Originally intended to be the first James Bond film,Thunderball became the centre of complicated legal battles extending from the early 1960's to the present. Former Ian Fleming collaborators Kevin McClory and Jack Whittingham had sued the author following the 1961 publication ofThunderball, claiming Fleming had based the novel on elements of a screenplay the trio had created years before in an unsuccessful attempt to bring 007 to the big screen. Eventually, the lawsuit was settled out of court and McClory retained certain screen lights to the novel. By now, James Bond was a box-office sensation, and Broccoli and Saltzman did not envy the thought of McClory making a rival production over which they had no control. Thus, an agreement was made in which McClory would receive producer's credit for a screen version of Thunderball, and Broccoli and Saltzman would act as executive producers.
Thunderball was granted a $5.6 million budget by United Artists, the same studio which originally was reluctant to spend $1 million on Dr No. Times had changed, however, and Bond was the leading pop culture icon. By early 1965, when principal photography began, the 007 films had already spawned legions of imitators both on television and on the big screen. The producers knew they had to demonstrate that a genuine Bond movie had scope and spectacle which could never be replicated by the impersonators. With Thunderball, the Bond films became truly epic.
The film is somewhat controversial among Bond scholars. Some feel it is too long and even director Terence Young complained that the abundance of underwater sequences slowed the pace. For most fans, however, Thunderball is top-flight entertainment filled with eye-popping locales, exotic women and exceptional photography, music and sound effects. If there is a negative element in the film, it is the increasing reliance on hardware and technology. Sean Connery was correct in noting that Bond was becoming less interesting as a character and falling victim to the emphasis on gadgets and stunts. He complained that he was tiring of Bond mania and looked forward to leaving the series to stretch his acting skills in other types of films. Nevertheless, Thunderball emerged as one of the top-grossing films of all time. Although critics were starting to take a dim view of the emphasis on hi-tech hardware, even the normally staid New York Times found the film’s merits so impressive that it chose Thunderball as one of the year's ten best movies.
Mission Assignment (may contain spoilers)
Under the guidance of its number two operative, Emilio Largo, SPECTRE hijacks two atomic bombs from a British Vulcan aircraft during a NATO training exercise off the coast of Nassau. An ultimatum is delivered to the prime minister of England threatening to use the bombs to destroy a major city in Britain or the USA unless an exorbitant ransom is paid. In a desperate race against time, M assigns 007 to the Bahamas to thwart SPECTRE. Bond makes the acquaintance of Largo, who poses as a wealthy legitimate businessman, and seduces his mistress, Domino Derval, who ultimately plays a key role in helping Bond discover the bombs.
Agent 007 learns that Largo and an underwater army are transporting the atomic bombs to Miami Beach, the intended target of their attack. He and a group of US Navy Aquaparas defeat the SPECTRE armada in a spectacular underwater battle. Largo escapes on his hydrofoil yacht, the Disco Volante and in a pitched fight with Bond gains the upper hand before ultimately being assassinated by Domino. The disarmed bombs are finally destroyed when the Disco Volante crashes, leaving Bond and Domino to be rescued at sea.
Thunderball was shot primarily in the Bahamas, where producer Kevin McClory resided. Consequently, McClory was able to suggest suitable locations for many key sequences of the film. Principal Photography centred on Nassau (where the local government staged a special out-of-season carnival - the 'Junkanoo' parade) and adjoining Paradise Island. The home of a local millionaire couple - The Sullivans - served as Largo's estate, Palmyra, and the SPECTRE underwater assault begins in the grounds of the home of another millionaire, Huntington Hartford. Paradise Island so en-charted Sean Connery that he now maintains a permanent residence there. The pre-credits jet pack sequence was filmed at the Chateau d'Anet near Paris, while interiors were shot at Pinewood Studios in England.
Director: Terence Young
Writers: Richard Maibaum, John Hopkins, Ian Fleming, Kevin McClory, Jack Whittingham
Genre: Action, Adventure, Crime, Thriller
Official Rating: PG
Release Date: 29 December 1965 UK
Bond Actor: Sean Connery
Film number: 4
Theme song: "Thunderball" by Tom Jones
Soundtrack: by John Barry
Available on: DVD, Blu-Ray
Cast and Characters
Marketing, Merchandising & Box Office
Following the world-wide success of Goldfinger, the public's appetite for all things relating to Bond became insatiable, with sales of the Fleming novels during the mid-sixties hitting over 6 million in the USA alone. Suddenly, 007's licence to kill was also a licence to print money as manufacturers around the world sought to tie in their products with the screen's most famous secret agent. By the time Thunderball was released in late 1965, it was virtually impossible to go into a shop without seeing the now-famous '007 gun logo' emblazoned on products of every description. Fans could wear 007 shoes, raincoats, aftershave and even underwear.
The Gilbert company of the USA was probably the most prolific manufacturer of James Bond toys. Their extensive range included a series of miniature figurines, twelve-inch dolls, watches and cars. The Gilbert 007 Road Race Set, an elaborate slot car layout, was sold exclusively through Sears catalogue in 1965. However, it was discovered that a large majority of these sets had a manufacturer's defect which prevented them from working. The ensuing returns eventually bank-rupted Gilbert. (Ironically, the set today sells for up to £1,000 on the collectors' circuit,.) In England, Lone Star Toys produced an array of toy guns, gadgets and accessory sets.
'And the kitchen sink', says 007 as he is about to enter the underwater battle wearing a virtual arsenal of hi-tech gadgetry. The same 'kitchen sink' philosophy applied to the marketing campaign for Thunderball. Virtually all the stops were pulled out to ensure that the public recognised this as 'The Biggest Bond of all'. In the USA, the television documentary The Incredible World of James Bond was aired four weeks prior to the film's release and was the highest-rated programme of the week. Ford Motor Company produced a tongue-in-cheek car look at the destruction of Count Lippe's car with the short film A Child's Guide to Blowing Up a Motorcar. Three of the most prominent US publications - Playboy, Life and Popular Science - devoted cover stories to the movie, whilst nearly every magazine across Europe featured Thunderball-007 article. The film as even too big for one advertising campaign. Artists Robert McGinnis and Frank McCarchy were employed to create the now classic series of film posters which alerted fans to 'Look Up! Look Down! Look Out!'.