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I'm a writer, translator and aspiring director. Occasionally, I actually do some work instead of using this blog as a displacement exercise.

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

THUNDERBALL – “Vanity has its dangers.”

It may not altogether be a surprise that Goldfinger was an unstoppable global smash. Queues stretched around blocks. Cinemas were forced to run the film in a loop 24 hours a day simply to keep up with audience demand. The public’s appetite for Bond was soaring. This raised the question for the producers of where to go next. There was one name they had on their books who might prove useful.
As previously noted, Kevin McClory had won the film rights to the Thunderball project in court, and after Goldfinger went stratospheric, he decided to get his own Bond film off the ground. The first port of call was Sean Connery’s agent, because you can’t make a Bond film without Bond. Connery said no, which all but wrecked McClory’s plans before they’d even got off the ground. So when Broccoli and Salzman came to him, asking to make the Thunderball movie he wanted, you might be able to guess what his reaction may have been.
Broccoli and Salzman agreed to take a back seat as executive producers, with McClory producing the film himself. Other changes were also afoot. Terence Young would return as director, returning Bond to the more documentary style of shooting from Guy Hamilton’s more opulent flourishes on Goldfinger. The new film would also be shot in Cinemascope, for extra spectacle. A revised version of the script was produced by the regular team, and the project started filming in the winter of 1965.
Thunderball opens with a new version of the gunbarrel sequence, made necessary by the new shooting process and featuring Sean Connery for the first time. The image irises out onto a coffin bearing Bond’s initials, which is hardly the most promising start. However, the camera pans to reveal Bond and a female colleague watching from an overhead gallery. The funeral is that of Jacques Beauvoir, an enemy agent who died before Bond got to him, so now he’s keeping an eye on the man’s widow. Because of course he is. Having watched the procession climb into their cars and leave, he then catches up with the widow Beauvoir at a stately home. And immediately punches her in the face. Because of course he does.
It transpires that Beauvoir is posing as his own widow, and not just because dressing up is fun. Bond spotted that he opened his own car door, which is a definite giveaway of some sort, and a brutal fight ensues, with Beauvoir attacking Bond with a grandfather clock as almost every object in the drawing room turns into a weapon, assisted by much speed-ramping in the editing room.
Bond finally dispatches Beauvoir by throwing him head first into a fireplace, and just has time to throw some flowers onto his body before slipping out and keeping ahead of Beauvoir’s goons. No sooner is Bond out of the building, when he straps on his trusty jet pack and flies away. Assuming that he didn’t just happen across a piece of state-of-the-art ordnance just lying around, it must have been left there for him, in the full expectation that no one would steal or fiddle with it.
It is, in fact, a real jetpack that a well-shod stuntman flies to safety, landing neatly by a convenient Aston Martin with Bond’s lady friend inside. The luggage stored safely in the boot and pursuing henchmen dispatched with built-in hoses, they make a casual getaway.
Raquel Welch as Domino Duval.
"What sharp little eyes you've got."
The spray of water then segues tidily into the opening titles, with lots of underwater women swimming around. This is accompanied by a blaring theme song performed by Tom Jones, in which a figure is described who is known as ‘the winner who takes all’, who ‘strikes like Thunderball’ and ‘whose needs are more so he gives less’. It might be interesting to speculate exactly to whom this is supposed to refer, whether or not it is the distinctly amoral Bond we currently follow or his opposition? The song itself had been a last-minute replacement. Originally, the titles were to have been accompanied by Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, which was unequivocally about Bond and inspired by the nickname the character had acquired in the Far East. In fact, such was the reputation and cachet that Bond had by this point achieved, that even Johnny Cash submitted a song for the film, albeit in his customary style.
The titles also credit Norman Wanstall as sound editor on the film, reprising his job from Goldfinger. He had, in fact, won the Oscar for his work on the previous film, something he was not aware of until he was given the statue in the UK several months later. He later retired from the film industry to become Britain’s only Oscar-winning plumber.
The body of the film opens with a luxurious car pulling up to a building in Paris. The driver emerges and is almost stopped by a gendarme for parking in a restricted area, but then recognises him. This is Emilio Largo, and he eats parking tickets for breakfast. Largo heads into the building, apparently some kind of charity assisting people rendered stateless, but through a last radio-controlled door in his office lies a vast conference room, which acts as a reminder of the extraordinary skill of set designer Ken Adam. Largo is a member of SPECTRE, and for the first time, we see them in full conference. Hidden behind a smoked-glass screen, Blofeld bemoans the death of Beauvoir and asks the attendees to outline their recent successes.
André Maranne plays the French delegate, and since he had recently played Inspector Clouseau’s assistant in A Shot in the Dark, the prospects for a crossover boggle the mind. The organisation has an American member who isn’t even ethnic, showing how far its monstrous grasp can reach. The electrocution of one delegate, who had attempted to embezzle from SPECTRE and clearly thought that stealing from ruthless super-criminals is a good idea, shows off the debt Austin Powers and his ilk owe to this scene, right down to Largo’s eyepatch and the victim’s chair descending through the floor and reappearing empty.
Largo then starts to outline his own scheme, which will lead to NATO paying them £100 million, a sum equivalent to £1,639,150,000 in 2012 money. That’s a lot. The first step in the plan, says Largo, is in infiltrating an ordinary health spa. Naturally we cut to SPECTRE’s inside man bumping into Bond straight away, as he recovers from his recent stresses and strains. It appears to be nothing more than coincidence that Bond happens to be having a holiday in the eye of SPECTRE’s plans, and matters get more contrived when Bond spots an odd tattoo on Count Lippe’s wrist and phones Moneypenny to get her to look into it. He also uses the opportunity to threaten to spank her, and her delight at the prospect says a lot about the creepy relationship that has developed between the two of them at this point.
Lippe’s tattoo serves no actual purpose in the story, other than Bond to suspect he’s a wrong ‘un just because it looks like the sign of a Chinese tong. The German-Chinese connection is interesting, since it corresponds with Dr. No’s parentage, but it’s all the excuse Bond needs to go snooping around Lippe’s room. Given the care with which he prepared his own quarters before going anywhere in Dr. No, it’s rather odd to see him happily leaving plenty of signs that he has been around. His blundering around, which is at least pro-active, if murky in its reasoning, is interrupted by a bandaged figure entering from the next room and whose survey of Lippe’s suite extends no further than looking through the door behind which Bond is hiding.
Bond heads off for his next check-up, where he is being prodded by nurse Patricia. Given the opportunity of a woman within easy reach, Bond forces a kiss on her. She is angry at this liberty, as she should as a human being, and decides he should spend some time on a motorised traction table, which assists with spinal problems. She leaves Bond whirring back and forth, but a few minutes later, Lippe sneaks in and puts the table on the ‘deadly’ setting, which plays Bond like an accordion until he passes out.
He is revived by Patricia a few minutes later, heavily shaken but none the worse for wear. She is horrified by what has happened, and begs Bond not to mention this accident to her employers. Bond, of course, knows exactly what price his silence has. Patricia doesn’t seem especially unwilling as her back her into a steam room, but this is the creepiest moment to date in any of the films. I wondered whether Fleming would have allowed this to go ahead. He died while production was still underway on Goldfinger, only a few months after his most famous fan, a lifetime of alcohol, tobacco and high living finally catching up with him. He was 56.
Could McClory be the one responsible for the scene? Possibly, but Bond pushing a vulnerable woman into a corner and taking what he wants from her was virtually inevitable given events in the previous films. Outside the bubble of Bond’s world, times were changing, and in retrospect this is the last time that the filmmakers would be able to feature such a scene and get away with it.
Later, Lippe is taking a Sitz Bath, which appears to be one of those steam box cabinet they used to have in cartoons where Tom’s head would poke out of the top when Jerry turned it on full blast. Bond gives Lippe the same treatment, shoving a broom handle through the door handles to make sure he gets properly steaming. This is fairly inconvenient, as Lippe has an appointment later on.
In a nearby village adjacent to an air base, French pilot François Duval is enjoying some time with his girlfriend, but checking his watch realises it’s time to go and fly a plane. He opens the door to his hotel – and is confronted by his own double who shoots him in the face with a gas pellet. The double is Angelo, the bandaged man from Lippe’s room, and he was staying at the spa for the scars from his plastic surgery to heal. Lippe and the girlfriend outfit him with Duval’s personal effects – yes, she’s in on it as well – but he tries to get more money from them, since it’s too late to get a replacement. They reluctantly agree, and start to bandage the dead Duval.
At the spa, Bond is rubbing a furry glove all over Patricia – she’s one of those people. You know the ones I mean – when he notices an ambulance arriving outside. Deciding that an ambulance arriving at a private hospital is just a bit too suspicious, he leaves her on simmer and goes to investigate. The music as Bond creeps through the dimly-lit clinic is impressively sinister and atmospheric, all the more impressive as John Barry wrote the score in a tearing hurry. He had originally based the music around the melody of Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, but rapidly changed tack when the song was scrapped. So close to deadline was he that the soundtrack album only features music from the first half of the film.
Bond finds Duval’s body, swathed in bandages in a side room, and picks up a phone to call for help as Lippe, concealed in the shadows, raises a gun to fire. Then someone leaps through the window to attack Bond instead, ending up with the cord around his neck. It looks as though everyone was trying their turn to kill Bond all at once, even though Lippe doesn’t bother trying to kill Bond as he leaves the room and sets off a fire alarm.
At the air base, Angelo takes Duval’s place on a training mission, where he will be in the jump seat for a flight carrying two live nuclear warheads. Once they are well underway, Angelo plugs his respirator into his own air supply that he happens to have on his person and feeds more poison gas into the system to kill off the rest of the air crew. Flying the bomber out to sea, he makes a soft landing on the surf before sinking to the bottom. Largo and his team arrive as Angelo tries to get out, but his seatbelt is jammed. Largo waves at him to calm down and pulls out a knife – and cuts Angelo’s air hose instead.
Scramble, scramble, scramble!
This is clearly the price that he pays for attempting to change the deal he had with SPECTRE, but given that he was a loose end that would need tying off, one wonders whether Angelo was always doomed. The answer is yes. Largo’s men carefully remove the bombs from their housing on the plane. The underwater photography is impressively detailed, thanks largely to the supervision of Young and his newsreel eye, but also McClory. As a citizen of the Bahamas, he was passionate about water sports, and for him Thunderball was as much a film about scuba diving as it was about James Bond. The plane is covered with a camouflage net, and a couple of cuts later Largo’s big yacht is steaming towards Nassau.
The next morning, Bond has been summoned back to London, and Patricia is getting oddly clingy now. The less said about how her character represents women in the Bond world, the better. With only one touch from Bond, she becomes entirely submissive to him.  A horrible precedent.
Lippe follows behind Bond, and he is preparing to use the Aston Martin’s weaponry on the enemy agent when a passing motorcyclist fired a rocket at Lippe’s car, exploding it into a ball of fire. The motorcyclist, having slipped away in the conflagration, dumps the bike in a handy lake and removes her helmet to reveal Duval’s redheaded girlfriend. Shouldn’t NATO bombers pilots’ lady friends have security checks, just to be on the safe side? It could be that her presence is a possible reference to Profumo again, but more likely it’s just because Duval is French.
Bond arrives at the 00 conference room at MI6 headquarters, and we are treated to another giant set. A tape recording has arrived of SPECTRE’s ransom demands, namely that if the sum is not paid, a major NATO city will be carbonised. The 00 section has been given the authority to take any steps needed to prevent disaster, and the government plans to go as far as paying the ransom if need be. This probably has more impact in the present day, when terrorism is a continuous threat according to news media. The idea that the government would accede to the demands of terrorists – and that’s what the T in SPECTRE stands for, remember – is unthinkable, even when motives are purely financial.
Leaving through the dossier on what has been termed Operation Thunderball – catchier than Yewtree – Bond recognises a photograph of Duval, noting that he was dead at the same time as being on the bomber. Having been assigned to Canada, for reasons best known to M, Bond asks to be sent to the Bahamas. Duval’s sister is there, and with suspicion falling on him in some way, this appears to be MI6’s only real lead. At first glance, this might appear to be a coincidence, but it just about hangs together.
A jump cut later from Moneypenny’s office, where M catches her calling him ‘the old man’ behind his back, Bond is meeting Duval’s sister in the waters off Nassau. As the reach the surface, he compliments her on her stroke, telling her she swims like a man. As chat-up lines go, it’s about next to ‘you remind me of my mother’. A fast worker as always, Bond already has a girl waiting for him on his own boat, but the few lines she shares with Bond point to an interestingly equal relationship between them.
Claiming that he needs to reach the mainland for an appointment, he hitches a ride on Miss Duval’s boat, and offers to treat her to lunch the second they set foot on dry land, since the appointment wasn’t that interesting anyway. As they talk over lunch, Bond notes that they have been followed, and Domino notes that her guardian likes to know where she is. Little do all of them know that her guardian is also being followed.
Eyepatch, check. Sinister ring, check.
Where's that I-Spy book?
Later, they meet again at the casino, where Domino’s guardian is revealed to be, of course, Largo. He and Bond play a few hands of baccarat, and Bond appears to be unbeatable, so much so that he makes a comment about seeing a spectre at Largo’s shoulder. This fantastically subtle jab clearly rattles the Italian, even when Bond clarifies that he means the spectre of defeat. Bond excuses himself from the table and offers to take Domino off Largo’s hands for a while to give him time to win back his money.
Bond continues to pump her for information about her brother as they dance, and it becomes so absurdly obvious that he’s after something that even she asks him mentions that he spends all their time together asking her questions. She mentions that she loves her bother very much, and this note of tragedy again reinforces the Hitchcock of keeping the audience a step ahead of the characters, since the suspense lies in waiting for them to find out the Great Secret.
Largo emerges from the casino, looking even huffier than before, and tells Domino that they are leaving. He keeps the veneer of respectability up for long enough to invite Bond to his house on the island for lunch the following day, but as they depart, it is made plain through the body language between Largo and Domino that she is not just his mistress, but effectively his plaything.
Bond returns to his room, and checks the tape recording he has apparently left running in case of something interesting. The tape reveals, along with some clever camerawork to indicate where the noisy footsteps were coming from, that someone is hiding in the bathroom. A knock at the door distracts Bond, and he immediately punches the man outside and lets him slump in a chair before flushing out the main in the shower and sending him packing.
The man at the door was the follower from before, and is in fact Felix who has regenerated again into a blond Californian, now wandering some distance from the Texan type Fleming had envisaged. The minion from the bathroom reports to Largo, and has a further indignity piled onto him by being thrown into a pool of sharks.
Largo kisses his SPECTRE ring as the small fry gets chomped, in what may be an indication that he is of the Sicilian persuasion. Largo’s background is not delved into to any degree, but he is very much the traditional Mafia type. Perhaps that was how he was recruited – a don who had the potential to be a godfather, headhunted by SPECTRE for their own international crime syndicate. At least the old ways have yet to desert him.
Later on, local agent Pinder, effectively a local version of Quarrel from Dr. No, takes Bond to a safehouse, where they are met by Q. Bond’s exasperation at the mere sight of him is a charming shorthand for their relationship to date, although it could well be a reaction to his remarkable Hawaiian shirt, which ventures into unexplored regions of yuk.
Q outfits Bond with some field ordnance included a Geiger counter that fits into a watch – rather an improvement from the boombox-sized device used in Jamaica, an underwater camera, a rebreather that stores four minutes’ worth of air and a radium pill which may well be the subject of the series’ first bum joke when Q tells Bond which end it goes in.
Suitably armed, Bond swims out to Largo’s yacht, the Disco Volante, to investigate any connection to how the bombs might have got aboard. He is quickly discovered, fights with a guard and then escapes. The editing goes a little peculiar at this point, with a number of wipes being used between scenes, rather than straight cuts or fades. The sequence is also largely useless. If the plane was ditched in the sea, as it must have been by Bond’s logic, the question of how the bombs were moved is pretty irrelevant. However, there’s some more underwater photography, and this is the intended centre of the film anyway.
Just looking for bomb-shaped holes.
Abandoning his diving gear, Bond makes it ashore, walks to a road and hitches a lift, and who should stop but Duval’s girlfriend. Could this be a deliberate move, or it is simply a coincidence? Bond gets in and they drive off, as Bond notices that she and Largo wear the same ring. That Fiona should explicitly advertise that she’s a member of the opposition raises the question of SPECTRE’s overall competence, as does her driving faster and faster until she screeches to a halt outside her hotel, which also happens to be Bond’s. Noting that Bond made for a rather nervous passenger as she bombed along the lanes, she says that ‘some men don’t like to be driven’. Bond’s response is that ‘some men don’t like to be taken for a ride’, a clever piece of dialogue that signals his awareness of her half-arsed duplicity and his overriding masculinity.
The next day, Felix and Bond take a helicopter out to look for the ditched bomber, but also fly over Largo’s estate where he and Fiona are clay pigeon shooting. She castigates him for his hastiness in having Bond attacked underwater the previous night, noting that it would give them away, but this does not explain how picking him up wearing a ring carrying the enemy’s insignia and driving him at breakneck halfway to Miami would not count as suspicious.
Bond arrives for lunch shortly afterwards, having spied Fiona’s car in the driveway. Largo shows him the shark pool, with only a faint note of threat, before offering him a gun to shoot a few clay pigeons for himself. As in the past, Bond wastes no opportunity to insult his host, mentioning that Largo’s gun would be more fitting for a woman. Domino passes, dressed in the customary bikini, prompting Bond to ogle her luxuriously before very casually blowing away a clay pigeon, shooting from the hip and barely looking in the right direction, all the while smarming at how tricky it seems. If smugness could be only be bottled.
Largo invites Bond to accompany Domino to the Junkanoo, the Bahamanian Mardi Gras, but the timing of this is rather odd. As SPECTRE’s ransom tape has indicated, it is May, yet the Junkanoo is held either at the start of Lent or on New Year’s Day. Meanwhile, Bond’s hotel suite is raided, with Largo’s men and Fiona stealing the photos of the underneath of the Disco Volante, making Bond’s midnight swim even more irrelevant, and kidnapping Paula.
Bond manages to get back, changed and out again without realising this has happened, as it is not until Felix flags him down at the Junkanoo hours later that he is told Paula is missing in a wildly poorly-dubbed sequence. Reasoning that she could only be in one place, he arranges for the power to be cut at Palmyra at a crucial time. He breaks into the compound and plays a game of cat and mouse with the guards, only to discover that Paula had resisted interrogation and taken a hidden cyanide capsule. As with Tilly in the previous films, Bond appears genuinely upset by Paula’s death, although at least she knew what she was getting into as a member of MI6’s local staff.
To cover his escape, Bond fires off a few wild shots, and largely manages to get Largo’s less than superlative guards to shoot at each other, but one of them intercepts him and they tumble into the swimming pool. Setting the standard for tropes in the future, Largo closed the metal cover of the pool and opens the hatch to let in his sharks, prepared to assume that Bond and his minion will be eaten.  Bond swims back into the shark tank using the rebreather and escapes, meaning that the entire enterprise has been a further waste of time, with no purpose served other than to remove Paula, a character who already contributed effectively nothing.
Bond returns to her room, and finds Fiona in the bath. She feigns surprise at his appearance, and asks for something to wear as she steps from the tub. Bond cheerily hands her a pair of slippers before settling into one of those chairs they always seem to have in hotel bathrooms for when you want to watch someone washing their face.
This is merely a lead-in to Bond and Fiona going to bed, and her presence is markedly different to the women seen so far. As a physically confident woman working for the enemy and who doesn’t immediately fall for Bond’s usual line, she is cut from similar cloth to Pussy Galore, so one might expect a similar outcome for her character. This would be a mistake. As they get ready to go out to the Junkanoo, where Domino is probably wondering what’s happened to him, more goons rush in and take Bond prisoner.  Bond does not seem in the least surprised, stating that he noticed her ring straight away. Fiona says simply that she likes to wear it, but Bond quips that ‘vanity has its dangers’.
This lady is not for turning.
Immediately, and with impressed ferocity, she throws this back in his face. He’s a fine one to talk about vanity, when he seems to think that roll in the hay is all that is needed to turn a woman towards virtue. Bond denies that what they did in bed gave him any pleasure, stating that he was simply doing his duty, but even he is forced to shrug and admit that you can’t win them all. Once again, the series is undermining its own devices almost as soon as they are introduced, forcing itself to move in new directions.
Bond is driven back to Palmyra to be killed, apparently purely for the sake of neatness, but he escapes in the midst of the Junkanoo. The thugs give chase into further documentary-style footage, following the blood trail from where a wild bullet nicked Bond’s leg.  He dodges in and out of floats, manages to avoid looking right at a dog pissing in the middle of the road and even misses a large float with ‘007’ in huge numbers on, the result of islanders being asked to build their own floats for the production and some getting a bit carried away.
Eventually he makes his way to the Kiss Kiss Club, having remembered that it was named after the original theme song. The band on the club’s stage is even playing an instrumental version as Bond finds himself cornered by Largo’s men. Trying to create a distracting scene, perhaps recalling North by Northwest, he picks up a girl from a nearby table and starts dancing with her. She seems charmed by this madcap stranger, until Fiona cuts in and the girl grumbles that he didn’t say anything about his wife being there. It could have been because I didn’t remember this little moment, but that line gave me the biggest laugh of the film.
Dancing close with Bond gives Fiona greater control over the situation, but he sees a gun barrel appearing to one side of the stage. A dramatic turn at the right time puts a bullet in Fiona’s back. Bond drops her body at a nearby table, delivering his farewell quip on the run, barely even acknowledging her.
Dawn rises on the final day before the ransom is to be paid, and Felix and Bond are still looking for the bomber. Exactly what they plan to do should they find it remains unspoken. It could be that they are hoping the bombs will still be aboard, but this would be a sign of poor planning on SPECTRE’s part. Perhaps they are just praying there will be some kind of clue, and that this remains a better use of their time than monitoring Largo.
They pass the area with the same name as the variety of shark Largo mentioned keeping in his tank, tipping off Bond’s spy senses, so he takes a look underwater and finds the Vulcan under the camouflage net. Felix shoots a shark to keep the others occupied, and it looks very much like a real shark was killed. Still, they deserve it. Bond finds Duval’s watch and identity tags on Angelo’s ripening body, but notes that the bombs are not aboard, because of course not. His next plan is to use these covered items to pull more information from Domino, although given that’s all he ever does it hardly constitutes a new plan.
They encounter each other underwater again, and appear to make love with their aqualungs on, which is certainly a new version of buddy breathing. On the beach afterwards, Bond breaks the news of her brother’s death to her with surprising gentleness, simply showing her François’s things and quietly offering her an opportunity to take revenge. The scene is rather oddly shot however, cutting between studio and location footage and with Bond putting on sunglasses halfway through, seemingly because of a mismatch in footage. He gives her the underwater camera, telling her it is a Geiger counter and that it will go off if the bombs are aboard the Disco. This is despite it not being a Geiger counter. Bond also promises to kill Largo for her.
Acting on her tip regarding part of the Palmyra estate where she is not allowed to go, Bond hides out until dark and waits for Largo’s underwater squaddies to appear, getting one of them out of the way and taking his place. The group swim to the Disco, where Largo reveals that the target for the first bomb is to be Miami. This is probably the only possible target, given the difficulty and time needed to transport the bomb. Simply sailing the Disco to within a reasonable offshore distance and setting it off remotely would be easy.
The team stock up with the necessary equipment and head out to the cave where Largo has concealed the bombs. Playing along with the rest of the group, Bond assists in loading the bombs aboard a motorised sled, but Largo recognises the small visible part of his face and traps him inside the cave as they leave.
On board the Disco, Domino uses the underwater camera, which now seems to work as a Geiger counter after all, but the returning Largo catches her and decides to get what information he can from her by scientifically applying a cigar and an ice cube. His pet nuclear scientist, who has been hovering in the background for much of the film with little to do, looks very squeamish at the prospect.
Bond finds his way to the cave’s rear exit and signals to any passing aircraft with a flare, which helps Felix to home in, having already sought Bond out using the signal from the radium pill. This sets off the chain of events needed for action, with frogmen being parachuted into the sea to face off against Largo’s men in a huge and seemingly endless underwater fight using harpoon guns, which are the best kind. Bond even breaks out another jet pack, this one designed for underwater use, to join the fracas, ripping the facemask from one unfortunate and adding to more of the kind of chaos last seen in a Turkish gypsy encampment.
Chucking out time at the Atlantean Arms.
There is some notably minimal music used in the sequence, as various faceless figures are shot in the face, nibbled at by sharks or otherwise dispatched, including two pinned together with the same harpoon. The overall effect is that of a film pleading its case to have an exclamation mark added to its title. Eventually, the SPECTRE men surrender, but Largo gets back to the Disco and sets off, unaware that Bond is already aboard.
The yacht in turn is being pursued by the US Navy, so Largo presses the button hidden under its gearstick and ejects its rear half, allowing more of his men to fight a rearguard action, at least until a direct hit blows them up. Thunderball is unique in the Bond canon as being the only film in the series to win the Oscar for Best Visual Effects, and sequences such as this show how richly it was deserved. Even in 1966, it would be the blockbuster that left with the award for effects, but little else.
Largo may have plans for the other bomb, but his scientist is having none of it. He helps Domino get free and asks for clemency in return, as well as mentioning that he has thrown the arming device overboard. Exactly why he should have a complete change of heart at this late stage is questionable, though it may well be as simply as self-preservation. Bond confronts Largo on the yacht’s bridge and a vicious fight ensues, during which the throttle is kicked into top gear.
Thus, we almost have a re-enactment of the traction table sequence, as the men struggle on the out-of-control Disco, somehow avoiding the many islands and reefs seen rushing past the windscreen. Finally, Largo has Bond at his mercy as he lies on the floor with his gun raised. Slowly his face changes and he topples forward – to reveal a harpoon in his back and Domino holding a spear gun, a look of satisfied rage in her eyes.
Somewhat incredulously, Bond is introduced to the scientist, into whose hands he shoves a lifebelt as all three leap from the Disco Volante, seconds before it finally strikes the rocks and explodes in a ball of crispening Mafiosi and atomic debris. Bond and Domino climb into a life raft dropped by a navy aircraft and sent up the attached balloon, which Bond has clipped to his wetsuit, before the same plane snags the balloon cable and carries the pair of them away, almost the entire scene since the explosion having contained no dialogue.
Thunderball ends with inordinate haste, as the titles roll without even a notable final line, and a wipe during the credits succeeds only in chasing them further up the screen. This is unfortunately symptomatic of the entire film. Though it is superficially entertaining and contains much that is exciting or noteworthy, it remains alarmingly slapdash. Sloppy scripting can be forgiven if the final product can gloss over it, but there are too many narrative dead ends in the story and too much of an emphasis on the underwater action. This was certainly the main selling point, but as a character notes in another John Barry-scored film, too much sun can make a desert. The sights and sounds of Thunderball leave a lasting image, however, even if only the loosest story beats connect fully.
On its release, Thunderball was a sensation, even more so that Goldfinger. The public across the world could not get enough of the glamour and excitement of Bond’s world, and it is this huge popularity that cemented it above so many other, better films in the public consciousness. Bond had conquered the world, and this means that there was only one place for him to go next...

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