The production of Thunderball, the fourth film in the James Bond canon is one riddled with conflict, disagreement and indirectly led to the creation of Never Say Never Again, the Bond film that wasn’t quite Bond. Author Ian Fleming and co-writer Kevin McClory fell into dispute in 1961 over whom owned the rights to the Thunderball script. McClory insisted that he had co-written it and wanted equal share of the rights. Due to this conflict, the filming of Thunderball was bumped in favour of Goldfinger then a year later an out-of-court settlement allowed production to commence.
After defeating an agent of shady organisation SPECTRE, MI6 agent James Bond (Sean Connery) is put onto the trail of Emilio Largo (Adolfo Celi). As the shady second in command in SPECTRE, Largo has hatched a plan which involves two stolen nuclear warheads and threatens to use them on two major cities if his demand for $100m in uncut diamonds isn’t met. Bond must seduce Largo’s girlfriend Domino (Claudine Auger) and stop the criminal mastermind before he goes through with his plans.
Thunderball had arguably the most turbulent journey to the big screen of any of the James Bond films, and it sets itself apart from the others because it was effectively made twice, once in 1965 and then again in 1983 in the non-canon Never Say Never Again. As with previous instalments of the Bond franchise there is the over-arching shadow of fictional organisation SPECTRE looming over everything that happens, and the enemy sports a rather fetching eye-patch in classic parody-rich territory. Mike Myers does have a lot to answer for.
The opening and end bookend Thunderball with exciting action scenes and offer the most memorable scenes in the film. It’s not often that you see someone attending the funeral of an enemy and then discovering him to still be alive and posing as his own widow. Obviously Bond fights and defeats SPECTRE agent Number 6, but then has the presposterous cool to don a jetpack to escape from the compound he suddenly finds himself trapped in. It’s classic 1960s Bond action and remains one of the most over-the-top and enjoyable openings to any in the franchise. Sadly the over-reliance on gadgets like this would ruin the pacing and excitement of the majority of the film, and in the end it just feels very average.
After the amount of time, effort and money that went into making Thunderball a reality, the finished article is something of a non-entity. Happy to play to the structure created by Goldfinger and with a clever and inspired final battle underwater, it still never quite manages to make its mark in Bond film history. Tom Jones ˜Thunderball’ is a suitable follow-up to Shirley Bassey Goldfinger, but much like the film comparison, feels like a lesser copy rather than something original.