An Article by Ed Harris
For our second edition of A Second Glance, we’ll be looking at one of the more overlooked films in the series; the non-EON produced 1983 entry Never Say Never Again and since it’s having it’s fortieth anniversary this year, one of the most spectacular; Thunderball. This will be more of an examination of how each film handles some of the similar elements than an actual review.
Thunderball: Thunderball’s opening is a nice bait and switch with the initials “JB” on the coffin turning out to be those of an enemy agent Bond wishes he’d killed himself. The wish is fulfilled as it turns out to be a ruse. Connery’s scene where he reveals the ruse is classic Connery-Bond as is the ensuing fight. It’s a real showstopper with the traditional rule of breaking anything made of glass within reach being adhered to nicely. It’s also a rather brutal affair though not on the same level as the train fight in From Russia With Love. Still, this hasn’t stopped it from being heavily edited along with the rest of the film whenever it’s shown on network television. The opening action is capped off with the jet pack sequence, an enjoyable moment made even better by Connery’s straight-faced manner during the flight.
Never Say Never Again: We get another bait and switch here as the hostage rescue turns out to be a war games simulation. The action is just slightly below the level of the Thunderball sequence but really, one can’t expect Connery to be as athletic as he was eighteen years earlier, though he’s still incredibly tough as always. This also plays nicely into his performance which we will discuss a little later. I also like that the bait and switch has a little twist within it, the hostage turning out to have had a Patty Hearst job done on her. It makes for a nice reminder that even though this is still Bond we’re talking about, he has also gotten a little bit older. It’s a theme that will run throughout the first section of the film.
The opening of the sequence is quite nice as well with a screen of “007s” coming towards us as the title song starts up. It’s one of the main things that pops into my head whenever I think of the film and is certainly a very memorable shot. One other interesting thing I’ve noticed is how well the bait and switch is done here. The opening is your standard “infiltrating a compound” sequence and is played as such until the scene is over. There is literally nothing that would make you think it is anything other than a “real” event except for the lack of muzzle fire when Bond fires his machine gun. Its little details like this that make all of the Bond films perfect for repeat viewings.
Thunderball: This is up there with my favorite John Barry scores. The action theme is a wonderfully bombastic remix of the 007 Theme with an equally driving mix of the title song accompanying it. The music used in the Nassau sequences are some of the best romantic compositions Barry has ever done and the title song is very nicely done by Tom Jones though like pretty much everything else in the film it seems designed to top Goldfinger in every way, the holding of the final note in the case of Jones’s song. Maurice Binders titles are very good with the underwater motif carried from the last shot of the pretitle sequence foreshadowing all the underwater action we’ll be seeing.
Never Say Never Again: Here is one of the few places where Never Say Never Again doesn’t even come close to matching Thunderball. While the main title song is good (darned thing has been stuck in my head for about twenty years so it can’t be all bad), the rest of the score is quite bland and dull. It’s basically an action theme, a theme for establishing shots and very little else.
SPECTRE and Shrublands
Thunderball: The credits take us immediately to our main villain in Emilio Largo, played superbly by Adolfo Celi. His intro and be default, SPECTRE’s intro into the movie is greatly amusing and appropriately ironic as it turns out the organization is using a philanthropic charity as a front for their usual operations. I especially enjoy Celi’s little glance back at the Brazilian couple’s conversation overheard as he walks through the office. Just a little character moment that most action films have little to no time for.
This moves nicely into the introduction of SPECTRE with Blofeld still just a voice and a set of hands. In a neat little moment, the pre-title sequence is given at least a vague connection to the rest of the film as it turns out the man Bond killed was working for SPECTRE. A rather good change from the book is made as Blofeld is referred to as “Number One” and Largo gets the title “Number Two”. It’s always seemed odd to me that the boss would take a lower number.
Anyhow, the scene proceeds nicely from the reveal and punishment of the embezzlement scheme, handled with a great casualness from Blofeld and Largo who glances up momentarily before going back to editing his report. I always got a kick out of that shot. It’s a wonderful insight into the character of Largo; when it comes to things that don’t relate to him he’s a mercenary in the purest sense. If it has nothing to do with him, it’s not his problem. The film is also mercifully brisk in its exposition of the hijacking plot, only mentioning a ransom that will be demanded from NATO. Largo’s mention of Count Lippe moves us to Shrublands.
In a neat little moment, we learn that the health clinic is near the NATO airbase and it also brings Bond back into the film though we aren’t given a reason for his being there. This minor oversight is made up for as Bond is immediately introduced to Lippe, played by Guy Doleman. The tension between the two comes in almost immediately as Bond’s reaction goes from casual politeness to suspicion as he notices an odd tattoo on the man’s hand. The two actors play the scene well and the brief conversation is also helped by the shot selection as Lippe’s line “I see you discovered that too” comes on a shot of the tattoo rather than of the nurse attending to both men.
After a bit of byplay with Fearing Bond is on the case, asking Moneypenny about the tattoo. We then get my favorite scene of Bond doing some actual spying as he sneaks into Lippe’s room, not so much for the main part of the scene which is fairly standard; opening suitcases and such, but rather for the little details added in. John Barry’s music is great, giving a sense of mystery to the scene, appropriate since the man with a face covered in bandages certainly qualifies as a mystery at this point. Another moment, Bond’s swiping of the grape is pure Bond. It’s a brief moment but a very memorable one.
Next up is the traction table scene which also gives us a little bit more exposition, the identity of the bandaged man. One of the really neat things about this film is how it handles the exposition. Unlike other Bond films where the villain goes into detail about his plans in one or two five minute scenes, we get a little bit of information here and there for the first forty minutes or so until the stakes are clear and Bond is in Nassau. Heck, the “villain explains the plot” scene is reduced to instructions from Blofeld on a tape recording. Good, lean storytelling that leaves room for the spectacle, though the spectacle will get in the way once or twice.
Anyhow, back to the traction table. This has always been a great moment simply because there is no way for Bond to get out of it other than someone coming in and turning the machine off. I’ve also always enjoyed his almost instant seduction of the nurse. Now there’s a man who can get over a trauma quickly! Bond’s subsequent revenge on Count Lippe is also a fun bit as Bond chooses to just screw with the guy rather than kill him. Bond’s casual attitude towards Lippe’s predicament is also fun. A nice little bit of humor mixed in with a little sadism from Bond.
Never Say Never Again: In a change of pace from Thunderball, we get basically the same chain of events leading up to the hijacking only here we start off with Bond and Shrublands rather than SPECTRE. This establishes the setting a little bit better and gives Bond an actual concrete reason for being there but goes on for far too long before getting to the meat of the sequence; Bond discovering the beginning of the hijacking plot. The seduction stuff is fine but I really question the need to make this version of the story as drawn out as it is. The Shrublands stuff in the earlier picture worked because of good, lean pacing and excellent dialogue whereas here the pace seems a bit too slow and the witty dialogue is exchanged for some hit-and-miss humor that sets up an admittedly neat payoff to a later scene.
The SPECTRE scene is fine and Max von Sydow is one of those actors who is always watchable no matter what he’s doing but there are one or two minor flaws. One is the setting, a simple drawing room that works well enough but just seems rather bland considering sets in previous films. The use of a bank as a front is rather neat but the scene seems rushed, mainly due to the introduction of Fatima Blush (Barbara Carrera). While the character and actress are terrific, it seems rather odd to have your main henchwoman introduced in a hurry, tossing her hat into an alcove. It fits with her psychotic nature but it just doesn’t feel quite right for the piece.
One element I do like is our first glimpse of this film’s Largo, played by Klaus Maria Brandauer in his first English speaking role. As much as I enjoy big entrances for villains that are filled with danger it’s nice every once in a while to see your main bad guy at first in a rather conservative, laid back guise. Brandauer gives his usual 110% and delivers his lines with true malice.
One last flaw with the Shrublands sequence is our first look at the new M. Edward Fox does fine in the role but sadly the character has been written as a shrill bureaucrat who doesn’t seem competent in the least. Instead of being stern with Bond but adding an element of respect, Fox comes off as a British version of the standard police lieutenant in action films, giving his top man a dressing down and doubting him at every turn. It works just fine in a Dirty Harry film but I tend to expect more from a Bond film.
One element of the Shrublands sequence I love is the new Lippe. Played by stuntman Pat Roach, Lippe is just a huge killer with a wonderfully amusing personality. The fight between him and Bond is the best part of the movie and gives some terrific energy to the rather static first third of the film. His death is a nice moment too as is Bond’s reaction to seeing that his own urine sample has saved the day for him. It’s a good laugh and Connery plays it off with a great reaction shot. The only flaw with his scene is that he seems to appear out of nowhere, a brief shot of Fatima passing him by and giving him a nod or signal of some sort would have worked fine.
One more element I like is how Shrublands is shown to be the hellish nightmare it was in the Fleming novel. Connery plays his discomfort perfectly, adding some good humor to the scenes.
Thunderball: The hijack plot starts off superbly with Fiona’s first scene. Lucianna Paluzzi plays the scene perfectly, going from seductive to coldly villainous in an instant. Her running of the Angelo-for-Derval switch is a great way to show the audience that this woman is not someone to be trifled with or taken lightly. Bond’s discovery of the switch is also well done with Barry’s music giving the scene a sense of tension and mystery that makes it unusually atmospheric for a dark, almost claustrophobic scene. Especially in a big, extravagant adventure like this.
The subsequent plane sequence is good but it also proves to be the film’s only major flaw. The killing of the crew is just fine as is the crashing of the plane but as soon as Largo kills Angelo the scene drags as the producers felt the need to put every single bit of production design onto the screen. The underwater sleds are neat but the scene is way too drawn out considering that they’re supposed to be carrying out a relatively fast operation. This type of scene was improved upon in Tomorrow Never Dies when a similar scenario was done in three exterior shots of divers heading for a sunken ship and then an interior shot of the beginning of the divers stealing a missile.
The Shrublands sequence is rounded off with Lippe making one last attempt on Bond’s life as he drives away. The tease of the Aston Martin’s gadgets works only because we get something just as good when Fiona turns up and kills him, a nice little twist that further reinforces her strength as a character.
Never Say Never Again: In a change that goes back to the book, the last name of Domino and her brother is Petachi, though this time they are Americans and the brother’s name is Jack. We get a little more time with the brother as well, letting Gavin O’Herlihy play a jittery heroin junkie. Fatima also gets to show off her psycho side for the first time, beating the hell out of Jack in a rather odd moment. Odd because she needs him to keep his eye in good shape (the surgical implant mimicking the President’s is pretty cool), yet in the shot we see she’s smashing his face into a wall. Not a major flaw but it’s a bit of blocking that maybe should have been changed up a bit.
The actual hijacking itself seems rather flat and detached, primarily because Petachi is merely pressing buttons rather than the chain of events in Thunderball which were closer to what Fleming originally wrote in the first place. I understand the need to keep the technology in the film current but it does take away some of the suspense when the hijacking is done by pressing a few buttons simply making the missiles themselves crash rather than a plane. The switching of the warheads also seems like an unnecessary addition, making a relatively simple concept more complicated than it probably needs to be.
That being said, there are some nice moments in the sequence. I especially like the computer’s “Have a nice day.” after the warhead switch have been authorized. Fatima’s killing of Jack is also well done, her interaction with the snake is a nice touch. The actual effects for the missiles are good too, even after twenty two years they still look fairly good. The actual recovery of the missiles is done considerably better than in Thunderball. Here, we get a shot of the missile touching down softly in the water, some diver shots and a smiling wisecrack from Largo. This is one of the few times the film achieves the sort of lean storytelling that makes this sort of adventure story work.
Blofeld’s ransom demand speech is good and I especially like the fact that rather than position the camera at a low angle, he simply sits on a table so the traditional “hidden Blofeld” shot can be achieved. It’s a neat little addition that makes me chuckle. The cat’s reaction to the word “revenge” is also a nice moment and I get a certain amount of personal amusement from imagining the phone call that netted SPECTRE the stock footage of a nuclear explosion. The speech is marred only by the reactions of NATO which seem forced and badly written. It’s a little bit that could easily be trimmed to just the head of NATO telling M to reactivate the 00-section.
Thunderball: The mission briefing is quite well done here with the emphasis being all about topping Goldfinger. Bernard Lee does his usual here, putting on a strong show of authority while also showing the utter trust M has in 007.
Our first look at Nassau comes via some lovely underwater footage accompanied by John Barry’s melodic score. The film does a good job of establishing the location along with the final key player in Domino and Bond’s accomplices in Leiter, Paula and Pinder. After some flirting, the film does a good job of establishing a friendly relationship between Bond and Domino right from the start.
The two films use the location equally well with Thunderball showing off the Junkanoo and a few really classy hotels. The Junkanoo sequence is one of the best in the film with Bond having to use his brains to avoid Fiona and her goons. Interestingly enough, he escapes by running into them in a strange way, notice how after Fiona is killed the remaining bad guys really lose interest in following Bond.
Never Say Never Again: the Nassau sequence is where the film sort of loses its way to a small extent. The lead-in to it with Algernon is written just fine but it’s played as more of a way of showing how different MI6 is being run than as an actual “Bond gets his gadgets” scene. It works well enough but the gadgets, especially the motorcycle which isn’t even in one piece, seem almost superfluous.
As for the use of location, the film does just fine but there seems to be no real reason for Bond to be in the Bahamas. We are given no indication through dialogue or visuals that the bombs might be there and since he ends up spending most of the film in France and the Middle East it feels as though Nassau was thrown in simply because Bond went there in the book. The only thing major that happens is Bond’s encounter with Fatima which is good but from a story standpoint it doesn’t make much sense as even though Bond might be close to the missiles, the audience doesn’t know if he is or not so it makes Fatima’s attempt on Bond’s life look shoehorned in simply to get some action into the sequence. Still, it’s a nicely done scene with an adequate amount of suspense.
Another needless addition is Rowan Atkinson’s inept agent. Atkinson can be very funny but here he’s just a nuisance who contributes nothing to the film that Bond couldn’t have found out either by himself, his contact in France who we’ll meet soon enough or from Leiter who turns up later. In the end, we get Nassau used for some exposition that could have been done in less time and a well done but superfluous action scene.
The film does better by the south of France however, so well that it makes the Nassau sequence seem there only because it was a location in the book. What makes the Nassau sequence stand out even further is that it delays the real start of the plot until almost an hour into the movie. Thunderball could get away with this because after about forty five minutes, the entire film is set in the Bahamas. Here it comes off as stalling for time.
Anyhow, the France stuff starts out well with Felix Leiter entering the film, played nicely with laid back charm by Bernie Casey. He gives Bond very little info on Largo; moving the Nassau stuff to France would have worked just fine and Felix could have delivered all of Atkinson’s dialogue. One little flaw with the opening part of this sequence is the rather clumsy way we learn that Domino and Jack are siblings. Having Bond’s French contact (who could also be cut from the story with no effect on the film) tossing out exposition from inside a room in the middle of a conversation is not what I call good screenwriting. Bond’s intro to Domino is better but it serves more as exposition for where Bond can find Largo than establishing a relationship between Bond and Domino. Yet another case of sloppy screenwriting, something this film suffers from to a large extent.
This brings us to the best sequence in the movie, the charity benefit. I love Bond’s entrance, intimidating the guard with what will be a great payoff joke at the end of the scene. One odd thing though, I really doubt Bond would do something as careless as leaving the guard’s gun in an ice bucket. Bond and Domino have another conversation and honestly, I think that if they had to have the film in Nassau they could have had a bit where Bond and Domino meet and through their conversation we could not only get a good relationship established between our leads, we could get a smoother mention of the charity benefit. This film really could have used an extra draft at the screenwriting stage,
That aside, the sequence is quite excellent for the most part with the only major flaw being the suddenly familiar way Bond and Domino start talking at the bar, a flaw that becomes embarrassingly obvious when Domino suddenly asks Bond how he knows her brother. It doesn’t work and thankfully is interrupted by Largo.
The Domination scene however is a splendid updating of the usual gambling sequence, though it does seem strange to see a huge room full of arcade games in a Bond film. I almost want to see Bond and a villain challenge each other to a few rounds of Pong just for kicks some time.
The actual Domination game is good but it does show an emphasis on action as a means to showing two characters at odds rather than characterization. While we get the elegant dialogue in Thunderball, here we just get two men who are opponents simply because one is good and the other is evil. On the flipside, I do like the moment where Bond requests one more game for the rest of the world. It’s a nice moment that Connery plays perfectly.
The tango scene is done well enough but it seems awkward, as does the way Domino worries about Largo to Bond. For some reason the screenwriter thought that for the relationship between Bond and Domino it was enough to have Bond give Domino a massage and buy her a drink. The effect this has is making Domino somewhat unimportant to the film as we will see later on. Another problem is the dialogue, having Bond tell Domino her brother is dead while they’re dancing seems a bit out of character and rushed. Basically what the screenwriter has done is take the casino scene and beach scene in Thunderball and slam them together into one scene, a very bad idea that gives the last hour of the film a rushed feel.
Adding to this is how Bond simply shows up on Largo’s yacht later on. An invitation to lunch is mentioned but little else. I don’t expect everything to be spelled out but the screenwriter does have to at least let the characters speak with each other. Another incredibly dumb bit is Largo simply letting Bond wander around the boat. If the writer’s intent was to show how crazy Largo is, he failed and ended up making the man look like an idiot. The scene is well played and Largo has a good moment we’ll talk about later but the storytelling here is just awful. The ensuing scene with Bond and Domino is slightly better than the others but because there is no strong foundation for the relationship it doesn’t work as well as it should.
Thunderball: Since Thunderball came right on the heels of the massively successful Goldfinger, the producers decided to try and outdo the previous film in every way imaginable from the story to the set design to the action. It is here that Thunderball really holds a heavy advantage over Never Say Never Again (really the only element in which there is no contest).
As we have already discussed the great fight with Lippe, let’s move onto the underwater battle at the end. This is really one of the best army versus army sequences in the series, ranking slightly below the all out war in The Spy Who Loved Me. While there was a similar sequence in Goldfinger, it was really only used as a cutaway from the fight with Oddjob. In this case, Bond has been trailing Largo and the bombs, almost getting killed in the process. In a nice little moment, one of my favorites, Bond is dropped into the middle of the fight which is going slightly in SPECTRE’s favor and immediately turns the tide just by showing up. The bits with him just tearing through SPECTRE frogmen are really fun to see and probably got huge cheers when the film was first released.
The fight is also probably the most savagely violent in the series with blood flowing freely and some rather surprising shots for what is basically a lightweight action-fantasy (butt of a spear gun through the eye, anyone?). The music adds to the savage feeling, giving it an almost apocalyptic feel in terms of intensity.
This brings us to my favorite fight in the film, the fight aboard the Disco Volante. Fantastically edited and scored, this is one of the best fights in the entire series. Aside from the actual fight, there are a few little moments and shots I simply love. The brief shot where Bond takes the controls and we see him steering frantically is great as Connery really has a look of anxiety and desperation on his face. The music also accentuates this moment, as does a shot of the boat moving quickly through the water. On the flip side of good and evil, Largo’s triumphant smile as he aims the gun at Bond is great, as is his look at Domino as she rises from her hiding place.
Never Say Never Again: The North African segment is problematic for me since the location is not used very well for the most part. The location is actually telegraphed rather badly, you pretty much know that you’re going to end up somewhere near the Middle East when the phrase “Tears of Allah” is used over and over throughout the film. It also seems rather convenient that the name for the project would be the same as the necklace Largo gives Domino.
Minor complaints aside, there just doesn’t seem to be a good reason for SPECTRE to have hidden the bombs off the coast of North Africa. Granted it ends up being so they can blow up the oil fields but a reason for doing that is never even mentioned. There isn’t a great reason in Thunderball either but here it’s even more random since we have already been in one location that would have worked fine in Nassau. The real reason for this is the simple fact that the filmmakers didn’t want this to be too much of a bald-faced rehash of Thunderball, an interesting goal since the stories are essentially the same and from a legal standpoint all they could do was the story. It ends up taking a little away from the entire movie, making it not seem to have a good reason to exist (I don’t personally feel this way but the film doesn’t really help the viewer think otherwise).
One aspect of this sequence I do like is the exchange between Bond and Largo. Even though they don’t really get a chance to be adversaries for the most part, the scene is well played. Brandauer does what he can with the dialogue, even making the line “Bye” work against all odds. Another little bit that both amuses me is Bond just flat out asking Largo where the bombs are. Not even Roger Moore could get away with a bit that ballsy. Bond’s rescue of Domino is alright but it brings the film to a screeching halt when it should be moving towards the climax. I do however like the submarine saving Bond and Domino with a few well placed missiles. It’s a spectacularly over the top moment in a film that could use more spectacle.
The finding of the bombs is alright and ties in well enough but I’m not too wild about the launchers Bond and Leiter use to gain access. They look like cheesy rip-offs of the jet pack but are nowhere near as cool. The final battle is also something of a letdown with a brief firefight leading to a rather bland fight between Bond and Largo. Apart from Bond knocking the head of a statue into the water and Domino killing Largo there isn’t really much in the way of memorable moments. A very disappointing climax.
The coda is fun though, that swimsuit Kim Basinger wears is certainly… nice. I also enjoy Connery’s wink to the audience as the end titles roll. It’s a nice end to a very uneven movie.
Thunderball: I feel this is Connery’s best, deepest portrayal of the character. He is the epitome of coolness and sophistication in the casino scene. His casual toying with Largo is brilliantly written and played by Connery and Adolfo Celi. Both men know who the other is and take great pleasure in sending the subliminal threats each other’s way. Connery also does well showing Bond’s human side, acting gentlemanly with Domino, even as he blatantly flirts with her in front of Largo. His finest bit of acting however comes when he tells Domino her brother is dead. The acting is subtle; Bond putting on the sunglasses and the almost invisible shaking of the hand as Domino takes Derval’s watch and dog tags. It’s a very strong moment played in an uncommonly low key manner from the usually ultra-macho Connery. It works considerably better than the mildly similar take they tried to get from Pierce Brosnan in The World is Not Enough. Unlike that film, Bond’s emotions are played under the surface while he maintains his cool demeanor with only subtle hints at his true feelings. This is how to properly add a human dimension to 007.
Connery also seems to have a ton of fun with the role, adding great little touches such as the flowers on the corpse in the pre credits sequence and stealing the grape from Lippe’s room.
Never Say Never Again: Connery turns in another solid performance. He looks great and is relaxed throughout the entire film. In addition to the coolness, he also brings a certain sense of maturity to the character. In this film, Bond is older and wiser and possibly ready for retirement if the last scene is to be taken seriously. An interesting element that is cast aside after the first fifteen minutes or so is Bond’s insistence that he’s still in pretty good shape despite being around for so long. It would have been interesting to have Largo mention something about Bond’s age but I can certainly see why they wouldn’t want to bring it up. If anything bad can be said about Connery in this film, he does seem to shift into auto-pilot at times but in all fairness he knows the character so well he can sleepwalk through the role and still be great.
Thunderball: Claudine Auger has always been one of my favorite Bond leading ladies. She brings a certain vulnerability to the character but also an equal amount of confidence. Note that it is Domino who suggests Bond dance with her rather than Bond initiating it. One gets the sense that she has been looking for a way to get away from Largo for a while and Bond proves to be the perfect means. In fact, one could honestly make a case for this being one instance where the Bond Girl has the upper hand in her relationship with Bond to a certain extent. Another way of looking at it is both characters using each other to accomplish their individual goals: Domino gaining freedom Largo and Bond stopping Largo from carrying out SPECTRE’s plan.
She lets him flirt with her and clues him in to the over protectiveness of her “guardian”. Once Bond sees the ring Largo wears, he sees a way to kill two birds with one stone, so to speak. One thing I’ve always wondered is just how much Domino knows about Largo. Obviously Largo probably wouldn’t just casually tell her about his latest SPECTRE rendezvous as though it were a suburban husband’s weekly lodge meeting but she would have to at least suspect he was involved in something less than ethical. Personally, I feel she suspects he’s up to something illegal but her main focus is on escaping from him. When she finds out he has killed her brother she decides to take a more active role rather than just waiting for Bond to stop him. First spying on Largo with the Geiger counter and then finally killing Largo herself. In terms of independent Bond Girls, she definitely ranks near the top.
Never Say Never Again: Sadly, as much as I love Kim Basinger she is really wasted in this role. While she is normally a very charming and intelligent actress to watch, here she is really a cipher who is in the story simply because she has to kill Largo in the end. Heck, she had more to do in Batman and that was a waste of her talents too. She is unable to show much chemistry with Connery because it simply is not there in the screenplay. The romance is rushed and really can’t be called a romance in the strictest sense since everything moves so fast she doesn’t even have time to grieve for her brother.
Another problem with her character is that she isn’t really an individual. Rather she is just a possession of Largo’s that Bond ends up fighting with Largo over. The notion of Domino being a kept woman was better handled in Thunderball with implications and good writing. In Never Say Never Again they take the concept literally, having Largo at one point try to sell her off like a used car. It’s sloppy, obvious writing.
Thunderball: Just as Claudine Auger is one of my favorite Bond Girls, Adolfo Celi is one of my favorite villains. He is truly an equal match for Bond, strongly built and dangerous with a certain charm and charisma that makes him eminently watchable. Celi brings a certain sophistication to the character that makes him more than a common thug. In one of the first instances of having a darker side of Bond as the villain, Largo has a taste for the finer things in life and is as proficient as gambler and killer as Bond is. He also has a gloriously nasty streak of sadism in his character. His casual torture of Domino is truly chilling as he seems to have no emotions either way about it though oddly enough he takes pains to keep Kutze out of the room, calling it a private matter. It’s as though he prefers to keep his personal matters separate from his position with SPECTRE; an interesting personality trait that adds depth to the man.
Never Say Never Again: Here is an example of the filmmakers doing a decent job. In a nice change from Thunderball, Klaus Maria Brandauer portrays Largo as a psychotic whereas Adolfo Celi chose a smoother, cooler characterization. Brandauer is great in the scenes where he loses it. Rather than shouting he smiles, almost breaking out into amused laughter as he threatens Domino. I also especially love the scene following Bond kissing Domino. Brandauer plays it perfectly, allowing some genuine hurt to share space with his axe rampage. It’s a very interesting interpretation of the character. Sadly though, as crazy as he is he doesn’t come off as especially smart which does hurt the film a bit. As with pretty much everything else however, this is mainly the fault of the screenwriter rather than the actor.
Thunderball: As we’ve already discussed Fiona’s first two scenes earlier, let’s move onto her first meeting with Bond. I’ve always enjoyed the utter laid back calm with which both actors play the scene. Connery has a bemused look that only falters once when he glances at the speedometer and Paluzzi is as utterly benign as possible on the outside while still showing that she knows exactly who Bond is and what he’s there for.
Her later scene with Bond is also acted wonderfully with the same casual coolness mixed in with total malice. Lucianna Paluzzi plays the character with just as much coolness as Connery plays Bond and the result is a sexy, dangerous femme fatale who ends up being one of the most memorable villains in the series.
Never Say Never Again: Barbara Carerra does an excellent job as the psychotic Fatima. She brings some much needed energy to a rather stale and slow paced film when it really needs it. As good as she is, her final scene is easily her best. I’ve always enjoyed the sheer ego she displays, making the “talking killer” cliché watchable rather than tiresome. Like Fiona she uses sex as a weapon though she’s a little more twisted and sadistic. Somehow I doubt Fiona would have beaten the stuffing out of Derval but who knows? It works perfectly for the character and makes her interesting and different from the original, a trait that would have been well served by being applied to the rest of the film.
FINAL THOUGHTS: I’ve always enjoyed both movies; Never Say Never Again was one of the first films I ever saw more than once. Whenever I would visit a friend of mine when I was a kid, this would usually end up in the VCR. Despite my complaints it is still a very enjoyable movie that manages to occasionally rise above the lousy script Lorenzo Semple Jr. wrote. To me it seems like he didn’t really know much about Bond outside from the basics and even those are done rather shoddily. My main problem with the film is the pacing. While the action is good when it comes there are too many dry spots. Compare this with Thunderball which only has one major dry spell in the hijack scene but for the most part moves at an incredible rate. Never Say Never Again tries to do so but it doesn’t start this until over an hour into the movie.
Thunderball, on the other hand is as close to perfection as a Bond film can get. Aside from what I have mentioned, everything works as it should. As for the remake, it has many things going for it. In terms of story there should have been no problem, it was the same plot. The cast is terrific and the crew had tons of experience under their belts, the director Irvin Kershner had already done a Star Wars film so his ability to do epic wasn’t an issue. The film fails on a storytelling level which is critical for any film to work. Still, it’s definitely worth watching in spite of its problems.