This would be Connery's fourth movie in the franchise and also the first one after the hugely successful and still very popular Goldfinger, regarded by many as the best movie in the entire franchise. So right away, the stakes are raised. Director Terence Young does not disappoint here with that perfect mix of action and humor, exotic locations, gorgeous Bond girls, and crazy gadgets. It is an underrated Connery Bond movie, often lost in the shadow of Goldfinger, but it is a strong example of what the Bond movies were before Moore came along and turned it into a more cartoonish series. It is certainly better than the next two Connery entries and remains one of my favorites.
A NATO plane transporting two nuclear bombs has gone off the radar and disappeared, and it's not long before SPECTRE has delivered an ultimatum to the world; deliver $280 million dollars in a week or both bombs will be detonated, one in an American city, the other in Europe. MI6 calls in all their 00 agents to investigate with James Bond (Connery) sent to scenic Nassau in the Bahamas. He's following a hunch that the sister of the pilot of the missing plane may know something. The girl's name is Domino (Claudine Auger), the mistress of a mysteriously rich man, Emilio Largo (Adolfo Celi), who owns a luxurious seaside villa where the missing bombs may have been hidden. But with time running out, can Bond find the bombs' location and save thousands of lives in the process?
Besides the obvious positive of Connery playing Bond, the earliest entries into the Bond franchise -- mainly the 1960s movies -- are just better movies overall. They have that great retro feel to them, giving a window into a past decade that just can't be duplicated. Of course, the Nassau locations don't hurt in the least too. If a plan to take over the world can be feasible, these earlier movies buy into that. The Connery movies are serious without taking themselves too seriously. There is that humor throughout with some great one-liners, but never too many of them. Add in John Barry's phenomenal Bond theme and an all-around great soundtrack (genuinely one of the series' best) with Tom Jones' title song (listen HERE) and you've got a winner all around.
With any series where multiple actors have played the same role, you're going to get varying opinions on who was the best. A majority seems to agree that Connery was the best Bond, myself included. If possible, you could take bits and pieces from Lazenby, Moore, Dalton, Brosnan and Craig to make the perfect Bond. On his own, Connery does a fine job. He's tough as hell, able to fight his way out of any situation he gets himself into. He's funny, able to throw one-liners whenever needed like 'I think he got the point' after killing a henchman with a harpoon. And because he is the original ladies man, Connery is smooth with the ladies. By Thunderball, he's got the character down to an art and knows what works and doesn't work. And through all the craziness Bond movies offer, that lead has to be good, and Connery's the best.
For his supporting cast, it's one of the more underrated ones. The SPECTRE villains were always great, and Celi's Largo certainly qualifies. Unlike later Bond villains, he's not a lunatic, just a mastermind able to coordinate highly-involved plans with split second timing. As for the Bond girls, Thunderball has quite the trio, starting with Auger as the very sexy Domino (she should just wear the black and white bikini at all times) and continuing with another Italian beauty Luciana Paluzzi as Fiona Volpe, a curvy SPECTRE assassin, and Martine Beswick as Paula, Bond's Nassau assistant. And what would a 007 movie be without the support staff including Bernard Lee as M, Lois Maxwell as Moneypenny, Desmond Llewelyn as Q, and Rik Van Nutter as Felix Leiter, CIA agent and Bond accomplice. A typically solid supporting cast for James Bond.
Where Goldfinger started the trend of the slam-bang finish, Thunderball kicks the door wide open with its finale, an extended underwater sequence as Largo's henchmen fend off the attacks from American/MI6 agents, harpoons, knives and weapons galore available. Watch the whole thing HERE if interested. There is some great stuntwork on display in the underwater battle, and it provides one of the better endings for a Bond movie. Not quite Goldfinger overall, but Thunderball is still one of the best.
Thunderball <---trailer (1965): ****/****