Story publication year – 1961
Film release year – 1965
007 – Sean Connery
The novel opens with 007 waking up hungover after a night of playing cards. He reports to M shortly thereafter and is given a summary of his recent physical test, giving the reader insight into the excesses of the Crown’s top spy, which includes 60 cigarettes and half a bottle of booze each day. Bond later remarks to Miss Moneypenny that he drinks as much as he does because he would “rather die of drink than of thirst.” Nice.
M extols Bond about the virtues of eating natural, unprocessed foods – he almost sounds like a modern dietician advocating whole, organic foods – and then directs him to report to a health clinic, Shrublands Health Spa, for two weeks of rest and detoxification.
One interesting item of note is that in the novel Fleming notes that Miss Moneypenny “dreams hopelessly” about 007, which, I believe, is the first time in any of the novels that there is any indication of her attraction to him. In the films, of course, Moneypenny is head-over-heels for Bond from the very outset.
The film, oddly, opens with 007 attending his own funeral, killing his would-be murderer shortly thereafter, and then escaping his killer’s home on a jet back pack. After which, Bond, for some reason, ends up at Shrublands.
Bond’s experience at the clinic is similar in both the novel and the film. While strapped to a spine-stretching machine, one of SPECTRE’s henchmen, Count Lippe, cranks up the machine’s pressure in an ultimately failed attempt to kill Bond off. In both, 007 notes a telltale gang tattoo on Lippe’s hand. In the novel, Bond’s attempt to hookup with his attractive nurse is rebuffed, quite unlike Bond’s sort of creepy move in the film, where he essentially bribes his nurse into sex in exchange for his promise not to report the problems with the stretching machine to his doctor/her boss. In both the novel and the film, Bond exacts revenge on Lippe by turning up the heat while Lippe is encased in a sweatbox.
Next, in both, we meet Ernesto Blofeld, the charismatic leader of SPECTRE – the Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion. In the novel, Fleming provides some background: SPECTRE is comprised of Blofeld, 18 international thugs, and two scientists. Blofeld himself made a fortune during World War II spying for the allied countries, but, now, his organization commits crimes for profit.
The depiction of the SPECTRE meeting is similar in both the novel and the film. Blofeld is a ruthless leader of the group; in the novel, he electrocutes one of the members in his chair for sleeping with a girl SPECTRE had kidnapped, when the ransom demand assured the girl’s father that his daughter would be returned unharmed.
Bond’s basic mission is the same in both the novel and in the film – SPECTRE has hijacked a plane carrying nuclear missiles through the efforts of a corrupt former military pilot; in both the pilot is murdered as soon as his part of the scheme is over.
Although not exactly in the same manner, in both the novel and in the film, the nuclear missiles are hidden underwater near the Bahamas after they are removed from the hijacked plane. Emilio Largo is the SPECTRE operative overseeing the mission – dubbed “Plan Omega” – from his luxury yacht, the Disco Volante. In both, SPECTRE threatens to use the missiles to destroy two North American cities unless a $100 million ransom is paid.
In both, naturally, Bond encounters a Bond girl, Domino Vitali. Domino is known around the Bahamas as Largo’s mistress. Again, naturally, Bond flirts with her to move closer to Largo. In the novel, Bond first meets Domino in smoke shop and suggests which cigarettes she should purchase if she is trying to quit smoking. In both, they later flirt over a lunch of conch chowder.
Bond’s introduction and interaction with Largo is similar in both the novel and film. They encounter each other during a card game in a hotel casino. Bond, of course, dominates the game, during which he drops a hint to Largo that he suspects him of being associated with SPECTRE. In both, 007 takes Domino to dinner following the game and they grow closer to each other – a common but slightly unbelievable trend throughout the Fleming novels and the corresponding films where the evil mastermind seems ever willing to allow 007 to wine and dine his mistress and thereby gain information about an ongoing or upcoming criminal scheme.
Bond’s investigation of Largo and Plan Omega takes similar twists and turns in both the novel and film and involves a great deal of underwater scuba missions to try and determine if the missiles are stashed on the Disco Volante. One difference is that, in the film, Bond meets with Q branch to obtain some of the gadgets, typically found in many 007 films, to help him on his mission. In both, however, Bond meets up with his old friend, Felix Leiter, who helps him complete the mission. Bond and Leiter ultimately discover that the bombs are hidden underwater and that the dead pilot of the hijacked military plane was Domino’s brother.
In both the novel and film, Bond reveals to Domino that Largo had her brother killed, and she then plays a crucial role in helping Bond take down Largo and Plan Omega’s failure. Also, in both, Largo discovers that Domino has betrayed him after she is caught using a Geiger counter to search the Disco Volante. In both, Largo and intends to torture Domino into revealing Bond’s plans. Largo’s intended method of torture is the same: using lit cigar and ice cubes “applied scientifically” to the skin. However, the novel, Domino is actually tortured; in the film he fails to get that far.
The final confrontation is similar in both the novel and film. Bond, with assistance from U.S. Navy frogmen, engages Largo and his henchmen in a ferocious underwater scuba fight. In the novel, Leiter joins the fight despite the disabilities he incurred in Live and Let Die; in the film, however, Leiter sits out the fight. In the novel, Largo almost succeeds in choking Bond to death but Domino saves his life by – having escaped from the Disco Volante – shooting Largo through the neck with a speargun, thereby avenging her brother’s murder. In the film, Largo attempts to escape on the Disco Volante, which, for the final chase, is converted into a swift hydroboat. Bond eventually gets aboard the boat and engages Largo in a fight – once again, Bond is saved when Domino appears and shots Largo with a speargun.
In the novel, Bond wakes up in a hospital, where Leiter tells him that Domino never gave up during Largo’s torture. Bond demands to see Domino, staggers into her hospital room, and then passes out on the floor next to her bed. Fleming leaves the reader with the impression that Bond has fallen in love with her. In the film, the Disco Volante crashes – Domino and 007 end up in a life raft, from which they are rescued.
It is worth noting that Never Say Never Again, a non-EON produced 007 film, not included on the “Bond 50” Blu Ray set that I am doing this blog with, is also based on the Thunderball novel and there is a good deal of similarity between the novel and the film’s script, particularly the Shrubwoods scenes described above. The general mission to defeat SPECTRE’s plan to steal nuclear missiles and use them to extort millions from various government’s is also mostly the same. Again, Domino’s brother is used to hijack a military plane transporting the missiles, which are similarly hidden underwater. Largo also is killed in the end by Domino.
There are, however, plenty of scenes that bear little relation to the novel, most memorably a video game played by 007 and the SPECTRE evil-doer (here, Maximillian Largo) called “Domination” in which the players compete for world domination by bombing different countries where each player receives an electric shock each time his opponent claims a country. Of course, 007 defeats Largo at both the video game and at the film’s conclusion.
Next: The Spy Who Loved Me