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The Ten Best Bond Movies...Ever? It doesn’t get much more subjective than this. Or much more fun! Come and join international bestselling author Mark Williams on a personal James Bond odyssey as he explores the phenomenon that is James Bond, starting with the Bond film that made # 10 on the list: Thunderball. Plus: The countdown continues! It’s #9 in The Ten Best Bond Movies...Ever! series: On Her Majesty's Secret Service.Buy them individually or get them both together in this 2-in-1 box set.Available as paperbacks and audiobooks for Easter.Watch out for The Ten Best Bond Movies...Ever! # 8: Live And Let Die coming soon to an ebook retailer near you!
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The Ten Best Bond Movies...Ever!
2-in-1 Box Set
#9 On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
This edition © 2017 Mark Williams
The Ten Best Bond Movies...Ever?
On the shoulders of giants.
He strikes like a Thunderball.
Thunderball – the film of the book of the film.
Saltzman, Broccoli and Danjaq.
The name’s Moore. Roger Moore. No, scrap that. Too pretty.
A different era.
I’m sure I was wearing a hat when I came in.
Manners maketh the woman.
James Bond in the Twenty-Fifth Century!
My other car’s a Bentley.
Welcome back Maurice. May your stay be a long one.
Blofeld. The definitive Bond villain.
A woman’s place is in...
Red for danger.
The Domino Effect.
Jaws. No, not him. The real ones.
The Ten Best Bond Movies...Ever! | #9 | On Her Majesty’s Secret Service | Mark Williams
This never happened to the other fellow
The name’s Lazenby – Sean’s Suit Lazenby
Will work for food
Good staff are hard to find
The Director’s Cut
Who loves ya, baby?
Vive La Difference!
Bondian beyond Bond
Shaken, stirred, neat or on the rocks – Just so long as it’s alcohol
Guns and Girls
A trip down memory lane
They have all the time in the world
My other girlfriend’s Playmate of the Month
The search for Piz Gloria
Sexy bananas and crochet lessons
Bond’s meat and two veg
It’s all downhill from here
This department is not interested in your personal problems
A poetic interlude
Do you, James 007 ‘Licenced To Kill’ Bond, Take This Woman...
The book vs. the film
It doesn’t get much more subjective than this. Especially when there are more than 25 Bond films to choose from.
Narrowing the list down to just ten was no easy feat. It wasn’t just a matter of “I enjoyed X better than Y but not as much as Z.” On that simplistic basis The Spy Who Loved Me would be my number one choice, as my personal favourite Bond film. But while it’s up there in the top ten for lots of good reasons, no-one – not even Roger Moore’s mum – could honestly class it as the best Bond film... ever.
I was just a child when Connery played Bond. The first Bond film I saw in the cinema was Diamonds Are Forever, accompanied by my parents, but I was far too young to appreciate the storyline, let alone the finer charms of the Connery Bond era. The gadgets and gunfights and car chases and the explosions were fine, of course, but the busty women and the sexual innuendoes went right over my head, along with most of the plot.
And that’s the thing. I’m part of the Roger Moore generation, brought up on the hugely successful TV series The Saint and The Persuaders, so naturally I loved the Roger Moore Bond. At least, at first. But the Moore era peaked with The Spy Who Loved Me and went rapidly downhill from there. As one of Roger Moore’s biggest fans it pains me to say it, but many of the Roger Moore Bond films are among the worst of the series ever made. Moonraker... The Man With the Golden Gun... Octopussy... And as for A View To A Kill... Let’s not even go there.
But still Roger Moore is my favourite Bond, and two Roger Moore Bond films make the top ten of the Best Ever! list. Which begs the question, what does it take to be a Best...Ever Bond movie?
Quite a lot, is the answer.
Obviously overall entertainment value ranks high. But so does the choice of cast, the theme song and who sang it, the special effects (for their time and overall), the gadgets, the script, the exotic locations, and of course the villains.
Then there’s the political, social and technological context of the films. The Bond films are snapshots of their era. A celluloid time-capsule reflecting the social mores of the day.
Could we even conceive of M being a woman in the Connery era?
Would Bond blackmailing a woman for sex pass muster in the Daniel Craig era?
And many of the old Bond stand-bys for political villainy are gone. The Berlin Wall, anybody?
As for the technological marvels of Q Branch and the ubiquitous Bond gadgets... Some of those tend to look pretty lame even ten years down the road. Let alone fifty.
And then there’s the behind-the-scenes shenanigans that make each film what it is. Everything from the legal wrangle over who actually wrote Thunderball, to the big fall-out between producers Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, to...
So fair warning, this is no back-of-an-envelope list of my ten favourite Bond films, dashed off in the commercial break watching the latest re-run on TV. And of course my Ten Best Bond Films...Ever! will almost certainly not be the ones you would have chosen.
But that’s okay. Feel free to disagree. Walther PPK pistols at dawn if you must.
But be warned. I’ve already emptied your ammunition chamber. The contents are in my pocket. And Q Branch have anyway kitted me out with a magnetic bracelet that will deflect a bullet at thirty paces. Always assuming you arrive safely at the chosen venue. Passenger ejection seats are back in fashion nowadays, don’t you know.
Or maybe you’d prefer to discuss the matter over drinks at my Gentleman’s Club in Soho. Mine’s a vodka martini. Shaken, not stirred.
The name’s Williams. Mark Williams. And this is Thunderball. Number ten on my list of The Ten Best Bond Movies...Ever!
Kicking off this series on the Top Ten Best James Bond Movies...Ever! comes, scraping in at number ten, the fourth of the Bond films, Thunderball.
Thunderball was released in 1965, although it was the ninth book in Ian Fleming’s series. As we’ll see, the producers of the Bond movies were no respecters of the sequence of Fleming’s originals, and great liberties were taken with the content too.
With three Bond films behind them, each more successful than the previous, the Bond producers had to pull out all the stops to make film number four, Thunderball, something special. They’d already excelled themselves with the third film, Goldfinger, which had exceeded everyone’s wildest expectations.
By the time Thunderball hit the cinemas in December 1965 the first three Bond films had collectively been seen by over one hundred million people, and the media interest was intense.
Goldfinger had set the bar. From the glossy opening credits with Shirley Bassey’s perfect delivery of the perfect Bond song, Goldfinger took the Bond franchise from being simply a successful spy thriller series with a hunky male lead, to a whole new level.
The problem for the production team was how to surpass Goldfinger. Out-doing Dr. No and From Russia With Love was a given. With the money rolling in from Goldfinger the producers could do pretty much anything they liked. And they pretty much did.
The new film had a budget bigger than the budgets of the previous three movies combined. Connery’s fee for the new film alone was equal to half the entire budget of Dr. No. Bond’s fee for Thunderball was a half million dollars. Compare that to the $6,000 he got for Dr. No. The producers were spending money on the new film like there was no tomorrow
And it paid off handsomely. Thunderball went on to make far more money than anyone could have predicted. Taking into account inflation Thunderball is the second highest grossing Bond film across the entire series.
But is it any good?
Well, good enough to make number ten in my list of The Top Ten Best Bond Movies...Ever!, but clearly that means there are nine other Bond films I rated more highly.
Sure, Thunderball brought a lot to the table. And not just the one hundred million strong audience from the previous films, who were pretty much guaranteed to buy a ticket. The underwater photography was, for its time, pretty spectacular, and helped the film win an Oscar for Special Effects. But here too, Goldfinger had already set the bar, having already picked up an Oscar for Sound Effects.
The thing is, while Thunderball was cash-rich and extravagant it was too focused on out-doing Goldfinger to risk breaking new ground. That’s not to say there weren’t a lot of firsts for Thunderball, as we’ll see, but that those innovations coincided with the film’s production rather than being central to it.
And incidentally, in Thunderball Bond does not fire a Walther PPK and he does not order a vodka martini, shaken not stirred.
Thunderball was the first Bond movie to have a male singing the title song to kick the film off.
At which point you may well be thinking, “Hold on, what about Matt Munro?” But in fact Munro’s From Russia With Love was at the end of the film, not the beginning, and Dr. No for all practical purposes didn’t have a title song, opening with a calypso version of Three Blind Mice.
But if From Russia With Love was good, Goldfinger was in a league of its own. How do you top Shirley Bassey?
Not to detract from the rest of the film, but Shirley Bassey single-handedly makes Goldfinger, and the Thunderball team were acutely aware of it. They wanted something not simply just as good, but better, for Thunderball. And they almost ended up with Shirley Bassey again.
Bassey had auditioned for the new movie, along with Dionne Warwick, with a song especially recorded for the film by John Barry and lyricist Leslie Bricusse, called Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. The title stemmed from a caustic reference to the Bond character by an Italian journalist.
Bassey’s efforts not withstanding, Dionne Warwick’s version seemed to be the favourite until Broccoli and Saltzman had a Eureka! moment late in the day and decided that every Bond song should have the film’s name in the title. And after all, if someone could make a song out of “Goldfinger” surely “Thunderball” would be easy.
Well, all credit to Don Black. A workman is only as good as his work materials, and if the lyrics for Thunderball are uninspired and faintly ridiculous (“he strikes like a thunderball”?), let’s remember the remit Black was given.
Perhaps because the Thunderball theme song lyrics were so lame, Saltzman and Broccoli made concessions for the next film, no doubt accepting that getting the title On Her Majesty’s Secret Service into a song posed certain insurmountable challenges.
And aren’t we all glad they did! Louis Armstrong’s We have all the time in the world is one of the true classics of Bond musical history. Sadly Armstrong didn’t have all the time in the world. He was already in poor health when this song was recorded and died just two years later.
But back to Thunderball.
Rolling Stone would many years later put the Thunderball dirge at number ten in their top ten best Bond movie theme songs. No accounting for taste. But in fairness, the lyrics aside it is a fine song, rescued from obscurity by Barry’s ever-reliable music, and of course, the then hot new singing sensation that delivered it.
In 1963 Albert Finney and Susannah York had been wowing cinema-goers with an adventure-comedy adaptation of Henry Fielding’s classic, Tom Jones. At the same time an unknown singer called Thomas Jones Woodward had been spotted fronting a group called Tommy Scott and the Senators, playing small-time gigs in South Wales.
Manager Gordon Mills grabbed the singer, re-branded him Tom Jones to ride on the popularity of the film, and kicked off a career that almost ground to a halt when the first release, Chills and Fever, failed to chart. But thanks to the new pirate radio outfit, Radio Caroline, the second Tom Jones song, It’s Not Unusual, stormed the charts.
Two big film title tracks followed for Jones. What’s New Pussycat and Thunderball.
It’s perhaps a testament to my take on the Thunderball song that, despite the combination of Tom Jones and what was at the time the biggest grossing Bond film ever, the title song reached only 25 in the US charts and 35 in the UK charts.
Good, it was. Goldfinger, it wasn’t.
So no surprise Shirley Bassey was back in harness for the next film, Diamonds Are Forever.
Not that Tom Jones did not do his best to out-Bassey Ms. Bassey. In the recording studio on the final take, in an attempt to match Bassey’s classic long end-note on Goldfinger, Jones famously fainted.
One final note on the Thunderball theme song before we move on.
Understandably bewildered by the lyrics, Jones asked lyricist Don Black what a “thunderball” actually was. Black admitted he had no idea.
After the success of Goldfinger, director Guy Hamilton was asked to handle Thunderball, but declined, declaring himself “creatively drained”, so the director of Dr. No and From Russia With Love took on the challenge one more time.
Thunderball was director Terence Young’s last Bond film, and a fitting end to his role in the series. Thunderball was, he felt, filmed at the right time, a reference to the fact that Thunderball had originally been intended to be the first of the film series. As Young said, the budget for the earlier films simply could not have done Thunderball justice.
But it wasn’t budgetary considerations that had caused Thunderball to be passed by, but rather an issue over who actually came up with the storyline.
Unlike the other Bond books, Thunderball was written as a film screenplay first, and became a novel later. The first edition of the novel, which took the storyline of the original screenplay (not the version we see in the film) sold 50,000 copies pretty much immediately, but credited only Ian Fleming as the author.
Fleming was no stranger to taking unused Bond projects in other media and incorporating them into his books. A never-completed TV series and even a newspaper-syndicated cartoon of Bond were both plundered for the novels, so it was second-nature for Fleming to cannibalize the film script when that project fell by the wayside, but the screenplay had been a collaboration.
In 1958 Fleming had been in discussion with friends about a possible Bond film and was introduced to Kevin McClory and two others, to form the partnership Xanadu Productions. Xanadu was the name of the home on The Bahamas of the third man in the quartet, Ivar Bryce. The four men met in England a year later and began outlining plots for the film, with at one stage had the working title SPECTRE, and another time Longitude 78 West.
Somewhere along the line Fleming lost interest, supposedly having doubts about McClory after his film The Boy and the Bridge got less than ecstatic reviews. As the year ended Fleming was off on a travel-writing jaunt courtesy of The Sunday Times and McClory brought screenwriter Jack Whittingham into the equation. The jaunt later became the core of Fleming’s travelogue Thrilling Cities.
The upshot was that a finished script, called Longitude 78 West, was presented to Fleming back at his Goldeneye home in Jamaica. Fleming changed the name to the term being used by the military for a nuclear explosion. Thunderball.
Fleming agreed to forward the screenplay to MCA (Music Corporation of America) with a recommendation McClory produce it. Then, incredibly, Fleming went off and wrote the novel Thunderball using the collaborated screenplay as the core storyline.
McClory was not impressed. However, a legal injunction in 1961 to stop publication of the book failed and Jonathan Cape produced a very successful first run, with just Fleming’s name on the cover.
McClory tried again in 1963, and a bitter three week High Court battle ensued. Fleming had a heart attack as it was happening, and this induced him to settle out of court. McClory walked away with a substantial sum, the literary and film rights for the screenplay, and a new cover on the Thunderball novel acknowledging McClory’s and Whittingham’s role in the original story.
Nine months later Ian Fleming was dead.
By this time, of course, the Bond films were already making big money, and of course McClory still wanted to make the Thunderball film of his dreams.
Originally Harry Saltzman had obtained the film rights to the Bond character after reading the book Goldfinger. Cubby Broccoli wanted to buy the rights from Saltzman. Saltzman wasn’t keen to sell. Both could see the potential of the Bond books as films.
In a compromise move, Saltzman and Broccoli formed a partnership, Danjaq (from the forenames of their respective wives, Dana and Jaqueline) as the parent company to Eon Productions, which produced the early Bond films. At the time it was a partnership made in heaven and it seemed Saltzman and Broccoli could do no wrong. But all good things come to an end, and the Saltzman-Broccoli partnership ended acrimoniously in the mid-seventies.
Saltzman and Broccoli both felt the book of Thunderball was the ideal Bond novel to launch the film franchise, not least because the novel was the latest release from Fleming, so with a high profile. McClory, of course, had other ideas and no progress could be made with the Thunderball film until the dispute between McClory and Fleming was resolved
With the out of court settlement McClory was free.
The upshot being that McClory got to make the film alongside Saltzman and Broccoli as part of the official Bond franchise, with a very hands-on role as producer, and many years later got to re-make it as the unofficial Never Say Never Again.
Getting the backing of the Hollywood studios to convert the books to celluloid had not been easy at first. Bond was, understandably, deemed as too British to have much appeal in the USA, and there was also the small matter of Bond’s legendary performances in bed, which again were felt a little too hot for an American movie audience, even if the violence passed muster. But eventually United Artists threw some money into the pot and the Bond movies began.
By the time Thunderball
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