Claudine Auger dies at 78

Sean Connery and Claudine Auger in Thunderball

Claudine Auger, who played the lead female character in Thunderball, died this week at 78, the French newspaper Sud Quest reported.

Auger died on Wednesday. The newspaper cited “the artistic agency Art Time who represented her” as the source of the information.

The actress won the role of Domino, the mistress of SPECTRE villain Emilo Largo (Adolfo Celi) in Thunderball. James Bond (Sean Connery) wins over Domino, who provides the British agent help on his mission. In the film’s climax, Domino kills Largo with a spear gun, saving Bond’s life.

Auger turned 24 during production of the fourth Bond movie. Other contenders for the role included Julie Christie, Raquel Welch and Faye Dunaway. Thunderball was a huge hit and came out at the peak of the 1960s spy craze.

The November 1965 U.S. television special The Incredible World of James Bond included a Thunderball scene at a Nassau casino where Auger and Celi could be heard speaking in their own voices. Both were dubbed for the final version of the movie, which came out a month later.

Auger’s IMDB.COM entry lists 80 acting credits, lasting into the 1990s.

The Chronicles of SPECTRE Part III: Thunderball

Thunderball poster in 1965

Thunderball poster in 1965

By Nicolas Suszczyk
In 1964’s Goldfinger, SPECTRE took a break while James Bond fought the title villain’s attempt to irradiate Fort Knox. But the organization made a spectacular comeback in 1965’s Thunderball.

At the very beginning of the fourth Bond adventure, we see the secret agent at the funeral of SPECTRE’s number Six, Colonel Jacques Boitier (as the name is spelled in the Richard Maibaum-John Hopkins script although it’s spelled Bouvar in other reference sources). But the criminal is actually alive and planning to escape from the eyes of a vengeful Bond, because Boitier “murdered two of my colleagues.”

Right there there is a fact that ties Thunderball with the upcoming 2015 film: 007 visiting the funeral of a SPECTRE agent, a man he has presumably killed. There’ll be, as the film follows, even more ties between the Sam Mendes film and the Bond adventure celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

After the main titles, The organization conducts a meeting led by its shadowy Number One, whose name isn’t yet revealed but is also played by Anthony Dawson and voiced by Eric Pohlman, as in From Russia with Love. SPECTRE moved from a yacht to a modern office in Paris, hidden inside a non-profit organization assisting stateless persons.

The man who leads us inside this hideout is none other than SPECTRE’s Number Two, Emilio Largo (Adolfo Celi, dubbed by Robert Rietty). The organization is almost like a religion to him. He would later kiss the octopuss ring that identifies him as a member. Largo is very appreciated by his leader, charging him with “our NATO project,” aka the “most ambitious project SPECTRE has ever undertaken.”

The organization has made a lot of progress between From Russia with Love and Thunderball. It has conducted an incredible range of operations throughout the world, including the killing of an antimatter expert, a train robbery and a drug narcotic operation that grosses a lot less than expected because Number Nine has kept with some… extra money. Number One will decide on an “appropriate action” for the culprit: activating the electric chair where the double-crossing agent was sitting.

“SPECTRE is a dedicated fraternity whose strength lies in the absolute integrity of its members,” the leader points out.

Number Two then explains his NATO project: to hijack the Vulcan airplane and stealing its atomic bombs, threatening to detonate them over the U.S. and the U.K. if the organization demands (including a ransom of £100 million, or $280 million) are not met.

The project is indeed ambitious when compared to the toppling of rockets and stealing a decoding machine to pit Russia against Britain, as seen in the two previous films featuring SPECTRE (Dr. No and From Russia With Love).

The organization also expanded with schemes and operatives from around the world. Just remember how Number One briefed only three of his agents in From Russia with Love. In Thunderball, he goes on to conduct a meeting with more than 10 members.

Emilio Largo is, of course, the primary SPECTRE figure in the story. He’s not only giving orders, but he also joins the action on land and under water with his army of frogmen. He has a hand-to-hand combat with 007, unlike the leader, who supervises the operation from the shadows.

In From Russia with Love, there was no real villain since Red Grant was just a trained assassin under the organization’s payroll. On the other side, Largo is a true believer of the cause, playing it cool while going to the Nassau casinos or going out with his lover Domino, but being as ruthless as his employer when he has to order someone’s death. He has the “integrity” a member of the “fraternity” Number One was talking about.

Thunderball provides the audience with the first memorable femme-fatale of the Bond franchise: Fiona Volpe, played by Luciana Paluzzi.

Unlike Tatiana Romanova, the Russian clerk the organization tried to use as a bait to terminate agent 007, Fiona is a fearless woman that, much like Bond himself, can also use her body as a weapon. Just like Largo, she’s also a true believer who proudly wears the SPECTRE octopus ring.

Fiona is also the first woman who can sleep with 007 without being turned to the “side of right and virtue,” like Tatiana and Pussy Galore before. She brags about this at one point. “What a blow it must have been. You having a failure,” she says as her accomplices Vargas and Janni hold 007 at gunpoint.

As complicated as it seemed, James Bond was able to thwart SPECTRE’s most ambitious project and Number Two’s life was pierced by a harpoon bolt shot by Domino, avenging her brother’s death.

SPECTRE would resurface once again less than two years later in You Only Live Twice, where the mysterious Number One will introduce himself to a captive Bond.

45th anniversary of The Incredible World of James Bond

This week (Nov. 26 to be precise) marks the 45th anniversary of the 007 infomercial, The Incredible World of James Bond. The program reflected how Agent 007 was reaching his peak popularity.

NBC pre-empted The Man From U.N.C.L.E., enjoying the best ratings that ’60s spy show would achieve, to show Incredible World. The move made a lot of sense for a number of reasons. It was a holiday week, when a lot of people would be at home. The special would inherit U.N.C.L.E.’s audience as well as drawing in Bond fans. And it aired as United Artists was already drumming up publicity about the upcoming fourth Bond film, Thunderball. In fact, Incredible World was a big part of that effort, with UA joining forces with David L. Wolper’s production company.

Producer-Director Jack Haley Jr. brought in actor Alexander Scourby (who had played an U.N.C.L.E. villain the season before) to read the narration written by Al Ramrus (who’d co-write an U.N.C.L.E. episode the following season). Scourby’s voice had an air of soft-spoken authority, as he described the Bond movies as comic strips for adults, which were kindred spirits of adventure stories of centuries past.

The term infomercial hadn’t been coined yet and, to be technical, Incredible World wasn’t exactly an informercial because NBC sold ads to other companies. (Thus, it was a great deal for UA — an hour-long promotion without having to pay for the time.) But the program certain shared some of attributes of infomercials; it was essentially a longer, extented promotion for Thunderball by showing viewers 007’s first three film exploits. Plus there were “candid” shots (which, truth be told, probably weren’t that candid) showing production of the upcoming Bond film.

In a cute touch, the end titles had a “cast of characters” list just like the end titles of a movie. Thus, for one occasion, you had “James Bond…..Sean Connery” heading a list of the major actors and characters of Dr. No, From Russia With Love, Goldfinger and Thunderball. Also, in the special, viewers could hear Thunderball’s Claudine Auger and Adolfo Celi *before* they were dubbed over in the final film.

Here’s the start of what viewers first saw 45 years ago:

HMSS nominations for underrated 007 moments

What we’re about to discuss aren’t necessarily the *best* James Bond film moments but they may be the most *underrated.* So let’s get right into it:

Most underrated score by somebody not named John Barry: John Barry composed the score for half of Eon Productions Ltd.’s 22 007 movies. He also worked on Dr. No, helping to arrange The James Bond Theme composed by Monty Norman. Barry has earned a special status in the 007 film canon. But what of the other composers in the series?

It’s a hard call. By sheer volume, David Arnold gets notice (the only non-Barry composer to do more than one 007 film). But George Martin, composer of the score for Live And Let Die gets the nod here. Martin, producer of the albums of the Beatles, helped Paul McCartney sell his title song to Eon. And Martin made use of the song by Paul and Linda Martney in his score. It may not be the best non-Barry 007 score, but Martin’s score is a major plus for Roger Moore’s 007 debut.

Most underrated voice dubbing: Robert Rietty dubbed Adolfo Celi’s Largo in Thunderball, Tiger Tanaka in You Only Live Twice and (sort of) Ernst Stavro Blofeld in For Your Eyes Only. Monica Van der Zyl dubbed Ursula Andress’s Honey Ryder in Dr. No, and possibly other roles.

However, Shayne Rimmer may get the nod, dubbing a doomed CIA agent in the pre-credits sequence of Live And Let Die. That’s because Rimmer (who had appeared on-screen twice before LALD and would do so again in The Spy Who Love Me is perhaps the least obvious dubbing job.

Most underrated screenwriter not named Richard Maibuam: Maibuam worked on 13 Bond films as a writer. Often his work would get re-written by others but the fact that producer Albert R. Broccoli repeatedly turned to Maibuam indicates the U.S.-born writer (1909-1991) had a special status.

So who earns the most underrated screenwriter title? The Neal Purvis-
Robert Wade duo is a distant second to Maibuam at four films. Tom Mankiewicz has three 007 writing credits (though he may have contributed to two other films on an uncredited basis) and Bruce Feirstein has three Bond film writing credits. Roald Dahl was an accomplished writer but his one Bond screenplay, You Only Live Twice, is a writing equivalent of painting by the numbers.

For the moment, we’ll give the nod (and this is very tentative) to Mankiewicz. His commentary on the DVD of Live And Let Die provides a clinic on how to write a screenplay (you may disagree with his choices but he explains how the choices were made; plus he’s an entertining presecen on DVD documentaries).

Your mileage may vary.

1965: the apex of the 007-Ford Motor relationship

Ford Motor Co. has had a long association with the James Bond film series, most recently with Quantum of Solace. But the Dearborn, Michigan-based automaker’s involvement with 007 probably peaked with Thunderball.

The company’s cars not only saturate Sean Connery’s fourth 007 outing, but the automaker’s CEO, Henry Ford II (1917-1987), worked as an extra and Ford had what has to rank as one of the most unusual movie promotions for Bond.

First, a sampling of Ford cars that appear in the movie. For the record, we are excluding the Aston Martin DB V. Ford didn’t buy U.K.-based Aston until 1987 and sold it off in 2007. This list is of Ford Motor offerings at the time of production and release.

— “Madam Bouvard” departs the funeral for “her” husband in a Lincoln Continental.

— SPECTRE No. 2 Emilo Largo arrives at the criminal organization’s Paris headquarters in a white Ford Thunderbird convertible. The two-door Tbird, while hardly Ford’s biggest car of the era, looks huge in the narrow Paris street.

— SPECTRE operative Count Lippe tools around in a Ford Fairlane while doing his part for the criminal group’s plan to hijack two NATO military aircraft. Lippe’s Fairlane meets an explosive end, courtesy of rockets from SPECTRE hitwoman Fiona Volpe’s motorcycle.

— Bond, nearly killed while inspecting Largo’s yacht underwater, swims ashore and ditches his wetsuit. He thinks he’s lucky when a baby blue Mustang pulls up. But it’s driven by Fiona (Luciana Paluzzi) and Bond isn’t sure whether he’s going to survive the drive as the SPECTRE hitwoman gets the Mustang up to 120 mph.

— Bond drives a light blue Lincoln Continental to Largo’s Palmyra estate for lunch. A rental car? Was Bond looking for more room after driving the Aston so much? Were Ford executives relieved to see Bond, and not the bad guys, driving one of their cars?

— Bond, after a pleasant interlude with Fiona, is captured by SPECTRE. They take him in a Ford station wagon until they hit congestion from the Junkanoo festival. The disruption gives Bond a chance to escape.

This wasn’t all of Ford’s involvement. The company produced A Child’s Guide to Blowing Up a Motor Car, in which a British chap takes his godson to watch the filming of a scene from Thunderball. The scene is where Fiona (actually a stutman subbing for Luciana Paluzzi) shoots rockets at Count Lippe’s Fairlane (here driven by stuntman Bob Simmons). The audience can view how special effects man John Stears (who’d win an Oscar for his efforts on Thunderball) prepares gasoline-soaked rags, which will be ignited to create the explosion and make it look like the handiwork of rockets. Unfortuantely, this gives the god son unfortunate ideas…

The Ford promo had gone unseen for decades until TWINE Entertainment’s The Thunderball Phenomenon was produced in 1995 as part of a special VHS issue of Thunderball and Goldfinger. The featurette remained as part of DVD issues but the entire Ford production is now part of two-disk Thunderball sets.