Monday, 18 April 2011

BlogalongaBond / Thunderball:
Fourth Film Founders, Fortunately Features Fabulous Fiona

It had to happen. After three films of increasing amazitude, even the invincible James Bond can't dodge the Curse of the Fourth Film. Thunderball, though not without its merits, is a flabby, overlong mess, sinking under the weight of its own desperation to be bigger and better than its predecessors. When even the casting of a Ringo Starr lookalike as 006 can't keep your film afloat, what hope is there?
The biggest problem with Thunderball is that 20.8% of it (yeah, I checked) is spent under the sea, turning nearly half an hour of running time into plodding time. But it's not the sheer volume of water that sinks this film: everyone who did such great work on Dr. No, From Russia With Love and Goldfinger suddenly finds themselves out of their depth, ultimately drowning under the rising tide of pointless gadgets, needlessly complex plots and unsatisfiable hype.

Richard Maibaum's script over-complicates Ian Fleming's simple, effective story, allowing Bond to stumble fortuitously across bad guys and repeatedly get rescued from certain death by other characters. Director Terence Young lets the film get away from him, dumping a four-and-a-half hour cut into editor Peter Hunt's lap, leading him to employ two more editors to get the film to a manageable length before its already-delayed release date. Even the usually-faultless John Barry submits a score which, while effective in the quieter scenes, goes apeshit during the set-pieces, shrieking hysterically and repetitively to make up for all the tedious sploshing about and silly high-speed fights.
Fortunately it's not a total disaster. Thunderball has one spectacular redeeming feature, which itself has several redeeming features. Ladies and gentlemen, please rise for the series' Best Bond Girl Ever: Fiona Volpe.
Is it any coincidence that "volpe" is Italian for "vixen"? NO IT IS NOT. Foxy bitch Fiona, played by 28-year-old Italian Luciana Paluzzi, is devious, deadly and incredibly sexy, and puts every other simpering Bond girl into the shadow cast by her ample bosom.

In the interests of full disclosure, I should say that I do have a thing for redheads. So from the very first frame we see of Fiona, the deal is pretty much sealed, and in glorious Technicolor:
Less than a minute later she's displaying further attributes that I admire in a lady:
But enough about her well-manicured fingernails. In her first scene she watches coldly as her colleagues murder a man she's just been making sexytime with, then orders them about like they're imbeciles. She even calls rubbish villain Count Lippe by his surname only, contemptuously disregarding his honorific title. She may take orders from SPECTRE, but what she absolutely will not take is any shit from the likes of you.

As if it wasn't obvious from her introduction that she takes pleasure in using her sexuality for her own ends (not unlike a certain British agent), the next time we see her she's literally dealing death from between her legs, blowing up Lippe's car with missiles fired from her motorbike. Obviously being a safety-conscious henchbitch, this necessitates her being dressed entirely in leather, and let's be honest: Brando never looked this good in The Wild One.
Thunderball could have ended there and certain sections of the audience would have left happy, but Fiona's best scenes are still to come. Splashing about in Bond's bath (the best underwater scene in the film by far), she lures him into her vagina to pass the time while waiting for her hired hands to arrive and beat him up. After literally softening him up for them, the last thing she wants to do is mess her hair up any more.

And then she really hits Bond where it hurts, launching a withering verbal attack on his vanity and ego, taunting him with his failure to turn her to the side of right and virtue. It's the film's sharpest dialogue, although it appears she's got all her intel on 007 from watching the first three films. Meta.

Thankfully Fiona sticks to her guns and spends her final mortal moments trying to turn Bond permanently stiff. Her death scene, while reminiscent of Goldfinger's pre-title sequence, is one of Thunderball's rare technical successes, with the score and editing building to a violent climax: just the way she would have wanted it.

It's wide!
Thunderball was the first Bond film to be shot in lovely 2.35:1, and by God Maurice Binder was going to make the most of it in his title sequence by placing the Panavision and Technicolor credits as far apart as possible.

The poster campaign
While Thunderball may be the least great of the four Bond films so far, its posters were by far the best. Shit-hot designers Frank McCarthy and Robert McGinnis were hired to create lifelike but fantastical interpretations of the film's signature moments, and between them they came up with some of the most iconic poster art in cinema history. Take that, "photograph of Daniel Craig's shadow".

Mister Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

It comes to something when one of the best things about a film wasn't actually in it. John Barry and Leslie Bricusse wrote this sublime theme song, beautifully sung by Dionne Warwick and tragically jettisoned in favour of Tom Jones thunderbawling Don Black's inane lyrics which, by order of United Artists, had to include the film's title. Good job this wasn't On Her Majesty's Secret Service.

BlogalongaBond will return with You Only Live Twice

What the hell is BlogalongaBond? I'll tell you.
Further BlogalongaBondareading here


  1. I absolutely admire your alliterative articulation of advised, adroit affirmation.

  2. I am currently watching Thunderball and was just thinking that the only thing worth singing about in it is the sociopathic redhead. You may have waxed lyrical about her enough for both of us, however.

  3. I DEMAND a song about Fiona. Not sure what rhymes with 'Volpe' though.

  4. Mister Kiss Kiss Bang Bang sounds weirdly, vaguely like Yellow Submarine to me. :S

  5. Had it been the late-80's/early 90's, the Dionne Warwick song would have been used over the end credits! (Of course, then, cable TV stations would cut the song out completely in order to squeeze in more commercials... like they did with K.D.Lang's superb "Surrender".)

  6. While I completely agree with your opinions about Thunderball, for some reason(s)I find that when I'm in the mood for some old school Bond, this is the film that I'm most likely to pull down off of the shelf. I think it may be the jet-pack. When I was a kid, I almost lost my mind when Sean blasted off in that thing. Oddly, at 52 years old, I still get a rush when I see that scene....or Fiona Volpe's breasts.

  7. Yeah, I really dug that foxy Italian redhead Fiona - RRRRROWWWWWLLLLL!!. The only downsides were that 1) she didn't wear her bad-ass biker-bitch Black Leather outfit a LOT longer, and 2) had to get killed off while that boring, useless Domino remained in the movie to be an accident-prone, helpless drip.

  8. Sir Suit, the rhyme for Volpe would be Sexe.

  9. No mention of Domino? I'm partial to a red but the brunette I feel suits colder evening in front of the fire where you can smell burning wood.