Should Ernst Stavro Blofeld, the iconic opponent to James Bond in three Ian Fleming novels and in a number of EON’s Bond movies, be revived as a character in future 007 adventures? An article by Scott Meslow recently made the case for the return of the head of SPECTRE.
In a sense, Meslow’s article joins the numerous pieces by commentators and Bond fans written on the topic over the last few years, a debate that was recently reheated after it was officially revealed by Danjaq and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) that they have now acquired all of the rights to James Bond, plus all interests related to James Bond, held by the late Irish producer Kevin McClory, who died in 2006.
This news led to a flurry of speculation in the media and on the internet about what this might mean for the James Bond series in the future. A good example was the UK’s Guardian newspaper, which headlined its report on November 19: ‘Bond baddie cleared for comeback’. The latest issue of the British sci-fi magazine SFX (no. 243, February 2014) also has some fun with the news, carrying a cartoon with images of possible candidates to play Blofeld. Numerous other news items on the subject have appeared elsewhere around the globe, as Bond villains and our fascination with them clearly remain ‘big news’.
Scott Meslow’s special blog, written for the ThinkProgress website (Novermber 5), mounted a strong case for Blofeld’s return. Meslow opened his article by revealing that he had recently finished re-reading what he feels is the highlight of the Ian Fleming 007 novel series: the so-called ‘Blofeld Trilogy’, which consists of Thunderball, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and You Only Live Twice.
Meslow noted that, of course, the Fleming books have long been eclipsed in most people’s minds by the EON film franchise, but ‘the Daniel Craig-starring 007 movies are in an interesting place right now’. Meslow continued: ‘After Casino Royale, which offered a modernized riff on the first-ever Bond novel, we got Quantum of Solace and Skyfall – two totally original stories. But taken together, they serve as a kind of a mirrored trilogy; where Casino Royale systematically dismantled 007’s various well-worn tropes and stereotypes, Skyfall was built on sneakily restoring them’.
Meslow then said that he imagined that John Logan, who, after Skyfall, was ‘subsequently tapped to script the next two movies in the series, has found the process an interesting challenge; for the first time in ages, there’s virtually no prepackaged blueprint for where the 007 franchise can go from here’.
The Case for Blofeld
In Meslow’s estimation, the reintroduction of mainstays of the series such as ‘Q’, a male ‘M’, and a revamped Miss Moneypenny at the end of Skyfall leaves one last staple to check off the list: ‘Ernst Stavro Blofeld, who remains 007’s most memorable adversary in both the books and the movies’.
But, argued Meslow, it should not necessarily be the bald, scarred, cat-stroking version seen in the early EON series and so warmly lampooned in the Austin Powers movies, but a new interpretation that would fit into the ‘more grounded’ style of the Daniel Craig films.
As Meslow pointed out, the Blofeld of the books ‘is a more evasive figure, and one that would translate far more neatly to the modern 007 movies. In each of Blofeld’s literary appearances, James Bond isn’t even entirely sure that he’s targeted the right man; every time Blofeld evades justice, he undergoes extensive plastic surgery on his face, loses or gains a significant amount of weight, and flees to a well-stocked hideout, which makes him all but impossible to track with any kind of certainty’.
Meslow continued: ‘In many ways, Blofeld has become a more poignant villain than ever. In a modern political context that has shifted from enemy states to scattered, elusive enemies, the idea of a villain with the intelligence and resources to reinvent himself is a frightening one’.
In Meslow’s view, therefore, Blofeld’s ‘chameleonic qualities make him a uniquely strong candidate for reinterpretation’.
Clearly a fan of both the novel and film of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, in Meslow’s reckoning Fleming’s Swiss-based story tells a story worth revisiting, and the Blofeld of that story could be the basis of a new interpretation of the head of SPECTRE, with all the qualities that have defined the Daniel Craig era of the franchise, with a ‘darker, more focused 007’ and a villain ‘operating in a modern political climate, who poses a threat that carries real stakes and consequences’.
Meslow’s arguments have certainly given Bond fans some food for thought, especially when they contemplate possible plot scenarios for Bonds 24 and 25.
Some Background Notes
Kevin McClory conducted a near 50-year campaign over his claims to the character of James Bond and also to 007’s main adversary, arch-villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld, a dispute that started around 1959 when a collaborative project between Fleming, McClory and Jack Whittingham for a proposed James Bond movie fell apart, culminating eventually in a High Court case in 1963.
Fleming was accused in court of taking some key elements from the original collaborative effort between the three men and using them for his new Bond novel Thunderball without permission. The 007 author lost the case, and the Irish producer was awarded certain James Bond ‘rights’.
Although McClory collaborated with Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman on the film version of Thunderball in 1964-65, he remained determined to exercise his rights again after a 10-year period.
Sure enough, McClory took the film world by surprise in 1976 when he announced that he intended to make a new independent Bond movie entitled James Bond of the Secret Service, later retitled Warhead, with Sean Connery (at first) as a screenwriter alongside spy novelist Len Deighton. Connery then agreed to be the star shortly afterwards. By 1977, McClory was even claiming that Orson Welles would play Blofeld in the new movie, with Trevor Howard as ‘M’.
Legal wrangling between McClory and EON ensued, with McClory asserting what he claimed were his rights to the character of Blofeld, which caused Broccoli to drop the idea of having the arch-villain back in The Spy Who Loved Me (1977). The dispute was to continue for years and, at one point, Broccoli signalled his defiance by having an un-named Blofeld appear as a character in the pre-credits to For Your Eyes Only (1981).
McClory did, of course, manage to realise his dream, when Never Say Never Again (1983), with none other than Sean Connery as 007, hit the big screen. Blofeld was played by Max von Sydow, but some key sequences with the character were dropped, including Blofeld’s death scene.
McClory then spent the next two decades regularly issuing announcements that he was going to put another independent Bond film into production. At one stage, there was even a bizarre plan to make a film based solely on Blofeld.
The announcement by Danjaq and MGM from Los Angeles on November 15 that they had reached a settlement with the McClory estate, and have acquired all of the estate’s and family’s rights and interests relating to James Bond, now appears to have placed the rights to Blofeld firmly back in the official Bond camp.
Live Another Day?
Some commentators have compared Blofeld to the character of Moriarty, the devious and super-intelligent adversary to the famous detective Sherlock Holmes. There is certainly something beguiling about the head of SPECTRE, and one of the pleasures of the early James Bond movies was finding out what Blofeld’s latest mad scheme entailed.
Ironically, speculation about Blofeld was given a fillip in the run-up to Bond 23 when screenwriter John Logan made some teasing remarks that he thought Blofeld was a worthy adversary to Bond.
With Blofeld back under EON’s control, whether Logan would now like to make use of the character in a future James Bond adventure will be fascinating to see. Speculation over SPECTRE and its head will undoubtedly continue.