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Thunderball: Bond goes underwater

‘Thunderball’, the fourth outing in the James Bond series following ‘Dr No’ (1962), ‘From Russia with Love’ (1963), and ‘Goldfinger’ (1964), in three consecutive years, saw the return of talented Terence Young as the director – ‘Goldfinger’ was directed by Guy Hamilton – for the third and last time.
‘Thunderball’ (1965) became the biggest, most lavish and longest James Bond film at the time. After the huge success of ‘Goldfinger’, un-credited producers of ‘Thunderball’, Albert ‘Cubby’ Broccoli and Harry Saltzman spared no expense in Sean Connery’s fourth turn as the suave super British spy. In fact, by the time ‘Thunderball’ was launched, Connery had turned his character from cocky grin to steely confidence, which told men and women alike that he could handle anything.
Interestingly, Kevin McClory, who owned the rights to the ‘Thunderball’ novel by Ian Fleming, wanted Richard Burton to play James Bond. However, he could not find enough backing for production until Broccoli agreed, on the condition that Sean Connery continues with the role.
Actress, Luciana Paluzzi was originally considered for the role of Domino, but was cast as evil Fiona Volpe instead. Julie Christie and Faye Dunaway also tested for this role, before Raquel Welch was cast as Domino. However, 20th Century Fox chief, Richard Zanuck, asked Broccoli to release her from contract as a favour so that she could star in ‘Fantastic Voyage’ (1966). Ultimately, Claudine Auger, an up-and-coming ingénue in French cinema won the role.
Italian actor, Adolfo Celi played chief villain, Emilio Largo, in the film. Introduced in the guise of a millionaire playboy, Celi’s Largo is equal parts mafia godfather, stylish pirate – complete with the patch on his eye – and barrel-chested society gent.
Filming for ‘Thunderball’ commenced on February 16, 1965, with principal photography of the opening scene in Paris. The shooting then moved to the Château d’Anet, near Dreux, in France for the fight in pre-credit sequence. Much of the film, however, was shot in the Bahamas while the rest of it was shot at Pinewood Studios, Buckinghamshire, England.
Almost a quarter of ‘Thunderball’ takes place beneath water, which was the biggest challenge faced by production. Producers turned to Lamar Boren, a veteran of sea hunt and one of the most experienced underwater cameramen in the world, to assemble and supervise the underwater photography crew. The threat of sharks also lurked in the exotic Nassau Ocean, where the film was shot. In fact, Largo keeps a school of tiger sharks as pets in his swimming pool, which becomes a handy way of dispatching a failed henchman. The stuntman who leapt on top of one of the sharks demanded hazard pay for the stunt. And of course, then Largo attempts to get rid of James Bond in his pool of sharks. There were stuntmen and doubles for many of the shots, but in other sequences it really is Connery swimming with sharks.
The regular James Bond team returned in front of the camera for ‘Thunderball’ including Bernard Lee as MI-6 boss M, Desmond Llewellyn as weapons man Q and Lois Maxwell as Miss Moneypenny.
Set designer, Ken Adams, whose magnificent sets helped create the style and scope of the James Bond series, built underwater sets and props for the film, and also designed Largo’s luxury yacht named ‘Disco Volante’, which concealed the villain’s getaway craft – a sleek, super-fast, weapon-enhanced hydrofoil.
‘Thunderball’ was the first James Bond movie to be filmed in Panavision. It was also the first time in this film that Connery performed the opening gun barrel sequence shooting at the audiences. In the previous three Bond films, the job was done with stuntman, Bob Simmons.
The title track of ‘Thunderball’ was written by Don Black, composed by John Barry and performed by Tom Jones. Interestingly, the theme song delivered by Tom Jones in grand style was a last minute addition to the film; a song called “Mr Kiss Kiss Bang Bang”, sung by Dionne Warwick, was originally recorded but discarded when producers decided they needed the film’s title in the lyrics of the song.
The distinctive credits sequence was yet again created for this film by Maurice Binder, whose designs had a defining influence that the series has maintained through its every incarnation.
Director, Terence Young, according to James Bond historian, Steven Jay Rubin, grew disenchanted with the film during the final weeks of shooting and left it in the hands of editor, Peter Hunt, who supervised the post-production and tried to make sense of the climactic action while rushing to meet the Christmas 1965 deadline for release. Hunt has acknowledged that ‘Thunderball’ has numerous continuity errors – spotting them has become something of a sport among James Bond fans – but most are hardly noticeable in the momentum and spectacle.
Produced at a budget of $9 million, the film was a success, earning a total of $141.2 million worldwide, exceeding the earnings of the three previous Bond films. The film was a smash hit, playing in theatres round the clock in the US to meet audience demand, and went on to become the top-grossing film of 1966 as well as the biggest grossing James Bond film of the 1960s.
In 1983, Warner Bros released a second film adaptation of the novel under the title ‘Never Say Never Again’, with McClory as executive producer. Connery, who was 53-years-old at that time, was brought back to reprise the role of James Bond. ‘Never Say Never Again’ proved that the magic of Connery was intact as James Bond, with this film produced at a budget of $36 million earning $160 million at the Box Office.

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