MI6 trawls the archives to see how critics of the day received Sean Connery's fourth outing as 007 at the height of Bond Fever in 1965 film "Thunderball"...

Time Tunnel: Review Rewind
13th June 2010

New York Times - December 22nd, 1965
The popular image of James Bond as the man who has everything, already magnificently developed in three progressively more compelling films, is now being cheerfully expanded beyond any possible chance of doubt in this latest and most handsome screen rendering of an Ian Fleming novel, "Thunderball."

Now Mr. Fleming's superhero, still performed by Sean Connery and guided through this adventure by the director of his first two, Terence Young, has not only power over women, miraculous physical reserves, skill in perilous manoeuvres and knowledge of all things great and small, but he also has a much better sense of humour than he has shown in his previous films. And this is the secret ingredient that makes "Thunderball" the best of the lot.

This time old Double-Oh Seven, which is Mr. Bond's code number in the British intelligence service he so faithfully and tirelessly adorns, is tossing quips faster and better then he did even in "From Russia With Love," and he is viewing his current adventure with more gaiety and aplomb.

I think you will, too. In this creation of superman travesty, which arrived yesterday at the reopened Paramount, the Sutton, Cinema II and twoscore or more other theaters in the metropolitan area. Bond is engaged in discovering who hijacked two nuclear bombs in a NATO aircraft over Europe and is secretly holding them for a ransom of £100 million.


That in itself is fairly funny — fanciful and absurd in the same way as are all the problems that require the attention of Bond. But what Richard Maibaum and John Hopkins as the script writers have done is sprinkle their gaudy fabrication with the very best sight and verbal gags.

"Let my friend sit this one out." Bond asks politely of two disinterested young men as he places his dancing partner in a chair beside them at a table in a nightclub in Nassau. The gentlemen nod permission. "She's just dead," he explains.

Or when Bond leaps from a hovering helicopter wearing a skindiver's suit of extraordinary mechanical complexity to engage in an underwater war between SPECTRE and C.I.A. frogmen in the climactic scene of the film, he flips the conclusive comment: "Here comes the kitchen sink!"


In addition to being funny, "Thunderball" is pretty, too, and it is filled with such underwater action as would delight Capt. Jacques-Yves Cousteau. The gimmick is that the airplane carrying the hijacked bombs has been ditched, sunk and covered with camouflaging on a coral reef off Nassau. And to get this information and then find and explore the sunken plane. Bond has to do a lot of skindiving, with companions and alone.

The amount of underwater equipment the scriptwriters and Mr. Young have provided their athletic actors, including an assortment of beautiful girls in the barest of bare bikinis, is a measure of the splendour of the film. Diving saucers, aqualungs, frogman outfits and a fantastic hydrofoil yacht that belongs to the head man of SPECTRE are devices of daring and fun.

So it is in this liveliest extension of the cultural scope of the comic strip. Machinery of the most way-out nature become the instruments and the master, too, of man. "I must be six inches taller," Bond wryly quips at one point after he has been almost shaken to pieces on an electric vibrating machine. The comment is not without significance. This is what machines do to men in these extravagant and tongue-in-cheek Bond pictures. They make distortions of them.

Mr. Connery is at his peak of coolness and nonchalance with the girls. Adolfo Celi is piratical as the villain with a black patch over his eye. Claudine Auger, a French beauty winner, is a tasty skindiving dish and Luciana Paluzzi is streamlined as the inevitable and almost insuperable villainous girl.

The color is handsome. The scenery in the Bahamas is an irresistible lure. Even the violence is funny. That's the best I can say for a Bond film.

Variety - 1965
Sean Connery plays his indestructible James Bond for the fourth time in the manner born, faced here with a $280 million atomic bomb ransom plot. Action, dominating element of three predecessors, gets rougher before even the credits flash on.

Richard Maibaum (who coscripted former entries) and John Hopkins' screenplay [based on an original screenplay by Jack Whittingham, from the original story by Kevin McClory, Whittingham and Ian Fleming] is studded with inventive play and mechanical gimmicks. There's visible evidence that the reported $5.5 million budget was no mere publicity figure; it's posh all the way.

Underwater weapon-carrying sea sleds provide an imaginative note, as does a one-man jet pack used by Bond in the opening sequence, reminiscent of the one-man moon vehicle utilized by Dick Tracy in the cartoon strip.

Connery is up to his usual stylish self as he lives up to past rep, in which mayhem is a casual affair.

Adolfo Celi brings dripping menace to part of the swarthy heavy who is nearly as ingenious - but not quite - as the British agent, whom, among other means, he tries to kill with man-eating sharks.

Terence Young takes advantage of every situation in his direction to maintain action at fever-pitch.


Time - December 24th, 1965
Thunderball spreads a treasury of wish-fulfilling fantasy over a nickel's worth of plot. The fantasy is the familiar amalgam of wholesale sex, comic-strip heroism, bogus glamour and James Bond (Sean Connery). The plot concerns Bond's new nemesis, Largo. As No. 2 man of Spectre, Largo masterminds a daring bombnap. He hijacks a Vulcan bomber aloft on a NATO training flight, sinks its atomic payload in the Atlantic near Nassau. Then, for an asking price of £100 million, he promises not to obliterate Miami or a city of equal size.

Though From Russia with Love remains the liveliest Bond opera to date, Thunderball is by all odds the most spectacular. Its script hasn't a morsel of genuine wit, but Bond fans, who are preconditioned to roll in the aisles when their hero merely asks a waiter to bring some beluga caviar and Dom Pérignon '55, will probably never notice. They are switched on by a legend that plays straight to the senses, and its colors are primary.

Director Terence Young dunks his camera into a swimming pool full of sharks for the film's best single shot, a fisheye view from below, filtered through a victim's blood. In one donnybrook following a funeral, Bond slugs it out with the widow—actually a male adversary—and lifts himself up, up and away by backpack jet. Still more dazzling is a climactic, blue-green underwater battle between Largo's men, wearing black rubber wet suits, and the brave lads from Our Side, parachuting to the fray in flag red.

Bond's dry-land conquests were somewhat zingier type in Goldfinger, but in Thunderball he manages a change of pace by joining Largo's seaworthy French playmate (Claudine Auger) for an amorous exploit down among the corals. "I hope we didn't frighten the fish," he quips afterward, wading ashore. Alas, even subaqueous sex cannot keep the formula entirely fresh.


Yet, if Thunderball's gimmickry seems to overreach at times, Actor Connery gains assurance from film to film, by now delivers all his soppiest Jimcracks martini-dry. He is hilariously astringent when he drops a limp dancing partner at a nightclubber's ringside table, saying: "D'you mind if my friend sits this one out? She's just dead." And indeed she is.

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