You know it’s the holiday season when there are James Bond marathons on every cable network except Oxygen. Caught one I hadn’t seen in years – THUNDERBALL from 1965. I saw it originally at Grauman’s Chinese Theater on the big BIG screen. I remember loving it at the time. From the stirring THUNDERBALL theme sung by Tom Jones I was hooked. So I wondered, did it hold up after all these years?
Well, the theme song sure does. And there’s no question that Sean Connery was the best Bond. There is just a level of insouciance in Connery’s Bond that none of his successors had – even light-comedy master Roger Moore never had that twinkle. Connery’s Bond enjoyed the gig, and why not? He sure got laid more than the later Bonds. Too bad it was in the 60s though and most of these women had helmet hair and raccoon make-up.
Note to PLAYBOY magazine: NEVER do another layout showing Bond girls as they are today. No one wants to see Octapussy as octogenarian.
The dialogue, which seemed so sparkling at the time, now comes off as cringeworthy.
Bond Girl: What sharp eyes you’ve got.
Bond: Wait til’ you get to my teeth.
Yikes! Since when did Bob Hope become a British Secret Agent?
And the sensibility was soooo sexist. Women were objects, easy, submissive, disposable, or evil. In the world of James Bond, Gloria Steinem is as much a super villain as Ernst Blowfeld.
The chief baddie in THUNDERBALL is Emilio Largo (these guys never have names like Mike or Skip) and you know he’s evil because he has a black patch over one eye. In typical Bond fashion, when he’s not trying to kill 007 he’s inviting him to lunch (women always refer to him as “James”, super villains call him “Mr. Bond”, M always uses “007”, and U.S. military officers call him “Jimbo”.). When I say they try to kill Bond, that of course means through some elaborate contraption only Wile E. Coyote would purchase instead of just taking out a gun and shooting his sorry ass.
As a kid I never let plot holes get in the way of a good James Bond yarn. I remember first seeing THUNDERBALL and having no idea what the hell was going on? Now someone is trying to kill him in his hotel room, now he’s taking pictures of a boat and dodging hand grenades, now he’s in a car chase and the evil Spectre woman blows up the car that’s trying to off him, now he eludes four gunmen during a big Junkanoo celebration and the next morning just strolls through town unnoticed, now he’s in a tuxedo, now he’s in an underwater battle, now he’s shot and the next day he’s completely healed. What the fuck??!!
A plane on a routine training mission has two atomic bombs on board and takes off from a NATO base conveniently located right next door to the health spa where James just happens to be staying at the time. The plane is hijacked and lands in the shallow water outside of Nassau. It can land in water without giant pieces splintering off? Really? There’s no radar to track this? And no one in Nassau sees or hears a fighter plane land in the ocean just off the coast? Now scuba divers move the bombs. On the side of one hydrogen bomb it says (and this is absolutely true, you can see for yourself) “handle like eggs”.
But I didn’t care.
Other minor story points didn’t bother me either like how do super villains amass large armies and trained scuba divers? How clueless are the British Intelligence and CIA that they have no knowledge of 200 henchmen being recruited? And where do all these people sleep? How do secret compounds with launch facilities large enough accommodate Gemini rockets get built incognito? If Spectre is a secret society why do their agents wear rings that have its logo?
These issues didn’t concern me then and they still don’t. In later movies he goes to the moon and shit and that crossed a line but a yacht carrying one of the atomic bombs crashes into the shore and explodes and doesn’t set off a nuclear explosion that wipes out three million people – sure, why quibble?
THUNDERBALL did hold up in the sense that it was still fun to watch and now because of all the cheese there were way more laughs then when I first saw it in 1965.
And now for an unexpected treat. I went to YouTube to see if it had the opening titles so I could play Tom Jones’ theme for you. And I discovered this – an alternate theme, written and performed by Johnny Cash. I guess no one told the Man in Black that THUNDERBALL wasn’t a Western. You won’t believe this.
First -- Tom Jones
And now put on your spurs. Johnny Cash.