Saturday, April 30, 2011

Thunderball’s Villain and the Wagner Act

Back in 1965, I was absolutely awestruck by Sean Connery’s performance in the James Bond adventure film Thunderball. Almost half a century later, I have a much different perspective. Granted, the plotline of an evil organization obtaining a nuclear weapon and holding a city hostage is a chilling one. What strikes me most today is that Thunderball’s villain Emilio Largo (played by Adolfo Celli) would have all kinds of complaints from the unions’ shop steward of Henchmans’ Local 217 for violations of the local Wagner Act (I guess that’s why Largo sets up his nefarious HQ in the Bahamas).

First off, he sends a single henchman to kill Bond in his hotel suite, a plot that predictably goes awry. When Bond sends him back to his criminal mastermind to report his failure, Largo demonstrates what en evil character is by having his other henchman throw the hapless underling into an enormous pool of sharks. When I think about that now, having studied Labor Law at Notre Dame, I can only imagine the shop steward’s indignation: “Now see here Mr Largo, our collective bargaining agreement clearly stipulates that hotel assassinations are a 2-man job. And then you throw the guy into a shark tank! This gives a whole new meaning to the term unlawful discharge!”

Even more egregiously, when Bond is attempting to infiltrate Largo’s HQ he is tackled by a Largo henchman and knocked into the residence’s swimming pool. When Largo shows up a few seconds later with a whole crowd of henchmen in tow, does he a) have his other henchman jump in to lend the first guy a hand in handling Bond, b) fire a warning shot to let 007 know the jig is up, or c) flip a switch to make a metal screen cover the pool and open a secret compartment connecting the shark tank to the swimming pool? It was c), never mind that this ensures another one of Largo’s henchman will certainly die as a result. (I’ve read that during filming, Sean Connery got a whole lot closer to one of the sharks than he wanted to, and he voiced his displeasure to the director). Again, I can just hear Largos’ builder saying: “Uh-huh, You want a passageway built from the shark tank to the swimming pool. You wanna explain your reasoning on that Mr. Largo? You really need to find another outfit because if our company did it, imagine the possibility for personal injury lawsuit.”

While Thunderball did have several moments that strike me as hokey, it’s still one of my favorite Bond films because it contains my all-time favorite Connery line: at the film’s climax, Largo is attempting to make his getaway in this yacht, the Disco Valente, which can take off at what seems to be 40 knotts (never mind that chasing it down would be a piece of cake for any aircraft or helicopter). Bond engages in a serious brawl in the ship’s pilot house with the ship’s captain, Largo, and another henchman, and does quite well fighting at 3:1 odds. However, he finds himself staring down the barrel of Largo’s pistol and with blood running down his face, it looks like Bond’s luck just might have run out. Then there’s a sudden thunk, Largo’s eyes glaze over, and he does a slow fall to the floor. When he’s fallen, we see there’s a spear gun projectile in his back, and Largo’s ex mistress, Domino (who’s taken up with Bond) steps over her ex-lover’s body and says, with breathy French accent, “I am glad I keelled heem.” With blood dripping from one corner of his moth, Connery replies, “**You’re** glad?”

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