THUNDERBALL (1965)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 10 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG

Thunderball poster

Directed by: Terence Young

Written by: Richard Maibaum & John Hopkins

(based on the novel THUNDERBALL by Ian Fleming)

Starring: Sean Connery, Adolfo Celi, Claudine Auger, Luciana Paluzzi, Rik Van Nutter & Bernard Lee

The fourth Bond film and seventh in my 007 retrospective, THUNDERBALL is easily the most violent of the first four Connery entries. It’s also the longest, but remains fast-paced. Sadly, it also follows a basic outline of a story that we’ve already seen before and will see plenty of times again throughout the series. Bond is going after a villain that has a nuclear weapon. That sounds like the textbook motivation for most Bond villains and actually winds up as the biggest detriment to this film. Don’t get me wrong, THUNDERBALL is great fun, but holds little in the way of surprises for 007 fans.

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James Bond has confronted various SPECTRE agents through his previous adventures and finds himself face-to-face with yet another one. Emilio Largo (SPECTRE’s number two agent) has acquired two atomic bombs that he plans on selling to very bad people. Bond is tasked with taking Largo down. However, Largo is not the only SPECTRE agent he will have to contend with as another villain and a seductive villainess try to kill 007 along the way. Meanwhile, Bond also woos Domino, Largo’s mistress.

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Sean Connery is James Bond. I don’t feel the need to keep repeating myself in my reviews for his outings as 007. We all know he’s charismatic, suave and delivers comedic one-liners when bad guys bite the big one. None of that changes in THUNDERBALL. What is a bit of a downer is that Domino is a beautiful, but ultimately forgettable Bond girl. She simply shows up to be the damsel-in-distress and has a couple of seductive scenes with Bond. There’s no other reason for her existence. Though she’s gorgeous, Domino is one of my least-favorite Bond girls right next to Mary Goodnight (in MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN) and Pam Bouvier (from LICENCE TO KILL). The three SPECTRE agents serve their purpose of supplying entertaining showdowns and quippy dialogue exchanges with Bond. My favorite of three is Fiona Volpe who serves as (in my opinion) the most skilled and deadly of the bunch. The main antagonist is the eye-patch-wearing Largo and he’s pretty bland. Complete with a pool of man-eating sharks and a secret underground lair, Largo is your generic Bond bad guy.

Thunderball (1965)

Much like its main villain, THUNDERBALL’s plot is generic. This feels like DR. NO with a couple of extra villains, more action, and a longer running time. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, seeing that there’s still a lot of fun to be had while watching this movie. The opening scene features Bond taking out a SPECTRE agent in drag and then flying away on a jetpack. It’s a wonderful introduction to how crazy the action is this time around. Speaking of which, there are plenty of exciting and impressive sequences. One night-time scene in which Bond breaks into Largo’s base is especially well-done. My personal favorite moment comes in a deadly dance that was later spoofed in the second AUSTIN POWERS film. Finally, there’s an underwater finale that does run a bit too long (with two sets of divers fighting each other over the A-bombs), but also sports admittedly cool effects.

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THUNDERBALL is a fun Bond movie. There’s not much else to say about it. In my ranking of Connery’s 007 stint, this is behind GOLDFINGER and DR. NO, but ahead of FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE. The action is crazier this time around. The running time is longer. There are three SPECTRE villains, though that doesn’t exactly make for a better movie. THUNDERBALL is small on the plot, but big on the action. This is spy genre goodness that can still be very much enjoyed five decades after its release.

Grade: B+

FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE (1964)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 55 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG

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Directed by: Terence Young

Written by: Richard Maibaum

(based on the novel FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE by Ian Fleming)

Starring: Sean Connery, Daniela Bianchi, Pedro Armendariz, Lotte Lenya, Robert Shaw, Bernard Lee, Walter Gotell & Vladek Sheybal

The second Bond film and sixth in my 007 retrospective, FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE came hot off the heels of DR. NO‘s success. Seeing that the first Bond flick made a huge splash both in Britain and overseas, the budget for RUSSIA was doubled and the story takes place directly after the events of DR. NO. While it maintains a steady level of entertainment, FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE is a little short on story and (once again) underutilizes an interesting villain. That doesn’t mean it isn’t good, but this Bond sequel suffers from a case of “sequelitis” that plagues most follow-ups in cinema.

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In DR. NO, secret agent James Bond dispatched the title villain who was a member of SPECTRE (a top-secret organization of terrorists and high-ranking criminals). This second film finds SPECTRE unhappy with their Dr. No’s demise and looking to get revenge on James Bond. The evil organization recruits naïve Soviet cipher clerk Romanova to seduce James Bond. They also assign deadly assassin Grant to kill 007 in a particularly humiliating way. Bond is sent to meet the defecting Romanova by MI6 and finds himself tangled in a torrid romance…with SPECTRE watching his every move.

FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE, Sean Connery, Daniela Bianchi, 1963

It goes without saying that Sean Connery slips right back into the character of James Bond. I’m pretty sure that he could play this charismatic secret agent in his sleep. Connery’s performance is the best part of this sequel that can essentially be summed up in one sentence. It’s 007 walking into a trap. That’s the whole plot. However, the romance between Bond and Romanova is enjoyable to watch and especially risqué for this time period (considering that we almost see a full-blown sex scene between the two of them). Daniela Bianchi is enjoyable as Bond’s femme fatale and lover who begins to form legitimate feelings for her target. The action is more special effects driven this time around and the final third really packs in a ton of explosions and fights. One scene, midway through, features a gypsy camp erupting into fiery chaos and is especially impressive…though arguably more than a little politically incorrect.

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Aside from Connery’s Bond, the second-best part of FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE is Robert Shaw (who I mainly know as Quint) as the assassin hunting 007. Though he has notable moments, especially one tense showdown in a train car during the final third, I couldn’t help but feel that Shaw’s hitman was a tad underused. Just as much screen time (if not slightly more) is devoted to people pulling the strings at SPECTRE and I didn’t find any of them to be as interesting or intimidating as Shaw’s killer. However, the movie becomes totally entertaining for entirely unexpected reasons in the final third. Instead of being suspenseful, the movie goes into all-out campy territory in a good way. We get a faceless cat-stroking head of SPECTRE and Bond fighting an old woman (dressed as a maid) with a venous knife attached to her shoe. That scene is unintentionally hilarious, but fit right into the 007 franchise for the sheer absurdity of it.

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FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE suffers from typical problems that come with most movie sequels. As a direct follow-up to DR. NO and not fully a standalone feature (like many later Bond films), RUSSIA uses a flimsy plotline as an excuse to pack in some big action. The romance between the iconic secret agent and this Russian Bond girl is enjoyable to watch. Robert Shaw’s assassin is underutilized on the whole, but stands as a memorable Bond villain nonetheless. The innerworkings of SPECTRE are goofy to watch and the final third is pretty much made of camp. Taken as a whole, FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE is good, dumb fun. However, there are far better 007 films in the series.

Grade: B

DR. NO (1963)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 50 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

DrNo poster

Directed by: Terence Young

Written by: Richard Maibaum, Johanna Harwood & Berkely Mather

(based on the novel DR. NO by Ian Fleming)

Starring: Sean Connery, Ursula Andress, Joseph Wiseman, Jack Lord, Bernard Lee, Anthony Dawson, John Kitzmiller & Zena Marshall

In the grand scheme of cinematic history, DR. NO created a whole subgenre and kicked off one of the longest running movie series ever. There were spy films before this Bond adventure, but DR. NO gave birth to the excitement, over-the-top clichés, and ridiculous tropes that spy-movie fans have come to know and love. Based on the sixth Bond novel, this first Bond film introduces the iconic character in style. His backstory has already been established before the film even begins, which in turn makes his character development a far more difficult task. However, I felt like I already knew who Bond fully was while watching DR. NO in spite of never having seen a 007 film outside of 2006’s CASINO ROYALE. DR. NO serves as a fantastic first chapter in the long-running franchise.

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James Bond (a.k.a. 007) has been assigned to visit Jamaica in order to investigate the disappearance of a fellow agent. The missing agent seems to have been murdered for stumbling upon some information he was not supposed to find. In the foreign country, Bond discovers that the mysterious disappearance is only the beginning of web connected by secrets, advanced weaponry, and an evil madman with a diabolical plot. Gun fights, car chases, femme fatales, and a showdown with an over-the-top baddie ensue. You can guess where all this is going and how it will all play out, but that doesn’t matter. DR. NO is so much fun that it’s a near-perfect spy thriller and one of the first of its kind.

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As the original 007, Sean Connery is sophisticated and bad-ass in equal measure. That’s part of the appeal to Bond in the first place. You can see his charming charisma working on people around him in one scene and then his action-hero persona breaking out in the next (complete with smart alecky one-liners). Going back to the first of those qualities, Bond seems like a pig when it comes to wooing the women around him, but I attribute this to the time period in which this movie was made and the flaws of the character himself (which I’m hoping are expanded upon in the other Bond films). I enjoyed the side performers in this film as well. Though she doesn’t pop up until about halfway through, Honey Ryder (playing the part of damsel-in-distress) is a sexy and entertaining character who was brought to the screen by Swiss actress Ursula Andress and then dubbed into English by German actress Nikki van der Zyl (try to make sense of that combination). The other agents that help 007 along the way are also entertaining to watch, even when they’re only giving exposition.

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The title character of DR. NO is where I have a slight issue with this film. The story takes a lot of screen time hyping up this sinister villain (in one early scene, we only hear his intimidating voice over an intercom) and then doesn’t do much with him. Instead, he pops in to make a quick speech to Bond and then shows up again for the admittedly exciting final confrontation. This evil genius and his treatment both really come down to the clichés of what Dr. Evil was spoofing in the first AUSTIN POWERS. Even with a lack of the main baddie through most of the running time, DR. NO is still an exciting adventure that’s full of action and intrigue. Though there are quiet moments where Bond is charming those around him or snooping to get some confidential info, I was surprised (in a good way) by the amount of action this movie contained. There is also an assassination attempt that will give viewers who suffer from arachnophobia a good shiver down their spine. Besides all of the gun fights and car chases, DR. NO also has a witty sense of humor and focuses on being entertaining all the way through. It knows what kind of film it wants to be and becomes a near-perfect example of that.

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DR. NO is the first official Bond film to ever hit the big screen. It’s also an influential classic that gave birth to the stylish, action-packed spy movies that we know today. I have only watched one other Bond movie besides DR. NO, but this classic first installment might have made a budding 007 fan out of me all by itself. I plan on watching more Bond before SPECTRE hits in November. If any of the entries I plan on watching are anywhere near as excellent as DR. NO, then I’m in for a treat.

Grade: A

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