Thunderball is a James Bond novel written by Ian Fleming, based on a screen treatment by Kevin McClory, Jack Whittingham and Ian Fleming. It was published in 1961 as the ninth Bond book. It also stands, technically, as the first novelization of a James Bond screenplay, even though at the time it was written and published, no such film had yet been produced.
Thunderball is, to date, the only Bond novel to be adapted twice in film. The first adaptation was released in 1965 with James Bond played by Sean Connery. It was the fourth official Bond movie in EON Productions' franchise. McClory later produced an unofficial remake, 1983's Never Say Never Again, which again starred Connery as Bond. Thunderball was actually supposed to be the first James Bond movie in 1962, but this was later switched to Dr. No due to a lawsuit brought about by McClory (see below).
The novel features the first and last appearance in the Bond books of S.P.E.C.T.R.E., and the first of Bond's greatest enemy, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, although 007 does not meet the man in this book; differing from the films, which introduced S.P.E.C.T.R.E. in Dr. No and Blofeld in From Russia with Love.
The book is the first chapter in what is known as the 'Blofeld Trilogy', which, after the interlude novel The Spy Who Loved Me, resumes with On Her Majesty's Secret Service, and concludes with You Only Live Twice.
Thunderball begins with a meeting between M and Bond where Bond is informed that his latest physical is terrible due to his drinking and habit of smoking sixty cigarettes a day. As a result M sends Bond on a small vacation to a health club so that he can rest and get away from the office and work off some of these bad habits. Upon return Bond is a new man, having a new diet and smoking considerably less. This "new" Bond, however, is short-lived as MI6 recieves a communiqué from a new terrorist organization, S.P.E.C.T.R.E.; short for SPecial Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion.
S.P.E.C.T.R.E. has hijacked a plane while inflight by paying the NATO observer to kill the pilots and redirect the plane to the Bahamas. Once there Emilio Largo and the crew of the Disco Volante, his ship, steal the two nuclear warheads, which they use to threaten the Western powers to destroy a major city unless a ransom of £100,000,000 is paid. This plan is dubbed by S.P.E.C.T.R.E. as "Plan Omega" and is being overseen by Largo, who during the events of the novel is known as "Number 1". To the Americans and the British, the task of foiling S.P.E.C.T.R.E. and recovering the two warheads is dubbed "Operation Thunderball".
James Bond is assigned by M to follow a hunch of M's in the Bahamas. Once in the Bahamas 007 meets up with his friend Felix Leiter, who is once again working for the CIA as a result of the current crisis. Bond also meets Dominetta "Domino" Vitale, Largo's mistress, and the sister of the NATO observer who Largo had killed after successfully delivering the warheads to him. As a result, Domino turns against Largo and agrees to aid Bond.
After alerting the "Thunderball war room" of their suspicion of Largo, Bond and Leiter team up with the crew of the "Manta", an American nuclear submarine, and pursue the Disco Volante hoping to capture and seize the warheads while they're being transported to the first target. After a large undersea battle between the crew of the Manta and the crew of the Disco Volante, Largo is shot in the back during a fight with Bond by Domino.
The controversy over the novel
Thunderball was originally conceived as the first film in a possible series of films for an upstart production company called "Xanadu Productions" formed by Ian Fleming, Ernest Cuneo , Ivar Bruce and Kevin McClory. The history of Xanadu Productions is very complicated and even today very controversial. The first draft of Thunderball was written by Cuneo and sent to Ivar Bruce. The rough draft was specifically designed around an idea by Kevin McClory to shoot the film underwater using Todd-AO cameras. Thunderball would later go through several rewrites although some elements from Cuneo's version would remain in the final novelized story by Fleming. The main villains of the screenplay at the time were the Russians but after the first draft was subsequently changed to S.P.E.C.T.R.E.. Some sources, including Raymond Benson's The James Bond Bedside Companion claim that the idea of S.P.E.C.T.R.E. was from McClory, while other sources including John Cork who is the author of many biographies, documentaries, and DVD featurettes on Fleming and the James Bond films, claims S.P.E.C.T.R.E. was created by Fleming. The second draft of Thunderball was written by Fleming where the villain "Largo" is introduced as well as some of the main plot points from the novel and film including the theft of a nuclear device. The rest of the project was a collabroated effort between Kevin McClory, Jack Whittingham, and Ian Fleming on a story and a screenplay over a two year period. During this time the production company Xanadu went bust and Ernest Cuneo supposedly sold his rights to the drafts of Thunderball to Ivar Bryce for one dollar.
The finished screenplay (although there never was one) was meant to be produced by Kevin McClory, however McClory had recently finished an unsuccessful film called The Boy and the Bridge . This lead to complications with getting proper financial backing for the film. In John Pearson's biography "The Life of Ian Fleming", Pearson claimed that McClory had visited Fleming at Goldeneye, Fleming's house in Jamaica, and Fleming had explained to McClory his intention to deliver the screenplay to MCA with his recommendation for McClory to produce the film. Additionally, Fleming told McClory that if MCA were to reject the film because of McClory's involvement that McClory should either sell himself to MCA, back out, or prepare to go to court. A few months later, however, Fleming met Harry Saltzman and later Albert R. Broccoli and sold them the film rights to the current series of published books as well as future James Bond novels except for Casino Royale.
Because the deal between Fleming and McClory collapsed, Fleming took the story and the screenplay and novelized them as his ninth James Bond novel. Initially, the novel credited only Ian Fleming as writer although the book is dedicated to his friend Ernest Cuneo ("Muse"). Prior to publication McClory recieved an advanced copy of the book and consequently filed suit along with Whittingham against Fleming in 1961 for "plagiarism and false attribution". Additionally, McClory filed a lawsuit against Ivar Bryce for "injuring him as a false partner in Xanadu Productions". The courts ruled that the lawsuit wouldn't interfere with the publication of the novel because a number of books had already been shipped to retailers. The lawsuit, on the other hand, did prevent Thunderball from becoming the first James Bond movie. Thunderball in 1961 had already been adapted by screenwriter Richard Maibaum who in the future would either co-write or adapt thirteen James Bond films.
In December 1963 Fleming settled out of court with Kevin McClory at the behest of Ivar Bruce who felt Fleming's health was being seriously affected by stress from the lawsuit (Fleming had already been victim to one heart attack and eventually in 1964 would die from a second). During the lawsuit Whittingham had dropped out due to financial difficulties and had sold his rights to the scripts to McClory. The settlement forced future versions of Thunderball to credit on the title page: "based on a screen treatment by Kevin McClory, Jack Whittingham, and Ian Fleming", in that order though Ian Fleming's main author credit remained. Additionally, McClory was given the right to make a film adaptation of the book as well as the rights to all aspects of Thunderball, which supposedly included the rights to the villainious organization S.P.E.C.T.R.E., the character Ernst Stavro Blofeld, Blofeld's white Angora cat, and nine additional plot treatments and outlines. In an October 1997 interview with The Daily Telegraph McClory stated this included the rights to any James Bond film plot that would include an "atomic bomb hijacking".
After being awarded the rights to make a film, McClory attempted to get backing to turn Thunderball into a film, however, he was unable to until Harry Saltzman and Albert R. Broccoli proposed using Thunderball as the fourth official James Bond film in 1963. In 1965, Thunderball was released starring Sean Connery as agent 007. For the film, Richard Maibaum's 1961 screen adaptation was used, with some revisions from writer John Hopkins. Consequently, Thunderball is the only James Bond film for which Broccoli, during his liftime, does not recieve credit as producer. In return McClory agreed that he would not attempt to make another Thunderball adaptation for ten years.
In 1976, after the ten year agreement expired, Kevin McClory teamed up with actor Sean Connery to write an original James Bond adventure. It's been reported that it was to be titled "Warhead 8" or simply "Warhead" and possibly not only to have starred Connery as James Bond, but to have been directed by him as well. This original Bond adventure was scrapped when EON Productions filed suit against McClory. Moreoever, John Brosnans book "James Bond in the Cinema" claimed that Kevin McClory and Sean Connery learned specific plot details for The Spy Who Loved Me that were supposedly similar to Thunderball and "Warhead". In truth, early adaptations of The Spy Who Loved Me featured Ernst Stavro Blofeld and S.P.E.C.T.R.E. as the main villian of the film. They were later replaced by Karl Stromberg.
In the 1980s Kevin McClory sold the license to make one James Bond film based on the source material for Thunderball to Jack Schwartzman . Schwartzman was key for receiving backing from Warner Bros. and for hiring Lorenzo Semple Jr. to write the screenplay. Together, Schwartzman and McClory produced the 1983 film Never Say Never Again, a remake of Thunderball that stars Sean Connery as James Bond.
In the 1990s Sony and McClory teamed up and planned a third remake of Thunderball, titled Warhead 2000 A.D. with either Liam Neeson or Timothy Dalton as James Bond. In 1997 Sony announced a rival James Bond series, which forced MGM and Danjaq, L.L.C. (owner of EON Productions) to file suit against Sony and McClory, barring them from making the film. Plans for this third movie were abandoned in 1999 when Sony settled with MGM, ceding any rights to making James Bond films. (In 2005 a Sony-led partnership ended up buying MGM.) MGM obtained the film distribution rights to Never Say Never Again from Warner Bros. in 1997.
Kevin McClory's ongoing lawsuit to which he calls "The Greatest Act of Piracy in the History of the Motion Picture Industry" against Danjaq, United Artists, and MGM was thrown out in 2000 and finally struck down in 2001 by a three-judge appellate panel. Judge M. Margaret McKeown wrote "So, like our hero James Bond, exhausted after a long adventure, we reach the end of our story."
Comic strip adaptation
As with all previous Bond books, a comic strip adaptation of Fleming's original novel was published as a daily comic strip which was printed in the British Daily Express newspaper and syndicated around the world. The adaptation began on December 11, 1961, but for reasons unknown (though possibly related to the lawsuit), the Daily Express suddenly cancelled the strip (on the orders of Lord Beaverbrook) as of February 10, 1962. Writer Henry Gammidge and illustrator John McLusky were given only a few days notice and were forced to wrap up the story in only two daily strips. The James Bond comic strip would resume in the Daily Express in 1964 with an adaptation of On Her Majesty's Secret Service. The abbreviated Thunderball strip was reprinted by Titan Books in 2004.
Like most of the earlier James Bond films, Thunderball is a close adaptation of the Ian Fleming novel with changes mostly for the pre-title credits, the inclusion of gadgets, and an update of technology.
The film begins with James Bond attending the funeral of Jacques Boitier, an agent of S.P.E.C.T.R.E. who had murdered two British agents. As it would turn out a woman who Bond notices open a car door for herself at the funeral turns out to be Boitier in disguise. Bond comes to this realization and ambushes Boitier at his chateau where he kills him. Afterwards, Bond escapes using a jetpack to fly to his car parked outside the chateau where he has a brief battle with his pursuers, during which Bond uses newly equipped water cannons on the Aston Martin DB5.
The plot of Thunderball deals with S.P.E.C.T.R.E., the organization behind Dr. No and From Russia With Love returning in an attempt to hold the world hostage by hijacking two nuclear bombs. In the film, the plane that is transporting the bombs is hijacked by a henchman of S.P.E.C.T.R.E. that has undergone plastic surgery to appear as a NATO observer that would accompany the pilots on the trip and eventually hijack it. Once in control of the plane the henchman lands it in the middle of the ocean near the Bahamas where Emilio Largo (number two in S.P.E.C.T.R.E.) and his men hide the plane from any sort of overhead reconnaissance looking for it.
Due to the crisis, MI6 calls an emergency conference where a number of agents are given assignments. Initially M assigns Bond to Canada, but after recognizing a photo of the NATO observer, whom Bond previously saw at a health club, M allows Bond to journey to Nassau to investigate the sister. The sister, Domino, played by Claudine Auger is Largo's mistress. Bond exploits this connection to get close to Largo after meeting Domino while scuba diving.
An additional character, Fiona Volpe, who is not in the novel, is a member of S.P.E.C.T.R.E. that attempts to kill Bond after rendezvousing with Largo in Nassau. Volpe plays a large part in the plot of the film by setting up the fake NATO observer to get on the plane. She is later shot in the back by a bullet intended for Bond while dancing at a nightclub with him. It is left to the viewer's imagination as to whether or not Bond intentionally moves her into the path of the bullet.
Cast & characters
Due to the agreement with Kevin McClory, both Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltman are not credited as producers of the film, and are instead credited as the movie being "presented by" them.
The theme song Thunderball was sung by Tom Jones. Bond production legend has it that Jones fainted in the recording booth when singing the song's final, high note. The song "Mr. Kiss-Kiss, Bang-Bang" originally was to be the main title, however, it was changed, because the producers felt the theme song should be tied to the title of the film. That song was performed by Dionne Warwick and would be heard at film's end.
The soundtrack was composed by James Bond film crew veteran, John Barry; it is his third soundtrack for the series. This listing is the complete soundtrack of the film, the last seven tracks were unreleased in 1965.
- Thunderball — Tom Jones
- Chateau Flight
- The Spa
- Switching the Body
- The Bomb
- Cafe Martinique
- Death of Fiona
- Bond Below Disco Volante
- Search for the Vulcan
- Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
- Gunbarrel / Traction Table / Gassing the Plane / Car Chase
- Bond Meets Domino /Shark Tank / Lights out for Paula / For King and Country
- Street Chase
- Finding the Plane / Underwater Ballet / Bond with SPECTRE Frogmen / Leiter to the Rescue / Bond Joins
- Underwater Battle
- Underwater Mayhem / Death of Largo / End Titles
- Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (Mono) — Dionne Warwick
Vehicles & gadgets
- Main articles: List of James Bond vehicles, List of James Bond gadgets
- Aston Martin DB5 previously in Goldfinger, is reused in Thunderball with the hitherto surprise modification of rear water cannons.
- Jet Pack - Bond uses the Jet Pack to escape from the S.P.E.C.T.R.E. château in the teaser.
- Homer Pill - When Bond swallows it, its signal helps headquarters trace his whereabouts.
- Rebreather - A small scuba device that can be carried unnoticed on one's person, and, when used, provides a few minutes of air in underwater emergencies.
Filmed in Caribbean locales, Thunderball is remarkable for its underwater scenes, which contributed greatly to the popularisation of scuba diving as recreation.
- At the last minute, a reference to a then-recent, famous Great British Train Robbery was inserted into the S.P.E.C.T.R.E meeting near the beginning of the film.
- In the conference room, Agent 007 sits in the 7th chair.
- Throughout the entire film, James Bond never introduces himself as "Bond, James Bond".
- Although this is the fourth, official James Bond film, it is the first time Sean Connery performed the gun barrel intro sequence. Previously, stuntman Bob Simmons performed the gun barrel shooting sequence. The sequence was reshot primarily because this is the first James Bond film to be shot in the widescreen process Panavision.
- The name of Emilio Largo's yacht, the "Disco Volante" means "Flying Saucer" in Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish. In the 1983 remake Never Say Never Again, Largo's ship is named the "Flying Saucer".
- Some prints of this film are lacking the trademark "James Bond will return" message at the end, while others include it.
- Casino Royale for further information on the James Bond legal battles between Sony and MGM.