For opinion and highly subjective content in this here now fourth entry, Jacques Stewart’s 007th minute of ‘Thunderball’.
Please feel free to have thoughts on this. Meet other interesting people having thoughts on this here. Share your thoughts and take your chance to spend Christmas in the company of likewise-minded people.
007th minute observed by Jacques Stewart. Italics-piffle as usual added by me.
The idea behind all this unnecessariness is “explained” in the Dr No one, and there’s a couple more on From Russia with Love and Goldfinger to subject yourself to as well, if you actually feel you must and don’t have something more fulfilling and pleasurable to do, like drinking the contents of a radiator or molesting ham.
So, Thunderball it is. Before I launch into petty abuse and ill-thought-through sexual metaphor that would be doing well to achieve the status of “gratuitous”, let me put on record this one inalienable fact: I love Thunderball. I think it is the definitive James Bond film, exemplifying all the others’ strengths (many) and weaknesses (many) in one ninety-four hour long extravaganza of blueishness and harpoonydom and Conneryality and fish. I accept – I don’t have to like, but I accept – that this is not the chosen opinion of others and that their choices and opinions are valid, like the choice to use public transport, the choice to wear unpleasant hipsters and the choice to look in the mirror in the morning and yet still carry on.
We’ve gone all wide in this one, wide and (bm-bm) deep. The previous three had quite a lot of standing or sitting, interior-bound snarling or fighting or rudey bits: this one largely keeps its mouth shut to the absolute bare minimum of plottidom, it’s the most basic of the stories so far, and gets out into the open air, as if the Bond series has had a bit of a frowny conversation with its wee-scrutinising GP about unplugging itself from the sofa and going for a nice brisk walk. Look at all the blue and sunshine and widescreen splendour of it; it gives us a show. They wanted us to see some extraordinary things with a bit of a plot stapled on. Patently this would get way out of hand with the next one but here, Barryhorns blasting over clear blue water, the biggest film star in history gliding through it and the production’s tangible air of total confidence in its task (never expressly tipping into the self-reverential smugness that would come to haunt the series later), this is the paradigm. Visually, it remains a big watery blur of old lovely and is a great watch after three pints of Rioja to just sit there in front of it and let the general (and I would maintain, deliberate) relaxedness wash over one as one slumbers into dreams of Claudine Auger licking plum jam from one’s moobs.
And before we join the seventh minute, before 0.06.00 has even ticked over on the overticker, consider what we’ve been entertained with so far. James Bond rather viciously murders a trannie, jetpacks out of there – because he is James Bond and he can/must – and then hoses down a series of agitated gentlemen with fierce white spray; cue titles. All in the name of family entertainment. It’s a bit, y’know, skewed and weird and possible “unsuitable for minors”, all this cross-dresser strangulation – trangulation? – followed by blast-off and moist spurts all over the place in climax. It all now seems to have jogged well beyond Goldfinger’s at-the-boundary titillation into full-blown sexbombing, whilst still trying to disguise it as some sort of “adventure with bombs”. Dr No’s cold brutality clothed in tropical exoticness and pleasant bikinis was an iron fist in a velvet glove. Here, the velvet glove’s still there – more of a mink one, as we later see – but the fist, it’s gone a bit sticky.
I may be reading too much into this; I have, I accept, watched this film “a number” of times, but I maintain that’s it’s capable of such interpretation, if only for a bit of a cheap laugh. There are cleaner readings of the pre-titles sequence, and it’s another cracking example of creating the Bondmyth, showing us, the little people in the dark waiting for the advent of the internet so we can bitch about it all in an entirely redundant manner because they made it anyway, showing us lot an untouchably refined world of private chapels, chateaux, inconsistently-surnamed dastardly foreign types (Bouvard? Bouvier? Boitier? Bottyburp?) who know the value of quality underwiring and expensive lippy (and why not, it’s the weekend and it’s a victimless crime). It’s in Bond’s world that a woman should have the door opened for her (and do note, rather splendidly, that even when being chased by goons wanting to administer unto him some death, Bond opens the Aston’s door for his little chum – oh, lovely). Or at least it was, then. “These days” Bond would have had to have figured out Boooovarr’s deception by other means. Perhaps when creeping in from the roof having stowed the jetpack safely (presumably he jetpacked up there – did no-one notice?), he discovered the bathroom and all its… things, or maybe he’d just say “hang on, you’re patently a stocky man in a shapely binbag despite being played by a woman all of two seconds ago”, something like that, yes, something like “that” would have to happen “these days”, what with all this “having the vote” and “wanting to open car doors themselves” and “looking one’s lord and master in the eye” nonsense. Hopefully, just a phase.
Anyway, Bond smacks him/her/don’t know, all confused, in the mouth, interesting way to pass on one’s regards after a funeral, must try it next time – perhaps he didn’t like the ham sandwiches – does a bad thing with a poker to a prone man and then tosses things over the corpse… um… JETPACK! The helmet does spoil it a bit but I can reveal this wasn’t for safety reasons, more to keep the hair in place and not have it fall off onto that stag statue, from which there would have been no chance of recovering it and we’d all be watching Thunderbald instead.
Directly shooting the viewer in the face with ejaculate as Tom Jones hoves into view, Bond roars away – he doesn’t write, the bastard, I feel so used – and we join the action at
0.06.00 – 0.07.00 Thunderball
And a bit like Goldfinger, and possibly (read: definitely) more to come, we’re mid titles and it’s rather nice to see that Peter Hunt is now Supervising Editor (not just any old editor). As previously noted, the progression of the trusted people through the early films is notable, and the lasting impression that these were not functionaries, these were the artists, is tangible. This film must have been a hell of a job to cut into shape, particularly in maintaining the lovely drifty nature of the sunblasted latter half whilst having a jolly good fight. Yes, I know it has ostensible pacing issues but I would steadfastly hold that these are deliberate. Bond does relax his way through this because he knows the villains know that he knows they’re villains and that he’ll stop them; why bother rushing? There’s no mystery in Thunderball and whilst that may have been a criticism of it in the past (a criticism I have just made up to amplify a point I wish to make to contradict it, this is how reviews work, gang), there doesn’t need to be one. Just look at that scene with Largo and the clay-pigeons; the villain’s knowledge that he cannot really cope with Bond being so magnificent seems to wash over him like a relief, a liberation to carry on being beastly because there won’t actually be any consequence to it and Miami won’t get blown up after all, which he doesn’t really want as he knows a good eyepatch felter there.
Accept this proposition and the editing is spot on. Except of course for THE RACK SCENE IT HAS SHAKYCAM AND I SPURN THESE FILMS LIKE I WOULD SPURN A DISAPPOINTING CHILD, or something. There are a few glitches – Bond’s mask changing from blue to black to blue again – but we’re not in a world of anyone slicing off bits onto YouTube and creating their own (sometimes rather smashing) fan trailers and things: this unwieldy old bugger was steamhammered into shape over a mangle and by whacking it around the floor with a five-iron, they didn’t have YouTube then, they didn’t even have ThouValve, so it’s not that surprising that there’s the odd charming blip to notice. Anyway, that’s probably Continuity Girl’s fault, and there will have to be “some punishment”. I do hope so, anyway.
Any woman he wants, he gets, apparently. This is what comes of opening car doors for them, so don’t forget your manners, gentlemen, and if you want to have some playtime, open the door for a lady, always address her to her face rather than gawping at her dirty dumplings and ensure that you have a good handful of hair when dragging her back to your cave.
There are schools of thought (not sure where they are; most schools seem to teach happyslapping and listless chewing rather than “thought”) that debate, with “thought”, whether the song is intended to be about Largo or Bond. Admittedly there are lines that could sit with either and I suppose the “thought” here is that this is another example of the “Bond and villain all being a bit samey, y’know, it’s only because he’s a nationalised taxpayer-funded entity and the villain is free private capitalist enterprise and therefore must be smashed, that Bond is obviously better” stuff. Certainly, it’s more ambiguous than the abandoned Mr Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (which is just that bit too knowing, although the instrumental of it is shiveringly, luxuriatingly, lie-on-the-beach-with-a-cold-drink wonderful). I tend to come down in favour of it being about Bond, especially the earlier reference to running, not walking; one suspects, although he’s not as much of a chubber as Goldfinger, the last time Largo ran was, presumably accidentally, into that eye-level spike. I bet that really hurt. Good; he’s a rotter.
Peter Murton and David Middlemas are back, to direct the art about a bit and supervise the production so that it doesn’t talk to strange men. Again, we see the loyalty on show and again, they repay it. This cannot have been easy. The expectation created by the success of Goldfinger and producing this monster within the following year. You need people you know can do the job, to be able to do a job like that. We are abject and utterly spoilt by the easy access to (and inability to hide from) information pebbledashing out at us, such that many demand a new Bond film every second and become enraged when it is not there. When will they release the trailer or name of the singer? Why have they not done so when I asked? Why? I get everything I want, I am a beautiful and unique snowflake, they are my slaves, they owe me (for some mysterious reason) and I require them to produce Bondstuff now. I don’t think any or many of us have any real concept of how hard it must be to come up with these things and haul them into and through and post production and if we were to be involved in it, I doubt we would have the time to whine, anonymously and with a selection of grammar choices. It seems difficult enough now, with one Bond every few years. Turning this behemoth of technical trickiness – it’s not people sat in a room contemplating the wallpaper, it’s a film where several months of it happen underwater – within a year must have been gulpingly daunting. That they produced art only emphasises the importance of having the right people do it. And those right people aren’t us. We don’t know better. I suspect we don’t know at all.
Right, OK, interested in the lime green thing going on now. Interested in the sense that roadkill or the singing of The Actor Purse Brosnon hold my interest. To be honest, it’s more like “abduct” my interest as it’s there far from willingly. They Fritzl my interest. I can quite understand why young Mr Binder has decided to do one of his patented white frothy releases all over it to distract our attention. However, it does all make the next set of credits rather difficult to read, especially on a DVD player and television that are getting on a bit, so here goes with the best I can do, or I can be bothered with. John Stears’ special effects, as we know, won him an Academy Award and it’s not surprising that that noted academic institution of watching some films and liking them, liked what he had done. The effects are undeniably special – start with a jetpack, pass by merrily with a rocket-firing motorcycle and then Claudine Auger’s bikini and end up with that huge explosion of the Disco Volante whilst apparently sent the boat straight into orbit, where it’s still going. When it ploughs into the Sun, we’ve had it.
The 2nd Unit cameraman probably goes by the name of Egil Wokholt but I’m an old man and my eyesight is going for reasons too grimy to go into (but you can probably guess) and that’s the best I can make of it. The white on toxic-waste green is, I feel, an error and can’t be representative of the sea, unless you’re from Sunderland. Assistant Director Gus Agosti I may be insulting hugely by glossing over in my rush on to the next lot of names, and I apologise for that, but this particular colour is giving me bad head. Frank Ernst managed some beautiful locations and, albeit it was a loony what done said it, why bother going into space when loads of the seaside remained unexplored. It’s all part of the desire to show, projected as it is into a 1965 winter full of Brown Windsor soup and corned beef, ably demonstrating that a beach holiday didn’t have to mean a Great Yarmouth sleetlashing but could be… this. With John Winbolt’s holiday snaps showing it all off at its best, this is heady, aspirational material. Recent efforts in their attempts to be edgy and whatnot haven’t really appealed to the same desires. I accept, as the opportunity has arisen to visit such places, that the Bahamas do indeed look like that but Miami already looks nuked so why bother: with its guns and gangs and pastel leisurewear and bling, it’s just a Big Gay Warrington.
Hey there, Continuity Girl, swingin’ down the street so cont-nu-t-ee, nobody you meet could ever see, the loneliness there, inside you; hey there, Continuity Girl, why do all the boys just pass you by, could it be that you just don’t try, or is it the fact that Sean’s scuba mask’s all gone wrong again and in two adjacent scenes in Moneypenny’s office the map on her wall changes to show completely different things? I wouldn’t open the car door for you, darling; you can walk. Do a little jiggerboo whilst you do, though. That’s it Joan, lovely. Maybe run your fingers through your hair and wiggle a bit. Cor, smashin’. I may yet forgive you. Don’t look at me like that.
In an act of continuity unlikely to be the work of Continuity Girl, because she’s a girl and her head’s just full of knitting and daisies and getting my tea ready, Paul Rabiger and Basil Newall once more are billed for their make-up above Mr Simmons and his sequences of action. I bet it was their idea to put him in a dress, just to rub it all in. This is, though, perhaps the best looking principal cast of the Bond series thus far. I can understand Bond’s dilemma in trying to choose between the psychopathic Italian redhead and the increasingly mute sad-eyed bikini-botherer because both women are immensely attractive and Bond himself’s a bit of all right. And then Largo turns up in a wetsuit, looking like a well-lagged hot-water tank but, y’know, earlier in the film, strutting around the SPECTRE meeting room of death in a magnificent suit, he does look pretty crisp too. Perhaps his eye wasn’t poked out, it fell out when open-wide, staring disbelievingly, the first time he saw Fiona in her leathers. One sympathises.
Ah, Ivan Tors Underwater Studios. If this had been a Roger Moore Bond, you just know at one point that Flipper would have turned up. Equally so, MooreBond might have fancied his chances with it, given that it’s a higher form of intelligent life than Stacey Sutton. Browning, Boren and Jordan Keith (a victim not of double-oh-firstname syndrome, but reversey-name palsy) were director, cameraman and engineer, all underwater. They did a grand job and, even though this is splashy and colourful and wondrous, it’s another film I would recommend considering in black-and-white. Some of the underwater scenes are really pretty creepy in crisp monochrome. Probably not what they were wanting but it’s an accidental magnificence.
Here come frogman pointing their spears through a fierce burst of Maurice Binder’s little white tadpoles. Glory be, what can it all be meant to mean? I’ve seen some rough pørnography in my time – I have internet, this is what it’s for – but this is pretty much taking the soggy biscuit. Bet Tom Jones is singing this with big curly pørn hair as well. It’s all just so much filth. Lovely.
Assembly Editor Ben Rayner’s back, along with Ernest Hosler who is presumably being supervised by Peter Hunt, some sort of line-management thing, as if they all didn’t have enough to cope with. I wish my childhood assemblies had been edited, rather than having to sit there pretending to like Dr Jesus and learning who had preserved the school’s honour by beating some other gaggle of hoodlums in a rough game whilst their parents had shouted vicarious obscenities from the sidelines. Dubmasters Wanstall and Miller are back in the game as are those recordists of sound and bearers of great early-60s Britain names, Bert Ross and Maurice Askew. They appear to have recorded quite a lot of sounds underwater, including a full orchestra score, which is pretty novel and slightly unlikely, but highly skilled nonetheless. Whenever I try a length of the pool underwater all I can hear is my heart beating the seconds of my life away.
Master and Mistress of the Wardrobe John Brady and Eileen Sullivan have returned, from Narnia, and this time they’ve allowed their wardrobes to be manhandled quite roughly, all sorts of bad stuff going on especially in the pre-titles, and unfortunately this meant that three display cabinets and a grandfather clock had to be destroyed, humanely. PETA, that’s the People for the Ethical Treatment of Armoires, have always had a bit of a thing about Thunderball, although they reserve most of their ire for The Man with the Golden Gun because in that one, for our giggling, immoral and slack-jawed homined entertainment, an innocent and lovely pedigree wardrobe was repeatedly force-fed Britt Ekland.
Alongside Masser Brady and The Mistress Sullivan, we have a Wardrobe Designer in Antony Mendleson and that strikes me as quite an easy job as they’re basically a bit cupboardy, with rails; I’m not sure the utility of the concept will stand up to much redesign. If all this is really about the clothes and not the receptacle a ) why hasn’t anyone ever told me and b ) they had a job on their hands here and blessed us with good work; Largo’s exquisite tailoring, Bond’s swim shorts that are wet one second and dry the next, although that’s because he’s so hot, Fiona’s explosion of coral-island blue, Patricia Fearing’s birthday suit and Domino in a swimsuit one can only best describe as almost appearing in this film. Everyone looks spectacular; even the goons are stylish and it was probably a bit of a hoot shaving Bob Simmons into something slinky from Dorothy Perkins. The blue/orange thing’s in abundance here – Fiona’s hair vs. most of what she wears or drives, the wetsuits vs the sea – and it seems to be a popular visual contrast of the Bond films, albeit it becomes relentless in Quantum of Solace.
Hairs were dressed by Eileen Warwick – each individual hair of Sean Connery’s scalp was sent off in the morning in little red wellies and warm coats with mittens on strings, and a packed lunch – and Michael White and Freda Pearson are back again, respectively to assist with the art direction and to dress the set, this time in a lime and honey jus with just a piquant dab of ginger. Delicious, and makes having to eat the thing once filming’s done much less of a chore.
All characters and events in the film are fictional. Well, me, there I was thinking it was a documentary. I’ll go on thinking that, because I do want it to be true. Something else I want to be true is those two ladies swimming towards each other look like they’re about to kiss; no, they just delightfully bounce off each other. Maurice, you little tease. Still, we couldn’t cope with that sort of thing: smashing up a trannie, various gassings and suicides and a harpoon through the eye are fine but ladylove would just be mucky.
It’s filmed, gloriously, in Panavision and the colour (not identifying which one, but I bet it was blue) was by Technicolor, who don’t seem able to spell but can do some colouring in; bit like the average British graduate.
His film goes on and on and on. Oh Tom, how could you?
Now it’s all gone a lovely blood-orange shade, the colour of the inside of one’s eyelids when dozing half-drunk in broad sunlight, and finally there’s a confession that the main title was designed by Maurice Binder. I suspect it’s not a popular opinion but I think it’s just teetered into trying a bit too hard. Brownjohn’s displays had wit. This is a bit spurty and lewd, really, colourful and exciting on various levels no doubt but perhaps a bit obvious, with all that stiff harpoon wobbling going on. Exemplifying the point, as his name disappears, Maurice lets fly with another milky shower of spume.
Here’s John Barry, and here he is about to outdo himself. The Thunderball score is immense, from doomy to exultant to fundamental for steering oneself through repeat watching of the underwater chunks. The excessively shrieky bits bolted onto the 007 theme as everything goes a bit fighty and Bond turns up with one of Eileen Sullivan’s wardrobes strapped to him, are a textbook example of pushing and then pushing some more, which pretty much sums up the ambition of the film, and also what Maurice must currently be doing to produce all that sticky white love piss.
Sung in a manner that’s best described as “at us” by Tom Jones, Thunderball’s a bit of a nonsense ditty really, although it’s quite positive whereas the last one was about murdering girls, so things have taken a turn for the more sunshiney (and a girl-killing song played over Binder’s foamy squirts would be A Very Bad Thing), but surely, Black Donald, it’s “a” Thunderball, not just “Thunderball”? Thunderball’s not really a proper noun is it, like Geoff, or Lulu, although I suppose “strikes like Lulu” is what you had her do to us nine years later with that other “song” of yours. Young Mr Jones does have a distinct and powerful voice, albeit these days he only seems to use it to tell us his mother told him not to come, which was good advice as it’s the most stubborn of stains. Old Ma Binder could have done well to pass on the same advice.
There’s a rubbered-up man aiming a trident between the legs of a fleeing girl. It defies comment.
The screenplay was by Richard Maibaum and John Hopkins, before he turned himself into a university in Baltimore, and was itself based on an original screenplay by Jack Whittingham which, we are told as a man with a particularly phallic probe swims into view, was itself based on an original story by Kevin McClory, Jack Whittingham and Ian Fleming and if you think I’m touching that one, save to observe that it all sounds terribly complicated, you’ve another thing coming, despite “coming” being pretty much the point of this seventh minute.
And as Tom holds the note and prepares to faint, we have to leave him there, forever, going slightly blue-orange in the face, for we’ve reached
In direct comparison to the Goldfinger titles, it’s all become more colourful but significantly blunter in its intent. The more money they could spend, the more they knew that this would find an audience, the cruder they became? Doing similar things – sexualised imagery and exultant powerballadry – whilst going all the way up to 11 with them both? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it; instead douse it with pheromones and let it tart itself out. It’s a possible conclusion, albeit one based on one minute of film alone. Certainly, what follows next is a more rawly sexualised bucket of Bond than the previous three – the Bond/Fiona sex scene is good, grubby fun, for example – and any real attempt at troubling us with understanding Bond or giving us “character” is jettisoned in favour of dropping this unrestrained, irresistible and unstoppable weapon of mass destruction into two hours of widescreen gorgeousness and letting us revel. It’s about to tip into invulnerability from hereon in, relieving many future instalments of burdening themselves with any noticeable tension about the hero’s fate, but here’s it’s not yet a tired inevitability that Bond will win, it’s a celebration.
I want to be this man. I want to be the man who taps open the bathroom door to find a woman he knows is his bitter enemy, to offer her “sumsing to pudd on”, shoes (a top joke), to sit back and watch and then pretend it’s her seducing him. I don’t recall which minute that is but that’s the definitive Bond minute of the film. For all its bombast and scale that leaves one emerging thinking one’s just been headsmacked with it, Thunderball can be a more subtle film than it’s given credit for, or that this seventh minute would represent.
The previous seventh minutes were, for their own parts, of some significance in demonstrating key elements of Bond films. This one probably tends to represent the series teetering on the lip of the pit of doom that is repeating the successful things from last time around but exaggerating them until they go a bit bursty. Whilst that wasn’t yet to happen, we know it did. So far as this seventh minute represents anything, it’s foreshadowing of creative decisions to come. Which makes it sound more meaningful than its other deserving description, which is “shouty jizzwhack”.
James Bond will return in You Only Live Twice. Jacques Stewart is spent.