Thunderball is easily one of the more complicated Bond novel-to-movie adaptations-maybe, because it’s been adapted into a movie twice; or perhaps, because it actually started life as a movie script, and has led to several rights issues which cost the film series the use of the criminal organization SPECTRE and it’s head, Ernst Stravro Blofeld, for decades. However, I’ll discuss those issues (and how they led to NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN) in a later post.
While they make their debut early on in the films-In the first film, Dr.No, and more extensively in it’s sequel-with Blofeld appearing himself (although only from the neck down) in from Russia With Love (In both novels, the original villains were SMERSH, although the latter stills receives a name drop in the FRWL film), The novel version of SPECTRE and Blofeld make their debut here.Novel wise, Thunderball, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and You Only Live Twice form a sort of “Blofeld trilogy” of sorts (With Diamonds Are Forever taking Thunderball’s place film wise). SPECTRE is mostly unknown in the novel “universe” at this point, although by this time in the film Bond has dealt with their agents twice.
Thunderball the novel starts with M concerned with 007’s health, due to his vices perhaps slowing him down in the field. The movie gives a more immediate explanation-Bond is somewhat bruised by a fire poker by Colonel Jack Beauvant, who posed as his own widow in order to escape (But Bond notices something’s not right and confronts the “widow” at his home).
This forms the opening teaser for the film, and also features the famous sequence in which in order to escape Jack’s minions, he briefly dons a jetpack.
“No well-dressed man should be without one!”
The rest of the novel and film begin with Bond’s recovery at the clinic Shrublands, where Bond stumbles upon the beginnings of a SPECTRE operation, and begins a bit of a feud with SPECTRE agent Count Lippe, who Bond suspects is up to no good, and who also tries to kill Bond a few times as well. Bond also has a relationship with the nurse Patricia in both versions.
“Let me out of this bloody machine!”
In both cases, Lippe is organizing a complicated operation involving stealing nuclear weapons onboard a Royal Air Force Vindicator jet. In the novel, it’s by bribing Petachii, the pilot of the plane (NSNA uses a similar device). In the film, it’s a somewhat more complicated plot involving switching his film counterpart, Francois Derval, with a surgically altered SPECTRE body double, Angelo.
In both cases, the plane gets stolen with the nukes on board, and both pilots-original and body double-are killed. Also Lippe is dealt with; in the novel because his feud with Bond threatened SPECTRE being exposed, while in the film, it’s for the choice of Angelo, who demanded a higher pay for having to be surgically altered to look like Derval.
With the weapons now in SPECTRE’s hand, Blofeld demands a massive ransom, but MI6 wants to recover the weapons before the world is forced to pay up.Bond is then sent to the Bahamas-in the novel more so because of M’s orders, but in the film it’s more of a hunch based on him spotting a dead man similar to Derval at the clinic, despite the RAF base seeing him board the plane (The body at Shrublands is in fact Derval’s body itself, after Angelo had replaced him).
Most of the rest of the plot unfolds similarly, with Bond going to the Bahamas and teaming up with his CIA ally, Felix Leiter, and investigating the local treasure hunter Largo, who in fact is a SPECTRE agent who stole the weapons, while attempting to woo away Domino, Largo’s lover and also the brother of Petacci (in the novel) and Francois (in the film). The movie adds an extra obstacle for Bond-the nasty SPECTRE femme fatale, Fiona Volpe.
Fiona not only helps Lippe and Angelo kill Derval, she also personally kills Lippe herself with her missile-armed motorcycle, kidnaps Bond’s ally Paula (who then kills herself using cyanide to keep from being interrogated), and nearly kills Bond herself until finally outwitting her, causing her to get accidentally shot by her own men at an outdoor dance club.
In both the film and the novel, Bond is able to persuade Domino that Largo was the one who got her brother killed, and she helps him to unravel the plans of her former suitor, which ends in a massive sea battle-one above and under water-between Bond and Largo’s agents.
Ultimately, the scheme is brought to an end when Domino kills Largo by a harpoon to the back, in revenge for her brother’s death and him using her as a a pawn.
Next: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service-where Bond falls for a troubled countess and might have finally found happiness, but things get spoiled by Blofeld’s latest scheme….and film-wise, a new and inexperienced actor as Bond gets highly mixed results…..although a future article will explore the other Thunderball film, Never Say Never Again, as well as the whole rights issue surrounding it, and the “Battle of the Bonds”.