Thunderball’s 45th anniversary part IV: John Barry’s challenge

For John Barry, scoring Thunderball, the fourth James Bond movie, couldn’t have been easy. Deadlines were tight to make the film’s December 1965 release dates. Barry had to re-do the title song. And the film had a lot of underwater footage, with no dialogue which would need the composer’s music to bring it to life.

Thunderball may not be the best of Barry’s 11 007 scores. He himself has called On Her Majesty’s Secret Service his “most Bondian.” Still, Barry was more than up to the challenges presented by Thunderball. He ended up writing two title songs, Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang with Leslie Bricusse and, in a last-minute change, Thunderball with Don Black.

Barry, either by dramatic choice or to save precious time, used the 007 theme, a piece he originally wrote for two action sequences in From Russia With Love, in Thunderball. Bringing back 007 reinforced the idea that the composition was a second theme for Bond, a backup to The James Bond Theme. Barry would bring back 007 three more times, in You Only Live Twice, Diamonds Are Forever and Moonraker.

First, Barry’s score for the sequence where Bond escapes Fiona Volpe and her SPECTRE henchmen, during a street carnival in Nassau:

Barry then slows down the same basic music for the big underwater showdown between SPECTRE frogmen led by Emilo Largo who are carrying an atomic bomb and a U.S. force (with Bond, of course, joining in). Barry then speeds the music up for a sequence shortly thereafter where Bond confronts Largo on his hydrofoil as the villain tries to escape:

Barry’s bosses, producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, sent Barry scurrying after deciding they’d prefer a song that actually had the word “Thunderball” in it. So Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang was scrapped. But the Barry-Black team came through, with Tom Jones performing the song.

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