Movie Thoughts: Thunderball, The Untouchables

UntouchablesTheDuring his acceptance speech for the Oscar for best supporting actor in The Untouchables, Sean Connery famously quipped, “My name is Connery, Sean Connery.” Connery defined the role as British secret agent 007, just as the role would come to define Connery for much of his career. There is even some debate over whether or not Connery really “deserved” the Oscar for his role in The Untouchables or whether the Academy was giving him a “lifetime achievement award” (see also John Wayne, Denzel Washington, Al Pacino).

Rewatching The Untouchables, Connery seems such a natural playing the mentor to Kevin Costner’s Elliott Ness, that it’s easy to see why some would think Connery’s award more for his body of work than what he does here. But Connery really sinks his teeth into Malone, giving us a great performance that stands on its own — regardless of past associations to a certain British secret agent. The movie is a bit more electric when Connery is on-screen and the film and Connery invest so much into the character that when his death comes, it’s easy to feel the same anguish that Costner’s Ness does.

I remember seeing The Untouchables when it aired on TV after Connery had won the Oscar. I have stronger memories of the Mad Magazine parody of the film than I do of the movie itself — beyond the death of Malone sequence. Having only seen it edited for TV, I was surprised by the amount of violence and blood in the film. Of course, there has to be a certain amount because this is a mob movie. The action is well-directed by Brian DePalma and I found a POV sequence when a mob assassin breaks into Malone’s apartment to be particularly fascinating. DePalma goes to the POV well a couple of times in the film, but none is quite as striking.

I’ve heard that at this point in his career, Connery was accepting just about any role that came his way in an attempt to get work and to somehow come out of the shadow cast on him by Bond. Some of those roles turned out great for him (this one, Hunt for Red October) while others may have left you scratching your head a bit (The Russia House). A good friend used to joke with me that Michael Caine would show up to be in your junior high school production of Grease as long as you provided craft services. Certainly, that same joke could be applied to Connery at times.

Because let’s face it — the man was defined by Bond.

thunderballWatching the fourth installment in the long-running franchise, I can’t help but feel that it was Thunderball that Mike Myers had in mind when we created the Austin Powers franchise. Thunderball isn’t necessarily a bad Bond film so much as it’s one that is starting to lean into the tropes of the franchise. We’ve got exotic locations, gadgets, and beautiful women. Bond is the definition of suave and sophisticated — well, for the most part (more on that later).

And yet, the film feels long. While it has some superb action sequences, the film does take its time setting things up. It takes almost forty minutes for Bond to even be put on the case and that’s after there’s an elaborate plot by SPECTRE to steal two nuclear bombs and hold the world hostage. The early moments at the spa are there to put Bond on the trail of Largo, though I do wonder why SPECTRE seems to go out of their way to kill him there and, thus, raise his suspicions. Seems to me that if you’re a bit more lowkey, you don’t tip Bond off that something is going on. Or you let him just be distracted harassing his therapist.

Part of where the film feels long is the overreliance on underwater sequences. I exercise and I can tell you that adding water can sometimes slow down your pace a bit. And that is the case in spades for Thunderball. Any time jump into the water, expect things to really slow to a crawl and that includes the final fight underwater. Yes, there’’s some fun moments such as Connery’s real reaction to finding out he’s acting alongside a shark. But those moments aren’t enough to help the film.

Where Thunderball works in the odd triangle that exists between Bond, Domino, and Largo. Domino has an interesting backstory and the hints of the nature of her relationship with Largo are parceled out well. Domino isn’t your typical Bond girl in that she doesn’t seem to fall in love with Bond so much as use him to get what she wants — free of Largo. Yes, the two have some heavy flirtation and one underwater love scene (how does that work?!?), but the end doesn’t see them snuggling up for a long weekend while the British Secret Service tries to find them.

That isn’t the case of the other Bond girls, Fiona and Patricia.

811233Patricia is Bond’s therapist at the spa and seems to resist his advances until he forces them on her in the sauna (leading to our first naked butt in the series. Talk about the benefit of HD remastering!) It’s probably seeing the film fifty years later, but Bond doesn’t come across well here when Patricia turns down his advances only for him to keep pursuing aggressively. Not really on the level in the #MeToo era.

On the other hand, there’s Fiona who Bond seduces for “king and country.” While Largo is a nice mirror of Bond, I’d argue Fiona is the better overall adversary for Bond in the film. Watching her cat and mouse with him and the chase sequence in Jamaica are among the film’s highlights. She’s one of the first femme Fatales in the series and the movie just works better when she’s going up against Bond. Her death before the climactic underwater battle is a bit of shame. I’d love to have seen her go up against Bond further.

That said, the movie is also memorable for giving Bernard Lee a lot to do as M. Seeing him defend Bond at multiple points and then chastising him for being tardy to the initial meeting show the depth of the relationship these two have. It’s nice to see M get to acknowledge that Bond is good at what he does and why he’s earned his spot in the service.

So, while Thunderball isn’t the best of the Connery Bonds, it’s still fun. It has its moments but I think it could have been helped by a bit of judicious editing.

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