Emilio Largo (Adolfo Celi, dubbed by Robert Rietty) is scheming to hold NATO to ransom by hijacking two atomic bombs from an RAF Avro Vulcan jet bomber during a training exercise. Helping is SPECTRE agent Fiona Volpe (Luciana Palazzi) and Angelo Palazzi (Paul Stassino), who alters his face to match that of French Air Force pilot Francois Derval, whom they kill. Palazzi hijacks the bomber, kills its crew, and lands it in shallow water in the Bahamas. As the bombs are being removed, Largo kills Palazzi for demanding more money.
British MI-6 agent James Bond (Sean Connery), recuperating at the Shrublands Spa, discovers Derval’s body. Recalled to London, he is targeted by Count Lippe (Guy Doleman), but Volpe kills Lippe for interfering with Largo’s scheme. Perhaps, if left alone, SPECTRE agents would just kill each other off and MI-6 could relax. All double-O agents are on high alert after the nukes are stolen. SPECTRE wants 100 million pounds in seven days. Having recognized Derval’s picture, Bond requests a mission to Nassau in the Bahamas to contact Derval’s sister Domino (Claudine Auger, dubbed by Mikki van der Zyl).
After meeting her, Bond discovers she is Largo’s mistress when he visits a local casino. Both men eye each other as they pretend to be engaged in a friendly game. Bond meets up with CIA agent Felix Leiter (Rik Van Nutter), fellow MI-6 agent Paula Caplan (Martine Beswick), and Q (Desmond Llewelyn) to obtain an underwater camera and miniature underwater breathing apparatus. Checking out Largo’s ship, Disco Volante, he notices an underwater hatch. He visits Largo the next day and finds that Paula has been abducted and committed suicide rather than talk. Bond evades Largo’s men during a street-festival, and Volpe, about to kill Bond, is accidentally shot by another henchman.
Bond and Leiter search for the sunken plane and find it camouflaged underwater, with the body of Palazzi aboard. Bond tells Domino that Largo has killed her brother and she helps him search the Disco Volante. Largo captures her. Bond replaces one of Largo’s men as SPECTRE begins to move the bombs, and he learns where one of them is being moved to. He and Leiter get the Coast Guard to intercept the Disco Volante and capture one of the bombs. The ship becomes a hydrofoil and takes off at high speed. Bond sends it out of control and defeats Largo’s men. Largo is about to kill Bond when Domino takes her revenge for her brother. With a helpful physicist, they abandon ship just before its destruction.
This, the fourth Bond film, was produced by Eon Productions, based on a screenplay by Jack Whittingham from a story by Kevin McRory, Whittingham, and Ian Fleming. It was directed by Terence Young, the working script written by Richard Maibaum and John Hopkins. About a quarter of it was filmed underwater using the newest underwater film technology. It was the most financially successful film in North America at the time, and John Stearns won the 1966 Oscar for its special effects. It had been planned as the first Bond film, but Fleming was sued by McClory and Whittingham, who claimed that the novel was influenced by their script, so Dr. No was done first instead and Thunderball only begun after a settlement out of court. It was the third highest grossing film of the year after The Sound of Music and Dr. Zhivago
Guy Hamilton was supposed to direct but he was exhausted after Goldfinger, so Terence Young, who had directed Dr. No and From Russia with Love, came back. Most underwater scenes were filmed at low tide to discourage sharks and a scene with sharks in a pool was filmed behind plexiglass, at Connery’s insistence. He was nearly attacked anyway. Some underwater scenes were choreographed by Ricou Browning of Creature from the Black Lagoon. The aqualung of Jacques Cousteau was new technology. The explosion of Disco Volante shattered windows in Nassau thirty miles away. The underwater scenes were praised highly by the critics, but some criticized the length of the scenes and the picture in general—a whole two hours. I would say that the high-speed boat chase at the end was not the best in special effects.
Sean Connery did not fly the jetpack in the opening. It was Bill Suiter, one of the two people in the world qualified to do so. This is the only Bond film in which all the double-O agents appear in one scene, Bond seventh from the left. His is the only face really visible. Agent 003 is a woman. A thunderball is a military term for a nuclear mushroom cloud. Count Lippe was in fact an old friend of Ian Fleming and was very pleased to be mentioned. The wife of Huntington Hartford II, who lived in the estate used for a casino in two Bond films, appeared in this one and in Daniel Craig’s Casino Royale. Disco Volante is Italian for Flying Saucer. Emilio Largo did not have an eyepatch in the book.