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.

1965: Thunderball’s script drips with swagger

Thunderball's tri-panel poster in 1965

Thunderball’s tri-panel poster in 1965

After a number of false starts, Thunderball finally was going to be a reality in 1965 at the peak of the spy craze.

As a result, the script for Thunderball — assured of being a big hit — drips with swagger starting with the very first page.

A copy we got from 007 collector Gary Firuta begins much the way the final film version did — at a funeral, where we see the initials JB on a casket. Quickly, we learn Bond has been present, observing it along with a woman.

This stage direction pretty much sets the tone.

Here stand two people looking down, apart from the crowd, yet interested. One of them is an elegant FRENCHWOMAN in her late twenties, and beside her, that idol of the intelligentsia, that opiate of the oppressed and working classes, JAMES BOND.

This page is dated Jan. 19, 1965, not long before filming was to start. But this copy of the Richard Maibaum-John Hopkins script indicates things still weren’t locked down.

For example, in the pre-credits scene where Bond punches out Colonel BoitIer (posing as his own widow), Boiter’s outfit gets ripped “leaving half the dress in BOND’s hand, exposing the falsies he is wearing.”

That’s not all. “BOND, still holding the falsies, whips them around BOITIER’s throat, like a garrotte…Then he slowly tightens the falsies around his neck and strangles him.”

Bond gets away with the jet pack, but instead of the Aston Martin DB5, to a Ford Thunderbird, where the woman agent is waiting.

“As he lands, she helps him step out of the harness, and watches him as skilfully he folds up the mechanical contraption,” according to the stage directions. “It takes him no longer to do this than a golfer with a collapsible trolley, or a secret agent in Istanbul would take with a folding sniper’s rifle.” (Emphasis added) Presumably, that’s a reference to From Russia With Love, which will come up again shortly.

Meanwhile, the Tbird doesn’t have gadgets and Bond simply drives away to lead into the end titles.

Afterward, Largo makes his appearance in Paris on his way to the SPECTRE board meeting. The stage directions say Largo’s car is “not a Ford, but something of the Ferrari-Maserat (sic) breed.” Evidently, in the final film, Ford Motor Co. had to make sue with a consolation prize and have the Tbird be driven by Largo.

At the SPECTRE meeting, we’re told Largo is No. 3 (rather than No. 2 as in the film). Ernst Stavro Blofeld (his face not seen), says, “I was saying how much we at Spectre regret the death in the Istanbul affair of Number Six…Rosa Klebb, who will be sadly missed.” Nice to know Blofeld has a sentimental side.

Also, amusingly, when the financial reports are given, we’re told about the kidnapping of the young woman referenced in Maibaum’s 1961 first draft of Thunderball. In this version, we’re told she’s the “daughter of the Argentine industrialist” and SPECTRE got 1 million pesos. No mention of a sexual assault, as in the ’61 script.

As in the final film, we see Blofeld kill one of the members about embezzling proceeds from distribution of Red Chinese narcotics in the U.S. We’re given the additional information the guilty party had gambled heavily.

What’s more, this draft clearly was written before all the casting was in place. The femme fatale is Fiona Kelly, who is “red-headed, Irish” and “the most beautiful accomplished young witch since Morgan Le Fey.” Of course, the character’s nationality and name would be changed when red-headed Italian Luciana Paluzzi was cast.

Also, there seemed to be a debate what to call the SPECTRE operative who’d be called Count Lippe in the movie. On the pages dated Jan. 19, he’s named Lipson, but in other pages he’s called Lippe. Maibaum had called him Count Lippi in his 1961 effort.

This script also reuses a bit from Maibaum’s 1961 screenplay where Bond pretends to be an attendant with a Cockney accent in trapping Lipson in the steam bath.

The scene where Bond has sex with Patricia Fearing in the sauna is a little different than how it plays in the movie.

Steam billows round the camera as it moves forward, and it is with difficulty that we can just make out a woman’s bare feet as she stands on her tiptoes stretching upwards. A few inches away are the man’s feet and legs.

(snip)
PATRICIA
No, you’re wrong…this is *not* what I meant by the *full treatment*.

The steam rises higher and higher making is even more difficult to see anything at all.

This is probably just as well.

After SPECTRE hijacks the jet with the two atomic bombs (and Fiona kills Lipson/Lippe), Bond is back for his briefing with the 00 agents. Another stage direction makes it appear the filmmakers were considering all-star cameos for the agents.

As those agents rise get up the stage directions state that they are “ALL big stars who have played intelligence agents. If not, faces should not be shown.”

The script also demonstrates that the story was being revised during filming. Some pages are dated March 3 and later. In any case, the female lead character is named Dominique, a change from Maibaum’s 1961 script.

Unlike the 1961 script, the character of Q had been established. The script, again, is similar to the movie with Q having to equip 007 in the field. However, here Bond does specify that Q is Major Boothroyd.

The script also has some bits between Largo and Fiona that didn’t make the final movie. When they’re talking at Palmyra about how Bond was almost killed while swimming underwater around the Disco Volante, this comes up.

LARGO cradles FIONA’s face in one of his hands. She does not move away from him. She does not react at all.

LARGO
I think you forget — I found you. I made you.

At that point, both watch Domino swimming “briskly across the pool.” Fiona says, “That woman should be here, Largo. It is dangerous.”

When Bond arrives at Largo’s invitation at Palmyra, the two shake hands. Largo says he likes “a man with a strong grip,” while Bond replies that Largo’s handshake “is undeniably — forceful.”

“Not like a spectre?” Largo asks.

There’s a lot more (including a scene cut from the movie where Bond gets to go aboard the Disco Volante) and the Fiona-Bond seduction scene, which is written differently that the final film. But let’s go to the climatic fight. Based on this script (pages are dated March 10), the sequence is still coming together.

After Felix Leiter rescues Bond from a nasty spot, he takes 007 to a “cushioncraft,” where Q and a maintenance crew are waiting with Bond’s gear. The cushioncraft skims “across terrain toward the water” Once in the water, it’s going faster than the Disco Volante.

Felix is ready to drop Bond off so he can participate in the big underwater fight. The CIA man asks 007 if he should come with him. “You mind the store,” Bond says.

The good guys are AQUAPARAS while the bad guys are SPECTRES. When the combatants begin to surface, Leiter gets in some action from aboard the cushioncraft, shooting two of the SPECTRES while others surrender to the Aquaparas.

As in the finished movie, Bond and Largo have at it on an out-of-control Disco Volante. Domino shoots Largo, and she, Bond and scientist Kutze jump off the ship before it crashes and explodes.

Felix shows up in the cushioncraft and rescues Bond and Domino, without any mention of Kutze (!).

But the script isn’t over. It has an odd epilogue (to take place during the end titles) where two surviving SPECTRES in a sub get blown up after trying to get a container that was dropped from an aircraft by parachute into the water. It was probably just as well this was dropped.

Fact checking TCM’s To Trap a Spy presentation

Luciana Paluzzi and Robert Vaughn in To Trap  a Spy

Luciana Paluzzi and Robert Vaughn in To Trap a Spy

TCM on July June 13 showed To Trap a Spy, the movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. pilot during prime time, part of a evening featuring films with actor Robert Vaughn, the original Napoleon Solo.

The cable channel has showed the film before but usually in off hours. The 10:15 p.m. eastern time presentation meant it’d get an introduction from TCM host Robert Osborne, a one-time actor (he makes a brief appearance in the pilot for The Beverly Hillbillies) who has written extensively about movies for decades.

However, there were a few errors. Most of these are old hat to long-time U.N.C.L.E. fans. But with a new U.N.C.L.E. movie coming out in August, potential new fans may have watched. With that in mind here’s some fact checking.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was an immediate hit. No. It originally aired on NBC on Tuesday nights against The Red Skelton Show on CBS. U.N.C.L.E.’s ratings struggled, but rallied after a mid-season change to Monday nights. The show’s best season for ratings was the 1965-66 season when it aired at 10 p.m. eastern time on Fridays.

The show was “created by producer Norman Felton.” The situation is a bit more complicated. Felton definitely initiated the project. He consulted Ian Fleming, who contributed ideas but the one that stuck was naming an agent Napoleon Solo.

The vast bulk of U.N.C.L.E. was created by Sam Rolfe (who wrote the pilot and gets the “written by” credit on To Trap a Spy), including the character of Illya Kuryakin. The show had no creator credit and Rolfe had a “developed by” credit.

Felton’s “inspired idea.” Osborne said Felton always intended to turn some of the episodes into feature films released internationally (true). He then said the films were actually two episodes of the series edited together along with extra footage. (Not 100 percent true).

The first two movies, To Trap a Spy and The Spy With My Face, were based on first season single episodes: the pilot, The Vulcan Affair, and The Double Affair, with additional footage.

Starting with the second season, the show did two-part episodes that were edited, with some additional footage, into movies for the international market. That was the case for the rest of the series, including the two parter, The Seven Wonders of the World Affair, that ended the series in January 1968.

Osborne also made it sound as if all of the first season were filmed in color, even though it was broadcast in black and white on NBC. Not true.

Both The Vulcan Affair and The Double Affair were filmed in color, as was the extra film footage with each. The rest of the season, however, was filmed in black and white.

One oddity is the first season episode The Four-Steps Affair. Ever efficient, Felton took some of the extra footage from the first two U.N.C.L.E. movies (including Luciana Paluzzi in To Trap a Spy) and had a new story written to incorporate it. Sexy scenes for To Trap a Spy between Vaughn and Paluzzi were toned down for Four Steps.

Some of Four Steps is a black and white print from a color negative. The same applies to the broadcast versions of Vulcan and Double. But the new material for Four Steps was filmed in black and white, like most of the first season. There’s a slight change in contrast as the story goes back and forth between the two sources of footage.

Meanwhile, in Osborne’s closing remarks after the movie, he worked in a plug for the Guy Ritchie-directed U.N.C.L.E. movie coming out in August. TCM is owned by Time Warner, also the parent company of Warner Bros., the studio releasing the August film.

TCM schedules To Trap a Spy for June 13

Luciana Paluzzi and Robert Vaughn in To Trap  a Spy

Luciana Paluzzi and Robert Vaughn in To Trap a Spy

Turner Classics Movie has scheduled a prime time showing ON JUNE 13 at 10:15 p.m. New York time of To Trap a Spy, the movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.’s pilot episode.

The production has an unusual history.

The U.N.C.L.E. pilot was filmed in color. During production in late 1963, there was an internal debate within the production team whether U.N.C.L.E. agent Solo’s first name should be Napoleon. (Academic Cynthia W. Walker has written about this subject IN HER BOOK ABOUT THE SERIES.)

In the actual pilot, originally titled Solo, Robert Vaughn’s character is only called Solo. In the pilot, as originally filmed, the end titles said, “Starring Robert Vaughn as Solo.”

According to a timeline researched and compiled by Craig Henderson, additional footage was filmed March 31 through April 2, 1964, to turn the pilot into a feature film. The footage includes Luciana Paluzzi playing a femme fatale named Angela. Her character is very similar to the Fiona Volpe character she’d play a year later in Thunderball, the fourth James Bond film.

In that footage, Solo introduces himself to Angela as “Napoleon Solo.” Evidently, by the spring of 1964, the internal debate about the agent’s name had been settled in favor of the moniker bestowed upon him by Ian Fleming, the creator of 007.

In the end, Solo becomes a series, but under the title The Man From U.N.C.L.E. To Trap a Spy initially is shown in international markets, but with U.N.C.L.E.’s popularity, it is shown in the United States in 1966 as part of a double feature with The Spy With My Face, another movie based on an U.N.C.L.E. episode with additional footage.

U.N.C.L.E.’s executive producer, Norman Felton, was nothing if not thrifty. A tamer version of the Luciana Paluzzi footage shows up in a first-season episode that aired in the spring of 1965 called The Four-Steps Affair. It also includes some of the extra footage used in The Spy With My Face.

Another curiosity: in To Trap a Spy, the name of the villainous organization is changed from “Thrush” to “Wasp.” If you watch closely, you can see the actors saying “Thrush” with “Wasp” on the audio track. To Trap a Spy also includes the original U.N.C.L.E. boss, Will Kuluva as Mr. Allison. With the pilot, scenes were reshot with Leo G. Carroll playing Mr. Waverly, Solo’s new superior.

Regardless, To Trap a Spy is the first “official” U.N.C.L.E. movie. TCM has shown the film previously, but usually nowhere near prime-time.

U.N.C.L.E. double feature in LA on Nov. 21-22

UNCLE DOUBLE FEATURE

Theatrical showings of two movies re-edited from The Man From U.N.C.L.E. are scheduled for Los Angeles on Nov. 21 and 22.

The Spy With My Face and One Spy Too Many are to be shown at the New Beverly Cinema, a revival movie house owned by director Quentin Tarantino. Each movie will be shown once on Friday, Nov. 21 and twice on Saturday, Nov. 22. The latter date also marks the 82nd birthday of Robert Vaughn, who played Napoleon Solo in the 1964-68 series.

For specific times and a link to buy tickets, you can CLICK HERE.

Each film contains scenes not in the television versions of their stories. For more information about The Spy With My Face, CLICK HERE and scroll down to episode 8. For more information about One Spy Too Many, CLICK HERE and read about episodes 30-31 at the top of the page.

The theater also plans another double feature of note for spy fans.

On Nov. 23 and 24, it will show The Venetian Affair, a serious 1967 spy movie also starring Robert Vaughn, with a cast that includes Luciana Paluzzi and Boris Karloff, and Hickey & Boggs, a 1972 movie reuniting Robert Culp and Bill Cosby as private eyes.Hickey & Boggs was directed by Culp and written by Walter Hill. Culp and Cosby had starred in I Spy, the 1965-68 espionage series.

Intrusion of real life paragraph:

Cosby has been in the news the past week because of rape allegations going back several years that he has denied (this CNN story summarizes the situation) and also because of his philanthropy (loaning 60 pieces of African art to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art as detailed in this NPR story).

Red 2 utilizes a familiar meme

Luciana Paluzzi and Sean Connery during the filming of Thunderball

Luciana Paluzzi and Sean Connery on the set of Thunderball

This weekend’s release of Red 2 includes one of the most dependable memes of spy fiction: the hero and the femme fatale who have been more than friendly.

In the new movie, Catherine Zeta-Jones’s Katja is described as “Kryptonite” for Bruce Willis’s Frank Moses. Often the femme fatales are enemies but at times reach an uneasy alliance with the hero — at least until she starts trying to kill him again.

James Bond-Fiona Volpe (Thunderball): In Goldfinger, Sean Connery’s James Bond “recruited” Honor Blackman’s Pussy Galore to the side of right. In Thunderball, Connery’s Bond tries it again, albeit unsuccessfully, with Fiona Volpe (Luciana Volpe), the chief executioner for SPECTRE. “What a blow it must have been — you having a failure,” Fiona says. “Well, you can’t win them all,” Bond replies.

Fiona doesn’t survive long after that. But Paluzzi made such an impact that in the next 007 film, You Only Live Twice, Karin Dor’s Helga seems to be a knockoff of Fiona.

Napoleon Solo/Angela-Angelique-Serena Luciana Paluzzi had a dry run before her Thunderball role. When The Man From U.N.C.L.E. pilot was in production, producer Norman Felton had additional footage shot for a movie version for international audiences. Paluzzi’s Angela lures an U.N.C.L.E. agent to his death and tries to do the same with Robert Vaughn’s Napoleon Solo. The extra footage for the movie version as used, yet again, in a first-season episode of the series called The Four-Steps Affair.

Other Thrush femme fatale operatives showed up in Man’s first season, Serena (Senta Berger) and Angelique (Janine Gray). Solo has had a history with both but the viewer isn’t provided many details. Serena helps abduct Solo for a double can take his place. But at the story’s climax (the TV version was called The Double Affair, the movie version The Spy With My Face), Serena ends up shooting the double.

Matt Helm/Vadya: In the third Matt Helm novel by Donald Hamilton, The Removers, Helm goes to the “recognition room” to review dossiers of Soviet-bloc assassins. One of the dossiers concerns the mysterious “Vadya.” Helm readers don’t meet Vadya until Hamilton’s sixth Helm novel, The Ambushers. The encounter ends in a draw. Helm meets Vadya twice more in the novels The Devastators and The Menacers. She’s killed off early in The Menacers, but her death is a key part of the novel’s plot.

Meanwhile, the 1967 adaption of The Ambushers, starring Dean Martin, includes Vadya (Senta Berger again), except the character has been renamed. The character is killed before the end of the movie.

Never Say Never Again’s 30th: Battle of the Bonds round 2

Never Say Never Again's poster

Never Say Never Again’s poster

Never Say Never Again marks its 30th anniversary in October. The James Bond film originally was intended to go directly up against Octopussy, the 13th film in the 007 film series made by Eon Productions, that came out in June 1983.

Sean Connery, after a 12-year absence from the role, was going to make a James Bond movie his way. Warner Bros. and producer Jack Schwartzman had made the actor the proverbial offer he couldn’t refuse. He was not only star, but had approval over various creative aspects. He had much of the power of a producer without the responsibilities.

Schwartzman, an attorney turned film producer, took charge of a long effort to make an non-Eon 007 film. Kevin McClory, who controlled the film rights to Thunderball, had been trying to mount a new production since the mid-1970s with no success. Schwartzman became the producer, with McClory getting an executive producer credit and both men “presenting” Never Say Never Again.

McClory, at one point, had attemped a broader new 007 adventure. Never Say Never Again was only supposed to be a remake of Thunderball. Lorenzo Semple Jr., who had scripted non-serious (the pilot for the Adam West Batman series) and serious (Three Days of the Condor) was hired as writer. Irvin Kershner, who had directed The Empire Strikes Back, was brought on as director. As an added bonus, Kershner had a history of working with Connery in the 1966 movie A Fine Madness.

“As far as I’m concerned, there never was a Bond picture before,” Kershner said in quotes carried in the movie’s press kit. “There is a certain psychological righness to the characters as (Ian) Fleming saw them. He understood people very well. He was an observer of life and that’s what makes him a good writer. I tried to maintain that quality in the film. I wanted the people to be true.”

Not mentioned in the press kit was the fact that Connery, who had script approval, objected to Semple’s effort. As a result, at Connery’s urging, Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais were hired to rewrite but didn’t get a credit.

The end result was a storyline that veered from a version of Largo who’s clearly off his rocker to goofy site gags involving the likes of British diplomat Nigel Small-Fawcett (Rowan Atkinson). Perhaps Connery really meant it when, in 1971, he called Tom Mankiewicz’s lighthearted Diamonds Are Forever script the best of the Eon series up to that point.

Also present in Never was an over-the-top SPECTRE assassin, Fatima Blush (Barbara Carrera), a far wilder version of Thunderball’s Fiona Volpe (Luciana Paluzzi). In Thunderball, Bond tells Domino (Claudine Auger) her brother has been killed in a dramatic scene on a beach. In Never, he tells Domino (Kim Basinger) in the middle of a tango in a campy scene with loud music playing on the soundtrack.

Speaking of music, composer Michel Legrand was recruited by none other than star Sean Connery, according to Jon Burlingame’s 2012 book, The Music of James Bond. According to the book, Legrand felt burned out after working on the movie Yentl. “Sean’s warmth and enthusiasm persuaded me,” Legrand is quoted by Burlingame. Legrand’s score is a sore point with fans, who still give Connery a pass for his role in bringing Legrand to the film.

Understandably, fans prefer to focus on Connery’s performance in front of the camera, rather than decisions he made behind it. The actor, who turned 52 before the start of production in 1982, looked fitter than his Eon finale, Diamonds Are Forever. A survey of HMSS editors reflects admiration for his acting while mostly downplaying his decision making behind the scenes.

At the box office, Never Say Never Again did fine while trailing 1983’s Eon entry, Octopussy, $55.4 million to $67.9 million in the U.S. The Schwartzman production had been delayed by four months compared with Octopussy.

Years later, Connery was seen on a CBS News show, saying that Never had “a really incompetent producer.” For Schwartzman, things didn’t end happily. He died in 1994 at the age of 61 of pancreatic cancer. Connery remained a star until he retired from acting in the early 2000s. Eon and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer eventually gained control of the rights to Never Say Never Again.