Friday, January 18, 2013

Ernst Stavro Blofeld, Leader of SPECTRE, Lover of Cats

Ernst Stavro Blofeld: Nemesis of James Bond 007

Donald Pleasance with mouth open You Only Live Twice 1967
Donald Pleasance as Blofeld.
Ernst Stavro Blofeld was a shadowy figure in the Ian Fleming novels, constantly changing his appearance. He is the leader of SPECTRE in the 1961 novel "Thunderball," but has his minion Largo take care of all the dirty work. His major appearance is in "On Her Majesty's Secret Service," in which James Bond 007 foils Blofeld's plan to destroy British agriculture. In retaliation, Blofeld guns down Bond's new bride Tracy. Bond tracks him down to Japan in "You Only Live Twice" and strangles him to death there.

Blofeld, though, has a much bigger part in the Eon Productions series of James Bond films. In "From Russia with Love" and "Thunderball," Blofeld is seen only from the neck down. He issues orders to his flunkies and has underperformers, who are killed while he strokes his trademark white cat.

Blofeld with cat From Russia with Love 1963

After that, though, the character caught on fire with public. He was the main antagonist in "You Only Live Twice," "On Her Majesty's Secret Service," and "Diamonds are Forever." Blofeld usually was seen stroking his white cat, which played a prominent role in both the credits and plot of "Diamonds are Forever."

After "Diamonds are Forever," Blofeld disappeared for an entire decade. In "For Your Eyes Only" (1981), Blofeld tries to kill Bond in a remote-controlled helicopter. Bond, however, escapes and manages to pick Blofeld up by his wheelchair. Flying him above the city, Bond finds the tallest smokestack in sight and drops Blofeld down it to his death.

Blofeld made one more appearance, in the non-canon film "Never Say Never Again" (1983). Blofeld once again directs operations for SPECTRE while stroking his trademark white cat. The reason for the sporadic appearances is that a former collaborator of Ian Fleming, Kevin McClory, owned the rights to the "Thunderball" screenplay until his death in 2006. Since Blofeld and SPECTRE make their first appearance in "Thunderball" as written (but not as filmed), McClory claimed that he owned the rights to Blofeld and could collect damages if that character ever were used without his permission. Accordingly, Eon Productions has ceased all use of the Blofeld character so that it need not pay McClory (now McClory's estate) any monies, or, at best, have to go through a protracted court case that could go either way. Blofeld might still return, but it would only be if McClory's estate authorized or produced the film.

Below are portrayals of Blofeld in every James Bond film in which he appears.

From Russia With Love

Blofeld with cat From Russia with Love 1963

From Russia With Love, Thunderball. Camera angles or curtains hid his face from view, as Blofeld delicately stroke his white cat. This early Blofeld was ruthless, cunning, and mysterious. But for those two movies where the mystery was maintained, it was brilliantly sinister.

Blofeld with cat From Russia with Love 1963

In the credits, Blofeld is listed as being played by "?" In reality, the role was performed by British actor Anthony Dawson, who appeared on camera in Dr. No as Professor Dent ("You've had your six"). The voice Blofeld, however, was dubbed by Eric Pohlmann, a native of Vienna who escaped to England just before WWII.


Thunderball 1965

Thunderball 1965

Blofeld flipping a switch Thunderball 1965

In "Thunderball," Blofeld is still played the same way as in "From Russia with Love," but takes a slightly more active role. Once again, Blofeld's face remains hidden from view.

You Only Live Twice

Blofeld showing his scar You Only Live Twice 1967

Blofeld smiling You Only Live Twice 1967

Blofeld with his cat You Only Live Twice 1967

When Blofeld was revealed in You Only Live Twice (played by Donald Pleasance, it was a terrible disappointment for many, both in terms of casting and makeup. This is the version that was parodied in the later "Austin Powers" line of films. Check out Donald Pleasence's eyes, though, they are what make the character.

On Her Majesty's Secret Service

Blofeld outside On Her Majesty's Secret Service 1969
Telly Savalas as Blofeld.

Blofeld sitting forward On Her Majesty's Secret Service 1969

Blofeld meets Bond On Her Majesty's Secret Service 1969

Telly Savalas played Blofeld in vigorous style opposite George Lazenby in "On Her Majesty's Secret Service," engaging in witty repartee with him. It is all for naught, though, as Bond crushes Blofeld's evil. Blofeld gets even at the end. With Telly Savalas, it isn't about the eyes so much as it is the way he carries himself - look how he sits in that chair, it is magnificent posturing of a master of evil.

Diamonds are Forever

Blofeld in Diamonds are Forever 1971

Blofeld in Diamonds are Forever 1971

"Diamonds Are Forever" has the fullest examination of Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Charles Gray, who had a small role at the beginning of "You Only Live Twice" as a British agent, takes over the role of Blofeld in does it in as campy a fashion as he could manage. A furious struggle takes place between James Bond and Blofeld in the secret laboratory where Blofeld changes his identity, but Blofeld survives.

Blofeld in Diamonds are Forever 1971

They meet again at Blofeld's Vegas penthouse, and then again on an oil rig. Charles Gray affects the fey mannerisms of an effete crime lord who is used to having his dirty work handled by flunkies, but who doesn't fool around when the time comes for action.

For Your Eyes Only

Blofeld and the helicopter in For Your Eyes Only 1981

In "For Your Eyes Only" (1981), Blofeld is played by John Hollis, person, and Robert Rietty, voice.

Blofeld and the helicopter in For Your Eyes Only 1981

Blofeld's face is never seen, nor is his name mentioned. Basically, they could have used a wax figure to play Blofeld.

Blofeld and the helicopter in For Your Eyes Only 1981

He wears the same clothes as before and speaks very familiarly with James Bond as if they have a long, adversarial relationship. It is left to the viewer to conclude that this, indeed, is the head of SPECTRE, Blofeld, though, because he is never named.

Never Say Never Again

Max von Sydow Never Say Never Again 1983

In "Never Say Never Again," Blofeld was played by Swedish actor Max von Sydow. Though the role is small and Blofeld was on camera for only a few minutes, Blofeld had a lot of dialogue, going on at length about his plan to a camera that pops out of a polished silver skull.

Max von Sydow Never Say Never Again 1983

This is probably the least effective appearance by Blofeld because Blofeld's mystique comes from knowing less, not more, about him. Sometimes less really is more.

Max von Sydow Never Say Never Again 1983

If you do see him frequently, as in his later Eon Films appearances, it is better to have him demonstrate his deadly evil directly, himself. Seeing his kindly face, with him just sitting there passively, robs Blofeld of his power of anonymity. It would have been more effective to keep him in the shadows, as in "From Russia with Love" and "Thunderball," so that you have to guess at his true identity.


After an absence stretching well over three decades, Ernst Stavro Blofeld returns to the James Bond series in "Spectre" (2015). Once again, as in "Diamonds Are Forever," we dig deep into the character.

Christoph Waltz plays Blofeld. Does the white cat return? Watch and find out!


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