Thursday, 2 April 2009

Perspective on James Bond Movie Villains: Part 1 - SPECTRE and Quantum

This posting was prompted by me seeing 'Quantum of Solace' (2008) which came out on DVD at the end of last month. It is interesting how the James Bond franchise keeps re-inventing itself. We have seen a steady move away from the bloated comic style of the 1970s. I wish the producers had dropped Roger Moore after 'The Spy Who Loved Me' (1977) the last Bond movie I feel he had any credibility in. 'Moonraker' (1979) was too infected by the science fiction craze of the era and whoever had been the lead in that movie would have been an embarrassment (it was a real waste of the talents of Michael Lonsdale who plays Hugo Drax). However, the back-to-basics 'For Your Eyes Only' (1981) and, to a lesser extent, 'Octopussy' (1983) and 'A View To A Kill' (1985), would have been far better handled more seriously.

'A View To A Kill' is a pretty weak film anyway, wasting the talents of both Christopher Walken (born 1943) and especially Patrick MacNee (1922-2015) as Sir Godfrey Tibbett.  MacNee was the third actor from the successful British television series 'The Avengers' to appear in a James Bond movie after Honor Blackman as Pussy Galore in 'Goldfinger' (1964) and Diana Rigg as Tracy/Theresa Draco/Di Vicenza in 'On Her Majesty's Secret Service' (1969). There is a lot of conflict over that character's name: I imagine 'Tracy' is used as a contraction of Theresa which appears on her gravestone at the start of 'For Your Eyes Only' (1981); Di Vicenza may be the official name that her father used.

If Timothy Dalton (born 1944) had come in in 1981, after having appeared in 'Flash Gordon' (1980), things could have improved sooner. With the so-called Second Cold War (1979-83/5) in full flow we could have had some tense stories. Of course, he did not turn up until 'The Living Daylights' (1987) and his two movies (the other being 'Licence to Kill' (1989)), were seen as too serious by the established audience. So, we saw an abortive reinvention in 'For Your Eyes Only', then another unsuccessful one with 'The Living Daylights' and it was not until 'GoldenEye' (1995) that the reinvention took. Saying that, by the time of his last Bond movie, 'Die Another Day' (2002), Pierce Brosnan had begun being moved in the Roger Moore direction with humour (an invisible car?!).  Some of the darker aspects, however, had not been shed: if you watch the title sequence it does not have women flying around as in the usual Bond movies, but, rather, Bond being tortured over a 14-month period.

'Casino Royale' (2006) was yet another reinvention moving Bond to the darker side and this time it was incredibly successful. To some degree the 'Bourne' factor, i.e., the success of the Jason Bourne trilogy, 'The Bourne Identity' (2002), 'The Bourne Supremacy' (2004) and 'The Bourne Ultimatum' (2007).  These had a lean movie style featuring a spy who relies more on his personal ingenuity than high tech inventions and impacted strongly on the Bond franchise. Ironically, the original Bourne books (same titles: 1980, 1986, 1990; six books have followed 2004-10) were by Robert Ludlum (1927-2001) who was responsible for rather bloated thrillers in the 1970s-80s (just see the movies that remained close to his novels, unlike the recent trilogy: 'The Osterman Weekend' (1983) and 'The Holcroft Covenant' (1985)). Sensibly, as the Bond moviemakers had done, the Bourne ones did too, i.e. move from the source material, which is fixed in a time and its attitudes, towards a story more appropriate to the current time. The Bourne moviemakers were simply ahead of the game in an era when the government constantly tries to make us all feel that we are on the frontline in a battle with terrorists rather than this being left to sophisticated spies. We are told that spying is now a job for everyone and this is different from the 1950s-60s when it was left up to the elegant and the wealthy, in fact little different to the kind of 'Great Game' spying of the 19th century.

Just as 'The Living Daylights' was felt by some fans to be a step too far, perhaps now, 'Quantum of Solace' is seen in that way too. It is an incredibly lean and focused movie. It can almost be seen as 'Casino Royale Part 2' as the action picks up an hour after that of the previous movie. This means that some of the protagonists are the same. Perhaps we need more time to get to know Bond in this role, but, given that he is supposed to be on a revenge mission, it is probably unsurprising he is tight-lipped. There is criticism that at 1 hour 46 minutes it is too short; you can compare it to 2 hours 24 minutes for 'Casino Royale' or 2 hours 6 minutes for 'Moonraker', but having seen this latest movie, I cannot say I felt it was too short. I think this is because the action is not incessant, but certainly regular, and, any more would have seemed too much; sensible editing.

The one thing that jarred was Gemma Aterton as Strawberry Fields (yes, unbelievable, but I imagine included for those who liked Pussy Galore and Plenty O'Toole in previous Bond movies; though given there is a real actress called Honeysuckle Weeks I suppose these days anything is feasible).  She appears as a consular official but with a hairstyle appearing as if it was cut with shears, wearing a raincoat (in Bolivia) that seems to have nothing under it and slouchy suede boots. I know she is posing as a teacher on holiday but she seems convincing neither as that nor a consular official; it was as if the wardrobe for the actress had got lost in transit to Bolivia. A woman looking more like what we imagine a teacher would appear would have been more interesting. She has sex with Bond and is killed by being drowned in oil (so that she resembles Jill Masterton painted gold in 'Goldfinger') and then is returned to Bond's room without leaving a trail of oil across the floor. (That got me thinking how did Goldfinger paint Jill without getting paint anywhere else? I suppose these are the things you learn when you become a Bond villain.) Her character could have been handled much better, something along the lines of Natalya Fyodorovna Simonova in 'GoldenEye': out of her depth in the spy world, but not a complete naif and with her own resources. Strawberry was a consular official after all and presumably spoke Spanish and would be familiar with the political and social situations in Bolivia. I suppose the model for her was more the brief appearance by the MI6 assessor Caroline in 'GoldenEye'.  She was played by Serena Gordon as a silly former public schoolgirl too easily seduced by Bond and it was pandering to the old fashioned Bond audience.

Boys and girls are always influenced by how people behave in movies. As Channel 4 has been showing, unfortunately, too much knowledge about sex now comes from internet pornography and gives young men, in particular, a distorted view of reality. I am not saying James Bond movies need to be public information films, but given that the seven year old boy who lives in my house, can already say 'Ich heiße Bond, James Bond' ('I am called Bond, James Bond' though I imagine Bond never said it in German, though I have not seen a dubbed Bond movie, so perhaps he does), this franchise has a huge impact and having some more positive women is not a bad thing.

What about a female villain? There have been evil assistants (who often get turned by Bond) but in all the movies only one scheme is actually masterminded (or is that mistressminded?) by a woman. Having M as a woman, played admirably by Judi Dench from 'GoldenEye' onwards, not only reflected real life developments in British intelligence but provided an excellent foil for the Bonds. Like her predecessors, she does seem to lack the ability to delegate and in many Bond movies, despite being head of MI6, M seems compelled to fly out to every corner of the planet to work with Bond: in a submarine in 'You Only Live Twice'; on board the grounded 'Queen Elizabeth' off Hong Kong in 'The Man with the Golden Gun'; Egypt in 'The Spy Who Loved Me'; Greece in 'A View to a Kill', Turkey for 'The World is Not Enough'; the Caribbean in 'Licence to Kill' and 'Casino Royale' and now Bolivia for 'Quantum of Solace'. Q the armourer/technician gets around even more. I suppose the foreign travel is a perk of the job.

Dominic Greene played by Mathiew Almaric

As usual, I am getting off track with the introduction to this posting. Anyway, the other criticism that came up was that the villain of 'Quantum of Solace', Dominic Greene, played by Mathiew Amalric is seen as too weedy and not sufficiently sinister. I would always argue that it is the mundane evil which is the most frightening. The pantomime evil character is easily dismissed. Greene's relationship with the Bolivian secret agent Camille, played by Olga Kurylenko is interesting, both toying with each other to fulfill personal wishes. Greene is one facet of a highly secretive, multi-national organisation called Quantum that manipulates governments (and individuals, not to give the story away, but many assumptions you may have made around Vesper's story in 'Casino Royale', are turned on their head) and, in particular, resources such as water. I suppose this is the SPECTRE of our age.  SPECTRE was the evil organisation that featured in 'Dr. No' (1962), 'From Russia with Love' (1963), 'Thunderball' (1965) (and the remake 'Never Say Never Again' (1983)) and 'You Only Live Twice' (1967).  Ernst Stavro Blofeld, its apparent leader seems to have gone freelance by 'On Her Majesty's Secret Service' (1969) and 'Diamonds Are Forever' (1971)).

Mr. White of Quantum played by Jesper Christensen

SPECTRE stands for Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion which does suggest it is as the peak of a broader body, being the 'special executive' and why would it be 'counter-intelligence': against spying from whom? This and the word 'revenge' suggests it is acting on behalf of other bodies suffering spying and attacks, and this is borne out by the fact that in the novels it is in fact a federal body of various crime groups. It has 18 members (in the movies, 21) with three each from the former Gestapo, SMERSH (an element of the Soviet Army during the Second World War, though expanded in the post-war world in the Bond novels/movies), Yugoslav Marshal Tito's secret police (given the friction between the USSR and Yugoslavia, unlikely to be on good terms with the SMERSH members), highland Turks (for these people in another thriller see 'L'Empire des Loups' (2005) ['The Empire of the Wolves'] starring Jean Reno), the Mafia and the Union Corse, a mafia-type organisation from Corsica. So, it is pretty much a European/West Asian organisation. Quantum, in the most recent movie, meets at the opera in Bregenz in Austria and all the members seem to be Caucasian.

The Quantum/SPECTRE approach resembles enduring stories of secret societies, with power across the globe, who manipulate events, such as the Illuminati and even the Freemasons. In the movies, Quantum and SPECTRE seem to be the full extent of each secret society, whereas in the novels, SPECTRE is fact it is a unit set up through collaboration between a number of crime/secret police bodies to protect their interests and to raise funds. However, if these groups were the ones involved, why does it act against the USSR in so many plans? This suggests the Soviet members have broken away (as Rosa Klebb has from SMERSH in 'From Russia With Love') to pursue their own interests beyond the scope of East-West tensions. In the movies, there is increasing input from Oriental members too; three numbered SPECTRE members are shown in 'You Only Live Twice' set in East Asia.

In a number of the movies, gangsters, particularly the US mafia, are involved, most notably in 'Goldfinger'.  It seems that SPECTRE has some connection with them too. To some degree, this reflects the original Bond author, Ian Fleming's interests. The Caribbean, particularly Jamaica, which Fleming knew well, was often a location of the villains and this is seen in 'Dr. No', 'Thunderball' and 'Live and Let Die', though the location for the movie of 'The Man with the Golden Gun' was moved from the Caribbean, the location in the novel, to South-East Asia for the movie.  I think that was a sensible step to bring variety but also reflected the success of kung-fu movies of the time.

Involvement between SPECTRE and more conventional criminals is hinted at in the movies. In 'Dr. No' (1962) the painting of the Duke of Wellington by Francisco de Goya is shown as hanging in Dr. No's base. It had been bought by Britain's National Gallery in 1961 with money from the government after public uproar that it was going to be taken out of the country by US oil tycoon Charles Wrightsman (he had paid $392,000 [£140,000] at the time for it, worth about £2.5-4 million nowadays). Then it was stolen in August 1961, just three weeks after having been hung in the National Gallery. A ransom demand for £140,000 was sent to Reuters news agency asking that the money be spent on television licences for poor people but there was no official response.

The painting was stolen by a bus driver Kempton Bunton, aged 60, (who earned £8 per week, equivalent to around £130-280 per week today) who later returned the painting to the 'Daily Mirror' newspaper. He was arrested six weeks after that and served 3 months' imprisonment for stealing the frame which was never recovered. There are some claims that Bunton was not guilty but this may be simply because people cannot believe an elderly amateur foiled the National Gallery's security (it must have been an immense embarrassment) and that someone more sophisticated must have been involved. Trying to use the ransom money to buy television licences for poor people is a very different kind of plot from anything SPECTRE envisaged!

A similar connection between fictional SPECTRE and real crimes of the time is seen at the start of 'Thunderball' (1964) when there are suggestions that SPECTRE was involved in the Great Train Robbery of 1963 in which £2.6 million (equivalent to about £40-80 million these days) was stolen, making it the largest value robbery in the UK until 1983. Thirteen members of the 15-man gang were caught and sentenced in April 1964 though two later escaped; one was recaptured in Canada in 1968. One of the uncaptured men gave himself up, leaving only one man unaccounted for. Again, the scale of the crime made it seem feasible that some other force rather than straightforward British robbers, however clever they might have been, were responsible. After the robbery, some members of the gang hid out in Bournemouth in a house not far from where Blofeld actor Charles Gray had been born and raised.

Anyway, I think Dominic Greene (given that another member of Quantum we know is called Mr. White, have we got a 'Reservoir Dogs' (1992) style of villain designation going on?) is a suitable villain simply because he lacks the pantomime aspects. This got me thinking.  Back in 2002 at the time of the 40th anniversary of 'Dr. No' lots of books came out covering the history of the movies and rating the villains. I do not agree with all of their perspectives on these villains and, having written about Greene, thought I would turn to the other 'baddies'. 
I feel there are broad categories: the pantomime villains, the bad uncles and the little Hitlers, i.e. driven to evil by mundane characteristics.  Actually, inadvertently I realised, I can find three dictators from the 1930s who fit each of my categories: Mussolini, Stalin and Hitler himself, men who certainly sought continental, if not global domination; were ruthless and drove the murders of millions. Ian Fleming (1908-64), and many of the actors who portrayed his villains, had lived in the era when extraordinarily evil people were almost the norm. Behind these three were numerous other dictators across the world and democracy seemed to be an endangered political ideology for much of the 20th century. Post-1945 while many dictators had gone, the tools for destroying the world were far more easily available.

The largest single category of villain in the James Bond movies are those men at the top of SPECTRE (for immense detail on the organisation see: Some of the agents of the organisation would seem to be freelance and, despite some commentaries, one can envisage that, as in the novels, there is only a core membership which recruits agents as it needs them, for example Red Grant in 'From Russia With Love'. In all the movies, only 12 of the supposed 18 members have been shown. Given how many Bond has killed, there have been a number of replacements over the years.  For its time, SPECTRE was quite advanced in its employment policies. These days it is not unusual to have a female villain but back in the 1960s it was far more remarkable. Rosa Klebb is often referred to as an 'ogress', apparently modelled on Emma Wolff an agent of the NKVD (a predecessor of the KGB) who had dyed red hair. Note that Klebb is a colonel, so clearly good at her job, and immune, it seems, to Bond's charms, making her an ideal agent to send against him.

The head of SPECTRE is clearly Ernst Stavro Blofeld and this character has become the template for similar heads of sinister organisations. Fleming took the name Blofeld from that of the author Ernst Blofeld, one of whose relatives, Tom Blofeld, was a member of Fleming's club. The character is most effective, when as in 'From Russia with Love' and 'Thunderball', he does not actually appear. In the novels he changes his appearance through plastic surgery, which is helpful given that he was portrayed in the movies by such differing actors. Baldness and scarring have long been associated with evil characters in traditional literature and, for all its modernity, the Bond stories are in this context.

One must assume that Blofeld is carrying on schemes that do not involve Bond leading him to lose his hair and become scarred between 'Thunderball' and 'You Only Live Twice'. When he does appear, he wears the Nehru collared jacket, now a staple of villaina.  To some degree this reflects the role that China was gaining at the time, in being seen as a Communist superpower, but also references earlier Oriental villains such as Sax Rohmer's Fu Manchu. The buttoned-up style also contrasts with the more standard dress of Bond.

SPECTRE No. 3 - Colonel Rosa Klebb played by Lotte Lenya

In the novels, Blofeld is portrayed as half-Polish, half-Greek (hence Stavro), who had studied economics, technology and radionics in the 1930s and carried out insider trading in Poland before the war. He is shown as having sold secrets to Nazi Germany, but seeing out the Second World War in Turkey and switching sides to work for the Allies (in common with a number of German spies when the Cold War changed things). In the novels he is a former bodybuilder, but in the movies he is much smaller in stature. 

Despite the reach of his organisation, Blofeld's first plan in 'From Russia with Love' is simply about the revenge for the death of Dr. Julius No in 'Dr. No'. Colonel Rosa Klebb and Donald 'Red' Grant (a psychopath who escaped from Dartmoor prison in 1960 and recruited by SPECTRE in Tangiers in 1962) are some of the most convincing villains in the movies, because they seem human and yet dangerous too. Klebb appears bitter at not advancing in her career as far as she might have done (though female colonels were far from unknown in the Soviet Army especially in the Second World War generation).  She seems to feel there are better opportunities in SPECTRE. She also seems to mourn her passing of her youth especially when interviewing the young Soviet consular secretary, Tatiana Romanova.  Some say this is a sign of latent lesbianism, but I think it is simpler than that.

Grant is also bitter about the British social system and its manners which catches him out as a working/lower middle class man (drinking red chianti with fish). He is greedy and Bond exploits his desire for money to gain a little advantage. It is interesting that SPECTRE represents for Klebb and Grant opportunities denied them in their established system, the same way that both the Nazi Party and CPSU did for people from lower class backgrounds in Germany and the USSR. Uppity working class people upsetting the 'natural' order of British social hierarchy in the early 1960s could be seen as much as a threat as other threats to global stability.  It also echoes thrillers of the 1900s-1930s.  Bond in these movies is the policeman protecting the British establishment in a range of ways.

A brief aside on Klebb, I found out the following while adding to this posting. Rosa Klebb had supposedly been the mistress of (the real life man) Andreas Nin (1892-1937) in 1936 during the Spanish Civil War. She had been a double agent for POUM (the Spanish anarchist body), doing work for both the OGPU (secret police) in Moscow, and the Communist Intelligence in Spain (suggesting she spoke Spanish as well as English fluently). OGPU ordered her to kill Andreas Nin. After the death of Lavrentiy Beria in 1953, Rosa Klebb rose to the position of Head of Operations for SMERSH (Otdyel II - Operations and Executions). By 1963 she had defected from the KGB (OGPU's successor) to join SPECTRE.
Donald 'Red' Grant played by Robert Shaw

As with many SPECTRE plots, that in 'From Russia With Love' involves playing off the USSR and the West against each other. Blofeld wants Bond murdered and lures him to Istanbul with the offer of a Lektor coding device from the Soviets, brought over by Colonel Rosa Klebb formerly of SMERSH but now a member (No. 3) of SPECTRE. Despite subsequent plots for world domination, this first one portrays Blofeld as an individual angered by being defied, but in a position to exploit his power to reap revenge, something Bond himself does in both 'Licence to Kill' and 'Quantum of Solace'.

The suggestion is that these people, beyond normal confines, can act as they choose in seeking to bring about personal objectives. All of us would love to fire rockets at the car that cut us up or bring about the demise of someone who humiliated us at work. Thus, in this role, not only do we associate with Bond as the action hero, but we can understand the villain too. Many commentators have referred to how Bond is acting as a St. George in the Dragon story and we know that while we see the dragon as evil (and exploiting women in particular) there is some comprehension of its motives, certainly in the modern world. In case we get too sympathetic to Blofeld, he kills his chief planner, Czechoslovak chess marvel Kronsteen, No. 5 in SPECTRE, with the poisoned spike which emerges from his shoe.

SPECTRE No. 5, Director of Planning - Kronsteen played by Vladek Sheybal

There are world domination plots in both 'Dr. No' and 'Thunderball' but these are handled by Blofeld's lieutenants. However, Blofeld demonstrates his callous nature again in 'Thunderball' in a scene which really scared me in my youth when No. 9 (played by Clive Cazes), is electrocuted in his seat. I suppose that keeping discipline among the most devious people in the world is a challenge. In the Bond movies, most of the villains kill someone arbitrarily to demonstrate their cold, obsessed nature. To some extent this references Hitler and the Night of the Long Knives in which he had leading members of the SA, the paramilitary organisation that had aided his rise, eliminated in 1934.

Ernst Stavro Blofeld played by Donald Pleasance

The first full view of Blofeld is in 'You Only Live Twice' in which he is played by British actor Donald Pleasance (1919-95) who portrays him as a scar-faced bald man. Pleasance played many sinister British and sometimes German characters, mixing between ordinary working class and upper class villains, in particular doctors. His manner is deliberately cold and blank, trying, I think, to mimic that of Auric Goldfinger. However, to some extent Pleasance goes too too far and so approaches the pantomime villain, so accurately parodied as Dr. Evil in the three Austin Powers movies, ('Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery' (1997); 'Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me' (1999) and 'Austin Powers in Goldmember' (2002)). Interestingly, the original actor who was going to play the role, Jan Werich, was dropped because he looked too avuncular, a challenge with many Bond movie villains.

SPECTRE's replacement No. 3 played by Michael Chow

SPECTRE's replacement No. 4, played by Burt Kwouk

SPECTRE No. 8 - Mr. Osato played by Teru Shimada

SPECTRE's replacement No. 11 - Helga Brandt played by Karin Dor

In 'You Only Live Twice' SPECTRE seeks to provoke war between the USA and USSR, possibly in the interests of China. The organisation's base seems to be near Japan and by this stage a number of its members are Oriental: No. 3 (the replacement for Klebb), No. 4 (played by Burt Kwouk, presumably Dr. No's replacement), and No. 8, a Mr. Osato.  There is also the replacement for the No. 11 seen killed in 'Thunderball', Helga Brandt.

It is argued that the movie reflects racist views of the screenwriter, Roald Dahl, towards Oriental people. However, the story is in the context of the concerns about the so-called 'Yellow peril' from a rising East Asia that go back to the late 19th century. In addition, in 1967, when the movie was released, China had been an atomic power for three years and was in the midst of the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) that seemed not to care about the rest of the world. Mao Zedong, the Chinese leader, believed China, with its vast population, could win a third world war; the outcome of which would see the USA become a Communist state and de facto Communist control of the entire world. Dahl was more than intelligent enough to be aware of these tendencies and the fears of the time and to play on them in the movie. Thus, we have some of the fantasies of Mao and the CCP transferred to Blofeld and SPECTRE.

Ernst Stavro Blofeld played by Telly Savalas

When Blofeld reappears in 'On Her Majesty's Secret Service' (1969) he seems to have left SPECTRE or, maybe, having lost two members in 'From Russia With Love', four members in 'Thunderball' (Nos. 6 [Colonel Jacques Bouvar], 7, 9 and 10) and another three, possibly four (Nos. 3, 8 and 11, we do not see the fate of No. 4), in 'You Only Live Twice', plus his two key lieutenants in 'Dr. No' and 'Thunderball', he has given up on this structure.  He seems to be working alone, well, just with assistance from Irma Bunt (perhaps influenced by Irma Petersen the villainess of the Bulldog Drummond novels which we know Fleming claimed he was influenced by) who disappears at the end of the movie. Blofeld is played by American actor Telly Savalas (1922-94). Now, Savalas could play nasty as seen most effectively in 'The Dirty Dozen' (1967) in the role of woman-hating, racist, psychopath, Archer Maggott.

In 'On Her Majesty's Secret Service', Blofeld has retreated to a mountain top base where he is hypnotising young women from across the world to return to their countries where, at his command, they will spread disease that will kill off livestock and crops. This refers back to the plot in the novel and reflects concerns in the late 1960s and early 1970s that the world was going to run out of food, especially protein.

Savalas plays Blofeld as far too relaxed really to be sinister. He has the British agent Campbell killed and hung from his lodge, but it is all too blasé.  As commentators have noticed, having met Bond before in 'You Only Live Twice', why does Blofeld not recognise Bond immediately this time? Of course, they are both played by different actors and Bond played by George Lazenby refers to the 'other chap' at the start. This implies that 'James Bond' and 'Ernst Blofeld' (Felix Leiter and Bill Tanner too) are more like titles than names of individuals and different people take on the role over time. This would explain why Bond carries details with his real name in 'Diamonds Are Forever'. Blofeld does work out quickly, however, that Bond, masquerading as Sir Hilary Bray, from the College of Arms, is an imposter.

The restricted plot with less heavy technology suggests Blofeld is seeking funds to re-build SPECTRE or to create a new organisation of his own which is why we hear nothing of SPECTRE. Blofeld is portraying himself as the Comte de Bleuville (literally 'blue town').  Perhaps the Blofeld we see in this movie himself has simply taken up the name as the previous Blofelds have been killed. Unfortunately, Savalas is simply too bland in this role for it to have any meat.

Ernst Stavro Blofeld played by Charles Gray

The next view of Blofeld is in 'Diamonds Are Forever' (1971). In this movie he is played by British actor Charles Gray (1928-2000) and this marks the transformation of Blofeld fully to bad uncle, a step helped along a great deal by Savalas's portrayal. Gray has a wonderfully dry, sonorous voice, probably best known from being the narrator on 'The Rocky Horror Picture Show' (1975). Gray had already played an ally of Bond's, Dikko Henderson, in 'You Only Live Twice'. Gray is less passive than Savalas, but seems too jovial to be sinister. Do none of these men actually care about the plots they are developing? You certainly felt that the unseen Blofeld gave a damn about what he was doing, as you did with Dr. No and Auric Goldfinger.  The visible Blofelds rather seem to be going through the motions.

In 'Diamonds Are Forever', Blofeld is hiding behind Las Vegas recluse Willard Whyte. Like many world leaders, Blofeld has now enlisted a look-alike with his own white cat too. Blofeld is developing the kind of satellite laser device to threaten the world, that Gustave Graves perfects in 'Die Another Day', but never gets to put it into action. 'Diamonds Are Forever' feels very much like a 1970s movie, it is all too brash with the best scenes being in the Netherlands rather than the USA. The mores of the time are apparent in that you have two athletic female assassins (though they name themselves Bambi and Thumper) and two homosexual ones, Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd, who, fitting homosexual stereotypes of the time, douse themselves in perfume. Homosexuality had only become legalised in the UK in 1969. Toned down a little to be less camp, these two could have been actually sinister and in a movie made a few years earlier or indeed later could have been very effective rather than comic.

Blofeld was played at the start of 'For Your Eyes Only' (1981) by John Hollis, though he was not credited due to wrangles over the part of Blofeld in the movies. By this time, Blofeld is confined to an electric wheelchair and seems a very bitter man, presumably crippled following Bond crashing his mini-submarine into the oil rig off Baja California ten years before. He seeks revenge by putting Bond into helicopter under his control. Bond wrestles back control of it and uses it to lift Blofeld's wheelchair and drop him down an industrial chimney, presumably killing him. As in 'On Her Majesty's Secret Service' you feel that Blofeld has been pushed down from his peak by Bond.  His last shot at returning to his might at the time of 'You Only Live Twice', was wrecked at the end of 'Diamonds Are Forever' and he is left a disabled man driven only by revenge.

Baldness and disability historically are a quick symbol for evil. We are reminded of the 'rightness' of Bond's killing Blofeld by the sight of him at his wife Tracy's grave who Blofeld had shot by Irma Bunt. Bunt of course has escaped any retribution. Irma in the Bulldog Drummond novels outlived her husband Carl Petersen who was Hugh 'Bulldog' Drummond's main opponent. Is she now an advisor to Quantum?
Ernst Stavro Blofeld played by Max von Sydow

This was not the last appearance of Blofeld, because we have the 1983 remake of 'Thunderball' made by a different company to EON which had produced all the others. 'Never Say Never Again' is flawed. At 53, Sean Connery (born 1930) was possibly a bit too old for the part (Pierce Brosnan was 49 when he appeared for the last time as Bond in 2002) and the toupees were foolish.

The presence of British comedian/comic actor, Rowan Atkinson (born 1955) as Nigel Small-Fawcett ('fawcett' in the USA means a tap for a sink or a bath), Bond's contact in the Caribbean, was an error. Ironically, Atkinson played a much sharper character in the 'comic' series 'Blackadder Goes Forth' (1989) in which he portrays a captain on the Western Front in the First World War. Atkinson went on to portray a comedy spy himself in 'Johnny English' (2003) which featured Tim Piggott-Smith as Pegasus, head of English's employers MI7.  Piggott-Smith appears in 'Quantum of Solace' as the Foreign Secretary.

Another comedian, Robbie Coltrane shows that it is not necessarily the case that those with a comedy background should be ruled out of Bond movies as he turns in good performances as Russian gangster Valentin Dmitrovich Zukovsky in 'GoldenEye' (1995) and 'The World is Not Enough' (1999).  Then again, Coltrane had proven his serious acting credibility as a serious actor in 'Cracker' (1993-6), one of the most renowned episodes of which, 'To Be Somebody', featured Robert Carlyle as Albie Kinsella, looking very much as he appears as the terrorist Zokas in the Bond movie 'The World is Not Enough'.

The plot of Blofeld's lieutenant Maxmillian Largo to steal nuclear missiles to play off the USSR and USA was relevant at the time of the Second Cold War with the twist of them also being used to wreck Middle Eastern oil supplies. Fatima Blush, SPECTRE's No. 12 was over the top, with very Eighties style clothing, though she did seem a little to be a precursor for Xena Onatopp in 'GoldenEye'. A No. 5, presumably Kronsteen's replacement, also features. Blofeld this time was played by Swedish actor Max von Sydow (born 1929) who, despite falling heavily into the bad uncle mould (and the cat just makes him look more cosy than sinister), is a far better actor and you feel he is really concerned about the outcome of his plot. The appearance of Blofeld portrayed by Max von Sydow, is possibly far too amiable, as you can see from the picture. He does not even look like a bad uncle. Given that the movie descended into parody at times, having von Sydow revive something of his Ming the Merciless from 'Flash Gordon' (1980) in his character might have worked better.

The manipulation of US airman Jack Petachi through drug addiction and then his murder whilst Largo has his sister as his lover, is as sinister as the betrayal of SPECTRE agent Angelo Palazzi in 'Thunderball' and gives a real edge to the movie. Better editing, better props (such as the cars), more direction to some of the characters, could have made this a tighter movie, but, as people note, it feels tired. Ironically von Sydow is one of the best Blofelds and it is worthwhile contrasting this to his portrayal of Ming three years earlier to show how he avoided a pantomime villain approach that he had done so well in that previous movie.

Bringing together the intermittent story of Blofeld he seems a credible villain with peaks and troughs in his activity. Clearly, greed and power drive him, but there are personal facets too. In John Gardner's James Bond book, 'On Special Services' (1982), Blofeld is shown as having a daughter, Nena Bismaquer, by his French mistress. Perhaps she, as well as Irma, will appear in future movies.

The whole Blofeld-Bunt relationship was spoofed in the Austin Powers movies and seems to have resulted in a son for Dr. Evil, an aspect which humanises him a great deal. Villains who are human are more frightening than those who are robots, as unfortunately Pleasance made Blofeld appear; the others, von Sydow aside, made him appear rather bored with it all.  This does fit, however, with how another villain, Mr. Big is portrayed in the novel, 'Live and Let Die' (1954): as suffering from a lethargy brought on by being satiated that leads him to extreme crimes.

In two of the movies featuring SPECTRE, Blofeld plays a secondary role. In the novels, the numbering rotates at regular intervals, so Blofeld is No. 2 in 'Thunderball' and Emilio Largo, No. 1. However, in the movies the numbering seems to reflect some kind of rank, though Rosa Klebb, a new member, comes straight in at No. 3 and Kronsteen, who is far more established in the organisation, is No. 5. It may be that as in the novels, numbers are assigned at random and newcomers replace dead predecessors with that number.

Dr. Julius No
The movie 'Dr. No' is named after the first No. 4 of SPECTRE that we see, Dr. Julius No. No is half-German (his father was a missionary in China), half-Chinese and a specialist in radiation.  Experimentation with radiation led him to lose his hands that have been replaced by sophisticated plastic-covered ones (in the novel they were chopped off by the Tongs [Chinese criminal gangs] he stole from and have just been replaced by pincers). In the novel he is paid by the Soviets to misdirect US missiles by jamming and sells the retrieved missiles to the Soviets. In the movie he has been rejected by both the USA and USSR and so works for SPECTRE bringing down various rockets particularly those of the USA's Mercury programme. The different phases of the manned space programme of the USA feature in a number of Bond movies. The overall motive for this activity is not revealed before Bond kills No in a pool of boiling water of his own nuclear reactor.

SPECTRE's No. 4 - Dr. Julius No played by Joseph Wiseman

No is a well realised villain, clearly motivated by rejection by his parents and by governments. No is seen as cruel and ruthless but, so far, has not achieved a great deal, bar killing two British agents. The British had interests in the region and Crab Key, his island, is close to Jamaica which only gained independence from Britain in 1962 (the year the movie was made and four years after the novel was published). It is interesting that we see him at an early stage of a plot, not one that is fully developed as is usually the case in the Bond movies. He does have a nuclear reactor.  Even these days a private nuclear reactor would warrant intervention.  Whilst he can bring down missiles there has been no attempt to extort money by the time Bond kills him. Perhaps No's work was the precursor of what SPECTRE manages to achieve by the time of 'You Only Live Twice', five years later, in being able to capture spacecraft.

People associate No with Fu Manchu and there are various literary connections. However, No lacks the out-and-out cruelty of Fu Manchu and, despite his affectation of Nehru collars and Chinese stylings, many of his attitudes seem Western, no doubt a result of his mixed heritage. Of course, China, though not an atomic power at the time of this movie (it got the atomic bomb in 1964 and hydrogen bomb in 1967), was increasingly alarming the West and so was again seen as a legitimate foe in movies in contrast to the victim China had appeared for much of the 1930s-40s.

Unlike many of the Blofelds, as No, Joseph Wiseman (1918-2009, Canadian) manages to strike the balance between being cold without being so blasé you wonder why he is bothering with all this world domination. He also shows pride in his intellect and in the strength of his bionic hands, which even today would be notable technological developments. In some ways though, Oriental + disabled is again standing in as an easy sign for evil in this popular movie. Fortunately Wiseman's acting leads you beyond that superficial assumption. No sets some of the base elements for Pleasance's Blofeld, but I feel turns in a better performance as a convincing villain, who is, interestingly, at a comparatively early stage of developing his plans.

Emilio and Maximilian Largo
The supposed head of extortion and Blofeld's direct lieutenant is Emilio Largo who appears in 'Thunderball'. With his eye patch and clearly middle aged, though not too portly to get into a wetsuit, he does seem like an experienced criminal. He has a much more boisterous personality than Dr. No, but is credible. Like No and Blofeld, he is callous and is the first to throw someone to the sharks, an approach later over-used. He has his lover, Dominique 'Domino' Derval, the sister of the man he is manipulating, tortured, when he thinks she is betraying him.  In the novel the character is called Dominique Palazzi in the novel; Palazzi became the surname of the SPECTRE agent who acts as imposter for Dominique's brother, Francois.  Largo is ultimately shot dead by Dominique using a harpoon gun. We meet other agents of SPECTRE including Count Lippe known as 'sub-operator G' and Fiona Volpe who we are told is part of SPECTRE's Assassination Division, though accidentally killed by one of her colleagues.

SPECTRE's No. 2 - Emilio Largo played by Aldolfo Celi

Aldolfo Celi (1922-86) who was born on Sicily seems perfectly cast for the role of Emilio Largo, supposedly a Neapolitan black marketeer. The eyepatch also gives him a passing resemblance to Lieutenant-General Moshe Dayan (1915-81), Chief of Staff of the Israel Defence Forces 1953-8 and later Minister of Agriculture. His features were well known in the media of the time. Celi's accent was deemed to be too strong for the movie and he was dubbed by Robert Rietti (born 1923; often credited as 'Rietty') who made a career out of such work. He had already dubbed Timothy Moxon playing John Strangways in 'Dr. No'.  He would dub Tetsuro Tamba playing 'Tiger' Tanaka in 'You Only Live Twice and John Hollis playing Blofeld in 'For Your Eyes Only'.  He only appeared in front of the camera in 'On Her Majesty's Secret Service' as a baccarat official in the casino.

SPECTRE's replacement No. 5 played by Philip Stone

SPECTRE No. 6 - Colonel Jacques Bouvar played by Bob Simmons

SPECTRE No. 7 played by Cecil Cheng

SPECTRE No. 9 played by Clive Cazes

SPECTRE No. 10 played by André Maranne

SPECTRE No. 11 played by Gábor Baraker

In this movie Largo is manipulative and seems to take pride in his work. He has far more life than the other leading members of SPECTRE. His base is aboard the 'Disco Volante' a large, armoured, pleasure ship which can disengage its carapace to provide a faster moving catamaran.  This seems suitable for his sea-based activities though in the movie, the speeded up camera work as this smaller ship careers on, looks very poor and is unnecessary. Largo seems a decent villain, his plans are not superhuman, but they pose a real threat. He is tough and cold, so seems a suitable match for Bond. You could not imagine No or Blofeld wrestling with the British agent in the way Largo does. Of course, it is his mistreatment of Dominique which is his undoing.

SPECTRE's replacement 'No. 1' - Maximillian Largo played by Klaus Maria Brandauer

In 'Never Say Never Again', Emilio Largo is replaced by Maximillian Largo, a younger man, born in Bucharest, Romania in 1945, so 38 at the time the movie is set compared to Emilio who, presumably, if sharing the actor's age, would be 43 (though I must say with his white hair Celi looked older). Maximilian is No. 1 in SPECTRE (as in the novel) though serving under Blofeld. Maximilian, played by Austrian actor Klaus Maria Brandauer, has more of the businessman air about him and is like other villains we see in Bond movies in the 1980s and 1990s notably Max Zorin in 'A View To A Kill', Elliot Carver in 'Tomorrow Never Dies' and latterly Dominic Greene in 'Quantum of Solace'.

In contrast to Bond and Emilio, Maximillian is not a physical man relying, like Zorin, Carver and Greene, on aides to carry out the violence. This is seen when he battles Bond using a computer game which gives electric shocks to the loser. In this he is very much a villain for the 1980s corporate greed environment. As with Emilio, he mistreats the Domino, in this case placed by the less than exotic Kim Basinger as Domino Petachi.  She is, however, suitably American to fit in with the role of the American pilot brother, Jack. Maximillian is efficient and unpleasant but you somehow feel he is rather weedy, he lacks the harsh sinister nature of Celi's Emilio, but perhaps that was just a result of the time the movie was made. Christopher Walken as Zorin in 'A View To A Kill' does something similar (though rather more manic) and pulls it off far more effectively.

SPECTRE No. 12 - Fatima Blush played by Barbara Carrera

Maximillian Largo is assisted by SPECTRE's No. 12, Fatima Blush played by Barbara Carrera (born 1945, Nicaragua, to the US ambassador and a local woman) who is a wonderfully over-the-top seducer and assassin; she wears spectacular Eighties outfits and wields guns and a snake. As many commentators have noted, her manner is remisicent of Xenia Onatopp twelve years later. Her undoing is demanding from Bond a written statement that his sex with her was the best he ever had, which suggests she was very insecure. That is a step beyond the villain tying the hero to some device to die rather than shooting him through the head.

That ends Part 1 of my look at Bond movie villains. I have realised there is too much to fit in a single posting and will continue in Part 2 looking at those not working for a large organisation and usually making grand plots for their personal benefit.

1 comment:

generic viagra for men said...

Thanks lot for this great and informative post I like it so much
keep posting and updating the blog

Thanks a lot for this nice post....

Smith ALan