Thunderball (novel)

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Thunderball (1st Edition)
Thunderball (1st edition cover)
Author: Ian Fleming
Publisher: Jonathan Cape
Hardback: (UK) 1961 (U.S.) 1961
Paperback: (UK) 1963 (U.S.) 1962
Cover artist: Richard Chopping
Alternate title:
Preceded by: For Your Eyes Only
Followed by: The Spy Who Loved Me

Thunderball is the eighth novel, and ninth book, in Ian Fleming's James Bond series. It was created with the intention of being turned into a film, and is officially credited as being "based on a screen treatment by Kevin McClory, Jack Whittingham and Ian Fleming", a shared credit which has been the subject of much controversy. The novel was published in 1961 and stands, technically, as the first novelisation of a James Bond screenplay, even though at the time it was written and published, no such film had yet been produced. It was subsequently adapted as a daily comic strip beginning in 1961.

Thunderball has, to date, been adapted twice for the cinema. The first adaptation was released in 1965, with Sean Connery as James Bond. It was the fourth official Bond movie in EON Productions' series. McClory later produced an unofficial remake, 1983's Never Say Never Again, which again starred Connery as Bond. Thunderball was originally scheduled to have been the first James Bond film, in 1962, but this was later changed to Dr. No due to a lawsuit brought about by McClory.

The novelEdit

The novel features the first and technically the last appearance of the criminal organization SPECTRE in its full form in Ian Fleming's novels. After Thunderball, SPECTRE attempts to re-form; however, it is prevented from doing so by 007. The book also features the first appearance of Bond's greatest enemy, SPECTRE leader Ernst Stavro Blofeld, although 007 does not actually meet the man in this book. This differs from the films, which introduced SPECTRE in Dr. No and Blofeld in From Russia with Love.

Thunderball is the first book in what is known as the "Blofeld Trilogy", which, after the interlude novel The Spy Who Loved Me, resumes with On Her Majesty's Secret Service and concludes with You Only Live Twice.

Plot summaryEdit

Thunderball begins with a meeting between M and Bond, during which 007 is informed that his latest physical assessment delivered terrible results, due to his drinking and smoking sixty cigarettes a day. M sends Bond on a vacation to a health farm in the country so that he can work off some of these bad habits. Upon his return, Bond is a new man, following a new diet and smoking considerably less. This "new" Bond is ready for action when MI6 receives a communiqué from an unknown terrorist organization, SPECTRE (Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion).

SPECTRE has hijacked a new military aircraft, the Villiers Vindicator (a fictional V bomber), by paying the NATO observer on board to kill the pilots and redirect the plane to the Bahamas. Once there, Emilio Largo and the crew of the cruiser Disco Volante kill the NATO traitor and steal the two nuclear warheads aboard the jet. SPECTRE afterwards announces its existence to the world by threatening to destroy a major city unless a ransom of £100,000,000 is paid. This plan is dubbed "Plan Omega" by Blofeld and is overseen by Largo, who at this point has the SPECTRE designation "Number 1"..

To the Americans and the British, the task of foiling SPECTRE and recovering the two warheads is dubbed "Operation Thunderball".

James Bond is sent to the Bahamas to investigate. Once there, he meets up with his friend Felix Leiter, who is once again working for the CIA as a result of the current crisis (in his previous appearance, Leiter had been working as a private detective after losing an arm and a leg while assisting Bond in Live and Let Die). Bond also meets Dominetta "Domino" Vitali, Largo's mistress and the sister of the NATO observer who Largo had killed after successfully delivering the warheads to him. Once she learns of this, Domino turns against Largo and agrees to aid Bond.

After alerting the "Thunderball war room" of their suspicion of Largo, Bond and Leiter team up with the crew of the Manta, an American nuclear submarine, and pursue the hydrofoil Disco Volante, hoping to capture and seize the warheads while they are being transported to the first target. After an undersea battle between the crews of the Manta and the Disco Volante, Largo squares off in battle against Bond, but is shot in the back by Domino.


The controversy over the novelEdit

From a screenplay to a novelEdit

Thunderball was originally conceived as the first film in a possible series of films for a production company called Xanadu Productions, formed by Ian Fleming, Ernest Cuneo, Ivar Bryce and Kevin McClory. The history of Xanadu Productions is very complicated and even today very controversial. The first draft of Thunderball was written by Cuneo and sent to Bryce. The rough draft was specifically designed around an idea by Kevin McClory to shoot the film underwater using Todd-AO cameras. Thunderball would later go through several rewrites, although some elements from Cuneo's version would remain in the final novelized story by Fleming. The main villains of the screenplay at the time were the Russians but after the first draft was subsequently changed to SPECTRE. Some sources, including Raymond Benson's The James Bond Bedside Companion, claim that the idea of SPECTRE came from McClory, while other sources including "Inside Thunderball", an article by John Cork who is also the author of many official biographies, documentaries, and DVD featurettes on Ian Fleming and the James Bond films, claims SPECTRE was created by Fleming. The second draft of Thunderball was written by Fleming where the villain "Largo" is introduced as well as some of the main plot points from the novel and film including the theft of a nuclear device. The rest of the project was a collaborative effort between Kevin McClory, Jack Whittingham, and Ian Fleming on a story and a screenplay over a two-year period. During this time, Xanadu went bust and Ernest Cuneo supposedly sold his rights to the drafts of Thunderball to Ivar Bryce for one dollar.

The finished screenplay was meant to be produced by Kevin McClory; however, McClory had recently finished an unsuccessful film called The Boy and the Bridge. This led to complications with getting proper financial backing for the film. In John Pearson's biography, The Life of Ian Fleming, Pearson claimed that McClory had visited Fleming at GoldenEye, Fleming's house in Jamaica, where Fleming explained to McClory his intention to deliver the screenplay to MCA with his recommendation for McClory to produce the film. Additionally, Fleming told McClory that if MCA were to reject the film because of McClory's involvement that McClory should either sell himself to MCA, back out, or prepare to go to court. A few months later, however, Fleming met Harry Saltzman and later Albert R. Broccoli and sold them the film rights to the current series of published books as well as future James Bond novels except for Casino Royale, the rights for which had already been sold to other parties.

Because the deal between Fleming and McClory collapsed, Fleming took the story and the screenplay and novelized them as his ninth James Bond novel. Initially, the novel credited only Ian Fleming as writer although the book is dedicated to his friend Ernest Cuneo ("Muse"). Prior to publication, McClory received an advanced copy of the book and consequently filed suit along with Whittingham against Fleming in 1961 for "plagiarism and false attribution". Additionally, McClory filed a lawsuit against Ivar Bryce for "injuring him as a false partner in Xanadu Productions". The courts ruled that the lawsuit would not interfere with the publication of the novel because a number of books had already been shipped to retailers. The lawsuit, on the other hand, did prevent Thunderball from becoming the first James Bond movie, although screenwriter Richard Maibaum, who in the future would either cowrite or adapt thirteen James Bond films, did complete a screenplay adaptation.

In December 1963 Fleming settled out of court with McClory at the behest of Ivar Bruce, who felt Fleming's health was being seriously affected by stress from the lawsuit (Fleming had already been victim to one heart attack and in 1964 would die from a second). During the lawsuit, Whittingham had dropped out due to financial difficulties and had sold his rights to the scripts to McClory. The settlement forced future versions of Thunderball to credit on the title page: "based on a screen treatment by Kevin McClory, Jack Whittingham, and Ian Fleming", in that order though Ian Fleming's main author credit remained. Additionally, McClory was given the right to make a film adaptation of the book as well as the rights to all aspects of Thunderball, which supposedly included the rights to the villainous organization SPECTRE, the character Ernst Stavro Blofeld, Blofeld's white Persian cat, and nine additional plot treatments and outlines. In an October 1997 interview with The Daily Telegraph, McClory stated this included the rights to any James Bond film plot that would include an "atomic bomb hijacking".

Bond Battle RoyaleEdit

Battle-of-the-bonds (time out magazine cover)

The Battle of the Bonds (Time Out, June 1983).

After being awarded the rights to make a film, McClory attempted to get backing to turn Thunderball into a film; however, he was unable to do so. He reluctantly later went to Harry Saltzman and Albert R. Broccoli and proposed collaborating on an adaptation of Thunderball as the fourth official James Bond film in 1964. In 1965, Thunderball was released starring Sean Connery as agent 007. In the agreement between EON and McClory, McClory agreed that he would not attempt to make another Thunderball adaptation for ten years. During that ten years, McClory's ownership of the Thunderball film rights did not prevent further Bond films, specifically, You Only Live Twice, On Her Majesty's Secret Service, and Diamonds Are Forever from featuring Blofeld, SPECTRE, and the Angora cat.

In 1976, after the ten-year agreement expired, McClory teamed up with Sean Connery to write an original James Bond adventure. It has been reported that it was to be titled Warhead 8, Warhead, or James Bond of the Secret Service and possibly not only to have starred Connery as 007, but directed by the actor as well. This original Bond adventure was scrapped when United Artists filed suit against McClory, who at the time did not have the finances to engage in a legal suit. Moreover, John Brosnan's book James Bond in the Cinema claimed that McClory and Connery learned specific plot details for The Spy Who Loved Me that were supposedly similar to Thunderball and Warhead. Early scripts for The Spy Who Loved Me indeed featured Ernst Stavro Blofeld and SPECTRE as the main villains of the film. They were later replaced by Karl Stromberg and his unnamed organization.

In the 1980s, McClory finally was able to contest the rights to the James Bond character when he met Jack Schwartzman. Schwartzman was key for receiving backing from Warner Bros. and for winning the support of the British High Court against United Artists. Consequently, Schwartzman and McClory produced the 1983 film Never Say Never Again, a remake of Thunderball scripted by Lorenzo Semple Jr. that starred Sean Connery as James Bond in a much-publicized return to the role after a 12-year hiatus. That same year, EON Productions released Octopussy starring Roger Moore as agent 007. The media quickly dubbed this unique situation the "Battle of the Bonds", particularly during a brief period when both films were scheduled to arrive in cinemas nearly simultaneously (they were ultimately released several months apart).

Continued legal struggle Edit

In the 1990s Sony and McClory teamed up and planned another remake of Thunderball, titled Warhead 2000, with either Liam Neeson as Bond or with Timothy Dalton returning to the role of 007. In 1997, Sony announced a rival James Bond series, which forced MGM and Danjaq, LLC (owner of EON Productions) to file suit against Sony and McClory, barring them from making the film. Plans for this third movie were abandoned in 1999 when Sony settled with MGM, ceding any rights to making James Bond films. McClory still claimed ownership of the film rights to Thunderball, although MGM and EON asserted McClory's rights to Thunderball have expired. Likewise in the settlement, MGM relinquished to Sony their partial rights to Spider-Man, allowing Sony to release the film in 2002. (In 2005, a Sony-led partnership ended up buying MGM.) MGM obtained the film distribution rights to Never Say Never Again from Warner Bros. in 1997.

In the middle of the onslaught of lawsuits between Sony and MGM, Sony countersued MGM in 1998 attempting to claim that McClory was the coauthor of the cinematic Bond and was owed fees from Danjaq and MGM for all past films. This matter, which McClory calls "The Greatest Act of Piracy in the History of the Motion Picture Industry", was thrown out in 2000 by Judge Edward Rafeedie on the ground that McClory had waited too long to bring his claims. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed Rafeedie's decision soon thereafter. Judge M. Margaret McKeown wrote: "So, like our hero James Bond, exhausted after a long adventure, we reach the end of our story."

Because of the dispute, the 2005 video game based on From Russia with Love replaced the criminal organization SPECTRE and its leader Ernst Stavro Blofeld with a new organisation called OCTOPUS that lacked a clear leader.

McClory's death and legal conclusion Edit

McClory died in 2006. In November 2013 his family's estate finally reached a settlement with MGM and EON productions, transferring all rights to Thunderball, S.P.E.C.T.R.E., and the character of Blofeld back to EON.

Comic strip adaptation Edit


2004 Titan Books reprint featuring Goldfinger, Risico, From A View To A Kill, For Your Eyes Only, and the abbreviated Thunderball.

Main article: James Bond comic strips

As with all previous Bond books, a James Bond comic strips adaptation of Fleming's original novel was published as a daily James Bond comic strips in the British Daily Express newspaper and syndicated around the world. The adaptation began on December 11, 1961; however, the Daily Express suddenly cancelled the strip (on the orders of Lord Beaverbrook) on February 10, 1962, when a dispute between Beaverbrook and Fleming occurred over the rights to the short story of The Living Daylights. Fleming had sold the rights to the Sunday Times, a rival newspaper, which upset Beaverbrook to the point of terminating his relationship with Fleming. Writer Henry Gammidge and illustrator John McLusky were given only a few days' notice and were forced to wrap up the story in only two daily strips.

The original strip seen in the Daily Express only got to the point in the story where Giuseppe Petacchi hijacked the plane and the two nuclear warheads for SPECTRE. The strip ended in the next panel (#1117), stating that afterwards SPECTRE sent their demands to the Western governments and that all agents, including Bond, were sent out in search for the hijacked plane. The final line reads, "Bond finds them and the world is safe." Six more panels for the Daily Express version were originally completed by artist John McLusky detailing the hijacking of the plane; however, they were never printed. A further six panels were also created to expand and conclude the story. These additions are included in a number of syndicated versions of the strip.

Beaverbrook and Fleming would later work out their differences, and the James Bond comic strip would resume in the Daily Express in 1964 with an adaptation of On Her Majesty's Secret Service, but the adaptation of Thunderball was never completed. The abbreviated Thunderball strip was reprinted by Titan Books in 2004 and is a part of the Goldfinger anthology that also includes Goldfinger, Risico, From A View To A Kill, and For Your Eyes Only.


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