What is BlogalongaBond? Find out here.
Before we go on read this from The Incredible Suit. I reference his Live and Let Die piece a couple of times.
Yet again, for the second consecutive BlogalongaBond assignment, I am technically a month behind. The reasons for my unacceptable tardiness are threefold. Firstly the less than dynamic duo of procrastination and laziness, have repeatedly thwarted my plans. Secondly I have been at least a little bit busy. And finally, as other bloggers have noted, BlogalongaBond is becoming something of a chore, largely due to the depressing arrival of a certain Mr Moore.
For a particular breed of Bond fan, Roger Moore represents all that is disappointing about the character’s cinematic outings. How long has it been since a 007 adventure that lived up to its full potential? How many years and projects have been letdowns because of the identity crisis which Moore’s commercially successful casting only deepened? With Live and Let Die the franchise embraces the formula of silliness established in Diamonds are Forever, so that it begins to feel like a franchise as we know them today, with the perfect salesman to pitch the same old idea to audiences for over a decade.
As the films become more formulaic, so does my writing…
Our great and glorious leader, The Incredible Suit, has already covered Roger’s failures very well and also explained why Lazenby’s legacy meant it wasn’t entirely his fault that James Bond would move further and further away from Fleming’s original creation. He also qualifies his criticisms by saying he likes Roger Moore.
I too like the man and the actor. He was the Bond I grew up with, the Bond endorsed by my parent’s generation. He handles a one liner with the care, professionalism and skill of a grand English butler. His undeniable wit somehow makes lines from Tom Mankiewicz’s script work, such as “Don’t worry darling, it’s just a small hat, belonging to a man of limited means, who lost a fight with a chicken”. But re-watching Live and Let Die this time it was his insufferable Englishness that was also the worst thing about the new Bond. The first Englishman to play him overcompensates by adding “darling” to everything and merely raising an eyebrow in the face of thuggish danger. He is far too fluffy for Bond, even if he can do the humour and the love scenes excellently.
Speaking of love scenes, let’s talk about the girls. Well there’s only really one worth talking about, despite Rosie Carver’s bumbling prominence at points. Jane Seymour’s Solitaire is in many ways one of the most intriguing romantic interests of the series. But in others she is mere eye candy. Seymour’s performance is occasionally so moronic it seems transplanted from a modern
video game and is nevertheless secondary to her stunning looks, which defy
description. She simultaneously convinces as a sexy, all knowing master of the
cards and a recently deflowered, vulnerable virgin but not because of any conscious acting on her part.
Then there’s her character, Solitaire. The interesting thing about her is that her powers for predicting the future through occult, voodoo card reading nonsense are never properly or logically discredited. The script leaves the issue hanging,
thrusting the film further into the blaxploitation genre so popular at the time. Or rather it doesn’t. An explanation is provided. Bond does shatter her gift but not by exposing scientific trickery or her own deception. He simply steals her innocence. And thus Solitaire becomes a fascinating case study and symbol for all the women Bond “encounters” (I mean penetrates). On the one hand he freed her from imprisonment, awakening her adult self to the pleasures of life. On the other, who knows what damage might’ve been done?
Apart from Moore’s nonstop “darlings” the most frustrating thing about Live and Let Die is the terrible waste of an adversary that should have been formidable and refreshing. Initially Mr Big/Kananga and his henchmen are a welcome, realistic change from a succession of Blofelds, ending with Charles Gray’s posh version with a fondness for drag. But again The Incredible Suit insightfully and amusingly points out the fatal flaw of the bad guys here, which is, mainly, their inability to fatally wound our hero. Granted Bond makes it through all his missions looking unfeasibly suave but here the plot is driven by botched assassinations, to such a damaging extent that suspension of disbelief is catastrophically challenged, even for a Bond film, and plenty of fuel is provided for scathing parodies such as Austin Powers in the future.
Of course the other key thing about the villains in Live and Let Die is that they are all black. There’s no doubt that there are elements of the film that would be racist by today’s standards, perhaps including its representation of black murderers and criminals as rather inept and useless. The whole production jumps fully onto the blaxploitation bandwagon to give Bond a new flavour to go with his new face. Despite the fact that I’m bemoaning the film’s lack of grit and menace if it had pushed things further it may have looked far more dated today and been more than borderline racist. So I guess what I’m saying is, every cloud…
Live and Let Die boasts Paul McCartney’s title track, which probably remains the best of the whole series. Its score, even minus John Barry’s brilliance, is also outstanding in places with its echoes of the theme song and distinctive influences from black culture.
Does anyone else now find the boat chase sequence overlong and incredibly dull?
Perhaps the real reason I was reluctant to jump into the BlogalongaBonding saddle again was because however disappointing Moore’s films are, his Bond is not all bad. It isn’t Fleming’s Bond but thankfully it is not a rehash of Connery’s either. Fans that share my view of the series will want to preface every review of a Moore film with a rant about him. Yes they still enjoy parts of his films, yes he is fun but he doesn’t do the character justice and his light hearted years wasted too much time. But for BlogalongaBond we have to get that out of our system here and try to think of something new to say about why the rest of his films baffle, confuse, irritate or, indeed, delight.
M would be livid. Moneypenny would be going mad with the worry. Q would be desperately trawling price comparison sites for more comprehensive insurance cover. Because surely the only feasible reason I could be running late on a BlogalongaBond assignment is that I’d accidentally hit self destruct on my brand new motor in the middle of nowhere; or outside a casino.
There’s no doubt that my future with the service will be questioned. M wouldn’t need to peruse my file to remember the You Only Live Twice debacle, during
which I claimed to rely on instinct and memory rather than hard facts and intel
gathered firsthand. Hopefully Moneypenny would still be on my side enough to
slip something in the old man’s drink or wear a particularly distracting low
cut top to work on the day of my possible dismissal.
Maybe I can appease my spymasters with the fruits of my month long labour though. Everyone knows that Diamonds are Forever was a kneejerk and commercially driven reaction to the failed reboot that was On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Cubby Broccoli and co were so terrified that Lazenby’s one and only outing as 007 had turned the world off of its favourite secret agent that they ditched any aspect of the previous film’s refreshing and engaging miserable and morbid direction, in favour of gags and girls with plenty of girth in the chest. Sean Connery was somehow tempted back for a short term fix. And it was his decision to front the silliness of the 1971 film that set the trajectory for the camp and altogether more comedic Moore years.
Why did he agree to come back? It’s the defining question of this film and sets the future of the franchise after it. Oh what might have been! After You Only Live Twice seemed to reach a peak of grandiose sets and sensational space age plots, the Scotsman appeared to walk away on a point of principle. The films were heading away from the Bond he had always played. Mr Connery seemed to think that to take it all too far would be betraying the character. And he was getting older, fatter, slower etc.
To find out, once and for all, why he turned his back on those earlier reasons, I set off in search of the first official screen 007. I tried all his usual haunts; casinos in Monte Carlo, beaches in the Bahamas, coves in Jamaica and gypsy camps in Istanbul. I eventually tracked him down a couple of days ago in the Highlands of his beloved Scotland, after wading through ten miles of private forest to the edge of his personal loch. I found him standing in a kilt on a small jetty, petting a strange creature that promptly ducked beneath the crisp and clear waters at the sound of my approach.
After making some noises I didn’t really understand, Mr Connery agreed to answer a few of my brief questions:
Why did you agree to return as James Bond in Diamonds are Forever?
I did it for the money.
Did you approve of the new style to the Bond films introduced by Diamonds
I did it for the money.
Did Guy Hamilton’s return as director, after the success of Goldfinger,
encourage you to sign up?
I did it for the money.
Would you say there are any genuinely funny moments in the film?
I did it for the money.
How would you respond to critics that have said your performance is lazy and uninterested? For example in the PTS and the scene where diamond smuggling is explained. Were you bored? Most men would find that astonishing.
I did it for the money.
What did you make of yet another version of Blofeld? Have you seen The Incredible Suit’s spot on analysis of the disappointment of the character? Did Charles Gray do a good job?
He did it for the money. I’ll talk to this suit fellow for the right price. My guards are going to take you away now.
Thanks for talking to me.
I did it for your money.
Despite my sloppy performance in covering Diamonds are Forever, I’m not sure if I’ll be BlogalongaBonding in August. I’m told that someone has already cleared my desk at headquarters and that Moneypenny shed a dignified tear. The internet connection here at the hospital will only be available to me until I’m
discharged and I sold my house to pay for this interview.
*for legal reasons I should say Sean is lovely really and we had a splendid chat. He did it for artistic integrity or something, definitely not money.
**for further legal reasons I should say I never spoke to Sean Connery (in this reality) and I don’t work for any secret agencies (officially).
*** Also Shirley Bassey’s theme song is excellent.
“FAR UP! FAR OUT! FAR MORE!” reads the poster. As a youngster I would have scoffed at this. I would act superior to my friends whenever a Bond film happened to be on TV. I would dazzle them with my knowledge of the films. And if I was ever asked what the worst film in the entire series was I would always reply – “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, obviously”.
Why was this? There was only really one reason; George Lazenby. It was his only Bond film, he did less than everyone else and therefore it was the worst. OHMSS (as I shall refer to it from now on) was an unwelcome aberration before the jolly rebirth provided by Roger Moore. As I grew up I was taught to love and treasure Roger’s cheeky eyebrows. But now, just as You Only Live Twice has slipped since childhood from one of my favourites towards the bottom of the pile, OHMSS is one of the very best in my personal Bond canon.
This is because the dated but charming slogan on the poster was spot on for a change; you really do get far more from OHMSS than any other Bond film. Not in every department of course; the range of locations is European and perhaps ordinary by modern standards, the gadgetry is minimum and the action less frequent than some would like. But for Bond fanatics, particularly those familiar with the Bond of Fleming’s books, this is the most faithful adaptation. A film with a storyline that really lets us get to know a little of the man behind the agent, the icon and the image.
As the excellent review from Kinnemaniac (which says everything I’m going to say more amusingly and precisely) points out, it is perhaps inevitable that diehard fans pounced on the instalment least popular with the general public. OHMSS is rarely picked for Bank Holiday TV schedules like other outings from Connery and Moore. Again as Kinnemaniac points out though, OHMSS attempts a tone not seen in the franchise again until the Dalton films and then properly in Casino Royale with Daniel Craig’s Eva Green love interest. Indeed perhaps Lazenby has Craig to thank for a new generation falling with renewed vigour for his solitary outing as 007.
Producers Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman no doubt fretted over replacing Sean Connery. For cinemagoers of the sixties he was THE embodiment of James Bond. Unlike audiences of today they were unaccustomed to the regular replacement of the actor playing Britain’s top secret agent now and again. The way in which they chose to tackle the casting and the whole creative process of the sixth Bond outing was bold and experimental.
Lazenby was nothing more than an Australian model, director Peter Hunt had been an editor for the early films. Or perhaps OHMSS was a safer bet than it appears. Saltzman and Broccoli might have gone back to the books through caution rather than ambition, and the whole project delayed the business of thinking about Bond’s future properly until Connery could be lured back for Diamonds are Forever. In any case the special features of my Ultimate Edition DVD reveal the bitchy arguments and distrust on set that never looked likely to form harmonious or long lasting foundations, despite frequent praise for Lazenby’s surprising ability.
Lazenby of course unavoidably remains the film’s defining feature. Nowadays I am more than happy to overlook his occasionally dodgy acting. The reason many fans of the books take to him is that he simply looks like James Bond. Rather than acting out aspects of his character, he is simply being Bond and our selective imaginations can iron out the creases in his portrayal. Re-watching OHMSS this time I noticed just how good Lazenby’s acting is on occasion though. He pulls off subtle little looks as well as the more obvious love scenes.
You hope to discover something new each time you watch a film and I found out that I like OHMSS best when Diana Rigg is on screen as Tracy with this viewing. I knew I loved the opening scene with Peter Hunt’s teasing direction of a mysterious driver, John Barry’s sublime soundtrack to the seaside action and Lazenby’s fourth wall breaching line; “this never happened to the other fellow”. And indeed I rank the scenes until Bond heads off to Piz Gloria in the Swiss Alps (surely the only base of villainy to match YOLT’s volcano?) as some of my favourites in the whole franchise. But then things simmer down with Bond undercover as Sir Hilary Bray. There’s occasional hilarity, an interestingly un-mysterious Blofeld and lots of girls, but not that same look at Bond as a man in love. When Rigg turned up again my interest was ignited again and turned up a couple notches.
Lazenby and Rigg’s chemistry is important, indeed vital for Bond’s first true love story, but the main reason I enjoy her presence on screen is because of what it does to the story. And the creative execution of the storytellers must be praised when talking about OHMSS. It’s evident for Bondians familiar with the whole series that the reins are looser here. They are telling a story rather than following a formula.
The two key architects are John Barry and Peter Hunt. I’ve already mentioned my admiration for the scene that introduces us to Tracy and reveals Lazenby as Bond. It just might be my personal favourite out of all the films. But aside from my preferences it’s the perfect illustration of Barry’s musical talent and Hunt’s ahead of his time direction.
The OHMSS soundtrack was one of the first that I bought. Its got a brilliant title theme, along with a gorgeous mix of thrilling synthesised ski chase accompaniments and romantic themes inspired by the sublime We Have All the Time in the World by Louis Armstrong. And then there’s Hunt’s evident ambition as both an editor and director.
Supposedly Lazenby got the role as Bond after he demonstrated his aptitude for fight scenes. The punch ups in OHMSS swing between the comical and the innovatively magnificent. Long before the creators of the Bourne films would claim that Craig’s Bond copies their style, Hunt and Lazenby filmed frantically paced and edited brawls in hotel rooms and the froth and spray of Portuguese waves. There may be the odd inadvertently funny grunt or strange bit of camerawork but Lazenby’s exciting physical Bond foreshadows Craig’s by almost forty years. If Hunt were working today his action scenes would be hailed as visceral and hard hitting. But back then change wasn’t embraced.
Even this fresh, frenzied approach to fisticuffs came back to underlining OHMSS’s USP; Bond is a man! He may still be a dapper chap with a trio of ladies actually making appointments to pull his trigger but now and then he’ll need to smother a man into submission rather than K.O. him with a single swipe. And his heart is as prone to silly somersaults as the rest of us male apes. Haters of Lazenby’s emotional depths though will not have long to wait for Bond to haul his armour back on. Within two years he’ll be protected by a 70s haircut, pink tie and drawling Scottish accent.
Posted in Uncategorized
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After getting the ball rolling last month with the underwater mad, but still in my view underrated Thunderball, I was looking forward to sitting down to the even grander and more SPECTRE dominated You Only Live Twice. Here was a Bond film not only hell bent on exotic thrills but a whistle-stop tour of Japanese culture for a Western audience. With such a diverse location to work with, a script adapted by Roald Dahl from one of Fleming’s best novels and the fresh direction of Lewis Gilbert, this would surely be bigger and better Bond. I licked my lips at the prospect of rediscovery.
Unfortunately I came across a substantial stumbling block perusing the beloved and holy row of Bond DVDS. I do not own a copy of You Only Live Twice. I am anxious to keep this knowledge from my friends. Among them my, perhaps unhealthy, obsession with all things 007 is the stuff of notorious legend. I am counting on the fact that they are not good enough friends to read my blog.
You might ask why I haven’t simply gone out to buy a copy. I am not marooned on a desert island with no access to British high streets and if HMV should prove woefully stocked the internet is of course at my disposal. If it were a missing fragment of any other film series I wouldn’t hesitate. But my James Bond collection is comprised of two disc Ultimate Editions with beautiful matching packaging. To my horror, around the release of either Casino Royale or Quantum of Solace on DVD, the Ultimate Editions were re-released with all new (and vastly inferior) packaging. Reluctant to tarnish the perfection of my sacred DVD area, I have refrained from buying a newer copy of You Only Live Twice and have been unable to find a copy to match my collection.
Oh I know you feel my pain reader. Life is a cruel and unpredictable mistress. I felt resigned to my fate and the torturous wait till June where the snowy delights of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service lurked in the Alpine trees. I was on the verge of giving up and leaving a gaping hole in my own personal BlogalongaBond journey. But then I got to thinking: why didn’t I own You Only Live Twice? Why hadn’t I made it a priority when assembling my shrine to the world’s most recognisable spy?
For Sean Connery of course it was the film that took the character too far and into the realm of the ridiculous. He resented the space age driven plot and the increasing repetitiveness of the one liners. In particular he must have felt like a first class prat being initiated as an honorary citizen of Japan, with a haircut that made him look like a monk (perhaps M really did want him to be “half monk/half hitman”). For fans looking back on the whole series of 22 films, Connery’s concerns might seem rather unfounded compared to the silliness to come with the Moore era. But clearly the Scot didn’t agree with the direction of travel away from intimate plots like those in From Russia With Love. The scale of this, the franchise’s fifth film, couldn’t be beaten without being dreadful.
I think some of Connery’s conservatism must have rubbed off on me. As a child YOLT was one of my favourite Bond entries. In particular I thought the climactic battle at the volcano base was one of the most exciting things in the universe, a totally awesome shootout with the baddies. I would have called it “an engrossing and epic finale on an impressive scale. One of the classic scenes in film history” had I had the required vocabulary. I also loved all the scenes featuring Little Nelly, as my Dad would chirp on and on about it, building the anticipation until the treasured scene would grip the household with awe and laughter.
But then as a teenager I obviously sought to reject the things my parents thought of as “good”. Little Nelly became silly. It was the sort of bland nonsense my Dad would always blabber on about. Later on I would find my love for Bond rekindled by the approach in Daniel Craig’s Casino Royale, so that I rapidly acquired and devoured the books (none of Fleming’s are missing from that collection). So enthralled was I by the dark and bleak novel that pushed Bond’s character to the limit, that my attitude to the film as a whole became lukewarm at best.
Most of all it was my view of Blofeld that changed so dramatically after reading YOLT the novel. I was struck by the complete contrast between the cinematic and literary characters, even in terms of physique. In the books he was tall, in the films a short, bald, fat and often wheelchair bound man with a fluffy white pussy. I don’t mean that he was a woman; the contrast wasn’t quite that shocking.
Anyway I might be being unfair because it’s Austin Powers’ Doctor Evil that creates such a daft cultural vision of Ernst Stavro, rather than the portrayals from the Eon films (aside from perhaps the PTS of For Your Eyes Only). But after reading the book I was no longer captivated by Donald Pleasence’s iconic performance. He was THE Blofeld to me and countless others, but after my personal enlightenment he became a wasted opportunity, a stupid cardboard cut out villain and an imitation.
I’ve already mentioned that unintentionally hilarious assimilation of Bond into the ninja community, which ruined the pace of the film and its focus upon Japanese culture. Another definite reason I came to find YOLT a turnoff was that it tried too hard to do its location justice at times, almost showing too much respect. That is not to say there wasn’t beautiful cinematography of the landscape and cities, just that too much was made of the whole “culture clash” angle. Having said this there were some wonderfully contrasted Ken Adam interior sets, which simultaneously showcased the equally beguiling faces of modern and traditional Japan.
In the aftermath of the recent earthquake and tsunami it is fitting and poignant to watch YOLT this month. Sadly, as I’ve explained, I am not. Everything I have said so far I have said from memory. Some of these files have been saved since childhood, others downloaded from more recent viewings. The trend seems to be that boy me loved it, more recent me had reservations. There are things about the film that the younger me hated that I now love however. Nancy Sinatra’s title song was whiny and not very Bondian back in the 90s, but now I find it a refreshing and beautiful track. Likewise John Barry’s score, which picked up substantially on the Japanese themes at times if memory serves me right, now strikes me as majestic when once it was irritating and plodding (not that I’d have used those words).
I genuinely wish I owned YOLT on DVD, despite what might be a tone of negativity coming across because of my love for the pages of the book dripping in revenge and sensual doubt. I know that the last time I saw the film on TV I found it to be a wonderful snapshot of both 1960s and Japanese culture, with fun as well as thrilling moments and the fresh angle of the space race. In many ways it is the classic film of the entire franchise, adhering more to the globally recognised Bond formula than Goldfinger and coming complete with spiky dialogue with Blofeld; the ultimate confrontation.
But perhaps this is also why I can’t quite bring myself to love YOLT. Like Connery, and with the added benefit of hindsight, I see YOLT’s sensational and epic tone as the start of a trend away from the style of the early films. I adored these grander and dafter cinematic Bond adventures for different reasons, but in the early films I could indulge my love for the books and the movies at the same time. Whilst good, perhaps YOLT symbolises the end of my own personal Bondian bliss and this is why my memories of it are so mixed.
Posted in Personal, Uncategorized
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I only discovered BlogalongaBond recently. But blimey what an excellent idea. Talking about 007 once a month for two years, and each film in turn; blogging bliss for Bondian fanatics like me.
Then I realised I had just missed the boat for writing about Goldfinger. My first contribution to BlogalongaBond would have to come hot on the heels of a month’s glowing discussion of the world’s most famous franchise’s most iconic entry. How was I going to compete with that? I couldn’t rant and rave about every single classic scene moulded into cliché by endless reference and repetition. As many bloggers said when reviewing Goldfinger, it was THE Bond film and in the eyes of many every one since has aspired to its formula and fallen short of its magical mix.
After watching Thunderball though, I remembered why it’s always been more than the shit part of the National Lottery to me. I loved Thunderball growing up as a boy, and I love it now. For me it is better than Goldfinger. Aside from From Russia With Love, Thunderball is the film that best captures the origins of the character; Ian Fleming’s James Bond transplanted onto the screen.
Thunderball the novel was a return to form for Fleming, who had taken a break after Goldfinger to produce a collection of short stories, For Your Eyes Only. The book introduces the character of Ernst Stavro Blofeld for the first time and provides Bond with an excellent enemy for two other brilliant novels, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and You Only Live Twice. Of course the films made Blofeld Bond’s ultimate nemesis from the outset, whereas prior to Thunderball, in the literary world of Bond his primary foes had been unorthodox Russian organisation SMERSH. Lampooned in the 60s by Bond spoof Casino Royale, SMERSH sounds unavoidably silly compared to the sinister SPECTRE headed by mysterious Blofeld.
Interestingly the physique of Blofeld in the novels is quite different to that presented in the films. The most memorable portrayal of Blofeld is perhaps Donald Pleasance’s scarred little bald man in You Only Live Twice. In Roger Moore’s time the character is reduced to being dropped down a chimney in a pre titles sequence. Thunderball showcases Blofeld at his best; unknown, all powerful and faceless.
Thunderball also shows off Bond at his best. In a PTS far superior to the aforementioned Roger Moore effort in For Your Eyes Only, we learn everything we need to know about 007. In my view Thunderball’s PTS is also better than Goldfinger’s despite the prevailing view being that Goldfinger’s is the most flawless of the series. As several bloggers pointed out, Bond’s ridiculous duck disguise in Goldfinger spoils the other elements somewhat and to me Thunderball’s PTS is a stronger standalone mini-story, which also ties back to the main adventure.
Steven Spielberg once said that to him, James Bond was a detective, a suave Sherlock Holmes with a gun. For the directing legend Bond was at his best when distilled to this level and he tried to replicate elements of this when creating his Bond equivalent, Indiana Jones. I certainly think that description is a simplification of Bond’s character. But the mighty Spielberg has a point. There’s plenty of sleuthing and relying on Bond’s instincts in Connery’s early films, and particularly Thunderball. It’s something the modern films lost sight of and need to get back to.
Bond is certainly knowing and observational when he unmasks the widow in Thunderball’s PTS as an enemy agent. Connery’s charm, charisma and comedy are turned up to the max and the whole sequence looks stylish. Bond quips and flirts with his female assistant. Then in a brutal, ahead of its time fight scene that the likes of Jason Bourne and the modern 007 are returning to today, Connery kicks his opponent’s ass, savagely strangling him to death with a poker.
The PTS then ends with an outrageous escape via jet pack and gadgets galore on the sleek Aston Martin. These tongue in cheek gizmos aside, the gadgets in Thunderball are at the pitch perfect level. There’s a wonderful scene with Q in which sensible but clever gadgets are introduced that will return to prove vital in the plot. Connery’s sparky dialogue with Desmond Llewelyn is the best in the entire series.
So after the PTS we know who we’re dealing with; James Bond 007, licence to kill, with girls, guns, gadgets and grisly action galore. It’s then that the film introduces the masterly plot that remains durable, relevant, captivating and even slightly plausible today. Goldfinger took Fleming’s immense imagination and made his ideas work better on film than they did in the novel. In Thunderball Fleming’s fantastical schemes once again marvel and delight, and shock and scare, this time sticking closer still to the original story. It’s a testament to the story’s selling power that a major legal tussle over the rights to a remake led to the 1983 unofficial entry starring an aged Connery, Never Say Never Again.
The legacy of the nuclear arms race remains an issue today and the power of rogue atomic weapons to frighten certainly endures. The enormous importance and scale of events adds terrific drama to the story. It’s a drama any Bond film needs and thrives off of; the global significance bearing down on 007’s shoulders as he conquers personal hurdles to unravel it all. Coming up with the perfectly judged plot remains the biggest challenge for those behind new Bond films today because they can’t compete with Fleming.
Thunderball is the first of the films to deal with Fleming’s fascination of the sea and the underwater world. Today it is increasingly difficult to find exotic locations for Bond when holidays can whisk you practically anywhere in a flash. But the colourful realm beneath the waves, glowing in a turquoise tint, remains another mostly inaccessible world. There’s something alien and yet attractive about the monstrous creatures living amongst the sand and sun rays. There’s something dark about anyone who can master this environment and exploit it for his own gain. Something secretive about the tropical depths.
Emilio Largo had a tough act to follow. Auric Goldfinger is the master villain to beat with his distinctive characteristics and fondness for a verbal duel prior to some ghastly fate waiting for our hero. Largo also struggles to impose himself when the magnificent early scene, with one of THE Ken Adam set designs, showing the SPECTRE meeting makes it clear that he is merely a puppet and drone himself. The true power lies elsewhere. This definitely makes him a different kind of villain. He doesn’t compete with Goldfinger but he doesn’t lack menace or do a bad job either.
What about the girls then? For me in Domino and Fiona Volpe we have two of the best Bond girls ever. Pussy Galore, as played by Honour Blackman, is iconic for sure but mainly because of Fleming’s outrageous name. Domino comes across as one of the most beautiful girls that even Bond himself has ever seen in the novel, and Claudine Auger doesn’t do a bad job at all of visually representing this on screen. As for Volpe, she is incredibly sexy and seductive. Her bright red hair set her out as dangerous, but also as red hot. The scene where she is waiting for Bond in the bath and he offers her merely shoes to put on, and the dancing scene at the Kiss Kiss club where she dies, are two of the most memorable in cinematic history for me personally, never mind the Bond series.
During Bond’s scenes with Volpe there are some cracking Bondian quotes from the script and Connery also delivers some of his best lines in the role sparring with Largo: “Do you know a lot about guns?”, “No but a little about women”, for example.
Another reason for Bond’s scenes with Volpe being so memorable for me, particularly the ones at the Mardi Gras, is the film’s score. I think Thunderball is the first time Barry uses the “00 theme” and his variations on the Bond theme itself to provide tense music are catchy and complimentary to the action throughout. Even when the film has aged less well, for example the scene in the health club on the rack and the unintentionally comedic speeded up careering of the boat at the end, the music remains superb. Tom Jones’ title song is no Goldfinger, but it’s undoubtedly addictive and Bondian. And besides I hear poor old Shirley so much that her voice starts to grate.
In the end it’s for those moments in which we see what purists call the “real Bond” that I remember Thunderball. When Connery calmly kills the Professor in Dr.No after he’s had his six shots I knew that was a truly Bondian moment. It marks out the detached killer in Bond’s character so well. He is so used to living his work that he carries it off with a ruthless efficiency that looks effortless and irresistibly cool. There’s another moment like this in Thunderball. When Largo’s chief henchman Vargas is sneaking up on Domino and Bond on the beach, Domino spots him. Bond turns, almost nonchalantly rolling over, to fire a harpoon through his chest. This is the assassin in Bond. The moment’s slightly spoilt by Connery’s quip, “I think he got the point”, but even this dark humour becomes part of the character that fans can love.
Watch Thunderball and you’ve hit the 007 jackpot; never mind the riches of Goldfinger.
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