Bond Goes Deep!: THUNDERBALL (United Artists 1965)

THUNDERBALL, the fourth 007 adventure, will always hold a special place in my heart. It’s the first James Bond movie I saw at the theater, released at the height of the Secret Agent/Spy craze, and I was totally hooked! I even had all the toys that went with the movie, including Emilio Largo’s two-part boat the Disco Volante, with which I engaged in mighty battles in the bathtub against VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA’s Seaview (hey, I was only seven!).

SPECTRE is at it again, this time hijacking a NATO jet loaded with two nuclear bombs, and holding the world hostage. Bond, sent to recuperate at a health spa, stumbles on to trouble related to the crisis, and is sent by MI6 to investigate Domino Derval, sister of the NATO pilot. This leads 007 to Domino’s “guardian” Emilio Largo, a rich and powerful man who’s Number Two in the SPECTRE organization. Bond and Largo play a cat-and-mouse game with each other before Largo looses sexy assassin Fiona Volpe on Our Man Bond. 007 escapes her clutches, but not before being wounded, and Volpe and her crew follow a trail of Bond blood through the island’s Junkanoo parade and into the Kiss Kiss Club (a segment that ranks high on my all-time 007 list).

After Volpe is dispatched, 007 and his CIA pal Felix Leiter search for the hidden nukes, taking Bond into some dangerous waters (including Largo’s pool full of killer sharks!), and a lavish, bad ass underwater battle between SPECTRE and the U.S. Navy. These underwater scenes are stunningly well-staged by none other than Ricou Browning, who knew a thing or two about life beneath the deep blue sea… he was the original CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON!  As of this writing, Ricou Browning is alive and well at age 87, the last Universal Monster standing. The film also won an Academy Award for John Stearns’ Special Effects.

Sean Connery is once again the epitome of cool as 007, whether romancing the ladies, battling the bad guys, or winning at the tables. Adolfo Celi, like Gert Frobe’s Auric Goldfinger , is an imposing presence, and like Frobe had to have his heavy accent dubbed. Luciana Paluzzi impresses as the steel-nerved killer Fiona, Claudine Auger makes a sexy Domino, and Rik Van Nutter steps into the part of Felix Leiter. Bernard Lee (M), Lois Maxwell (Moneypenny), and  Desmond Llewelyn (Q) are all back, as is Martine Beswick, making her second series appearance as 007’s doomed assistant Paula Caplan.

THUNDERBALL was intended to be the first Bond film, but due to some copyright contrempts DR. NO was made instead. You’ll notice Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman are listed as Executive Producers here, and Kevin McClory gets sole producer credit. McClory held the rights to the story and characters, and later remade the film in 1983 as NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN. But it wasn’t the same, with a 53-year-old Sean Connery not quite the same as he was when he was 35. For me, THUNDERBALL is the only version worth watching. That’s probably got a lot to do with seeing it on the big screen at age seven… and nostalgia for that toy Disco Volante boat!

Before we leave 007 behind for a while, I can’t forget to mention that bombastic theme song by the great Tom Jones! Take it away, Tom:

“So he strikes/ like Thun-der-baaaaaallllll”! Can’t beat that!

Spies Like Us: THE VENETIAN AFFAIR (MGM 1967)

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Robert Vaughn played superspy Napoleon Solo on TV’s THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. from 1964 to 1968. The series was inspired by the James Bond craze, filled with outlandish gadgets and evil supervillains. Vaughn’s popularity led to a starring role in THE VENETIAN AFFAIR, a Cold War spy thriller with a much more adult theme. Here, he plays Bill Fenner, ex-CIA agent, now a hard-drinking reporter who gets caught up in international intrigue.

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Fenner is sent to Venice after a U.S. diplomat supposedly sets off a bomb at an international nuclear disarmament conference. He soon learns the assignment was arranged by his former CIA boss, “Rosey” Rosenfeld (Edward Asner). Rosey wants to use Fenner to smoke out old flame Sandra Fane (Elke Sommer), a Communist agent with a mysterious link to the bombing. Fenner’s odyssey takes him through double-and-triple crosses in the world of international espionage he once left behind.

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Boris Karloff is on hand in his last non-horror role as Dr. Vaugiraud, whose report holds the key to the mystery. Karloff, looking every bit the scientist, does well with the part, giving a very understated performance. German actor Karl Boehm (PEEPING TOM) plays the main villain, Wohl. The rest of the cast includes Roger C. Carmel (STAR TREK’s Harry Mudd), Felicia Farr (wife of Jack Lemmon), Luciana Paluzzi (Bond girl Fiona in THUNDERBALL), and Joe DeSantis (THE PROFESSIONALS, COLD WIND IN AUGUST). Director Jerry Thorpe handles the film with restraint, keeping things realistic. He was best known for his television work, having won an Emmy for the series KUNG FU. DP Milton Krasner had long been a top Hollywood camera ace, lensing everything from THE BANK DICK to GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN, SCARLET STREET to ALL ABOUT EVE, THREE COINS IN THE FOUNTAIN (Oscar winner) to THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH, HOW THE WEST WAS WON to THE ST. VALENTINE’S DAY MASSACRE, to his last, BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES. Lalo Schifrin’s score is sufficiently moody enough for the shadowy goings-on. Schifrin of course is remembered for composing the theme for another 60’s TV spy show, MISSION:IMPOSSIBLE.

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THE VENETIAN AFFAIR is closer to THE IPCRESS FILE or THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD than any James Bond or Man from U.N.C.L.E. shenanigans. It’s a taut, well paced Cold War thriller, with gorgeous location scenery. While it may not be the best or gaudiest of spy thrillers, it’s certainly worth a look (especially for Boris Karloff buffs). It’s one of those movies that’s not bad, not great, but  pretty entertaining. And who could ask for anything more?