunderball would even be in the Top 5 for me, but it would make the Top 10. For me, it’s a bit of an uneven mix; it has a fantastic pre-credits fight, ending with the jetpack escape, and the scene in SPECTRE headquarters is cool, but then the pace starts to flag as we’re off to Shrublands, and then into the theft of the Vulcan bomber, a sequence that drags on far too long and kills the film’s forward momentum. After that, we finally get to the Bahamas, where the tension gradually increases as Bond taunts Largo and courts Domino and puts the pieces together, all capped off by the climactic large-scale underwater battle. But even that is undercut by the comically under-cranked footage in Bond’s fight with Largo on the Disco Volante, and—for my money—it’s in this film that Sean Connery begins exhibiting the boredom with the role of Bond that also undercut You Only Live Twice.

Coate: In what way was Adolfo Celi’s Largo a memorable villain?

Burlingame: He’s so dark, so serious, so dangerous, so malevolent. I still freeze up a little when I see him on screen. It was great casting. And by 1965, we were four films into the series and Bond had been well-established as a hero for the ages, someone whose skill and good luck was unbeatable. So establishing a villain who was formidable enough to take on the seemingly indestructible 007 became a much bigger challenge. Celi’s Largo met the standard.

Caplen: I find it curious that the omnipotent, omnipresent “guardian” of Domino Derval wears an eye patch. That aside, Largo appears relatively calm throughout the film, which is quite the contrast to the fiery Fiona Volpe he employs. I think she is the much more memorable villain insofar as what she represents and contributes to the Bond Girl archetype. I fully deconstruct Fiona Volpe in Shaken & Stirred: The Feminism of James Bond and demonstrate how her seeming independence and assertiveness are mere facades.

Chapman: He’s one of the best villains in the series, in my opinion. He’s a plausible megalomaniac—more so than Goldfinger, as marvelous as Gert Frobe is—and provides an excellent antagonist for Connery’s Bond. Adolfo Celi has great physical presence and (thanks to Robert Rietty’s dubbing) a superb vocal delivery. His manner and physical appearance are also close to the character in Fleming’s book: Thunderball was made pretty close to the book and the early films were much closer to Fleming than they became later. Largo is clever but also represents a physical threat, and has a good fight with Bond at the end of the film. I prefer those sorts of villains to the Drax/Stromberg type who have to rely on their henchmen to do the physical stuff. Thunderball also brings out the way in which Largo manipulates/controls Domino who is unable to escape from him. It’s not really until Sanchez and Lupe in Licence to Kill that another Bond film considered the dynamic between villain and mistress.

Thunderball newspaper ad

Cork: Largo is one of the greatest Bond villains, but his performance is equal parts Robert Rietty and Adolfo Celi. Rietty’s voice work with Largo lifts that character up and beyond what any single actor could do. It is a shame that voice-actors in the Bond films do not get more credit. That said, Celi holds every scene he is in. His glance up when his fellow SPECTRE member is electrocuted, his ability to move from genial grin to withering stare is perfect. He is a pirate, so he has an eye patch, but it is never played for laughs. Like the best of the Bond villains, he seems to get smarter as the film continues. He gets frustrated with Bond, but his confidence is never shaken, his certainty never wavering, his evil intent never in doubt. I love that the film has a solid logic for Largo and Bond’s interactions. Largo knows Bond is working for British Intelligence, but it serves his purpose to be polite to 007 so that the authorities do not try to arrest him. For Bond, he knows Largo is involved, but he cannot try to do anything to Largo until the bombs are recovered. So they play this charade that I quite enjoy. He’s an active villain, physically able to dole out punishment and to take it. Even in death, he tries to seal 007’s fate. Largo rules. 

Pfeiffer: Adolfo Celi was an inspired choice as Largo. He’s a fine actor and every bit as dashing and handsome as Bond. He had the requisite self-confidence to stand up to Sean Connery on screen and not be overshadowed, which is quite a feat. He also did justice to the stylish clothing he wore. (I wonder why only Italian men look natural by draping their coats over their shoulders!) Celi was already a well-regarded character actor and 1965 was a good year for him. In addition to appearing in Thunderball, he also had major roles in two other high profile movies: The Agony and the Ecstasy and Von Ryan’s Express. My only regret is that editor Peter Hunt had a mania for dubbing many key actors in the films even if they spoke English perfectly well, as Celi did. I would have preferred that his own voice be heard in the film. Incidentally, he technically made another movie with Sean Connery: the political thriller The Next Man in 1976, but unfortunately they never shared the screen together. As for the character of Largo, he was actually not the top dog at SPECTRE, which might have diminished him a bit in terms of stature. He still had to take orders from and report to Blofeld. Nevertheless, the character was sufficiently intriguing to rank among the more memorable Bond villains. Any screen villain is better if he isn’t presented as a mustache-twirling, one-note depiction of evil. In the case of Largo, he is charming, polite and quite the lady’s man, which reminds us that the great real life villains often have the same qualities.

Rubin: Adolfo Celi was solid, commanding, suave, ruthless and worthy as a Bond opponent. He’s more an international businessman than a megalomaniac, but I liked him, and his demise from Domino’s spear was very effective, given the fact that the last time he was seen, he was torturing her. 

Rye: Although Adolfo Celi’s voice was dubbed in its entirety in Thunderball by the late Robert Rietty, Celi’s performance and physical presence makes Largo an adversary worthy of Connery’s Bond, and he makes a memorable villain in the classic style; the scene at the Cafe Martinique casino between Bond and Largo, where 007 drops pointed remarks about SPECTRE into the conversation, taunting Largo across the gaming table, remains among the very best Bond/villain meetings in the series—and Connery and Celi/Rietty play it for all it’s worth!

Scivally: Honestly, I never thought Adolfo Celi’s Emilio Largo was a particularly memorable villain. Admittedly, any villain who came after Gert Frobe’s charismatic Goldfinger was bound to suffer by comparison, but Celi is so cool and reserved he almost ceases to exist. He’s such a charmless, cruel character that one wonders what Domino, or any woman, could ever have seen in him. For me, Celi’s is a one-note performance.

Coate: In what way was Claudine Auger’s Domino a memorable Bond Girl?


Caplen: Many women, including Faye Dunaway and Raquel Welch, competed for the part of Domino, which was described at the time as the most complex and demanding of any female lead in the series. This is, of course, a curious description. In my complete analysis of Domino, I explore the extent to which she is a kept woman who finds herself frequently overpowered by men. Largo, as her supposed “guardian,” carefully monitors Domino’s activities and controls her actions. Then Domino meets Bond, who inundates her with questions, takes complete control of their dynamic from the moment they meet, and manipulates her as he sees fit…. Indeed, Domino is memorable and an important addition to the Bond Girl continuum because she is weak. Domino is a foil to Fiona Volpe, whose hypersexuality, villainy, and unwillingness to succumb to Bond’s sexual prowess offer a striking image of perceived independence and authority. Domino, on the other hand, is purely a submissive instrument through which Bond can obtain sexual gratification and complete his mission. He places her in harm’s way to advance his interests and seems to care little about her ultimate fate. Perhaps it is his insouciance that leads to a few interesting plot twists at the conclusion of the film.

Chapman: To be honest, I prefer Kim Basinger as Domino in Never Say Never Again (McClory’s 1983 remake of Thunderball), if it’s not sacrilege to say so! Claudine Auger has all the necessary physical attributes of a Bond girl, and looks athletic, as Fleming’s character is described, though she has the wrong color hair (come to think of it most of the early Bond girls have different color hair from the books). But I find her performance just a little bland, not as memorable as Ursula Andress, Daniela Bianchi or Honor Blackman in the preceding three films. For me the really memorable Bond girl in Thunderball is Fiona Volpe (Luciana Paluzzi)—the first major “bad girl” role in a Bond movie and the archetype of the sexy, confident villainess, a forerunner of Helga Brandt, Xenia Onatopp and the rest…. The difference beyond Domino and Fiona is summed up in their reactions after sleeping with Bond. “So that’s why you make love to me,” Domino whimpers after Bond tells her that her brother is dead and Largo killed him: she meekly acquiesces to Bond and doesn’t seem to get angry that he’s apparently seduced her in order to get her onto his side. Contrast that to Fiona who throws Bond’s “arrogance” back in his face and proudly asserts that she can’t be converted to the side of goodness and right.

Cork: Claudine Auger is certainly one of the most physically beautiful women in the world. She has a sultry, confident sexuality about her, but she gives the role of Domino real vulnerability. She, too, was completely dubbed for the film. Nikki van der Zyl, who provided the voice, did momentous work on the Bond films from Dr. No through to The Man with the Golden Gun. Her voice work is utterly charming, just perfect for the part. Also interesting to me is that our introduction to Domino is while she is swimming underwater, and that lovely woman is not Claudine Auger. It is Evelyne Boren, the wife of the underwater cinematographer, Lamar Boren. Evelyne is a very talented artist…. Domino is a fantastic character. I like that she can be her own person with her own story. There is no need for her to be Bond’s equivalent when it comes to action, but she can be his superior when it comes to humanity. She is world-weary, but never naive, longing, but never needy. In the end, though, through her relationship with Bond, she finds the strength to seal Largo’s fate. I find Domino absolutely compelling as a character. The scene where Bond gives her the watch and dog tags was shot both on Love Beach on New Providence Island and back in the studio at Pinewood, and the scene like so many others is a mess. Bond says he can’t tell her what it’s all about, but moments later he is telling her what it is all about. Yet, the human element of the scene is wonderfully done. Auger and van der Zyl’s performances are consistent and heartfelt. It is one of the few moments in the series where I feel Connery is out-acted in a scene. That combination of strength, confidence, sexuality and vulnerability, makes Domino one of my favorites of the series.

A scene from Thunderball

Pfeiffer: The early Bond girls were often victims of tragic circumstances. Honey Ryder was an orphan who had to fend for herself after suffering sexual abuse. Tania in From Russia with Love is ordered by her superiors to sleep with an enemy agent she has never met. Tilly Masterson in Goldfinger is out to avenge the murder of her sister. Domino is also a somewhat tragic figure. She is a very young woman who has let the lure of a charismatic man and the trappings of luxury lure her into a life she can no longer escape. She clearly is unhappy being Largo’s “kept woman” but there is no easy way out. Her situation grows even more tragic when she learns that her lover, Largo, has murdered her brother. I do wish the script had provided more background on the character of Domino, as she could have been presented in a far more interesting and fleshed-out manner. Still, she remains sufficiently interesting to engage the viewer in her dilemma of having to risk her life to avenge her brother. As for Claudine Auger, she certainly fits the part physically, but like so many actors from the early films, it’s difficult to fully evaluate her performance because she was dubbed.

Rubin: I just can’t say enough about Claudine Auger. She was a stunner, and she had all the accessories necessary for a great Bond girl, times ten. Loved her wardrobe, or lack thereof. Looks great in a bikini, or an evening dress, and her scenes with Bond are very romantic. Other than Diana Rigg’s Tracy in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, I would say she’s the most compatible Bond girl for 007. He could do much worse. 

Rye: Thunderball boasts the most impressive quartet of female flesh of any of the Bond films; while Claudine Auger’s Domino is a physically impressive looking woman, especially in her black & white bikini (Domino—geddit!), it’s her voice, dubbed by Nikki van der Zyl, that really carries off the performance of a vulnerable young woman who has drifted into shady company and been seduced by Largo’s “good life,” becoming a powerful and dangerous criminal’s plaything; a “kept woman,” as she tells Bond…. But the stand out Bond Girl in Thunderball, expertly played by Luciana Paluzzi, is Fiona Volpe, who remains the strongest written female character in the entire Bond series, with her dialogue bristling in every scene in which she appears. Sadly, Thunderball loses much of its tension, urgency and bite after Fiona exits the narrative, courtesy of a SPECTRE bullet meant for Bond.

Scivally: Domino is one of the “angel with one wing down” Bond girls, a poor victim of circumstances who is a “kept woman” because her brother has been swept up in Largo’s scheme. Like almost every character in this movie except Fiona Volpe, she is aloof and, consequently, hard to sympathize with, or feel sympathy for. Fiona, on the other hand, is almost like a female Bond, a lethal assassin with a healthy sexual appetite, and is played with genuine spark by Lucianna Paluzzi. Paluzzi injects a sense of fun into her scenes that is missing from much of the rest of the film, and consequently, is more memorable than Claudine Auger, who looks stunning but is otherwise pretty vapid.

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Coate: Thunderball was the first 007 movie produced in ’Scope. How did this change in photography and projection style affect the movie (and series)?

Chapman: Yes, Thunderball was the first Bond movie produced in widescreen: Panavision, which had more or less become the industry standard for anamorphic ’scope cinematography in the early to mid-1960s. In a sense it’s something of a mystery why the previous films were not shot in widescreen. It can’t have been a budgetary factor as widescreen wasn’t so expensive by this time and many films with a lower budget than Dr. No used it. So it must have been an aesthetic choice not to use it in the early films, maybe down to cinematographer Ted Moore…. I don’t have any firm evidence to support this theory, but it may have been that the decision to use Panavision for Thunderball had something to do with Kevin McClory. The trade press announcement for the unmade James Bond of the Secret Service in October 1959 said that it was to be shot in Todd-AO—what might be called a “super” or “special” widescreen process developed by Mike Todd reserved for a handful of big-ticket films. (McClory had worked as a location manager for Todd’s production of Around the World in Eighty Days.) So McClory had always envisioned the film being in widescreen…. It may also have had something to do with the amount of underwater shooting. The wider frame allows more visual interest in the shot, which is important when the movement is slower…. How does Panavision affect the “look” of the film? On one level it’s part of the upscaling of production values: Thunderball was promoted as a “big” film (”Here Comes the Biggest Bond of All”). On another level it allows the staging of sequences like the Junkanoo parade which made full use of the width of the screen. And scenes such as the US SEALs parachuting into the sea look pretty impressive too. A downside is that when the film is shown on television it’s usually in a pan-and-scan version which can miss out key details. When I first recorded Thunderball off air before the films were available in letterbox, the night scene at Shrublands where Bond finds Derval’s body and knocks out Lippe never made sense as the scan cut off Lippe hiding at the edge of the frame.

A scene from Thunderball

Cork: One of the major contributions of Kevin McClory to the look and style of Thunderball was that he insisted it be shot anamorphic (technically Panavision’s process, not 20th Century Fox’s CinemaScope). McClory had been close to Michael Todd, who, after the success of Cinerama, bankrolled his own innovative widescreen format—Todd-AO. McClory was keenly aware that two of the early CinemaScope successes had featured lengthy underwater sequences: Beneath the 12-Mile Reef and, a year later, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. They helped inspire McClory’s vision for Thunderball when the script was in development. When McClory made the deal to work with Broccoli and Saltzman, he argued to United Artists that the original screenplays envisioned Thunderball as an event film, shot in anamorphic, and, if he had his way, presented as a roadshow…. No doubt about it, anamorphic changed James Bond. McClory’s insistence did make Bond feel bigger, made his world seem even larger and more epic. There is something about the 2.35:1 (and wider) ratio(s) that works for epic storytelling and visuals. With Bond, this can be most clearly seen in Maurice Binder’s titles which really use the space beautifully. In contrast, in the body of the film, shots that took full advantage of the ratio were rare. Filmmakers knew that in many international markets (and a good portion of domestic markets, too), projectionists would simply let the sides of a ’scope film play off the screen and on the curtain (or even mask the frame). They also knew that networks were paying big money for color feature films as part of their push to transition to all-color broadcasts in the US. This, too, helped limit the innovative compositions during the mid-60s. So while Thunderball is a great-looking film, like most anamorphic films of the era, the extremes of the frame are often completely empty, with most of the action taking place in the 1.33:1 TV safe area, and I’d guess that in 95% of the remaining shots, nothing of importance is out of the 1:85:1 lines…. I love that Bond embraced anamorphic with Thunderball. McClory was right that it was the proper choice for this story, and it is a tradition carried on to this day. When you look at those shots of the Day of the Dead parade in SPECTRE, there is more than one reason it reminds one of the epic feel of Thunderball, and that is a good thing. Bond’s world should always feel larger, wider and more epic than ours, and that, for me, is one thing anamorphic helps bring to life. 

Pfeiffer: The decision to film Thunderball in a widescreen process illustrates why it would have been inappropriate to have gone with this as the first film in the series. There is no way the producers could have done justice to the epic scale of the movie’s climax if it had been shot in a flat format. By the time Thunderball went into production, United Artists knew they didn’t have a “flash in the pan” success and that the series had real legs. Thus, there was no hesitation to provide the considerable budget it took to give the film a far richer looker than its predecessors enjoyed. The widescreen format works superbly for this particular Bond film and adds immeasurably to the enjoyment of watching it repeatedly. 

Rubin: I’m not a real techie when it comes to projection formats, but I can say that Thunderball was a truly spectacular Bond film from start to finish, and it needed the widescreen presentation—especially when you consider such spectacular set pieces as the jet pack teaser, the Junkanoo, the helicopter search for the downed bomber, and, of course, the climactic underwater battle. Even the meeting in the giant conference room benefitted from a bigger format. This is one of my favorite Bond films because of the spectacle—a realistic spectacle.

Rye: The switch to the Panavision widescreen format (2.35:1) with Thunderball enabled the Bond series to break out of the restrictive confines of the Academy ratio format (1.37:1) that the first three films in the series—Dr. No (1962), From Russia with Love (1963), Goldfinger (1964)—were shot in, and create stunning vistas on location and show off the magnificent set designs of Ken Adam even more marvelously. (The early films were shot in the Academy format but not screened that way, so the compositions were not square but rectangular in the cinema. In the UK they were matted to 1:66:1 and 1:85:1 in the USA.) Bond really became BIG in this format, and when the filmmakers decided to return to the Academy format with Live And Let Die (1973) and The Man With The Golden Gun (1974), the films suffered in their sense of importance and lost their grandiose scale, which is why after the less than wonderful critical reception that greeted Golden Gun it was decided to return to Panavision again for The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)—and it paid off on every level possible, with Roger Moore’s third (and arguably most popular) appearance in his seven-film tenure as agent 007 breaking box-office records around the world.

Scivally: The decision to film Thunderball in ’scope gave Terence Young a broader, wider palette in which to present his film, showing off not only Ken Adam’s fine sets to full advantage but also giving greater impact to the islands and ocean setting. But it also had an impact beyond the aesthetic; filming in ’scope was an announcement that Bond was now epic, on a level with roadshow films and blockbusters like Ben-Hur and Lawrence of Arabia. Dr. No, by comparison, looks like a programmer, a 1940s detective thriller with the added benefit of color. But after the phenomenal success of Goldfinger, the 007 films became multimedia events, with lavish budgets and huge promotional campaigns, and this is reflected in the widescreen formats of Thunderball and the next three Bond films (they returned to standard ratio for Roger Moore’s first two outings, after the declining box-office of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and Diamonds Are Forever, but went all-in again with the spectacular The Spy Who Loved Me, remaining widescreen ever since). Of course, the switch to ’scope meant that Thunderball couldn’t re-use any footage from previous films, so the famous gunbarrel opening had to be reshot. As a result, for the first time in the series, we see Sean Connery as 007 doing the walk, spin and shoot, instead of stuntman Bob Simmons.

Coate: What is the legacy of Thunderball?

Caplen: Thunderball had a hard act to follow given the success of Goldfinger. And yet, Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli and Harry Saltzman outdid themselves and ultimately produced a film that, despite some harsh critiques at the time, set box-office records, won an Oscar, became the most successful 007 film of the 1960s, and remains one of the highest rated James Bond adventures. That Thunderball could surpass Goldfinger, a feat that seemed improbable at the time, demonstrates not only the quality of Thunderball as a film but the true vitality of the franchise…. It has been written that Thunderball transformed James Bond into a cultural phenomenon, and that is quite an apt observation. Thunderball provided the necessary momentum that has kept the series fresh and exciting five decades later. As I explain in my academic study of the women in the James Bond franchise, Thunderball’s various representations of female characters—Patricia Fearing, Paula Caplan, Fiona Volpe, and Domino Derval—helped reinforce the franchise’s presentation of an archetype of the “ideal” woman, an image subsequent films could develop, perpetuate, and refine for over a decade.

Chapman: Put simply, I think Thunderball sums up the 1960s Bond better than any of the films, even Goldfinger. It’s the most successful at the box-office in real terms and is likely to remain so.

Cork: No Bond film has left a larger shadow than Thunderball. By early 1964, Kevin McClory and Charles K. Feldman both had the rights make films from James Bond novels, and the grosses of From Russia with Love in the UK (where it became the highest-grossing film ever) proved that these were valuable properties. For Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, the idea of competing with rival Bond films was a nightmare. The last thing they wanted was another partner. They decided they could weather one rival Bond film but not two. Cubby had a good relationship with Feldman, and Feldman had a deal at United Artists, so they quickly tried to negotiate with Feldman to make Casino Royale as the follow up to Goldfinger or possibly On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (the title originally slated to follow Goldfinger). Feldman, though, would not budge on his share of the profits. UA made concessions, but their deal would have left Cubby and Harry with just 20% of the profits rather than their usual 60%. Cubby and Harry were stuck, and Feldman knew it. They could not make a deal with Kevin McClory without severely damaging their relationship with Ian Fleming. Then in August, 1964, Ian Fleming died. Suddenly, Charles K. Feldman found himself out of a deal and an agreement with McClory was struck shortly after the UK release of Goldfinger (early prints of Goldfinger announce On Her Majesty’s Secret Service as the next Bond). That agreement with McClory and all the legal fallout from it shapes the Bond franchise in more ways than one would expect. It is the reason Blofeld disappears from the franchise, the reason The Spy Who Loved Me was re-written extensively, the reason Sean Connery returns as Bond in 1983, the reason the Bond producers and MGM now own Never Say Never Again and the CBS television version of Casino Royale and were able to purchase Columbia’s interest in the 1967 feature film of Casino Royale. Without that agreement, Casino Royale likely becomes a 1960s Sean Connery Bond film. Without that agreement, SPECTRE never gets made…. Thunderball was an incredibly difficult film to make. All the key persons involved had bitter feelings about the film, despite its success. On a location scouting trip, Kevin McClory, tired of being treated as a second-class partner, arranged to have himself breeze through customs in Nassau while Cubby was stopped and his luggage searched. Cubby threatened to move the film to Jamaica. Cubby was upset at Harry’s other film projects, and Harry felt his creative voice and business ideas were being ignored. During the filming, Cubby and Harry felt that Terence Young was losing control of the film, then, when they left the Bahamas, they discovered that his hotel bill was through the roof. They confronted him at the end of principal photography and demanded he pay the overages. Young, upset, then left the film. Cubby and Harry turned to editor Peter Hunt who found scenes with shots missing and mountains of film of underwater sequences that were poorly logged and slated. The location sound was problematic. Hunt’s first assembly of the film ran four and a half hours, a figure given by the film’s publicist to Variety. Hunt agreed to try to save the film, but he needed to reshoot some material, and he felt that Cubby and Harry had agreed to allow him to direct the next Bond film in exchange for his diligent work. He became bitter for a while when that didn’t happen with You Only Live Twice. The studio had an October release date set, complete with cross-promotion advertising deals, but Hunt candidly told the studio that he could not make the film “good” unless that date was moved back. UA put a brave face on it, but they were not happy, blaming Cubby and Harry. Thunderball became the only Bond film to move its release date significantly after the end of principal photography. During the production of Thunderball, Sean Connery became aware that both Dean Martin and James Coburn had signed to do spy spoof series with lucrative deals that paid them far more than him, so he wasn’t happy. John Barry wasn’t happy with the very short scoring schedule and the last-minute need for a new theme song. Even after it opened, the producers felt that John Stears had taken too much credit for the effects work, so they never told him about his nomination for Best Special Effects and instead sent underwater engineer Jordan Klein to the Oscars. Stears found out he had won when the statuette arrived in the post. There was a lot of ill-will that tempered the film’s amazing success…. What I love is that none of that comes across onscreen. Thunderball is a smooth, confident, lavish film. It is grand in scale in a way that has shaped every Bond film to follow. It defined the multi-unit, big set-piece approach to filmmaking that is still used in the Bond films today. It is the definition of big-screen entertainment. Thunderball is a remarkably influential film beyond the obvious spy spoofs. You can see the Disco Volante fight in Spielberg’s truck fight in Raiders of the Lost Ark and the speedboat fight in Patriot Games. You can see the Junkanoo in the St. Patrick’s Day parade scene in The Fugitive. You can see the Skyhook used in The Dark Knight. Thunderball’s legacy is that the Bond films became epics, global events, overwhelming visual spectacles, films where no one ever says that there is too much of a good thing.

A scene from Thunderball

Pfeiffer: Thunderball’s legacy is that, among hardcore Bond fans, the film still resonates so well and is routinely cited as one of the best films of the series. Its success also put the Bond merchandise business into high gear and helped secure the sizable budgets that the producers needed to ensure that each successive movie looked just as opulent, if not more so. Broccoli and Saltzman never fell victim to what I call the “Planet of the Apes Syndrome,” which is producing sequels that were cheaper and less impressive than the original. The Bond films have had some high profile artistic misses, but even the worst movies boast impressive production values. I think that the greatest stroke of luck the producers had occurred when United Artists decided to forego plans to make Thunderball the first Bond film and instead went with Dr. No. Although the rumor mill has attributed this to the on-going litigation involving rights to the novel that resulted in a high profile lawsuit against Ian Fleming, David Picker, who was head of production for UA, tells me that the primary reason was that he recognized that in order to do justice to the scope of Thunderball, the budget would have to be exponentially higher. He showed good judgment. By the time the film went into production, it had a budget of over $5 million compared to Dr. No, which cost a little over $1 million. I think that if Thunderball had been made first, we may not be writing and talking about the film 50 years later. 

Rubin: Thunderball will always be the “big one.” When Bond was bigger than anything on the planet, except maybe the Beatles. 

Rye: When I’m asked which film in the entire Bond series someone should watch that encapsulates the essence of what James Bond is all about, I unhesitatingly nominate Thunderball. For me, Thunderball still remains the strongest example on film of the link between the original character created by Ian Fleming and the flesh and blood man breathed life into by Sean Connery…. In its 50th anniversary year Thunderball still holds up as a sophisticated and exciting entertainment (including the innovative and fascinating underwater sequences), and remains a lasting testament of excellence to the exceptional team of talented men and women responsible for bringing the biggest Bond of all to the cinema screen.

Scivally: Upon its release, Thunderball quickly became one of the top-grossing films of all time. It clearly resonated with audiences of the period, who were willing to stand in long lines for its round-the-clock 24-hour screenings. It was featured in major magazines around the world, generating massive awareness of James Bond, and set the standard for all the big-budget action-adventure extravaganzas that would follow.

Coate: Thank you, everyone, for participating and for sharing your thoughts about Thunderball on the occasion of its 50th anniversary.




Selected images copyright/courtesy Eon Productions Limited, Danjaq LLC, United Artists Corporation, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.



John Hazelton, Mark Lensenmayer.

  Thunderball soundtrack    Thunderball Blu-ray Disc

The James Bond roundtable discussion will return in Remembering “For Your Eyes Only” on its 35th Anniversary.

- Michael Coate


Michael Coate can be reached at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.