1961: Eon’s first try at a Thunderball script

Thunderball poster in 1965

Thunderball poster in 1965

Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman formed Eon Productions in 1961 and immediately got to work trying to bring James Bond to the screen.

Their first effort, soon aborted, was to bring Thunderball, the newest Ian Fleming novel, to the screen. On Aug. 18, Richard Maibaum delivered his first draft. We got a copy from 007 collector Gary Firuta.

Maibaum, a veteran of a number of Broccoli-produced movies, went for a straight adaptation of Fleming’s novel. In some places, it bears a close resemblance to the movie that would arrive in theaters four years later. In other ways, it’s quite different.

Maibaum’s draft actually has a pre-titles sequence. However, it’s nowhere near as elaborate as the 1965 movie, which featured Bond with a jetpack.

Instead, it begins simply in Paris. It’s more or less how the 1965 movie plays after the titles. But instead of seeing Emilo Largo going to SPECTRE headquarters, it’s Ernst Stavro Blofeld.

The stage directions state Blofeld is 53 (the age of the literary Blofeld in 1961, not to mention Ian Fleming, with whom the villain shared a birthday) and is “over six feet, weighing 280 pounds, once all muscle.”

The sequence plays out much the way audiences saw in 1965, with some different details. We eventually witness the start of the SPECTRE board meeting. The gathering is larger; there are 20 SPECTRE members gathering.

Blofeld does his fakeout bit (killing No. 12, after putting No. 7 on the spot). The reason: a young woman was kidnapped by SPECTRE, but a member of the organization “conducted himself in a thoroughly unacceptable manner.”

The girl, we’re told by Blofeld, “is presently under intensive medical and psychiatric treatment.” After No. 12 is electrocuted, the main titles begin.

Afterward, we’re still at the SPECTRE board meeting. Blofeld (who apparently loves to talk) tells us SPECTRE has told the treasurer to return $300,000 (half of the ransom) to the girl’s family. We then have the financial reports.

Some of this would be in the movie Thunderball, but with changes. One example: in this script SPECTRE blackmailed  a former S.S. officer living in Havana under an assumed name. The group only got 240,000 pesos, “all the man had.”

We also get an additional detail: Blofeld gets 10 percent of the total take, and the other members get 4 percent each. Now, we’re on to talking about Plan Omega and the hijacking of atomic bombs.

On page 10, we’re introduced to Shrublands and on page 12, James Bond finally puts in his first appearance. Patricia Fearing is almost hit by a Bentley driven by Count Lippi (instead of Lippe as in the 1965 film). Bond “gathers her up by the waist” to prevent her from being struck by the car.

“She gasps as the Bentley skids to a stop and looks up in flurried astonishment into the face of JAMES BOND, whose right hand is momentarily cupped over one beautiful breast.” In other words, 007 copped a feel as he saved her.

Maibaum’s description of Bond is more or less direct from Fleming: “He is in his middle thirties, with dark, rather cruel good looks except for very clear blue-grey eyes. A scar runs down his right cheek.”

Later, Bond gets a rubdown from a masseur, who comments about all the scars on Bond’s chest and back. Bond also spots Lippi’s tatoo and calls Moneypenny as in the 1965 movie. It’s similar but in this script the scene is longer. Instead of “on yogurt and lemon juice? I can hardly wait!” Moneypenny says, “On nuts and youghurt? I can hardly wait!”

Eventually Bond and Lippi get cross ways (including Lippi trying to kill Bond on the traction machine). Bond gets even with Lippi in a slightly different manner. He still turns up the heat while Lippi while he’s in a steam cabinet. But 007 pretends to be an attendant and fakes a Cockney accent.

SPECTRE, of course, does succeed in hijacking the atomic bombs (and killing the crew of a bomber plane), thanks to sellout Petacchi. But instead of Largo doing in sellout Derval (as in the final film), it’s Vargas who kills Petacchi, and with a stiletto while the plane hasn’t yet sunk. Meanwhile, Largo doesn’t make an appearance until page 40.

Bond has a briefing with M. The MI6 chief makes an interesting comment: “The Double O section’s discretion to liquidate has come under considerable criticism. Exercise it with extreme caution. The usual denials of responsibility from The Service will be more emphatic than in the past.”

That’s pretty interesting, but a notion that’s not really developed in this script and wouldn’t come up when Eon made other Bond films. It sounds similar to Mission: Impossible’s “the secretary will disavow any knowledge of your actions.”

Bond, after a false start or two, is assigned to Nassau. We finally meet Dominetta Vitali, Pettachi’s sister, on page 58 (this would be almost an hour into a movie filmed from this script). She and Bond meet and there’s a lot of chatting.

She drives him out to a restaurant, but after they’re done, she’s going the other way and he’ll have to catch a cab. After she departs, there’s this amusing bit of stage direction.

BOND
(if the censor will permit)
Bitch.

Bond gets back to his hotel room. The agent can tell somebody is in there.

VOICE FROM INSIDE ROOM
(very American)
Don’t shoot 007. This is 000.

Of course, it’s Felix Leiter. “He is an American version of Bond except that a steel hook replaces his right hand,” according to Maibaum’s stage directions.

Here, they’re depicted as being old friends. In a later scene, there’s even a reference to how they’ve both disobeyed orders when necessary.

The duo go out to Largo’s yacht, the Disco Volante, with Bond posing as someone interested in taking over the Palmyra — “the property I believe you rent from Mr. Bryce.” Presumably, that’s an in-joke reference to Fleming friend Ivar Bryce.

The rest of the script plays out, more or less as Fleming’s novel did with some flourishes that’d make it into the 1965 movie. Bond kills Vargas (shooting him with a regular gun, rather than a spear gun). There’s an underwater fight, but not as elaborate as the later movie.

Work on this, of course, ground to a halt because it soon became evident there was a dispute about the rights. Fleming had based the novel on scripts and story elements he developed with producer Kevin McClory and Jack Whittingham. You can CLICK HERE to see our June 6 post about Whittingham’s 1960 first draft script.

Eon would soon change direction and begin developing Dr. No for the screen instead. Nevertheless, reading this first effort, Maibaum had set a direction for “the Biggest Bond of All.” He, along with writer John Hopkins, would take it from there a few years later.

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One Response

  1. […] That novel provoked a legal dispute between a severely ill Fleming and producer Kevin McClory. The conflict — not settled until 1963 — prevented Thunderball from becoming the first Bond film made by Eon Productions as originally intended. […]

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