Thunderball, for me, is the beginning of a decline. It’s a movie that starts to openly flirt with campness, which will lead to Bond and the concept having a passionate and self-destructive love affair with each other.
I knew that the plot involved stolen nuclear weapons in some capacity, so I was expecting a story about a potential atomic holocaust to be somewhat serious. “Goldfinger was a lot of daft fun,” I thought, “but now we’ll return to a grim ‘n’ gritty spy thriller.”
Oh how wrong I was. Thunderball (a title which now puts everyone in mind of a disappointing lottery ticket) begins with James Bond attending a church funeral, fighting a drag queen, and then flying away on a jetpack in the first five minutes. I’d really hoped that it would take another two movies for things to get so fucking silly.
The film only gets more weird from there, to the point where I’m worried that just recounting it here will get me sectioned. So at the start of the film James Bond goes to some kind of posh health spa to recover from his injuries fighting the transvestite. He meets an attractive blond nurse there (who is wearing a white tunic that you can just bet was on loan from one of the Carry On movies) and makes a pass at her.
Now in my experience, making unsolicited sexual remarks from someone who can ask for stool sample from you at any time doesn’t usually lead to hospital coitus. But James Bond doesn’t share my anxieties, and is quite put out when the nurse tells him to shut his cave and clamber onto a ‘muscle stretching machine’ (read: torture device). She turns it on and leaves him two it, but while Bond is enjoying the massage, a sinister assassin enters the room and turns the dial up way past 11, leaving Bond to … to be … um…
… Look, there’s no nice way of saying this: the machine looks like it’s fucking him. Sean Connery is strapped to some kind of dominatrix’s ‘Peg-o-Matic 5000’ and gets graphicly rogered into next Thursday before our very eyes. It’s every bit as weird, rank, kinky, and hilarious as it sounds. If you slow down the footage, you can spot the exact moment Connery internally decides to phone his agent and have a quiet word about vetoing scripts.
But every inadvertently-funny Bond moment always comes at a cost: some comment or act that will remind you quite firmly that our protagonist is, well, a dickhead. In what might be his most despicable act yet, Bond blackmails the no-nonsense nurse into sleeping with him in exchange for his keeping quiet about the automated bumming he just received. That’s JB for ya: a man who can be sexually assaulted by a lounge appliance, and yet still retain zero empathy for lassies.
You’re probably thinking, “wait, isn’t that rape by coercion?” and sadly, yes, it is. So at this point you can either accept that Bond is a sociopath, and watch his adventures the same way you watch Walter White weasel his way out of trouble, or you can say to yourself: “ah she must have wanted it really” and become just a tiny bit more evil. It’s up to you really.
After this scene, Michael, Saywood and myself all had to get badly drunk to cope with the full horror of what we’d just witnessed. We needn’t have bothered. The rest of the movie consisted of James Bond larking around in the Bahamas, enjoying a busman’s holiday. The Mastermind is a guy called Largo, (Blofield’s deputy) who you can tell is evil because he has an eyepatch. Oooooh! Bond gets off with a bird called Domino and helps her avenge her brother, and then there’s an interminably long underwater harpoon fight, with Bond and his allies vs Largo and his mooks.
This is a trope I like to call the ‘Temple of Doom Minecart Effect’, which is when a cool action sequence drags on for so long that it becomes incredibly tedious and makes you wish for death. I’m sure it was an awesome technical stunt at the time, but it’s quite difficult to tell who’s-who in it, since everyone is wearing a wetsuit. In any case, my sister can send me much better videos of people scuba diving at virtually any time of day. So sorry Jamie, in the words of Shania Twain: that don’t impress me much.
One last thing to note, in this movie Bond almost tosses his hat, but then thinks better of it. Seems like an omen to me…
You Only Live Twice:
You Only Live Twice should have been called YOLO, because the whole story has a strong ‘fuck it, why not?’ kind of attitude. This is the film where James Bond goes to Japan, and if you know Bond-san as well as I do, then that statement should make you very worried.
The screenplay was written by Roald Dahl, one of my favourite childhood authors, who is not well known for his political correctness either. Apparently, the book was considered to be unfilmable, but unfortunately what Dahl came up with isn’t a great alternative. I thought that the man behind Tales of the Unexpected would have written something dark, funny, and twisted. But instead we get something about as grounded as James and the Giant Peach, but with worse jokes.
The plot involves SPECTRE stealing some spaceships with a sort of giant Pac-Man rocket in another attempt to warm up the Cold War. Bond fakes his death (we’re not told why: maybe to avoid breaking up with Syliva Trench) and is sent off to Japan to investigate Strange Goings-On. He meets with Local Contact Tiger Tanaka in Tokyo, who gives him a whole harem of hookers and tells him: “In Japan, men come first, women come second“, a statement which manages to be racist and sexist in only 11 syllables.
But it gets worse. As part of his cover Bond is disguised as a Japanese man, which basically means he’s given a pudding bowl haircut and given a fake tan, while his eyelids are taped down. ‘Bond in Yellowface’ should be the nadir of the franchise, but the makeup job is so poor that he looks more like Mr Spock than Mr Miyagi. Okay, it’s hard enough passing unnoticed as a white dude in Tokyo, but surely it’s even harder as a Vulcan?
James Bond hops into a a silly wee helicopter, and gets into a dogfight that reminds me strongly of Wallace and Gromit, then he and the Final Girl (Kissy Suzuki, who has exactly 658,981 search results on PornHub) infiltrate Blofeld’s Evil Lair. Now I will admit, Blofeld’s Evil Lair is pretty cool, but much like the man himself, the iconic set has been homaged and parodied so many times that it’s tough to take it seriously.
Ah yes, Blofeld. Now after four movies of build-up, I was ready to be disappointed by the Moriarty to Bond’s Sherlock Holmes. I thought that, since Blofeld is just Dr Evil played straight, he’d surely end up being laughable.
So you can imagine how happy I was when he turned out to be Donald Pleasance! He had the bald head, the scar, the accent, the nehru suit and the Persian cat … and yet Pleasance’s performance is actually really chilling. Which is no surprise: I mean, this is the actor who once made a PSA about puddles pants-shittingly creepy. You can immediately see why people remember this character.
But tragically, he’s only in the film for about 10 minutes. This is a bit of a recurring problem in the Bond franchise: great actors playing cool villains who are seriously let down by the script. Donald Pleasance makes such a good impression, but then a bunch of Bond’s ninja friends break into his volcano AirBNB and force him to make a hasty getaway.
It was at this point in the film that I realised something. In the same way that the Airplane! movies will crack any joke, no matter how dumb, James Bond will throw any idea at you if it suspects it’ll make you go ‘woah,’ no matter how juvenile. Roger Ebert said that Airplane! makes you laugh twice: once at the joke, and then again at yourself for laughing at something stupid. In this film, you only laugh at how stupid it is. Once. Maybe ‘You Only Laugh Once’ should have been the title instead…