Friday, April 17, 2015

Thunderball (1965) | Music

After the worldwide success of Goldfinger, the budget for Thunderball got much much bigger. One of the improvements with the new money was to film the whole thing in Panavision anamorphic widescreen, which meant reshooting the opening gun barrel sequence. In the first three films, the Bond that walks into the gun barrel, turns, and shoots is stuntman Bob Simmons. And he's in black and white. With Thunderball, they replaced Simmons with Sean Connery on color film.

According to title designer Maurice Binder, who had resolved his dispute with Saltzman and Broccoli and was back after sitting out the last two films, he'd seen the pre-title sequence and knew that it ended with the Aston Martin's shooting water at the screen. He decided to merge that into the title sequence and went the opposite direction from the two Robert Brownjohn sequences. Instead of projecting light onto women's bodies against a dark background, Binder filmed swimmers and projected their silhouettes against colorized images of bubbles in the water. The effect was a huge success and became the template for almost every Bond title sequence that followed. It's a good sequence, hinting at the underwater motif that's so important to the film, and I love the way the titles come in looking like light reflecting on water.

Meanwhile, John Barry brought back "Goldfinger" co-writer Leslie Bricusse to help write the new title song and they came up with "Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" after a nickname for Bond created by the Italian press. Shirley Bassey was also brought back to record it, but Saltzman and Brocolli weren't totally happy with her version.

Part of why they didn't like it was the arrangement, so the second version featured a longer intro that works in the Bond theme and allows the lyrics to start after we've seen the name of the film. But they could have rerecorded that and still used Bassey, so there was apparently something about her performance that they also didn't care for. In the second version, they used Dionne Warwick. I don't know what the producers' specific issues were, but Bassey's version is bombastic while Warwick's is sultry. I love Bassey, but if they were going for a seductive quality, I can see why they preferred Warwick's take.

It was United Artists that put the halt on even that version though. They thought the theme song ought to actually mention the name of the movie (and generally speaking, they weren't wrong), so they sent Barry back to start over. This time he teamed up with Don Black, who was the manager and occasional song-writer of From Russia With Love singer Matt Monro. Barry and Black quickly banged out the "Thunderball" theme, brought in Tom Jones to sing it, and the rest is history (though elements of "Mr Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" are still in the soundtrack, particularly in the song the band's playing at the Kiss Kiss Club when Fiona's shot.

Incidentally, Johnny Cash also submitted a song using the film's name. It's a pretty good Johnny Cash song, but - and I say this as a huge fan of Cash - it's not a passable Bond theme. Maybe Barry could have done something with it, but I still think he made the right choice.

I love Tom Jones and I love the music of the final song, but I don't love the lyrics. Maybe it's because I've never been able to decide whom they refer to. Is the song about Bond, like "Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang"? Or is it about the villain - Largo, in this case - like the theme to Goldfinger? The words are ambiguous enough that they could refer to either, which sort of makes them refer to neither. They're generic.

As with Goldfinger, Barry doesn't use the James Bond Theme a lot in Thunderball. It shows up during the pre-credits fight (helpful for getting audiences in the mood) and again to close things out at the very end, but for the most part Barry uses elements of the two theme songs and also the 007 Theme he created for From Russia With Love. I guess another way of looking at it is that Barry's using the Bond Theme more and more sparingly as the series goes on.

Top Ten Theme Songs

1. From Russia With Love (John Barry instrumental version)
2. Dr No
3. Thunderball
4. Goldfinger
5. From Russia With Love (Matt Monro vocal version)
6. TBD
7. TBD
8. TBD
9. TBD
10. TBD

Top Ten Title Sequences

1. Dr No
2. Thunderball
3. Goldfinger
4. From Russia With Love
5. TBD
6. TBD
7. TBD
8. TBD
9. TBD
10. TBD

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