Thunderball’s 45th anniversary part III: Luciana Paluzzi’s femme fatale

Luciana Paluzzi was only the fourth billed member of Thunderball’s cast (after Sean Connery, Claudine Auger and Adolfo Celi), but her Fiona Volpe character lived on (only figuratively, of course) in ways that would affect the 007 film series.

Dr. No, the first film in the series, had a femme fatale in Miss Taro, a secretary at Government House who really worked for the film’s title character. Fiona Volpe, apparently one of SPECTRE’s top executioners and operatives, had a much larger impact on Thunderball’s story. Fiona plays a key role in SPECTRE’s theft of two atomic bombs (seducing and helping to set up the murder of the pilot of the NATO aircraft); kills SPECTRE operative Count Lippe, whose performance has displeased the organization’s chief, Ernst Stavro Blofeld; and not only goes to bed with Bond but refuses to go over “to the side of right and virtue.”

Italian actress Luciana Paluzzi has been on record as saying she was up for the female lead role of Domino, but didn’t get it and got the Fiona part instead. In a way, that’s understandable. Thunderball wasn’t the first time she had been a femme fatle. Here she is in the trailer for To Trap A Spy, the theatrical movie version of the pilot of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. The footage seen here wasn’t in the TV version of the pilot. Instead, it showed up in another U.N.C.L.E. first-season episode, The Four-Steps Affair, that had an entirely different plot. Anyway, she made an impression in both versions:

When it was time to begin promoting Thunderball, several of Paluzzi’s were included in the trailer. Here’s the U.K. version:

When Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman produced their next 007 film, the Fiona character may have been on their minds. You Only Live Twice featured another SPECTRE woman assassin, Helga Brandt. Actress Karin Dor colored her hair and Helga looks like she could have been a relative of Fiona.

The series couldn’t help but revisit the notion of the sexy women killer, including Naomi in The Spy Who Loved Me and Xenia Onatopp in GoldenEye. But Fiona, and the actress who brought the character to life, holds a special place in the series.

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.