Thunderball (1965): Bond No. 4, Starring Sean Connery and Bernard Lee as M

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).

Thunderball - UK cinema poster.jpg

Theatrical release poster by Robert McGinnis and Frank McCarthy

The producers must have been encouraged by the box-office grosses of Goldfinger, for they upped the ante in Thunderball, making everything bigger, 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 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 killing 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 in a vast morass of bright colors, while firing harpoons and splashing around.

Designer Maurice Binder hired two dancers, with previous experience of swimming in tanks in disco clubs, and talked them into doing it in the nude, after which he tinted the footage to meet censorship demands.

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 vividly sparkling dialogue and exchanges between Bond and Moneypenny, who seems to enjoy Bond’s spanking of her.

At one point during the light 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 surpasses that of the previous chapters. In addition to Paula’s suicide, which is shocking, other strong scenes include the ferocious underwater battle, in which Bond fires a harpoon into a man’s eye.

Later on, Bond’s is cold-bloodedness, 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.


Sean Connery as James Bond, MI6 agent assigned to retrieve stolen nuclear weapons

Claudine Auger as Domino (voice dubbed by Nikki van der Zyl); Dominique “Domino” Derval is Largo’s mistress

Adolfo Celi as Emilio Largo (voice dubbed by Robert Rietty): SPECTRE’s Number Two, creates a scheme to steal two atomic bombs.

Luciana Paluzzi as Fiona Volpe: SPECTRE assassin, Francois Derval’s mistress aiming to kill and replace him with his double

Rik Van Nutter as Felix Leiter: CIA agent who helps Bond

Guy Doleman as Count Lippe: SPECTRE agent (ranked Number Four) in charge of plot to replace Derval with Angelo.

Molly Peters (voice dubbed by Barbara Jefford) as Patricia Fearing, a physiotherapist at health clinic

Martine Beswick as Paula Caplan: Bond’s CIA ally in Nassau, kidnapped by Vargas and Janni and then commits suicide

Bernard Lee as “M”: Head of MI6
Desmond Llewelyn as “Q”: MI6’s quartermaster, supplies Bond with vehicles and gadgets

Lois Maxwell as Moneypenny, M’s secretary

Roland Culver as Foreign Secretary, British Minister who briefs the “00” agents for Operation Thunderball

Earl Cameron as Pinder, Bahaman intelligence operative, Bond and Leiter’s contact in Nassau.

Paul Stassino as François Derval/Angelo Palazzi: François Derval, French Air Force pilot assigned to the NATO staff and also Domino’s brother.

Rose Alba as Madame Boitier, widow of Colonel Jacques Bouvar, but in fact ‘she’ is Bouvar in diguise.

Philip Locke as Vargas: Largo’s personal assistant and primary henchman.

George Pravda as Ladislav Kutze, nuclear physicist, aids Largo with captured bombs, but when Largo disregards authorities, he pities and rescues Domino.

Michael Brennan as Janni, Largo’s henchman, paired with Vargas

Leonard Sachs as Group Captain Prichard, Bond’s RAF liaison in Operation Thunderball.

Edward Underdown as Air Vice Marshal, senior RAF officer, briefs the 00 agents on the missing Vulcan and its disappearance

Reginald Beckwith as Kenniston, the Home Secretary’s assistant.

Harold Sanderson as Hydrofoil Captain



Running time: 125 Minutes.

Produced by Kevin McClory

Directed by Terence Young

Screenplay by Richard Maibaum, John Hopkins. Jack Whittingham, story by Kevin McClory and Jack Whittingham, based on Thunderball by Ian Fleming
Music by John Barry
Cinematography Ted Moore
Edited by Peter Hunt, Ernest Hosler

Production company: Eon Productions

Distributed by United Artists

Release date: December 9, 1965 (Tokyo, premiere); December 19 (UK)

Budget $9 million
Box office $141.2 million

Previous James Bond Reviews:

Dr. No (1962):

From Russia With Love (1963):

Goldfinger (1964):