Thunderball’s 45th anniversary conclusion: legacy

Thunderball, which had its world premier on Dec. 9, 1965, was a winning bet. It certainly was for Eon Productions showmen Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, becoming their biggest hit to date (and still the biggest on an inflation-adjusted basis); for Kevin McClory, who held the film rights and talked Broccoli and Saltzman into making him a partner for the one film; and for Bond enthusiasts in general — it was *their* time and the 007 phenomenon would never reach these heights.

In a way, Thunderball’s mind-set — “the biggest Bond of all!” — was a well-timed bet. Spies were now populating television on a growing scale and new spy movie series (Matt Helm at Columbia and Derek Flint at 20th Century Fox) were in the works. Thunderball with its huge scale provided something 007’s competitors couldn’t.

If Thunderball had a long-term problem, it may have been it caused Broccoli and Saltzman to believe they could do no wrong.

In the Ian Fleming canon, Thunderball was part of a trilogy followed by On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and You Only Live Twice. Broccoli and Saltzman initiially intended to film OHMSS next but switched gears and did Twice instead — tossing out the novel’s plot entirely and, in effect, doing another Thunderball only on a still-bigger scale. There would be no true Blofeld trilogy on film.

Who was around to argue? Not Ian Fleming, who died in August 1964 and hadn’t been too vocal about other major changes Eon made in adapting his novels. Not United Artists. The money was coming in and Eon’s decision making was a safe investment. Want to build a set (Blofeld’s volcano headquarters in Twice) that cost as much as Dr. No? No problem. The fans? Fans of the novels might complain but Bond was now bigger than them and, let’s face it, they’d still show up to see a 007 film anyway.

Still, Thunderball was, and is, a major part of the Bond film series. It’s not ranked as the best in the series, but often comes in toward the top. There are some fans who still still obsess over it. There’s enough interest in Thunderball that artist Robert McGinnis, who did some of the original promotional artwork for the film, still does art based on the 007 adventure (including some samples that are not safe for work).

All in all, not a bad legacy.

Thunderball’s 45th anniversary part V: Peter Hunt fights with the film

Peter Hunt, lead film editor on the first five 007 movies, said in the documentary Inside From Russia With Love that the film “wasn’t beautifully storyboarded” and that sometimes “you have to fight with the film” to make the story work. If From Russia With Love was a fight between editor and film, Thunderball must have been all-out war.

From urinating dogs to wounds shifting from one leg to the other to disappearing pants, Thunderball didn’t enjoy tight continuity.

The fourth 007 film was the most sprawling to date. It had a $9 million budget, according to the Numbers.com Web site, a huge amount for 1965 and nine times as expensive as the series’ first entry, Dr. No. There was extensive location shooting in the Bahamas and underwater sequences done on an enormous scale — and all being done on tight deadlines to ensure a release for Christmas 1965.

It was up to Peter Hunt to make it work. Hunt had a new spiffy title, supervising editor, and he had help from editor Ernest Hosler and assembly editor Ben Rayner. But Hunt ultimately had to battle with the film shot by director Terence Young. Hunt, at an appearance in at a 1994 007 fan convention in Los Angeles, told attendees the editor knows the flaws of a film better than anyone. The way Hunt described it, the editor’s job was to speed the audience through those flaws so they wouldn’t notice (at least on the first viewing).

Hunt & Co. had a number of flaws to deal with. Here’s a YouTube video that looks at some of just one major sequence, where we meet the aforementioned dog (Hunt in one telling, had actually spotted and removed it but it got reinserted because producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman thought it was funny), locals wearing 007 hats (and here we thought he was a secret agent) and a bullet wound that changes location on Bond’s body:

Meanwhile, at the Thunderball Obessional Web site, there’s a page that includes even more of the continuity issues with Thunderball, including how CIA agent Felix Leiter’s pants disappear and reappear in the same sequence.

Despite trimming by Hunt and his editors (also detailed on the Thunderball Obsessional page with the continuity errors), Thunderball also was the longest of the first four 007 film adventures at 2 hours and 10 minutes. In the end, despite the challenges, Hunt did speed the audience through the mammoth adventure and once again showed he was a valuable 007 contributor to the series’ early years.