It goes without saying that one of the great debates in 007 fandom concerns the actors that have portrayed the legendary hero and which pulled off the assignment with greatest aplomb. Best movie, best Bond Girl, best Bond villain, all these questions and more are frequently and vey easily brought up when fans get together and converse. One of the more intriguing conversations, as far as I’m concerned, is when Ernst Stavro Blofeld, head of S.P.E.C.T.R.E., is broached.
There is a bitter irony about the place the fictional terrorist organization and its pseudo-CEO hold in the franchise’s lore. Of course, the issues reach far beyond what is depicted on screen, stemming, in fact, to the infamous court cases between the Ian Fleming estate and Kevin McClory regarding creative rights over the character and his terrifying pet project. That, however, is another blog entry for another occasion. The irony I previously referred to lies in the dual-faced facts that an overwhelming proportion of Bond aficionados seem to recognize S.P.E.C.R.T.R.E. and its leader as unquestionably important to the franchise’s history whilst rarely agreeing on who played the character best. What’s more, there are some rather vehement opinions out there on the internet about some of the performances being downright terrible or wholly inappropriate for a villain of his stature.
I wish I could remember where I heard what I think is the most succinct and perhaps accurate argument regarding all the Blofelds to ever antagonize our hero: the best Blofed is the one you never actually see. Now, all things being equal, that’s a bit of an unfair comparison. The hidden Blofelds of FRWL and TB benefit from the allure of mystery, their true identities hidden from view (including from his own top ranking operatives in TB). In contrast, the Blofelds of YOLT, OHMSS, DAF, and SP are much more weight to carry on their shoulders. What truth might lie in the aforementioned comment about which interpretation probably has a lot to do with the character’s utter lack of consistency. It is, by early 21st century movie making and movie watching standards, completely preposterous that different actors played Blofeld in 3 consecutive films. This is supposed to be the head villain! The obvious counter-argument is that so was Bond played by 3 different actors in the late 60s and early 70s, but to be fair, that was due to very different reasons.
Explanations, founded or otherwise, abound: people didn’t rewatch films with the regularity they do today due to lack of availability, therefore it might not have mattered much to them because they only visited the character every so often. There appears to be an allusion to a plastic surgery procedure in DAF’s pre-title sequence, and thus Blofeld has been literally changing his appearance every time in order to better conceal himself. This argument warms the heart of die-hard Fleming fans given the antagonist’s shape shifting escapades in the books, culminating with a radically different look in YOLT.
Maybe. Then again, maybe not. Despite what’s true or not, what even makes sense or not, the sad conclusion is that the films never seem to have found the perfect depiction. A shame, really, given how ‘important’ the villain is supposed to be in the series’ illustrious history.
As for myself, I’ve long sat in the Telly Savalas (OHMSS) camp. In fact, I don’t recall a time when I felt otherwise. His look, his urbane mannerisms (intent to poison the world’s agricultural crops notwithstanding), the fact that he can tussle a bit with Bond and stand toe to toe with him for a while, all these have factored in to my choice. It certainly isn’t the most popular opinion, what with the Donald Pleasence (YOLT) apparently the version the majority selects if it has to. Donald Pleasence will always have a place in my heart for being the first actor to put a face on Blofeld, but even more so for his contributions to other films, such as The Great Escape and many of the Halloween entries. He’s an amusing, somewhat creepy Blofeld, but ultimately not one that I imagine as the head honcho of a massive, international terrorist organization. He’s a mad scientist more so than a sophisticated, calculating villain, but maybe that’s exactly what the filmmakers strove for. Charles Gray, a delightfully charismatic thespian, is entertaining and really quite funny as Blofeld, and therein lies the problem for me. I don’t associate ‘entertaining’ or ‘really funny’ with S.P.E.C.T.R.E.’s chief decision maker. Christoph Waltz, a world class actor and specialist at incarnating silver screen villainy, is a solid Blofeld. Malicious, psychologically manipulative and just a little off kilter. I like him, although I still prefer old Telly.
Provided Christoph Waltz returns for Bond 25, which also assumes that the producers want to continue driving down S.P.E.C.T.R.E. lane (likely, although one can never tell for sure), it would be something of a milestone given that for the first time the same actor will have portrayed Blofeld on two occasions, Anthony Dawson’s unrecognizable performances in FRWL and TB excluded. It could be a good thing. Waltz himself is on record for having not quite nailed the character in SP. Who could blame him however, what with astonishing script re-writes occurring frighteningly late in the pre-production phase. With another swing of the bat, he might become the best Blofeld yet.
Conversely, if the producers really want to remain true to the franchise’s loveable, consistent inconsistency, they should just hire Tilda Swinton next time around.