SPECTRE: A Primer for the evil organization in James Bond

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Some of you may have noticed an unusual amount of excitement for the forthcoming James Bond film due in theaters later this year. While excitement surrounding a new Bond film is always the case, this excitement is different because this film will include an element we haven’t seen in the series since 1971; this of course is the upcoming film’s namesake SPECTRE.

This criminal organization, first introduced to the film series in 1962 with the release of Dr. No, has been the leading antagonist in the Bond mythology spanning six films. It left an indelible mark on the series, giving super spy James Bond a perpetual challenge in its attempts to murder and manipulate its way to world domination.

Unfortunately due to a copyright dispute, the use of SPECTRE went by the wayside in the early ’70s, leaving Bond to fight a series of sometimes memorable singular villains until the release of 2006’s Casino Royale, when audiences got a classic concept given a new name in the form of the international criminal conspiracy, Quantum. Though the Quantum storyline was cast off after the lackluster Quantum of Solace in 2008, Bond fans still favorably remember the attempt at a SPECTRE  surrogate hoping it would eventually lead to something bigger.

For Bond fans, our hopes have been answered. After resolving the copyright issues plaguing the use of the criminal organization, it was announced early last December that we would not only be getting a new Bond film in 2015, but that film would include Bond’s classic nemesis.

For those of you unfamiliar with this classic part of the James Bond mythology and why it’s so special, I’ve put together a bit of a primer to help you understand SPECTRE’s history and operatives.

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History

Comprised of top leaders culled from international criminal and military organizations, SPECTRE exists as a “criminal for hire” enterprise. Often working as an independent contractor for heads of state (usually those in the USSR), the organization makes their money through doing the clandestine dirty work of those willing to pay the highest price. The organization is set up like a board of directors which author Ian Fleming described thusly in his 1961 novel, “Thunderball”:

They were all in the thirty-to-forty age-group, they all looked extremely fit, and nearly all of them-there were two who were different-had quick, hard, predatory eyes, the eyes of the wolves and the hawks that prey upon the herd.  …There were three Sicilians from the top echelon of the Unione Siciliano, the Mafia; three Corsican Frenchman from the Union Corse, the secret society contemporary with and similar to the Mafia that runs nearly all organized crime in France; three former members of SMERSH, the Soviet organization for the execution of traitors and enemies of the State that had been disbanded on the orders of Khrushchev in 1958 and replaced by the Special Executive Department of the M.V.D.; three of the top five members of the former Sonderdienst of the Gestapo; three tough Yugoslav operatives who had resigned from Marshal Tito’s Secret Police, and three highland Turks (the Turks of the plains are no good) formerly members of Blofeld’s RAHIR and subsequently responsible for KRYSTAL the important Middle East heroin pipeline whose outlet is in Beirut. These eighteen men, all experts in conspiracy, in the highest ranges of secret communication and action and, above all, of silence, also shared one supreme virtue-every man had a solid cover.”

Operatives

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Ernst Stavro Blowfeld

These eighteen men are presided over by two superiors, the head of which is Ernst Stavro Blofeld. In the pantheon of Bond villains, this man stands head and shoulders above the rest. Commonly referred to as “Number 1” in the film series (each SPECTRE operative is assigned a number), Blofeld’s face wasn’t depicted in the films until the iconic turn by actor Donald Pleasence in You Only Live Twice. In this first revealed appearance, Blowfeld is seen as a short bald man, sporting a scar on his right eye. Prior to this filmic incarnation, the leader of SPECTRE was simply depicted as two hands stroking a fluffy white cat. This shadowy image of the character as all as his first appearance would go on to inform pastiche and parody for years to come ultimately culminating in the creation of the Dr. Evil character in the Austin Powers film series. It is also worth mentioning that Blofeld would occasionally undergo plastic surgery, allowing the character to change his appearance from film to film and thus be played by several actors over the years. Blofeld’s main goal and his goals for SPECTRE are outlined in the film version of From Russia with Love, in which he sites three fish in a tank. One fish looks on while the other two fish fight. Blofeld alludes to SPECTRE waiting patiently while its enemies (The United States and The USSR) destroy each other, leaving the criminal organization to take over. Though SPECTRE primarily serves as a third party criminal organization, Blofeld’s goals are clearly aimed at world control.

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Emilo Largo

Second in command as Number 2 is Emilio Largo, head of extortion for the criminal organization. Appearing first in the novel and later the film adaptation of Thunderball, Largo is described as a big, strong neopolitan figure with easy charm, the perfect man for SPECTRE. Fleming describes Largo aboard his yacht, Disco Volante:

“Largo was an adventurer, a predator on the herd. Two hundred years before he would have been a pirate-not one of the jolly ones of the story books, but a man like Blackbeard, a bloodstained cutthroat who scythed his way through people toward gold. But Blackbeard had been too much of a bully and a rough neck, and wherever he went in the world he left behind tell-tale shambles. Largo was different. There was a cool brain and an exquisite finesse behind his actions that had always saved him from the herd’s revenge-from his postwar debut as head of the black market in Naples, through five lucrative years smuggling from Tangier, five more master-minding the wave of big jewel robberies on the French Riviera, down to his last five with SPECTRE. Always he got away with it.”

In his first appearance in the film Thunderball, Largo is portrayed pretty much as Fleming describes him with a few minor changes, the most notable being the character’s trademark eyepatch. In the film, Largo intercepts two atomic bombs and uses them to help SPECTRE extort diamonds from NATO for the weapon’s return. This scheme reinforces Largo’s persona as a smuggler and extortionist. His portrayal in the film by Adolfo Celi is charismatic and menacing, suiting Felming’s description of the character perfectly.

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Rosa Kleb

Referred to as Number 3 in the Bond films series, Rosa Klebb made her first and last appearance in the film and novel From Russia With Love. An active member of SMERSH recruited to SPECTRE, Klebb is a hard taskmaster who strives to achieve her master’s every goal. We first meet her in the film as she is overseeing a test for SPECTRE operative Red Grant, who has been practicing killing fake James Bonds in an attempt to train for the real thing. Klebb and SPECTRE’s main goal in the novel and in the film, however, is the acquisition of a Soviet lektor (a coding device) as well as revenge on James Bond for the demise of Dr. No. Klebb uses both the feminine wiles of Smersh agent Tatiana Romanova, a Soviet defector, to lure James Bond into stealing the device for her, as well as setting up his death at the murderous hands of assassin Red Grant. Described as a short and unattractive woman, Klebb is known for her harsh integration techniques, alternating from harsh and venomous to motherly in order to get what she wants from her quarry.

“’Stop that nonsense.’ The voice was a hiss. ‘In five minutes I could have those names from you, or anything else I wish to know. You are playing a dangerous game with me, Comrade. My patience will not last forever.’ Rosa Klebb paused. She was being too rough. ‘For the moment we will pass on. Tomorrow you will give me the names. No harm will come to these men. They will be asked one or two questions about you-simple technical questions, that is all. Now sit up and dry your tears. We cannot have anymore of this foolishness. .’ 

Rosa Klebb got up and came round the table. She stood looking down at Tatiana. The voice became oily and smooth. ‘Come, come, my dear. You must trust me. Your little secrets are safe with me. Here, drink some more champagne and forget this unpleasantness. We must be friends. We have work to do together. You must learn, my dear Tania, to treat me as you would your mother…”

After a botched attempt to retrieve the lecter, Klebb has one last chance to destroy Bond and obtain the device. Dressed as a hotel maid, she attempts to kill the super spy using a poisoned tipped knife ejected from her boot, but is shot by her former protege.

James Bond’s SPECTRE is the classic criminal organization that gave rise to the ubiquitous use of criminal conspiracies in ’60s spy fiction as well as perhaps an overuse of acronyms to describe a spy or counter-spy organization leading to fictional names such as S.H.I.E.LD., HYDRA, AIM, as well as the returning The Man from U.N.C.L.E., KAOS in Get Smart and countless others. Seeing the return of this cadre of Bond villains means a return of sorts to the ’60s spy-fi genre made popular by Sean Connery’s tenure in the tuxedo. Rumor has it that actor Cristoph Waltz will be playing Ernst Stavro Blofeld, although that has been unconfirmed and that the QUANTUM organization will be a subset of SPECTRE agents, but neither of those plot points have been confirmed.

Regardless of how this new film portrays this classic piece of Bond mythology, it will be good to have them back. Bond is always looking for bigger villains to face and who bigger than the The SPecial Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion. The name says it all.

The 24th James Bond film SPECTRE will be released November 6, 2015, in the United States.

About author

Robert Walker
Robert Walker 152 posts

Rob Walker is a writer and filmmaker in Colorado, and is creator of the comedy web series Victorian Cut-out Theatre. He loves horror films and comic books (American Vampire, Jonah Hex, The Flash, Planetary). Rob has been a Sherlockian since the age of ten, is a Dark Tower junky and believes that Indiana Jones is the greatest cinematic hero ever created. You can follow him on twitter at: @timidwerewolf and see his other writings and videos at robwalkerfilms.com