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!

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The Secret Batman-James Bond Connection – Revealed!

FLASH! This breaking news story is brought to you by Cracked Rear Viewer, serving the film community since 2015!

It’s the story America (and the world) has been waiting for – the hitherto secret link between The Caped Crusader and Secret Agent 007. Proving once again this blog will go to any lengths to create some content  bring you the truth behind the Hollywood scenes! Our trail begins in the year 1943. WWII was raging across both oceans, and America needed heroes to defend the homefront. Columbia Pictures secured the rights to the popular comic book BATMAN, and presented a 15-chapter serial starring one Lewis Wilson (1920-2000) as Bruce Wayne/Batman, battling the evil Japanese saboteur Dr. Daka, played by the villainous J. Carrol Naish:

Wilson was married to the former Dana Natol (1922-2004), and in 1942 they had a son named Michael. Though the Wilson’s film career went nowhere, they did manage to costar in the 1951 camp classic WILD WOMEN (also known as BOWANGA BOWANGA) :

The Wilsons divorced a year later, and Lewis dropped out of show business. (The two events had nothing to do with WILD WOMEN!) However, Dana remarried in 1959 to a film producer named Albert “Cubby” Broccoli, who with his partner Harry Saltzman brought James Bond to the screen beginning with 1962’s DR. NO :

In fact, it was Dana’s recommendation that helped secure the lead for a semi-unknown Scottish actor named Sean Connery . Her son Michael, Cubby’s stepson, has produced or executive produced every 007 film since 1979’s MOONRAKER, and wrote the screenplays for FOR YOUR EYES ONLY, OCTOPUSSY, A VIEW TO A KILL, THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS, and LICENSE TO KILL. That’s right – the son of the original movie Batman is now the producer of the still-successful James Bond series!

As Paul Harvey used to say, “And now you know….. the rest of the story!”.

Bond Is Back!: FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE (United Artists 1963)

The Cold War got really hot when James Bond returned to the screen in FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE, second in the film series starring Sean Connery as Ian Fleming’s Secret Agent 007. Picking up where DR. NO left off, the film is popular with Bond fans for its more realistic depiction of the spy game, though there’s still plenty of action, romance, and quick quips, along with the introduction of several elements soon to be integral to the series.

FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE has Bond falling for Soviet defector Tatiana Romanova (Daniela Bianchi), who’s willing to help steal a Russian Lektor decoding machine for Her Majesty’s Secret Service. But both she and Bond are just pawns in a larger game, with the international crime cartel SPECTRE making all the moves. Their goal is to not only posses the decoder and ransom it back to the Russians, but to eliminate 007 for taking their operative Dr. No out of circulation. The complicated story involves double-and-triple crosses, and two of the best villains in the Bond canon – Lotte Lenya as the sinister ex-Soviet spymaster Rosa Klebb, now working for SPECTRE, and Robert Shaw as the cold as ice assassin “Red” Grant, whose job is to protect Bond from harm while the machine is being stolen, then kill him for his transgressions against SPECTRE.

It’s the first film we get a look inside SPECTRE and the first appearance of SPECTRE’s Number One, Ernst Stavro Blofeld (and his white cat), soon to become James Bond’s Number One Nemesis. His face is never shown here, though British actor Anthony Dawson is seen in body (his voice is dubbed by Austrian Eric Pohlman). Also making his debut is Desmond Llewelyn as “Boothroyd from Q Branch”, the gadget man later known as just Q. Other Bond firsts are the pre-credits opening sequence, a theme song (sung by Matt Munro at the movie’s end), and the presence of Martine Beswick as a Gyspy girl. Miss Beswick later appeared in THUNDERBALL, though as a different character (and her name is erroneously spelled in the credits as ‘Martin’… how anyone could mistake lovely Martine for a Martin, I’ll never know!).

Despite being more grounded in reality than most Bonds, playing more like a traditional spy saga, there’s still lots of action going on, including a battle at the Gypsy camp, a perilous train ride aboard the Orient Express featuring an extended fight between Connery and Shaw, a dangerous journey to freedom that includes a helicopter scene intentionally reminiscent of NORTH BY NORTHWEST’s crop duster, and an exciting boat chase, followed by a final confrontation with the evil Rosa Klebb in Bond’s hotel room. FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE was another box office smash, cementing 007 as a cinematic force to be reckoned with, and led to a third sequel, 1964’s GOLDFINGER. Since I’ve already covered that film (follow this link ), next up will be the fourth entry… THUNDERBALL!

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James Bond Begins!: Sean Connery as 007 in DR. NO (United Artists 1962)

 

Ian Fleming’s secret agent 007, James Bond, was introduced in the 1953 novel Casino Royale, and was a smashing success, leading to a long-running series of books starring MI-6’s “licensed to kill” super spy. No less than President John F. Kennedy was a huge fan of Fleming’s books, and since the early 60’s were all about “Camelot”, producers Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman decided to cash in and bring James Bond to the big screen (the character had appeared in the person of Barry Nelson in an adaptation of CASINO ROYALE for a 1954 episode of TV’s CLIMAX!, with Peter Lorre as the villain Le Chiffre).

DR. NO was the first Bond movie, and the producers wanted Patrick McGoohan, star of the British TV series SECRET AGENT, to play the suave, ruthless Bond. McGoohan declined, and Richard Johnson was considered. He also turned them down, leading Broccoli and Saltzman to hire Scottish actor Sean Connery, then not a well-known commodity, to portray 007. The part fit Connery like a tailored tuxedo, and launched his career into the stratosphere. Connery struck the right balance of charming, intelligence, and menace as James Bond, and starred in the next four entries (FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE, GOLDFINGER , THUNDERBALL, YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE), returning to his iconic role later in DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER (1971) and NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN (1983).

After Maurice Binder’s cool opening  credits play over that soon-to-be familiar theme by Monty Norman (orchestrated by John Barry), we meet Bond playing high-stakes chemin de fer in a casino, where he’s summoned to MI-6 headquarters by his boss M. It seems there’s trouble in Jamaica, as an agent has vanished, and Bond is sent to investigate. Here Bond meets CIA agent Felix Leiter, who clues him in on some nefarious goings-on involving the disruption of U.S. rocket launches, and endures numerous attempts on his life. All signs point to Crab Key, where the mysterious Dr. No lives, his island fortress protected by a “dragon”. Bond heads out to the isle with Leiter’s operative Quarrels, discovering they’re not alone… the beautiful Honey Ryder is there, collecting sea shells by the sea-shore! The three face danger at the hands of No’s minions, Quarrels meets a fiery death by the dragon (actually an amphibious tank), and Bond and Honey are taken to the lair of Dr. No, a criminal mastermind working for a secret world-dominating cartel known as SPECTRE…

DR. NO introduces us to the world of James Bond, and most of the familiar characters and tropes that follow. Bernard Lee and Lois Maxwell begin their reigns as M and Miss Moneypenny, respectively. Felix Leiter makes his first appearance in the person of Jack Lord (HAWAII 5-0); later Leiters include David Hedison and Bernie Casey, among others. Since Quarrels is killed in DR. NO, his son Quarrels Jr. pops up in another Jamaican-themed Bond flick, LIVE AND LET DIE . Bond introduces himself as “Bond, James Bond” for the first time, and is issued his trademark Walther PPK. His preference for martinis, martial arts skills, and way with women are all here, and his reputation as a deadly assassin is established.

Speaking of women, Ursula Andress makes a spectacular entrance as the bikini-clad Honey Ryder:

Miss Andress, the first ‘Bond Girl’, became as much a 60’s sex symbol for the male audience as Connery was to females. Veteran Joseph Wiseman makes a  serene and cerebral adversary as Dr. No, though the actor always stated he hated being remembered as 007’s first villain. Dr. No gives us (and Bond) the first inkling of that evil organization SPECTRE – which stands for SPECIAL EXECUTIVE for COUNTER-INTELLIGENCE, TERRORIZISM, REVENGE, and EXTORTION, in case you were wondering!

What’s missing is the pre-credits opening scene; that wouldn’t come until 1963’s FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE. Besides a few quick quips, the comedy prevalent in the Roger Moore Bond’s is absent, instead presenting Connery as a more serious secret agent with a hell of a mean streak. That seriousness would continue in the next outing, 1963’s FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE….

The Return of 007: Sean Connery in DIAMONDS ARE FORVER (United Artists 1971)

007 fans all over the world cheered when Sean Connery returned to the role that made him famous in DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER, the 6th James Bond screen outing. Connery left the series in 1967 (YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE), and was replaced by George Lazenby for 1969’s ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE. Lazenby was actually pretty good, if a bit boring, but he was one-and-done, choosing not to be typecast as cinema’s most famous spy (how’d that work out, George?). Producers Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman offered Connery an unprecedented $1.25 million dollars to come back, which the smart Scotsman snapped up in a heartbeat… who wouldn’t? Well, except for George Lazenby.

The opening sequence has Bond searching the globe to fins Ernst Stavro Blofeld, SPECTRE’s megalomanical leader who ordered the death of Bond’s wife in the previous movie. 007 hunts down his arch nemesis and ends his villainous career in grand fashion! Following Shirley Bassey’s bombastic theme song, we find Bond and M at a meeting with Sir Donald Munger, who’s concerned about a diamond smuggling ring that aims to flood the market and depress prices. Bond is sent to Holland to follow the money, and we’re introduced to the stunning but duplicitous Tiffany Case, played by the stunning Jill St. John ! And when I say stunning, I’m not kidding around:

Jill was the first American Bond Girl – God bless America! Anyway, Bond follows the trail to glitzy Las Vegas, where he’s pitted against the Howard Hughes-esque Willard Whyte, mobsters, and an oddball pair of hitmen called Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd, who leave a trail of bizarre murders wherever they pop up (and seem to be more than just business partners, but that’s none of my business!). Our Man Bond is in for a big surprise when he breaks in on Whyte’s top-of-the-world casino hideaway (which I won’t spoil for those who haven’t seen this one), and gets enmeshed in a deadly game of nuclear blackmail involving a satellite-stationed laser cannon, then an action-packed aerial assault on the bad guy’s oil rig base off the coast of sunny California!

Connery was now over 40, but still inhabits the role of James Bond like a custom fit tuxedo. He can be sometimes charming, sometimes vicious, with both the ladies and the bad guys, depending on what’s appropriate at the time. To me, Sean Connery was always the best of the Bonds, and even though DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER isn’t ranked high among many Bond fans, I find it a good, entertaining entry in the series. There’s plenty of great action scenes, like Bond’s daring escape from Whyte’s facility in a moon buggy across the Nevada desert, or the crazy cool car chase down the neon lit Vegas strip.

Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd

Did I mention how stunning Jill St. John is? I did? Ok, then let’s move on to the rest of the cast. Bernard Lee (M), Desmond Llewelyn (Q), and Lois Maxwell (Miss Moneypenny) are all back, and country singer Jimmy Dean (yeah, the sausage guy) plays the reclusive Willard Whyte. Charles Gray takes over the role of Ernst Stavro Blofeld this time around, and Lana Wood has a small part as casino shill Plenty O’Toole. Veteran bad guys Bruce Cabot , Marc Lawrence , and Sid Haig show up, as does deadpan comic Leonard Barr, uncle of another film superspy Dean Martin (the MATT HELM series). Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd are portrayed by character actor Bruce Glover (father of Crispin) and noted jazz bassist Putter Smith, respectively.

Guy Hamilton also returned to the series to direct, and he stuck around to helm the next two, introducing Roger Moore to the Double-O club. Connery had his had fill, at least for the next twelve years, when he once again returned as Bond in NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN. As for George Lazenby? The man who didn’t want to be typecast has pretty much made a career out of parodying his one shot at 007. But that’s okay; with DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER Sean Connery pretty much proved he’s the biggest (and best) Bond of ’em all!

My Favorite Spy: Sean Connery as James Bond in GOLDFINGER (United Artists 1964)

For my money, GOLDFINGER is the ultimate James Bond movie, serving as the blueprint for spy sagas to come. The action begins right off the rip as a scuba diving 007 infiltrates an oil refinery in an unnamed Latin American country, plants some plastique explosives, and changes into a tux as the whole shebang blows, then attends to some “unfinished business” with a beautiful Latina who sets him up to be killed by a bad guy, electrocuting his foe in a tub and wittily remarking “shocking, positively shocking” – all before the opening credits roll and Shirley Bassey belts out the immortal title tune by Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse!

Our Man Bond is then off to Miami to meet with his CIA pal Felix Leiter. He’s put on the trail of one Auric Goldfinger, a legit gold bullion dealer suspected of illegal activities. The avaricious Goldfinger isn’t above running a card cheating scam, with sexy Jill Masterson stationed high above in a hotel window looking at the victim’s hand through binoculars. 007 breaks things up by seducing young Jill, who pays for her betrayal with her life – painted solid gold! Things have just become personal for Bond! But petty card cheating isn’t Goldfinger’s only sin. The rapacious businessman has a much more insidious scheme in mind, involving a hostile takeover of Ft. Knox, tainting the U.S. gold reserve with a nuclear device that will send the world into economic chaos and leave him the most powerful man on Earth!

Sean Connery fits the part of James Bond like that tux I mentioned earlier in his third turn as the suave secret agent. He’s placed in peril after peril yet still remains cool as a “shaken, not stirred” martini. The movie gives him some great gadgets to do his dirty work with, including a brand-new Aston Martin DB5 equipped with “modifications” like a smoke screen, oil slick, mounted machine guns, and an ejector seat that sure comes in handy! This was the first of the Bond films to utilize those wild gadgets, a trope that became a staple of later 007 epics.

The villains here are among the most iconic in Bond history. German actor Gert Frobe is perfect as the vainglorious, gold obsessed Auric Goldfinger, whose delusions of grandeur are thwarted by 007. Frobe didn’t speak English very well, and had to be redubbed, but his imposing presence caught producer’s eyes and lead to him being cast in big budget blockbusters like THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN IN THEIR FLYING MACHINES, IS PARIS BURING?, CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG, and $ (DOLLARS). Harold Sakata, a professional wrestler under the ring moniker Tosh Togo, plays Goldfinger’s silent but deadly henchman Oddjob, whose steel-brimmed bowler hat launched a thousand spy-spoof parodies. Sakata, who also won a Silver Medal (sorry, no gold this time!) in weightlifting at the 1948 Olympics, went on to a long career in films and television, including a memorable ad campaign for Vicks Formula 44 cough syrup.

Then there’s Honor Blackman as the ribaldly named Pussy Galore! And the way Connery pronounces her name (“Poo-shay”) makes it sound even lewder! Honor was well-known to British TV audiences as the leather-clad partner of Patrick Macnee in THE AVENGERS (before Diana Rigg), and she makes an irresistible antagonist for Bond, switching sides after the memorable “roll in the hay” scene where she and Connery exchange judo flips. The deadly, plane piloting Pussy Galore ranks high on my list of all-time great Bond Girls! As for the other ladies here, Shirley Eaton shines (literally!) as the ill-fated Jill Masterson. Later in the film, Tania Mallet shows up as Jill’s revenge seeking sister, getting an Oddjob hat check for her troubles.

The regular Bond gang’s all here: Bernard Lee as M, Desmond Llewellyn as Q, and Lois Maxwell   as Miss Moneypenny. There are so many iconic moments in GOLDFINGER, including the laser beam scene (a variation on the old buzzsaw routine), the assault on Ft. Knox and lengthy battle with Oddjob, the crazy car chase, and of course the gold-painted beauty Jill. The movie introduced a lot of firsts to the Bond Universe, the pre-credits action, outlandish gadgets, and the initial briefing from M, not to mention having established stars sing the opening theme song, a tradition followed by pop greats like Tom Jones, Paul McCartney, Carly Simon, and Duran Duran. GOLDFINGER is the perfect place to start for anyone unfamiliar with James Bond movies (are there any still in existence?); it’s the quintessential 60’s spy flick and remains my personal favorite.

This is my contribution to the 007 Blogathon at http://maddylovesherclassicfilms.wordpress.com/2017/07/20/the-007-blogathon-begins/

METEOR is a Crashing Bore (AIP 1979)

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American-International Pictures had gotten pretty fancy-schmancy by the late 70’s. The studio was leaving their exploitation roots behind and branching out to bigger budgeted films like FORCE TEN FROM NAVARONE, LOVE AT FIRST BITE, and THE AMITYVILLE HORROR, with bigger name stars for marquee allure. Toward the end of 1979 they released METEOR, a $16 million dollar, star-studded, special-effects laden, sci-fi/ disaster film spectacle that bombed at the box-office and contributed to the company’s demise.

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Coming at the tail end of the disaster cycle, METEOR is formulaic as hell. Take a group of well-known stars (Sean Connery, Natalie Wood Karl Malden Brian Keith , Martin Landau, Henry Fonda ), give them a disastrous menace to combat (in this case a five-mile wide meteor hurtling toward Earth), add some conflict (US/USSR Cold War relations), and some scenes of destruction, and voila! instant disaster movie! Unfortunately, by 1979 audiences had already grown tired of the formula and its various permutations, leaving METEOR to crumble like so much space dust.

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A brief summary: former NASA scientist Paul Bradley (Connery), creator of America’s secret nuclear missile defense satellite Hercules, is plucked from his yacht race and brought back into service by ex-boss Harry Sherwood (Malden). A wayward comet has struck the asteroid belt, and now the aforementioned five-mile-wide meteor (nicknamed Orpheus) threatens good ol’ Mother Earth. The President (Fonda) holds a televised speech admitting they have the nuclear satellite, and asks for Russia’s cooperation, knowing they too have one (code name Peter The Great). The Ruskies send scientist Dr. Dubov (Keith) and his astrophysicist interpreter Tatiana (Wood) to help, much to the chagrin of commie-hating General Adlan (Landau). Now that the two superpowers have joined together, can they put aside their differences and turn their respective missiles at Orpheus instead of each other in time to avert a global catastrophe?

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It’s not exciting as it may sound. Connery looks bored, Malden and Landau overact, and Fonda’s obviously only there for the paycheck. Only Keith and Wood seem engaged in the material, though Trevor Howard does okay in his tiny role as a British astronomer. Besides the big names, there are other, lesser Familiar Faces in lesser roles: Joseph Campanella, Richard Dysart, Bibi Besch, Sybil Danning, Gregory Gaye, Clyde Kusatsu, newscaster Clete Roberts, and Uncle Walt’s nephew Roy Disney (wait… how’d he get in here??). They even got THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE’s Ronald Neame to direct, hoping to capture some of that movie’s popularity. Didn’t work- the new film was nowhere near that early disaster classic in terms of character development, script, or excitement.

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The special effects scenes are good, not great. There’s a tsunami in Hong Kong, an avalanche in the Swiss Alps, and a meteor fragment that destroys a large swath of New York City. There are some unintentionally funny moments, like watching Connery and Malden slog through a muddy flood in a subway tunnel, Malden’s comb-over flopping down his shoulder. We get ominous music every time Orpheus appears onscreen, kind of like when “Bruce” shows up in JAWS. It’s all silly and overwrought, and by the next year AIP founder Samuel Arkoff, his big-budget gambles all gone sour, sold the company to Filmways, which was later bought out by Orion, which in turn was sold to MGM, who now own the rights to the AIP catalog. Old Sam should’ve stuck with beach parties and monster movies.