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Hello, Mr. Bond: The Many Faces of Blofeld

The big rumor for James Bond’s 24th official film is that Christoph Waltz will be playing the film’s villain and that that villain will be none other than Ernst Stavro Blofeld, international criminal and head of the worldwide network of terrorism and extortion known as SPECTRE. He’s known the world over and is James Bond’s arch nemesis, appearing in more novels and films than any other villain. If this rumor is indeed true (and holy shit, how could it not be!?), Waltz will be joining an eclectic group of actors who’ve played the role throughout the years, beginning with the very second James Bond movie, From Russia with Love in 1963. In total, Blofeld has appeared in six official Bond movies and one unofficial one, which is where the interesting part of the character comes into play.

First, a little bit of backstory: Ian Fleming, the author of the Bond novels, had been trying to get his spy character to the screen since the 1950s. At a certain point, he and two writers, Kevin McClory and Jack Whittingham, came up with a basic premise and screen story for what would have been the first James Bond film. However, it ended up never materializing and Fleming turned that story into his novel Thunderball. In the 1960s, Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman obtained the rights to Fleming’s novels (except the first novel, Casino Royale) and made the first of them, Dr. No, in 1962. Since they had purchased the rights to all the Bond novels, they also had the rights to all the characters within, which by that time included the 1961 Thunderball and Blofeld.

However, by the time Thunderball was to be made into the fourth film (and the movie franchise proved to be insanely lucrative) McClory sued Fleming and EON Productions for having co-created the character of Blofeld, or so he claimed, based on the Thunderball treatment. Since Fleming, a bad businessman, hadn’t set anything in writing, there was no way to prove what had or hadn’t been part of those initial meetings and writing sessions, so McClory is listed as a producer on Thunderball and would forever attempt to get his own Bond films made. More on that in a bit, but first!

Blofeld #1 – Anthony Dawson & Eric Pohlmann, From Russia with Love and Thunderball

In his first two appearances, Blofeld was only seen — like Dr. Claw in Inspector Gadget. He was someone sitting in a chair aggressively petting a fluffy white cat. He is only called “Number 1,” the head of SPECTRE. He was played by Anthony Dawson and voiced by Eric Pohlmann. You never saw his face, and in the above clip from Thunderball, they actually go out of their way to hide him. He is the one who sets the wheels in motion for both of those films, though he is little more than a, if you’ll pardon me, specter.

Blofeld #2 – Donald Pleasence, You Only Live Twice

They decided to make Blofeld not only more prominent in his third appearance, but to actually show him. The role was given to perennial creepy guy Donald Pleasence, whose bald visage and scar make-up are the gold standard for people’s memory of Blofeld. In fact, obviously, it’s Pleasence’s Blofeld that Mike Myers was spoofing with his Dr. Evil character. Pleasence’s Blofeld is supercilious evil, and is the only actor to play up the character’s Polish-Greek heritage in his accent. Nobody else even tries.

Blofeld #3 – Telly Savalas, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

Though George Lazenby is nobody’s favorite Bond, it’s hard to argue that On Her Majesty’s Secret Service isn’t easily one of the best films in the series. For my money, as iconic as Pleasence’s Blofeld is, Savalas is the most purely evil and formidable, even engaging in a bobsleigh chase in the film’s climax. This represents the saddest ending in a Bond movie as well, with (SPOILERS) Blofeld and his henchwoman coming out of nowhere and murdering Bond’s new wife as they’re parked on the side of the road. It’s a tragic end that only a serious Blofeld like Savalas could have pulled off convincingly.

Blofeld #4 – Charles Gray, Diamonds Are Forever

This movie is just across-the-board silly and Sean Connery, who’d wanted nothing to do with the series anymore, was paid a lot of money to come back after the public dislike of Lazenby. So, he’s phoning it in, and the actor they got to play Blofeld for this one, Charles Gray, is perfectly fine, but certainly much more generic Bond villain than either of the previous two had been. He just comes across as an angry pompous git.

That film happened in 1971 and represented all of the books in which Blofeld appeared, and even added him to From Russia with Love. But, the popularity of the character would have given the producers reason to want to bring him back at least another time or two, but by this point McClory had been fighting in the courts over creative control over not just the Blofeld character, but the James Bond franchise as a whole, saying everything that is Bond onscreen was cooked up by him, or at least partially by him, and he should be the one to make the movies. Blofeld was the linchpin in this argument and hence the next and last time Blofeld appeared in the official canon. Ten years later, he’d go back to being an unnamed and hardly-shown figure whom Bond dispatches before the opening credits even role, a real EFF-YOU to McClory.

Blofeld #5 – John Hollis and Robert Reitty, For Your Eyes Only

For a villain who was as big a part of the franchise, for him to go out so undignified is a big of a shame, even if it was as a means of sticking it to McClory — by killing off his “creation” and ensuring he wouldn’t get any further royalties from it, if the courts so decided. They didn’t even get a big actor to play him; that would have given it too much of a hat-tip. Instead they hired actor John Hollis, best known as being Lando Calrissian’s bald assistant Lobot in Empire to be the body of Blofeld while Robert Reitty did the voice. It’s… it’s just a bit pants.

But, McClory did eventually win in court and was given license to make his own James Bond movie. However, the courts also decided that he only could prove that he created things that went into Thunderball, and so his sole contribution to the Bond pantheon, the unofficial Never Say Never Again from 1983, is little more than a remake of the earlier 1967 film. McClory brought Connery in to compete with EON’s Roger Moore, and Connery’s grudge against Cubby Broccoli was still so severe that he happily agreed, and he also expanded the part of Blofeld from the faceless cameo in the original film to being played by a very well known and fine actor indeed.

Blofeld #6 – Max Von Sydow, Never Say Never Again
Sydow Blofeld
There isn’t even a video clip of Max von Sydow on YouTube, but he is to date the last actor to appear as Blofeld on screen. His Blofeld is actually pretty good, still doing the sophisticated evil that the best of the other actors did, but adding just that little air of Swedishness that made the character all the more mysterious. He also had a sweet Sigmund Freud beard-stache going on, which is always appreciated.

While Kevin McClory always tried to make another James Bond movie, and even attempted to obtain the rights to Casino Royale when they became available in the 2000s (nearly snaking them from Barbara Broccoli), he was never able to do so. He passed away in 2006 at the age of 80 and his estate settled with EON Productions so that Blofeld could appear in another official James Bond film.

If Waltz is the new Blofeld, I think he’s going to be a perfect addition to the ranks, perhaps mixing the quirkiness of Pleasence with the intensity of Savalas. Given how good he is in everything we’ve seen him in, Waltz is absolutely the perfect choice. Now, whether he decides to go bald with it is probably best left to better people than I.

Are you excited for the return of Blofeld? Who’s been your favorite thus far? Let me know below!

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  1. WJ Glover says:

    I appreciated the evolution of Spectre through the early movies.  Spectre was not mentioned in Dr. No.  Spectre appears in From Russia with Love and only then is Dr. No identified as a Spectre operative.  Through the movies Bond only gradually moves up the food chain until he is in direct battle with Blofeld.  The first direct confrontation (OHMSS) ends in failure for Bond.  I found the opening scenes of Bond’s elegant rage in Diamonds are Forever to be powerful.  The return of Blofeld would certainly give Bond a reason for continued heroic action after the death of Madam M.

  2. Bob Sacamano says:

    not to nitpick, but Thunderball was 1965, not 1967

  3. kevin says:

    Donald Pleasance of course!  (Telly Savallas a close second

  4. Brad says:

    George Lazenby is my favorite Bond, and he did some really kick ass kung fu movies in the 70s.