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.

The Chronicles of SPECTRE Part II: From Russia With Love

From Russia With Love's poster

From Russia With Love’s poster

By Nicolas Suszczyk, Guest Writer
The second James Bond film, From Russia With Love, excelled over the first 007 movie, Dr. No, in many areas.

Featuring solid source material from Ian Fleming’s 1957 novel, which pitted the Russian organization SMERSH against James Bond, the film version brought a more realistic approach to the then-emerging film series: a classic Cold War spy thriller compared with Dr. No’s escapism.

The 1963 film, again starring Sean Connery as 007 and directed by Terence Young, provides the viewer a proper introduction to SPECTRE, the criminal organization of which the late Dr. Julius No (Joseph Wiseman) was a member.

“Let his death be a particularly unpleasant and humiliating one,” SPECTRE’s Number One instructs his operatives Col. Rosa Klebb (Number Three, played by Lotte Lenya) and Kronsteen (Number Five, played by Vladek Sheybal).

The leader of SPECTRE is, of course, referring to James Bond and the possibility of avenging the doctor’s death, as part of Kronsteen’s plan to lure the British agent into a trap with the Russian decoding machine Lektor, and a young female Russian clerk, as bait.

To avoid political conflicts, From Russia with Love’s script replaced the Soviet Union for the apolitical SPECTRE for the villains. This was less than a year after the Cuban Missile Crisis, a major event of the Cold War.

Here, the criminal organization would pit the Russians and the British against each other and the patriotic Tatiana Romanova (Daniela Bianchi) aka the bait, would follow Klebb’s orders, without knowing she’s not working for Russia but for SPECTRE.

The SPECTRE leader, known as Ernst Stavro Blofeld and played by “?”, according to the end titles (actually Anthony Dawson, voiced by Eric Pohlman) is introduced in the shadows. We only see his hands stroking the white cat that is now part of popular culture and a cliché in every spy spoof around. He is located on a vessel and has a meeting with Klebb and Kronsteen.

Klebb defected from the Russians to join SPECTRE. Kronsteen is a stone-faced chess champion. Also employed by SPECTRE is Morzeny (Walter Gottel), who executes those who fail, and henchman Donald “Red” Grant (Robert Shaw), a convicted murderer trained to terminate any obstacle with the group’s plans.

The second Bond film shows the audience how the organization usually works: a leader, a planner, an executioner and an assassin.

There is much debate whether Cristoph Waltz’s character Oberhauser in the upcoming Bond film will be (or eventually “become”) Blofeld or if he is someone close to Blofeld. Two months before the film’s release, he appears to be the shadowy leader of the new (rebooted) SPECTRE and has a personal vendetta with Bond –- even more personal now than the 1963 Blofeld.

In From Russia With Love, the leader of SPECTRE appears to us as a mysterious and threatening man. In the upcoming film titled after the organization, there’s still the possibility he has a high rank à la Dr. No.

In the 1963 film, there’s planner Kronsteen, whose apparently “foolproof” plan fails when Tatiana really falls for Bond. That’s where executioner Morenzy comes in and eliminates him. The assassin in From Russia With Love is a physical imposing challenge for Bond or anyone: Red Grant, who stalks 007 throughout the mission to “heat up” the Cold War.

We are meant to think Mr. Hinx (Dave Bautista) will play both an “executioner” and an “assassin” as in the trailers we can see him terminating a SPECTRE subordinate and battling Bond aboard a train, very much like the memorable Bond vs Grant fight in From Russia With Love.

If Dr. No introduced us to the name of SPECTRE and the organization’s values by the good doctor, From Russia With Love goes a little further by showing us a glimpse of its leader, the organization’s inside, and the particular roles of its members. There’s a demonstration of their training field, too – where they use live targets as well!

Wait for the next entry on The SPECTRE Chronicles with Thunderball, where the organization will expand, acquiring a “business” status, to put it mildly.

Nicolas Suszczyk is editor of The GoldenEye Dossier

The Chronicles of SPECTRE Part I: Dr. No

Dr. No poster

Dr. No poster

By Nicolas Suszczyk, Guest Writer
The first film of the James Bond series was released in the middle of the Cold War, the Space Race and one year after Ian Fleming’s novel Thunderball was published.

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.

1962’s Dr. No followed followed the story line of Fleming’s 1958 book, with Sean Connery as 007 investigating the disappearance of MI6 agent Strangways, who was investigating the activities of the title character.

In the novel, the doctor worked for the Russians. Yet, in the Terence Young-directed film, he is completely apolitical, calling East and West “each as stupid as the other”. He introduces himself as a member of SPECTRE, a criminal organization standing for SPecial Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion.

In this way, the great antagonist of James Bond is introduced: an organization that helped to depoliticize the films. At the time, East and West superpowers were rivals in both the Cold War and the conquest of space, a topic that would be slightly associated to the movie’s plot.

Dr. No (Joseph Wiseman) proudly endorses the organization’s activities and, as one of its top members, he carries on one of the group’s world domination plans: the toppling of rockets launched by Americans at Cape Canaveral.

Without being the leader of SPECTRE, Dr. No’s modus operandi is pretty much the same of his Number One and the organization itself: he has goons everywhere at his disposal and provokes fear in those who fail. He is based on an island known as Crab Key.

Dr. No even tells Bond there might be a place in SPECTRE for him, which the British agent refuses. Bond says he if joined SPECTRE, he should be in the “revenge department,” and would begin with those responsible for the death of his friends Quarrel and Strangways.

007 spoils SPECTRE’s plan by sabotaging the toppling mechanism and causing Dr. No’s base to explode. Before the explosion, Bond and Dr. No fight on a platform above the villain’s atomic reactor. As the two men are being lowered into the reactor’s boiling water, Bond is able to get away while Dr. No’s metal hands can’t get a grip and perishes.

Audiences would get a proper introduction of the organization in the second Bond film, From Russia with Love. So far, this first Bond film provides us with a strong nemesis and a mention of the people behind him and their sinister activities. What can we surmise? They’re up for world domination, they’re apolitical, they want chaos and brilliant people, like scientist Dr. No, are on the payroll.

The fictional organization would appear in more films including the 1983 non-Eon film, Never Say Never Again and the upcoming SPECTRE, directed by Sam Mendes.

Nicolas Suszczyk is the editor of The GoldenEye Dossier.

Richard Johnson, would be 007, dies

Richard Johnson

Richard Johnson

Veteran actor Richard Johnson, a potential screen James Bond, died over the weekend.

How close Johnson, who was 87 when he died, to snagging the role isn’t clear.

Bond producer Albert R. Broccoli, in his autobiography, acknowledged Johnson was in the conversation. But the co-founder of Eon Productions, makes it sound as if Johnson wasn’t that close.

(Dr. No director) Terence Young had been promoting the idea of getting that polished British actor Richard Johnson to play Bond. It was a valid idea, but we thought (Sean) Connery was a much more exciting proposition. We called Terence in to hell him.

When the Snow Melts, page 169-170

On the other hand, an obituary by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS (VIA THE NEW YORK TIMES) carries a different account.

(Johnson) told Cinema Retro magazine in 2009 that he declined the role and that he felt Sean Connery, who got the part and went on to play it in seven films, was miscast — but that the casting turned out to be perfect, “because it turned the thing on its head and he made it funny.”

Whatever the truth, Johnson did get his turn in the 1960s spy boom. The character of Bulldog Drummond was dusted off and turned into a series of spy films with Johnson as Drummond.

For more information, you can CLICK HERE for a post at Cinema Retro’s website. You can also CLICK HERE for an obit at The Telegraph.

UPDATE: The Double O Section blog HAS A POST that details Johnson’s other spy roles.

Robert Rietti, 007 voiceover artist, dies at 92

Emilo Largo (Adolfo Celi) was dubbed over by Robert Rietti

When Largo appeared in Thunderball, American audiences saw Adolfo Celi’s face but heard Robert Rietti’s voice.

Robert Rietti, an actor who dubbed over a number of characters in James Bond films, died earlier this month at 92, according to obituaries in THE TIMES OF LONDON and THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER.

Rietti’s participation in 007 films went all the way back to the first, 1962’s Dr. No. He dubbed over Timothy Moxon’s lines as Strangways, the doomed head of the Kingston station of British intelligence.

Rietti also dubbed over Adolfo Celi’s Emilo Largo in Thunderball, Testuro Tamba’s Tiger Tanaka in You Only Live Twice and a bald villain intended to evoke Ernst Stavo Blofeld (but who officially wasn’t the SPECTRE chief because of rights disputes) in For Your Eyes Only. Thus, it was Rietty who uttered the line, “I’ll buy you a delicatessen in stainless steel!”

With Thunderball, American audiences heard the real voices of Celi and Claudine Auger as Domino in a that clip that was part of the television special The Incredible World of James Bond, which aired in November 1965. But they heard Rietti’s voice paired with Nikki Van der Zyl’s the next month when Thunderball arrived in theaters.

Van der Zyl was even more of a 007 veteran at that point, doing voice work on the three previous 007 films, including dubbing over Ursula Andress in Dr. No.

You can CLICK HERE to view Rietti’s bio (where his name is spelled Rietty), which lists 256 acting credits.

The rise of the ‘origin’ storyline

Daniel Craig and Jeffrey Wright in Casino Royale

Daniel Craig and Jeffrey Wright in Casino Royale

Fifty, 60 years ago, with popular entertainment, you didn’t get much of an “origin” story. You usually got more-or-less fully formed heroes. A few examples:

Dr. No: James Bond is an established 00-agent and has used a Baretta for 10 years. Sean Connery was 31 when production started. If Bond is close to the actor’s age, that means he’s done intelligence work since his early 20s.

Napoleon Solo on TV: fully formed

Napoleon Solo on TV: fully formed

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: During the first season (1964-65), Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn) has worked for U.N.C.L.E. for at least seven years (this is disclosed in two separate episodes). A fourth-season episode establishes that Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum) graduated from U.N.C.L.E.’s “survival school” in 1956 and Solo two years before that.

Batman: While played for laughs, the Adam West version of Batman has been operating for an undisclosed amount of time when the first episode airs in January 1966. In the pilot, it’s established he has encountered the Riddler (Frank Gorshin) before. There’s a passing reference to how Bruce Wayne’s parents were “murdered by dastardly criminals” but that’s about it.

The FBI: When we first meet Inspector Lewis Erskine (Efrem Zimbalist Jr.) in 1965, he’s established as the “top trouble shooter for the bureau” and is old enough to have a daughter in college. We’re told he’s a widower and his wife took “a bullet meant for me.” (The daughter would soon be dropped and go into television character limbo.) Still, we don’t see Young Lewis Erskine rising through the ranks of the bureau.

Get Smart: Maxwell Smart (Don Adams) was a top agent for CONTROL despite his quirks. There was no attempt to explain Max. He just was. A 2008 movie version gave Max a back story where he had once been fat.

I Spy: Kelly Robinson (Robert Culp) and Alexander Scott (Bill Cosby) have been partners for awhile, using a cover of a tennis bum and his trainer.

Mission: Impossible: We weren’t told much about either Dan Briggs (Steven Hill) or Jim Phelps (Peter Graves), the two team leaders of the Impossible Missions Force. A fifth-season episode was set in Phelps home town. Some episodes introduced friends of Briggs and Phelps. But not much more than that.

Mannix: We first meet Joe Mannix (Mike Connors) when he’s the top operative of private investigations firm Intertect. After Joe goes off on his own in season two, we meet some of Joe’s Korean War buddies (many of whom seem to try to kill him) and we eventually meet Mannix’s father, a California farmer. But none of this is told at the start.

Hawaii Five-O: Steve McGarrett (Jack Lord) is the established head of the Hawaiian state police unit answerable only to “the governor or God and even they have trouble.” When the series was rebooted in 2010, we got an “origin” story showing McGarrett (Alex O’Loughlin) as a military man, the unit being formed, his first meeting with Dan Williams, etc.

And so on and so forth. This century, though, an “origin story” is the way to start.

With the Bond films, the series started over with Casino Royale, marketed as the origin of Bond (Daniel Craig). The novel, while the first Ian Fleming story, wasn’t technically an origin tale. It took place in 1951 (this date is given in the Goldfinger novel) and Bond got the two kills needed for 00-status in World War II.

Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson, co-bosses of Eon Productions

Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson

Nevertheless, audience got an “origin” story. Michael G. Wilson, current co-boss of Eon Productions (along with his half-sister, Barbara Broccoli) wanted to do a Bond “origin” movie as early as 1986 after Roger Moore left the role of Bond. But his stepfather, Eon co-founder Albert R. Broccoli, vetoed the idea. With The Living Daylights in 1987, the audience got a younger, but still established, Bond (Timothy Dalton). In the 21st century, Wilson finally got his origin tale.

Some of this may be due to the rise of movies based on comic book movies. There are had been Superman serials and television series, but 1978’s Superman: The Motion Picture was the first A-movie project. It told the story of Kal-El from the start and was a big hit.

The 1989 Batman movie began with a hero (Michael Keaton) still in the early stages of his career, with the “origin” elements mentioned later. The Christopher Nolan-directed Batman Begins in 2005 started all over, again presenting an “origin” story. Marvel, which began making movies after licensing characters, scored a big hit with 2008’s Iron Man, another “origin” tale. Spider-Man’s origin has been told *twice* in 2002 and 2012 films from Sony Pictures.

Coming up in August, we’ll be getting a long-awaited movie version of U.N.C.L.E., this time with an origin storyline. In the television series, U.N.C.L.E. had started sometime shortly after World War II. In the movie, set in 1963, U.N.C.L.E. hasn’t started yet and Solo works for the CIA while Kuryakin is a KGB operative.

One supposes if there were a movie version of The FBI (don’t count on it), we’d see Erskine meet the Love of His Life, fall in love, get married, lose her and become the Most Determined Agent in the Bureau. Such is life.

SPECTRE by the numbers (and not just 007)

SPECTRE teaser poster

SPECTRE teaser poster

SPECTRE is starting production in Rome, for a five-week shoot, including a car chase, that will cost almost as much (if not more) than some movies.

So, here’s a breakdown of the kind of spending that’s known about the 24th James Bond film. We’ll assume a total production budget of $300 million.

According to information from hacked Sony documents, the budget was on pace to well exceed that, but there were also efforts to rein it in. We’ll assume the trends cancel themselves out so we’ll go with a nice round number with $300 million.

For the purposes of this post, we’ll assume a 30-week shooting schedule. Principal photography began on Dec. 8 and is supposed to run seven months. Actual total may run a week or two less than 30 weeks, but some filming was done before principal photography began. So, again, we’ll use a round number.

Cost per week, total: $10 million.

Cost per week, Rome shoot: $12 million (five weeks, $60 million, according to figures reported by


Dr. No: $1 million

From Russia With Love: $2 million

Goldfinger: $3 million

You Only Live Twice: $9.5 million (Ken Adam’s volcano set alone cost more than Dr. No)

The Spy Who Loved Me: $14 million

Moonraker: $31 million to $34 million, depending on estimate (Initial plan was to keep it close to Spy’s budget but it was evident that wouldn’t hold)

Tomorrow Never Dies: $110 million (first to exceed $100 million)

Quantum of Solace: $230 million (first to exceed $200 million)

SPECTRE: $300 million (first to reach $300 million).

One week’s shooting on SPECTRE costs more than You Only Live Twice, which had the one set that cost more than Dr. No.

Put another way, each day’s shooting on SPECTRE costs more than Dr. No. At $10 million a week, if you shot seven days a week, equals $1.43 million daily.


Taken 3: $48 million

Kingsman: The Secret Service: $81 million

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: $75 million

To be fair, none of this takes into account 50 years of inflation. At the same time, this exercise is also a reminder that studios don’t play with Monopoly money. Studios don’t get to spend, or receive, inflation-adjusted dollars.


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