Thunderball (1965): Most Commercially Successful Bond Picture To Date

The fourth James Bond film, “Thunderball,” in 1965, finds Agent 007 matching wits with the sinister espionage organization S.P.E.C.T.R.E, (which stands for Special Executive for Counterintelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion).

Previous James Bond reviews:
Dr. No (1962):
From Russia With Love (1963):
Goldfinger (1964):

The producers must have been encouraged by the grosses of “Goldfinger,” for they upped the ante in “Thunderbal,” making everything bigger (if not better), especially the spectacle elements and stunning location shooting. “Thunderball” boasts the first widescreen cinematography.

The most commercially successful Bond film to date, “Thunderball” earned over $141 million worldwide, of which more than half, $74.1 million, was generated domestically in the U.S. an impressive figure that no other Bond has achieved before.

In the pre-credits sequence, Bond is in France, attending the funeral of Jacques Boitier, who had murdered two of Bond’s Secret Service colleagues, and whom he had been sent to France to kill. While there, he realizes that Boitier is alive, disguised as one of the female mourners. After kiling him, Bond escapes the scene with help from a jet pack, his reliable Aston Martin, and a brunette.

The titles of “Thunderball” are striking, showing two women swimming around in a vast morass of bright colors, firing harpoons and splashing around. Designer Maurice Binder hired two dancers, with experience of swimming in tanks in disco clubs, and talked them into doing it in the nude, after which he tinted the footage.

In the film’s strong opening, Bond is staying at Shrublands, a health farm, in which he recuperates. His suspicions are aroused when he encounters the mysterious Count Lippe, who is wearing a S.P.E.C.T..R.E. ring and bears a tattoo, which suggests membership of a Tong. As a result, he breaks I to Lippe’s rooms and searches through his items as well as the belongings of Lippe’s wheel-chaired associate, Mr. Angelo.

S.P.E.C.T.R.E. hijacks a NATO nuclear bomber, hiding the bombs under the ocean depths and threatening to detonate the weapons unless a ransom of 100,000 pounds (then about $300,000) pounds is paid. The blackmail is made to the U.S. and U.K. governments, threatening to destroy a major city in either country. Bond, acting on a hunch, is sent to the Bahama.

The mastermind behind this scheme is SPECTRE Number Two, the international business executive Emilio Largo (Adolfo Celi), who maintains a pool full of sharks for the purpose of eliminating enemies and those henchmen who fail to come up to standard. Bond discovers the bombs and, after a bloody fracas, prevents them from being detonated.

Dispatched to the Bahamas, Bond enjoys the company of three sexy women: Largo’s mistress Domino Derval (Claudine Auger), British spy Paula Caplan (Martine Beswick, previously seen as a gypsy girl in the 1962 Bond epic “From Russia With Love”) and enemy agent Fiona Volpe (Luciana Paluzzi).

This film contains sparkling dialogue and exchanges between Bond and Moneypenny, who seems to enjoy Bond’s spanking of her. At one point of the office banter, she refers to M as “the old man,” which Bond likes.
Paula Caplan (played by Hammer starlet Martine Beswick) is the field assistant assigned to Bond. Though she shows attachment to Bond, it is unrequited, and in a cruel scene, Paula commits suicide by taking a cyanide capsule, when captured by SPECTRE.

The violence is this film surpassed that of the previous chapters. In addition to Paula’s suicide which is shocking, other strong scene include the ferocious underwater battle, in which Bond fires a harpoon into a man’s eye. Later on, Bond’s shows cold-blodedness and quips, when Fiona dies in his arms.

Memorable lines: Invited to shoot clay pigeon at Palmyra and confronted by Largo with shotgun, Bond says: “That gun, it looks more fitting for a woman.”

While the number of Martinis that Bond drinks has remained the same (three), the number of deaths has escalated from 32 in “Goldfinger” to 54 in “Thunderball.”


Running time: 125 Minutes.
Directed by Terence Young
Written by Kevin McClory, Jack Whittingham, Ian Fleming, Richard Maibaum, John Hopkins
Released: December 20, 1965.
DVD: October 19, 1999
United Artists


Sean Connery James Bond
Claudine Auger as Domino Derval
Adolfo Celi as Emilio Largo
Luciana Paluzzi as Fiona Volpe
Rick van Nutter as Felix Leiter

Bernard Lee as M