SPECTRE Speculative (5)
9th April 2015
Nicolas Suszczyk rolls back the years to analyze the rise, fall and return of SPECTRE in the James Bond film series
By the end of Skyfall, the Daniel Craig James Bond era had all the basic elements of a traditional 007 film brought together: a male M (Ralph Fiennes), the return of Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) and Q (Ben Whishaw), a briefing scene that harkens back to the days of the Sean Connery films in the 1960's, and well, there's this little issue of the gunbarrel at the end of the movie. Sam Mendes said that it went to the end because it would have looked too repetitive with the opening sequence showing Bond walking through the shadows, but otherwise it would have been on its original place making Skyfall a 'standard' Bond film.
With James finally 'becoming Bond' and with the rights of Ernst Stavro Blofeld and his organization SPECTRE firmly in EON Production's hands, the producers apparently wanted to join the wave of the 2006 reboot and reintroduce the legendary terrorist organization that 55 years ago led to a legal battle between 007's creator Ian Fleming and Kevin McClory, who claimed the authorship of the organization.
The animated screen that showed the title of the 24th cinematic adventure of James Bond on the morning of December 4, 2014, confirmed this fact by revealing the title of the film would be, simply, SPECTRE.
The organization was first mentioned in the first James Bond film 'Dr No' in 1962, where the villain who shares the movie title identifies himself as a member of the organization and explains his acronym: Special Executive for Counterintelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion. The secret agent, of course, is not impressed by this and prefers the revenge department - and the possibility to avenge sacrificial lamb teammates Strangways and Quarrel.
We got the first lowdown of SPECTRE in 'From Russia with Love', the second Bond film of the series. Its shadowy leader is also introduced as Number One and as Ernst Blofeld on the end credits, whose face is not shown and its played by "?" (We later know that he was played by Anthony Dawson who had appeared as Professor Dent in the previous film). On a meeting in a SPECTRE yacht in Venice we see some of the agents: mastermind Kronsteen aka Number 5 (Vladek Sheybal), Number 3 agent Rosa Klebb (Lotte Lenya) and executioner Morzeny (Walter Gottel).
The objective: steal the decoding machine Lektor from the Russians. How to do it? Solution: lure James Bond in to a trap to steal it and then kill him, thus having the chance to avenge Dr No's death. There has to be a bait for the secret agent and this is, of course, the beautiful and innocent clerk Tatiana Romanova (Daniela Bianchi). In the 1963 film we first get one of the most remembered policies of the organization: to terminate anyone failing to accomplish their assignment. In this case, it was Kronsteen whose brilliant mind failed to take in account the girl could fall for the secret agent and betray them.
Goldfinger didn't feature SPECTRE on its plot, but the organization would come back with a vengeance in 1965's 'Thunderball.' In this film, SPECTRE plans his "most ambitious project", in words of his shadowy Number One (played once again by Anthony Dawson and voiced by Eric Pohlman): to steal two atomic bombs from the NATO and hold them for a ransom for 280 million dollars. If the amount is not paid, the bombs will be detonated over a major city in the United States or Great Britain - a far cry of toppling rockets or stealing a decoding machine.
'Thunderball' should be regarded as the first formal introduction of SPECTRE as an organization, where we get to see their headquarters in Paris hidden inside a brotherhood for stateless persons. Emilio Largo (Adolfo Celi), their Number 2 agent, is seen entering the place for a SPECTRE meeting with all the agents and he seems to be the leader's favourite, in charge of the NATO project.
Once again, we see two agents paying their failure with their life: Number 9 gets electrocuted on his chair for stealing money of an operation and Count Lippe is then blown away in his car for being unable to kill 007 during his stay at the Shrublands clinic.
A key characteristic of the organization, their beautiful female agents, is also first seen in Thunderball and will be repeated in the following film, 'You Only Live Twice.'
The 1965 film features the first memorable bad girl in Luciana Paluzzi's Fiona Volpe. The redheaded woman seduces and has NATO pilot Francoise Derval killed before he is replaced by an imposter paid by the organization to gain access to the Vulcan plane where the bombs are being carried. She also gets close to James Bond later in the film, and even when he recognizes her because of the notorious ring she shares with Largo, both of them can't resist the temptation of sleeping together. Lovely to look at, murderous to know.
Another redheaded SPECTRE agent, but less threatening, is Helga Brandt aka Number 11. Posing as Mr. Osato's secretary, she is ordered to terminate 007. Of course, she fails and pays the price of failure by being thrown to a pool of piranha fish. Her boss, the Japanese businessman whose company is a front for SPECTRE, is a bit luckier when he's just shot by the leader himself, who shows his prisoner Bond the "price of failure", minutes after revealing his face and his full name: Ernst Stavro Blofeld.
British actor Donald Pleasence was picked as the first credited Blofeld after the original considered actor, Jan Weirch, 'fell ill' and had to be replaced. His bald face and the scar across his eye typecast the idea of a James Bond mastermind in the endless spoofs the secret agent had in TV series and films, most notably the Austin Powers saga with Mike Myers' Dr Evil.
SPECTRE's plan seems to be a mixture of their three previous objectives: stealing two space crafts, an American and a Soviet one, and using them to provoke World War Three between the two superpowers. Everything is planned from his hideaway inside his volcano in Japan, a place he considers - just like William Shakespeare's Macbeth - "impregnable" until Bond and Tiger Tanaka's ninja team prove him wrong.
From 'You Only Live Twice' on, the plots give more relevance to the figure of Blofeld than to the organization. This is the case of 'On Her Majesty's Secret Service', the only appearance of George Lazenby as James Bond.
Hiding in Piz Gloria, an enormous complex up in the Swiss Alps, the leader of SPECTRE - now played by Kojak's Telly Savalas - wants to be recognized with a noble title as the Count of Bleuchamp and total amnesty for his crimes, otherwise he'll release his virus Omega over the world providing total infertility to plants therefore affecting the food supply.
Savalas' Blofeld is the most physically imposing - he chases 007 on skis and bobsled and has fistfights with him instead of calmly giving orders from his throne. He is also the most debonair one, trying to seduce the future (ephemeral) Mrs Bond Tracy DiVicenzo, played by The Avengers' Diana Rigg.
The organization - or the little we see of SPECTRE as an organization here - has recruited a number of beautiful "Angels of Death" to carry and unleash the virus, but unlike Fiona Volpe and Helga Brandt these girls are not agents, but innocent women who went to heal their allergies on Blofeld's modern clinic in Piz Gloria. We do have here a sort of new Rosa Klebb in Blofeld's assistant Irma Bunt (Ilse Steppat), a character that in the novels would even become the leader's wife, even though none of this is showcased in the film version. This woman is, in fact, the one that pulled the trigger of the machine gun whose blast killed Bond's wife minutes after the ceremony in Portugal.
The secret agent's desire of revenge was held in the first minutes of 'Diamonds Are Forever', released in 1971 loudly announcing the return of Sean Connery as James Bond. During the pre-credit sequence we see Blofeld -now played by Charles Gray - supervising the surgery of his many doubles, until 007 arrives and kills him for good by drowning him into a boiling mud and welcoming him "to hell".
The attempts of director Guy Hamilton, scribes Tom Mankiewicz & Richard Maibaum and producers Albert R Broccoli and Harry Saltzman to bring back the humour after 'On Her Majesty's Secret Service's dramatic situations including the film's tragic ending lead to a lighter approach of the plot, with the SPECTRE leader stockpiling diamonds to create a giant laser to rule the world unless his ransom is paid.
SPECTRE is barely featured, with Blofeld almost acting like an autonomous villain and his ties to the organization only reminded to the audiences by his flashy octopus ring. Needless to say that later in the movie Bond seems to forget his revenge desires and keeps going through the mission while womanizing with his new interests played by American actresses Lana Wood and Jill St John.
The constant legal battles between producer Albert R Broccoli and Kevin McClory who claimed the ownership of SPECTRE and Blofeld made EON miss the chance to use the organization in 1977 for 'The Spy Who Loved Me', but the producer dared to "kill" Bond's arch-villain in a unique way: by having a mysterious bald man with a cat sitting on a wheelchair thrown on a smokestack at the beginning of 1981's 'For Your Eyes Only', starring Roger Moore as James Bond, who is seen visiting Tracy's graveyard at the film's teaser sequence.
The SPECTRE organization as we know it returned in 1983 with the unofficial 007 film 'Never Say Never Again', Kevin McClory's legally allowed Thunderball remake based on the many Warhead treatments during the 1960s.
Noted German actor Max von Sydow played the part of Blofeld and Klaus Maria Brandauer was cast as Largo, both of them a lot less threatening than the portrayals of Anthony Dawson/Eric Pohlman and Adolfo Celi.
Being a 'Thunderball' remake, the introduction of SPECTRE in 'Never Say Never Again' was very close to the one in the original film: same warhead threat, same femme fatale (Barbara Carrera's Fatima Blush made a more flamboyant version of Fiona Volpe), and the same actor playing James Bond when Sean Connery accepted the role at 53 and competing in the box office opposite Roger Moore's 007 in 'Octopussy', the official production of that year.
Timothy Dalton and Pierce Brosnan battled drug dealers, media moguls and terrorists, until Daniel Craig was cast as James Bond in October 2005 for 'Casino Royale'. During this film and his follow-up 'Quantum of Solace', the rebooted secret agent battled Quantum, a terrorist organization with "people everywhere" and deadly plans for the worldwide security. Just like what happened in 'Goldfinger', the 2012 film 'Skyfall' excluded this organization from the plot, dealing with the deranged rogue agent Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem) threatening Judi Dench's M in her final appearance.
We reach 2015 and we have a new James Bond film titled 'SPECTRE'. According to the official synopsis, the secret agent will follow a cryptic message from his past that would lead him to a mysterious organization, while second time Bond director Sam Mendes told the press that the Bond fans "would know what the title actually means".
The 21st century has brought the world many dramatic threats where SPECTRE could be behind, giving them the perfect chance to get rebooted in a brand new and effective way for this new era. Many actors and actresses were cast like Brigitte Millar, Marc Zinga and Detlef Bothe who would perfectly have a place as one of the organization's many agents, particularly the later who has been seen shooting in Austria - one of the film's key locations.
There is also Monica Bellucci's character Lucia Sciarra, who was seen shooting a funeral scene with Daniel Craig in Rome lately. Does this have something to do with the "cryptic message" Bond has to cypher from his past? Is Lucia involved into the organization or maybe a relative of someone involved with SPECTRE?
Former wrestler and actor Dave Bautista defined his character Hinx as "a badass", what perhaps leads him to be a sort of new age Red Grant - a physically imposing enforcer of the organization. The question that remains is whether he'll be a paid assassin like Robert Shaw's character, a simple henchman or a solid member of the sinister group that resurfaces in this new era.
The biggest mystery of the whole cast is perhaps Christopher Waltz and his character Franz Oberhauser. Hard-edge Bond fans know the surname belongs to a character from Ian Fleming's short story Octopussy, where the secret agent's friend and ski instructor Hannes Oberhauser is shot dead by a traitor to the secret service.
On the other hand, we all know the leader of SPECTRE is Ernst Stavro Blofeld and weeks before the announcement some insiders claimed Oberhauser is actually SPECTRE's Number One. Most likely, Waltz's character will have a tie to Hannes Oberhauser and in this way the idea of "Bond going after a message from his past" makes some sense - let's not forget scribes Neal Purvis & Robert Wade (brought back in the nick of time to polish John Logan's original draft) get used to recycle a lot of material of the Fleming's books.
And of course there's still the chance of Franz Oberhauser "becoming" Blofeld at the end of the movie in the style of agent Eve in Moneypenny and Gareth Mallory in M at the end of 'Skyfall', a trademark of the Daniel Craig era.
Much ado has been made about the return of the 'Casino Royale' and 'Quantum of Solace' villain Mr. White, played by Danish actor Jesper Christensen. Will SPECTRE provide a tie or close the lid with the story arc that Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Paul Haggis started in 2006 and followed up in 2008? We can remember than in Marc Forster's movie the villainous White was latest seen during the Bregenz Opera performance and his ultimate confrontation with the secret agent at the film's ending has been cut away.
Does the return of Mr White mean that Daniel Craig's Bond will be once more faced against his inner feelings and lose the "emotional detachment" he showed in the latest film, letting an innocent girl be shot in cold blood by the villain? The reappearance of the high-ranking Quantum agent perhaps brings back the chance to satisfy his thirst of revenge more fully after the induced suicide of Vesper (Eva Green) in 'Casino Royale'. It will be interesting to see how Quantum/Mr White are related to SPECTRE and how (or if) all this is connected to the grief of James Bond losing his loved one. Could there be a posthumous message from Vesper, in the style of the 1953 novel? Or maybe even a few flashbacks as originally intended for 'Quantum of Solace'?
Ralph Fiennes' M is apparently fighting "political forces" in this new movie, which brings reminiscences to the last four Bond films where Judi Dench's M confronted the NSA, the Foreign Secretary or the Parliament for Bond's behavior on the job. Is Denbigh, the Whitehall member (as introduced by Sam Mendes) played by Andrew Scott part of this "political forces"? He's either involved as a functionary or MP like Tim Piggot-Smith and Helen McCrory's characters or as a SPECTRE mole inside the British government.
The countdown has begun. We have seven months to wait and so far we've got a cast, a story, some images and a title: only one word that seems to say it all.
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