As a longtime James Bond devotee, I’ve been enjoying ABC’s broadcasts of the Bond films on Saturday nights lately. Tonight’s entry was “Thunderball”, a film about which I’ve always had mixed feelings. The opening act takes too long to develop, with Bond happening upon intrigue at some British health spa. Of course, the intrigue has to do with the eventual scheme being run by SPECTRE, and Bond is sent to the Bahamas to follow up on a lead (which happens to involve a beautiful woman, of course) and the plot finally gets moving. But even then the story takes its own sweet time in developing; for a plot that involves a countdown until two stolen nuclear bombs will be detonated in a major city, the film unfolds at an uncertain pace, and the sense of urgency never really takes hold. And then, we get to the third act where the thing finally grinds to a stop. We are then treated to thirty or forty minutes of Bond swimming around underwater, a big battle between the good guys and the SPECTRE forces, and finally a fight to the death with the villain on the bridge of a yacht that is speeding out of control through a series of reefs. All that sounds like it should move along at a brisk, tense pace — but sadly it doesn’t. The climax of a Bond film should never be boring, and this one is. John Barry’s music can’t even get things going, which is really saying something. Barry’s music singlehandedly saved “Goldfinger”, during the interminable sequence where Pussy Galore’s pilots take to the air to disperse poison gas over Fort Knox. Sadly, in “Thunderball”, the pace of the film was beyond Barry’s considerable powers.
Interestingly, for legal reasons an associate of Ian Fleming’s actually owned the rights to the plot of “Thunderball”, and it was thus that “Never Say Never Again” — which tells the same story — was made in 1983. The interesting part is that the later film tells the same story much better than the original, which might make “Never Say Never Again” the only remake in history actually superior to its original.
Next week’s ABC Bond film is “You Only Live Twice”, which I’m looking forward to because I haven’t seen it in years. I remember it being a pretty fun film, despite the fact that Donald Pleasance is by far the worst of the three Blofelds. We’ll see.