Bond Evolution – Thunderball #4

A jetpack?

The opening credits feature naked women swimming which hints at this film’s watery nature. The theme song is sung by Tom Jones, surprisingly understated in the vocals compared to Shirley Bassey belting out Goldfinger in the last movie. But there are the minor cadences and the brassy notes that we are coming to recognise as classic Bond theme.

Exotic locations Apart from some establishing scenes in England and Paris, most of the action takes place in the Bahamas, a place that is presented in a much more glamourous way than Jamaica was – here we are walking with the wealthy and the jet set and the luxury holidaymakers. Compared to Jamaica, the Bahamas is all yachts and beaches and hotels. We even get a glimpse of the Junkanoo festival.

Not a lot of spycraft in this film – a little bit of lock picking, and leaving a recording device in his room to work out if someone came in (*spoiler alert! Someone did!). A lot of the mundane bits of spying are done by Bond’s colleagues, Felix from the CIA and Paula, a locally-based MI6 agent.

Paula Caplan played by Martine Beswick Photo © EON, United Artists, Danjaq LLC

Paula was a potentially interesting character, who – in another decade – would have had a bigger part to play in the film. Instead (*spoiler alert*) she falls foul of Fiona Volpe of SPECTRE and is tortured before swallowing cyanide and killing herself before she is made to talk. Volpe is the first woman to properly tell Bond off. “But of course, I forgot your ego, Mr. Bond. James Bond, the one where he has to make love to a woman, and she starts to hear heavenly choirs singing. She repents, and turns to the side of right and virtue…but not this one.” (Is she referring to Ms Galore’s change of sides in the previous film?)

But Bond’s main female target in this film is Domino, the mistress of Emilio Largo, a key SPECTRE operative. Domino is a little two-dimensional, she’s a mistress and a sister and she looks good in a swimsuit and an evening dress, but I guess by the nature of being someone’s mistress she’s not allowed to be any more than that. And although it’s Claudine Auger we are looking at, her voice is dubbed by Nikki van der Zyl. It’s becoming evident women in these films are cast for their looks, not their ability to speak English.

And before we move onto the villain, let’s not forget Bond’s awful harassment of his osteopath in the early scenes of the film. No wonder when she straps him into the traction machine she says, “That’s the first time I’ve felt safe all day.” This woman is a healthcare professional! She should be able to do her job without being groped and grabbed and putting up with clients making suggestive comments. But even she eventually falls prey to the Bond charm – I say falls, he more or less drags her into the steam room with him.

The villain in this film is SPECTRE indirectly, but we mostly see SPECTRE represented by Largo and Volpe. The SPECTRE board meeting early in the film is classic – I can see that the makers of Austin Powers took so many visual cues from this scene. We still don’t see the head of Spectre at this point, but he’s there in the meeting in his grey suit with the white cat on his lap.

*spoiler alert* Largo’s plan to make money for SPECTRE is partly successful, in that he steals nuclear weapons from NATO, and NATO agree to pay the ransom. Although the means of obtaining the nuclear weapons was ridiculous, in terms of threat, this was actually reasonably plausible.

Largo’s boat, the Disco Volante, has possibly the best name for a boat ever. It’s a fun name to say – Disco Volante (it means flying saucer in Italian). The crew have t-shirts that say “Disco Volante” – I want one of those t-shirts! But Largo isn’t just a fancifully-titled boat owner, he also keeps a pool of sharks in his Bahamas mansion. (Of course he does, what self respecting villain of any standing doesn’t have some kind of flesh-eating fish around his house?)

And a quick note on outdated attitudes – they shot a shark! When Bond and Felix need to investigate something in the ocean, they just shoot a shark, so other sharks in the area will be attracted to it and not pay attention to Bond swimming around in the water. I know it was filmed in another time, with a different set of morals, but it’s still shocking to see.

Film epilogue: What does the future hold for Domino? She’s an ex-mistress with no family. I would like to write her a happy ending but I don’t think she can have one. She doesn’t have much in the way of life skills to support herself and her looks are only going to get her so far. She may have a little money put aside, but only if Largo paid her. (He strikes me as a mean kind of man who was tight with his money.) Do any readers have suggestions on what lies in Domino’s future? Please let me know in the comments.

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