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Am I allowed to feel winded already? I’m what, only twenty percent of the way there and my head is spinning already? Yeesh, what kind of shape will I be in around OCTOPUSSY? Yeah, yeah. It sounds like I’m starting to fade, which will only lend credence to those who have predicted I would peter out before finishing the full run. If you’re one of the non-believers, chew on this. I WILL SEE THIS THING THROUGH. And if that wasn’t enough, I’m gonna up the ante by announcing that I will indeed review the two unofficial Bond movies, NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN and the old CASINO ROYALE. So there!

And with that hate-packed rant behind me, I feel secure in moving forward. So come with me as I bring you my review of THUNDERBALL!

IF YOU READ AHEAD THE PLOT OF THUNDERBALL COULD BE SPOILED FOR YOU. IT’S WHAT IS COMMONLY REFERRED TO IN ‘THE BIZ’ AS A SPOILER.

First of all, to quell the complainers out there, let me state upfront that James Bond will be portrayed by Sean Connery for the duration of this motion picture.

The movie starts off with the classic image of Bond walking from right to left in profile, then turning and shooting at his target. But they’ve fixed it this time – instead of firing like a lunatic, he now he turns and aims the gun at his intended target. We fade out in a sea of blood dripping from the brain of the person whose been shot in the forehead by Bond to a casket bearing a set of initials. They read JB. Hold on a second…. JB. JB. Where have I heard those initials before. James Bond? He’s dead ALREADY? The movie just started! Oh, wait. He’s not dead. He’s at the funeral, standing alongside a pretty lady, watching from the balcony of the church (an area I’ve always wanted to see for myself, but I think you have to be really religious to get up there. Someday my pastor will throw me a bone and give me a peek at what really goes down “behind the scenes”!).

The funeral is in France for Colonel Jacques Bouvar, an agent of the evil SPECTRE organization. Bond tells his hot ladyfriend that he wishes he had the chance to kill him because Bouvar murdered two British spies. But as he watches the Bouvar’s mourning widow leave the church, something clicks in his head. Bond confronts the widow at her estate, at first offering condolences, but then punching her right in her black-veiled face! To be honest, I wasn’t particularly taken aback by this, considering the way Bond has treated women throughout the movies – I thought this was merely how he expressed grief. But it turns out that SHE was a HE! Bouvar wasn’t dead after all – he was just showing up to his own funeral in drag!

Bond and Bouvar duke it out in a fantastic fight in which all kinds of old ugly junk that is worth a lot of money and is considered attractive to the aged – shit like statues, vases, and a grandfather clock – are demolished in the brawl. Finally Bond breaks Bouvar’s neck with a fireplace poker and runs to the balcony as two gunmen break down the door in pursuit. How does Bond get away, with HIS FUCKING JET PACK, that’s how!

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One of the more iconic Bond images – something that’s been ripped off and parodied into oblivion – and it’s still pretty thrilling to see in action. Although it makes me feel sorry for the sad lot of you who don’t own one. Someday they’ll come down in price, not unlike the awesome bargains on high definition flat panel televisions at Best Buy, for example. Bond escapes, then as the goons chase him into the street, he gets into his car and sprays them with water, adding insult to injury. It’d be bad enough having to go back inside the mansion explaining to your fellow goons that you let Bond escape. But to have to do it soaking wet? Beyond humiliating!

After a title sequence (reviewed below) things pick up in Paris, with a meeting of SPECTRE. Number One leader of SPECTRE Blofeld addresses the members of the organization from behind a shielded pane of glass – although he does allow them to see everything below the neck, including him petting his creepy white cat. The members review all the horrible stuff they’ve been doing and how much profited on each endeavor. Blofeld is displeased with the paltry amount of money that Number Eleven made from selling drugs in the U.S. So with a press of a button, Number Eleven is quickly fried to a crisp. It’s 1965 – if Number Eleven could’ve held on for another eighteen months he could’ve gotten whatever price he wanted for drugs. David Crosby alone would’ve been made the difference, with all his Byrds money!

Then Number Two speaks. His name is Emilio Largo and he looks a lot like Dolphins coach and steakhouse enthusiast Don Shula wearing an eye patch.

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Largo proposes a plan to HOLD THE WORLD RANSOM! What’s his plan? I don’t know yet – he’s being pretty cagey about the details, dramatically doling out information like he’s in a movie or something. The movie then moves to a health clinic in England, where James bond is recuperating from the toll that all his adventures have taken on his body. I can understand why he’s so banged up though, when you consider the insane amount of sex he has during his missions, and any doctor worth their salt would’ve hooked 007 to a penicillin drip off-screen for safe measure. While getting a massage from a sexy nurse, Bond notices a fellow patient has a tattoo on his wrist that marks him as a member of a criminal organization. The two of them exchange knowing looks, and if you bet that This Dynamic Would Come To A head Very Soon, you would be a winner.

And if you bet that the bad guy would try to kill Bond as he’s strapped into a mechanical stretching machine, you would’ve hit the jackpot. After trying to grope the same sexy nurse – who REALLY doesn’t seem to be into Bond’s advances – she hooks him up to said stretching machine. The bad guy sneaks in and jacks the thing up to the fastest setting (which shouldn’t actually KILL anyone, should it? If the final setting on the stretching machine is ostensibly ‘DEATH’, the manufacturers might want to consider not making future stretching units with that setting as an option). Thankfully the nurse comes in and saves Bond, and he repays his gratitude by guilting/threatening her into having sex with him or facing the consequences of him reporting her neglect during the incident. So into the steam room they go. Classy!

Bond evens the score by locking the bad guy into one of those old timey sweat box things that you stick your head out of, then jacks the heat up to its highest setting. THIS thing:

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And for the record, I spent a half hour trying to find their official name of these machines, but I’m gonna assume that is something lost to the sands of time.* Funny that I don’t know the name of it, what with my enthusiasm for old gymnasium equipment. By the way, if there’s anyone out there that knows how to re-calibrate the stomach straps on a vibrator belt, please contact me at once! (It’s a Christmas present. Don’t tell my pastor!)

Meanwhile, a hotshot NATO pilot is double-crossed in his apartment right before leaving for a big mission. The killer? Someone who looks EXACTLY like him! And when I say exactly, I mean he was played by the same guy. The bad guy went to some incredible lengths to make himself passable as the pilot, so at the last second he asks his fellow bad guys for more money before he’ll pull the job. The very very attractive woman who was pretending to be the dead pilot’s ladyfriend agrees to pay him his money, and the fake pilot is off!

He boards an aircraft with a pair of atomic bombs in its cargo, then knocks out everybody else on board! The pilot flies the plane to a spot in the middle of the ocean and lands it in the middle of the ocean. It sinks to the ocean floor, looking nothing at all like a model of a plane. And watching all this go down from a nearby boat is none other than Number Two, Emilio Largo! He and his crew quickly don their wetsuits and extract the bombs from the plane, leaving the pilot to drown in the process. So much for that bump in pay, eh?

James Bond gets called away from his sex spa for a high-level meeting at HQ – all of the 00’s are in attendance. Bond is the last to arrive and M, who runs the whole thing (I don’t think I’ve addressed him as such during any of these reviews) makes a wisecrack about his tardiness. Then you realize – James Bond is the black sheep of the 00’s! All the agents are briefed – SPECTRE wants 100 million pounds within a week or they’ll blow up a city in England or the US. And to acknowledge that the Prime Minister agrees to the terms, Big Ben should strike seven times at 6 o’clock the following day. All the agents are dispatched to locate the bombs under a mission called CODE NAME: THUNDERBALL.

Upon reviewing the information, Bond asks to be dispatched to Nassau instead of Canada. Jeepers, I wonder why he’d want to be sent to a place where everybody’s in bikinis instead of parkas. But 007 actually has a valid reason – he has unearthed a connection between some of the shenanigans that went on at the health clinic and one of the photos in the top secret briefing. But he also knows if he hits the islands, he’s gonna get some action. (As an aside, I was going to say that Bond was ‘thinking with his little secret agent’ or something like that, but I realized how much I have HATED that line of joking my entire life. Can we as a culture all agree to stop referring to the male sex part as a ‘little ANYTHING’? It’s time, peoples!)

And like that, we’re underwater in Nassau, where Bond is following a super hot woman named Domino as she scuba dives. They meet cute and end up back at the resort, with Bond learning that Domino is the mistress of none other than Largo! As they sit poolside, Bond offers Domino some of his conch chowder, and I hope I never hear Sean Connery utter the words ‘conch chowder’ again. He swallows the ‘ch’ in conch, and mashes it right against ‘chowder’, with the word coming out as ‘conchowda’. It’s enough to turn someone who honestly loves a hot bowl of conch chowder – as I do – off the stuff for good.

That night Bond heads to a casino, where he squares off against Largo at a table playing some weird card game played with a pizza paddle and chips that resemble de-sticked miniature versions of the lollipops that Agnetha Fältskog is famous for enjoying. He whips Largo a few times, then asks if he can take Domino for a drink. Largo acquiesces, looking to gain any information he can get on 007. Bond slow dances with Domino, which only pisses of Largo that much more. But what’s the guy thinking? You don’t let your lady dance with James Bond! At this point he can’t help it! Him having sex with your girlfriend is like you or me tipping our hat to say hello!

Bond goes back to his room and beats up a low level scumbag hiding in the shower with a gun. He sends the goon back to Largo because he’s not concerned with the little fish. Whew – that punk caught a lucky break…. until he goes back to Largo, who pushes him into his swimming pool filled with sharks. I’m hoping that pool is not chlorinated too much, because that would not be good for the sharks. Yeah, they’re killing machines, but did they ASK to be put in a swimming pool?

British secret service inventor Q shows up and gives Bond some new gadgets to help with the case – a Geiger counter, a pill-sized homing signal, a self-contained breathing device… and AN UNDERWATER CAMERA. Yes, an actual camera that takes pictures underwater! Where do they come up with these things? Bond puts it to good use, photographing the belly of Largo’s boat as he snoops around looking for the bombs. But Largo spots Bond on his secret underwater security camera – suck on that, Q! – and a henchman who looks like the unfortunate love child of Mike Farrell and Dan Clowes starts chucking hand grenades into the water in an attempt to blow him up.

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Bond barely escapes and manages to stagger to shore, where he’s rescued by the hot woman who double-crossed the pilot back in England! She drives him back to his hotel, but Bond knows what time it is – she is evil and he must have sex with her.

The next day Bond shows up at Largo’s house as an invited guest. It’s a non-stop game of cat and mouse, which would give me a real stomach ache if I was Bond. I hate playing games with people – my motto has always been “say what you’re feeling and let’s move on”. You save a lot of agony that way. But then again, nobody’s plotting to kill me the way they’re after 007 (I hope!). The hot double-crosser who drove him home – her name is Fiona Volpe, which might mean something dirty in some language I don’t speak – is also at Largo’s house. She tells Largo that she’ll kill Bond when the time is right. Man, they ARE after him! I hope to Christ people don’t talk about me like that right before I show up somewhere.

Bond shoots skeet with Largo and admires his shark pool before getting an invite to a local Mardi Gras-type celebration. But while Bond is staring at sharks and eyeing Domino like a prevert, Largo’s goons kidnap one of Bond’s associates back at the hotel. And, for the record, she is a sexy woman. Bond leaves the celebration and raids Largo’s house in an attempt to rescue the hot spy. She refuses to talk and takes a cyanide tablet rather than endure the torture. RIP, Hot Spy. Bond gets into a tussle with one of Largo’s goons and the two of them fall into the swimming pool. Largo releases the sharks, but 007 uses his breathing apparatus to get away, swimming into the shark’s holding tank. The other guy isn’t so lucky. He gets eaten by the sharks, who are probably developing a taste for goon by this point.

Bond returns to his room and finds Fiona Volpe taking a bath in his tub. So Bond does the only thing he knows how to do in these situations – he has sex. The next morning Fiona’s goons show up and they haul Bond away. To her credit, Fiona mocks Bond’s ability to get bad women to turn good, something that happened in both FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE and GOLDFINGER. Bond manages to escape the thugs and runs through the Mardi Gras parade, hiding behind a float. He’s eventually caught on the dancefloor of a club by Fiona, who dances with him (more of that cat and mouse stuff! I’d have to excuse myself with a case of ‘nervous stomach’ if I was Bond!) But he manages to spin her around into the path of a sniper’s bullet that was meant for him! The goons meekly disperse upon seeing Fiona dead instead of going after Bond, making way for a grand tradition that was best used in the climactic finale of DEATH WISH III.

Bond manages to locate the NATO plane from a helicopter, but the bombs are nowhere to be found. Time is running out, so Bond has one option: make his case to Domino after having sex with her underwater. Back on shore he breaks the news that Largo killed her brother, the innocent pilot who was murdered by his lookalike. She agrees to help out and goes back to Largo’s boat. Oh, and halfway through this conversation Bond shoots Vargas with a spear gun, pinning him to a palm tree. 007 poses as one of Largo’s wetsuit-wearing henchman and helps move the atomic bombs into position off the coast of Miami. He’s found out and there’s an exciting underwater chase, with Bond narrowly escaping.

Back on the boat Largo figures out that Domino has flipped teams – that’s what you get letting your lady hang out with Bond so much! – and locks her up with plans to torture her later. With the bombs in position, Bond leads a counterattack with a team of what, CIA? FBI? Coast Guard? Lets just call them Good Guys. Either which way, the underwater battle between the Good Guys and Bad Guys is spectacular. It’s brilliantly staged, surprisingly violent – spidery clouds of bloody water and plenty of spear guns – and truly something you’ve never seen before. One thing – why is Largo wearing his eyepatch under his scuba mask? Is he THAT worried what people are gonna think of his bad eye? These guys work for him! If they don’t like it, they can take a dip in the shark pool! You’re Number Two, buddy! Between letting Bond grope your ladyfriend at will and this eyepatch thing, it’s clear that someone has some serious self confidence issues.

Largo takes off in his boat in a last ditch attempt to escape, but Bond climbs aboard. There’s a fight in the cabin between Bond and Largo, and just when it looks like Largo’s got the upper hand, Domino shoots him from behind. With the boat powering wildly out of control, 007 and Domino jump out seconds before it explodes. They get airlifted out of a raft into a Coast Guard plane, where you can assume they had sex in the bathroom. The end!

RANDOM THOUGHTS

1) Another great one. Maybe not as awesome as GOLDFINGER, but only by a hair. The underwater stuff has to be seen to be believed, really – just jaw-dropping in its scope and intensity.

2) These restored DVDs look really fantastic. During the stretching machine scene, it felt like Bond was sexually assaulting that nurse right in my living room!

RATINGS (on a scale of 1-10)

JAMES BOND QUIPS – 7.5

He’s got his usual array of cornball stuff – after Fiona gets shot on the dancefloor, Bond lays her into a chair at a nearby table, asking the other guests if they “mind if my friend sits this one out? She’s just dead.” But Bond dropped a zinger that made me laugh out loud. After hooking up with Fiona, she pulls out a gun and takes him captive, mocking Bond’s vanity. 007 turns around and says, “My dear girl, don’t flatter yourself. What I did this evening was for king and country. You don’t think it gave me any pleasure, do you?” And then he lets out the tiniest smile, a moment of subtlety miles away from fat bald Connery screaming “You’re the man now, dog!” in that poor kid’s face.

ACTION/STUNTS – 9

The opening sequence with the drag fight and the jet pack. The aforementioned underwater finale. The shark tank. It’s all great. Top shelf whiskey, as my guidance counselor’s son Ernst would say.

SEXY LADIES – 8

I thought all the ladies were sexy.

SEXISM/CHAUVINISM – 4

Sure, he spins Fiona Volpe into the line of fire, but she was going to kill him. And his response to the nurse in the health clinic was horrifying. But this was ultimately the tamest of the bunch.

VILLAINS – 7.5

Emilio Largo might be the archetypal Bond villain – the eye patch, the thick European accent, the shark tank. But he didn’t have the flair or violence of Goldfinger. And Vargas is no Odd Job. They’re still great, but not the greatest.

RACISM – 1.5

Not a whole lot here, unless I’m forgetting something. The woman dancing on fire at the club? I’ll give that a half point. But that’s all I can come up with.

GADGETS – 8

The jet pack! It begins and ends with the jet pack. So good.

TOM’S BOREDOM LEVEL – 1.5

Maybe one trip back to Largo’s house too many. But that’s that. I’m not gonna complain just to complain. Tight from beginning to end.

I KNOW IT’S OLD BUT THAT’S JUST EMBARRASSING – 8

That underwater camera. Come on. Seriously. I can’t imagine the notion of that was truly hard to digest back in 1965. You’re dropping a jet pack on me in the beginning, then you’re dialing it down to a camera that takes pictures in water? And it only held eight photos! Jeez. Come on, estate of Cubby Brocoli! Get on the stick and change that thing to an underwater iPhone or something. Something we can ask Santa for! Like a new GPS system!

THEME SONG – 8.5

Tom Jones belting out a song called “Thunderball”. Another one of the epic minor key brass section blowouts. And Tom Jones is rumored to have fainted while hitting the final note of the song! I don’t believe that rumor however. Nice try, “The Voice”.

TITLE SEQUENCE – 8

Naked ladies swimming underwater in a variety of deep blues. Stunning to see and really works well with the theme song.

OVERALL – 9

I’m putting this right next to GOLDFINGER. You can’t ask for much more from a James Bond movie. Or can you?

This might be the crossroads where Success With A Formula intersects with Comfort With A Formula. The movie just cooks, bouncing from scene to scene, hitting all its marks. But the reliance on the key moments slowly devolve into ‘doing what worked before’. When do the movies start to not get so good? I honestly don’t know at what exact point the quality drops off. I’ve avoided digesting these movies for my entire life in anything resembling proper sequence, so I’m not being a wise guy here.

But I will journey on to the next movie, which is called something about a gun or something? No, it’s called YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE.

See you on the other side, Clyde!

Tom.

* I have been informed by my friend in Rhode Island Christopher that these machines are simply known as “steam cabinets” or the even less exciting “steam bath cabinets”. Yuck. Not nearly old timey enough for my liking. I was hoping that some quack Doctor’s name was worked into the name at least. Now I’m bummed out. The only thing that cheers me up in moments like this is a picture like the one below. Steam away, madam. Steam away.

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