Short Films
Interviews Contact Links Cheez Blog

Thunderball (1965)
Tonight's Feature Presentation


Starring: Sean Connery, Claudine Auger, Adolfo Celi, Luciana Paluzzi, Rick Van Nutter, Guy Doleman

Written By: Richard Maibaum, John Hopkins, Jack Whittingham (original screenplay & story), Kevin McClory (story), Ian Fleming (story)

Directed By: Terence Young

The Short Version

The fourth entry in the James Bond series is also one of the strongest.

Whoever actually wrote the story, it’s a damn good one.

The plausibility’s high, the pace quick, and the adventure fun.

This film features SPECTRE at its pinnacle.

Thunderball is a must-see for anyone, and a must-own for Bond fans.

The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?


Hearty fare; the good stuff.

Pairs Well With...


“May I be allowed to buy the lady a drink?”

If you’re going to do that, why not some smooth spiced rum to go with your Caribbean adventure?

“Do I seem healthy?”

“Too healthy by far.”

Whatever Thunderball was supposed to be, it wasn’t the fourth film in the James Bond franchise, or the one that many Connery fans (at least in my experience) seem to pass over today, despite its excellence and overall box office success.

Depending on the account, back in 1959, Ian Fleming had hoped that the Thunderball story would either be the pilot for a new James Bond television series or the first in an as-yet-unsold series of films.  Trouble was that he couldn’t come up with a plot that he liked, so he turned to Kevin McClory and Jack Whittingham for help, and they came up with the story.  Fleming couldn’t sell it at the time, so the others went on their merry way… and he adapted their work into the novel, “Thunderball,” without bothering to mention them.  It was only after this that Fleming had secured his film franchise.

When “Thunderball” came up as the subject for the fourth film in said series, Kevin McClory sued, and after barely over a week of court proceedings, he won the rights to the movie about to be made from it, plus a cash settlement.  One could say that justice prevailed… though McClory would burn that goodwill years later, with the ultimate result being Never Say Never Again.

But back in 1965, McClory did very well indeed, because Thunderball turned out to be the most successful James Bond film ever, and would remain so for a very long time.  And though some may forget it now, the movie succeeded for a damn good reason: namely, that it’s that damn good.

Thunderball takes the serious espionage of From Russia with Love and the over the top adventure of Goldfinger and has them meet up somewhere in the middle, resulting in a thrilling story that remains plausible enough for the majority and never at any point asks the viewer to leave his or her brain behind.  It also proves to be a technically superb film, with sequences that still hold up to scrutiny even almost a half century later.  Though it stops short of being perfect, Thunderball is about as close as anyone can reasonably expect a James Bond film to get.

For one thing, when it comes to looking at him as an individual actor, Thunderball represents the pinnacle of the Sean Connery 007 experience.  Connery is extremely comfortable in the role of Bond by now and wears it like his own skin.  He’s relaxed and he’s obviously enjoying himself, and the result is his single best performance in the entire series.  It helps that the story gives him a full plate as an actor, allowing him to really show off the range he’s developed since his first go in Dr. No.  Eon has also loosened the reins a bit and allowed the camera to take advantage of the sex appeal that had brought James Bond so many fans; in Thunderball, Connery shows off his skin more than the ladies do, and he appears more than happy to do so.

Of course, a great hero is magnified by a great villain, and in Thunderball, the overarching collective villain that is SPECTRE also reaches its pinnacle.  As was the case in From Russia with Love, the organization’s collective might is put on display in great but not painful detail, which in turn lends credence to the notion that these people would indeed be capable of hatching a success scheme to steal two nuclear weapons from NATO.  Indeed, the demonstration of parallels between SPECTRE and British Intelligence are unmistakable, and the display of such is a stroke of genius on the part of the Director. 

SPECTRE also holds up well when broken down into individual pieces.  The mysterious Blofeld is, of course, a study in perfect menacing minimalism.  His main operative for this story and the film’s general villain, Largo (Adolfo Celi, Von Ryan’s Express), is also wonderfully menacing, though he also presents two of the film’s only weak points.  (Per Bond standard of the time, the actor’s voice is dubbed, and obviously so, and the character’s cruelty toward his mistress seems gratuitous even if it does lead to a throwaway moment of betrayal that ties up a loose end.)  Once again, though, the henchperson steals the spotlight from the boss: Luciana Paluzzi (The Green Slime) is sensational as Fiona, and made even more so by screenwriting that breaks the series mold of weak-willed women and allows her to truly stand up to 007.

Indeed, the story takes the time to break other molds, as well.  James Bond is rendered helpless and has to be saved from death by women not just once but twice.  On the first occasion, he’s even left crying out for help just before he faints dead away.  But far from weakening the character of our invincible hero, these moments actually make him stronger, providing an additional connection for the audience to grab on to and making the overall story that much richer.

Of course, traditionalists need not fear being left out in the cold; there’s plenty of standard-style adventure material to go around, filmed well enough to in turn become something even better than standard.  The franchise staple of the shark tank makes its first appearance in Thuderball (giving the audience a chance to note Sean Connery’s fear of sharks, if observant), and the climactic undersea battle sequence remains one of the best in the not just the Bond franchise but indeed in all of adventure cinema, standing up even nearly five decades later as a blueprint for How These Things Should Be Filmed.  It is truly a joy to behold, and even if there were nothing else to recommend about this film, that sequence alone would make the entire movie worth watching.  It’s that good.

Tack on an excellent-as-usual score by John Barry and outstanding direction by Terence Young, and you’ve got an action party which – sentiment set aside – even trumps its illustrious predecessor, Goldfinger.

Yeah, I said it.  I think Thunderball is the better film.

Bottom line, if you’re looking for one of the best movies in the James Bond franchise or even just a great adventure flick period, you just can’t go wrong with Thunderball.  It’s got a great story, great filmmaking all around, and features Sean Connery at his best.  What’s not to love?

Doom Cheez Cinema is now Cinema on the Rocks. Thank you for your support!

Tweet this page!

- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, April, 2013

More From The Bar! | Moonraker | A View To A Kill | Quantum of Solace | Goldeneye |

You can email Ziggy at ziggy@cinemaontherocks.com. You can also find us on Facebook.


- copyright 2000-2016, Ziggy Berkeley and Cinema on the Rocks, all rights reserved.

Promotional/still images copyright their original authors. If you're going to drink, please do so legally and responsibly. Thanks.