Time for two more Bond movies.
Four years, four Bond movies. While there was a sense of extravaganza to the first three Bond movies, Thunderball feels like the moment the series became a massive event. Sprawling, audacious plots by the bad guys. Large deployments of troops by both sides. And massive climactic battles.
In this case, it all works. Almost.
What kills Thunderball is not the cheese factor, which again creeps upward. Instead it is the interminable final battle scene. It goes on and on and on. And on some more. It’s an amazing piece of production and direction, filmed almost entirely underwater. But that environment eliminates most sounds, so the scene lacks some of the explosive power of an above-ground battle scene. And with only so many options for encounters between combatants, it feels a little like a looped scene that repeats several times. Had they cut that scene back to half, or even a third, of the final length, the flow and impact of it would have been much more powerful.
In Thunderball, Connery is at his prime as Bond. It is the epitome of the cool Bond, with him jumping straight off a traction bed that nearly ripped his spine apart and into the sack with his nurse. As the movie ends, when Bond and Domino are snatched out of their lifeboat and into the air on a behind a US Navy plane, he looks as relaxed as could be despite being hundreds of feet over the water with a casual hold on the rope and a woman hanging off him. Wasn’t nothin’ but a thang to Bond.
Thunderball is significant for two reasons. It is a jumping off point between the first three movies and the rest of the series. Bond is morphing away from the spy and into an action hero. Also, Thunderball was remade in 1983’s Never Say Never Again. But that’s many movies away.
Molly Peters as Patricia Fearing. Who doesn’t love a sexy, naughty nurse?
Luciana Paluzzi as Fiona Volpe. One of the great elements of Bond movies is how he always seems to run into attractive female agents that are eager to sleep with him before they try to kill him.
Claudine Auger as Domino Vitali. Auger was first runner-up at the 1958 Miss World contest. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with her. As far as I’m concerned, she’s right up there with Ursula Andress.
Martine Beswick as Paula Caplan. Paula was not a true Bond girl, as she served as his aide in Nassau and they never hooked up. But it is worth noting that she appear in From Russia With Love as one of the gypsies.
Nikki van der Zyl – OK, she’s not a Bond Girl, but once again van der Zyl is the voice dubbed over the female lead. She did Andress’ voice in Dr. No, Auger’s voice here, and provided the voice for characters in 10 Bond movies all together.
You Only Live Twice, 1967.
Finally a break in the series, with 1966 not seeing a release. But You Only Live Twice did it’s best to make up for that. Continuing the theme that Thunderball kicked off, it is a large movie. Big battles, crazy gadgets, unbelievable plot developments.
It being 1967, it was time for the movies to go to space, which opened up a whole other level for cheesiness. You Only Live Twice did not disappoint, with space capsules that eat other space capsules; rockets that not only return to earth intact, but can land, vertically, on a dime; and ground radar that somehow tracks objects in orbit. Thank goodness we don’t watch Bond for realism.
This movie is also the first introduction of the United Kingdom serving as the sensible middle in the Cold War disputes between the US and USSR. While certainly on America’s side when push comes to shove, here is the first of many times in the series where the US and Soviets yell at each other while the Brits keep their wits about them and just manage to keep the big rivals from obliterating each other in the end.
You Only Live Twice is a pretty good movie. We’re beginning to see some themes repeat (Is this the third time we’re led to believe that Bond is dead?). The technical improvements of the production team are taking the stunts and gadgets to new levels that sometimes overwhelm the story. And Connery’s performance seems almost strained at times. But all things considered, it’s an entertaining flick.
Akiko Wakabayashi as Aki. Maybe it’s just me, but she sure seemed eager to hook up with James.
Mie Hama as Kissy Suzuki. Bond’s “wife” in the late part of the film, she climbs a mountain in a bikini then swims to get help in about ten minutes after it took an entire day to cover the same distance earlier in the day.
Kari Dor as Helga Brandt. ANOTHER enemy agent willing to sleep with Bond. The odds of that must be astounding!
All three are attractive women, but none register on my best-of list.
Next up: a major departure, as Connery steps aside momentarily.