Will "Bond 24" mark the return of 007 arch-villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld?
That's the implication in Friday's announcement that Danjaq (the producers of the James Bond franchise) and MGM have acquired all of the rights to the iconic superspy owned by the estate and family of the late Kevin McClory, who co-created "Thunderball" with Bond author Ian Fleming.
Thus ends more than a 50-year legal dispute over Bond rights stemming from "Thunderball," which started as a script by Fleming and McClory in 1959 and introduced Blofeld and his nefarious SPECTRE organization to the world of 007. However, when the proposed film project subsequently fell through, Fleming turned "Thunderball" into a novel in 1961 without McClory's consent. This coincided with the launch of the Bond franchise by producers Albert "Cubby" Broccoli and Harry Saltzman with Sean Connery as Bond.
In fact, they intended on making "Thunderball" the first Bond movie, but had to quickly switch to "Dr. No" when McClory sued Fleming for breach of copyright. That held up the film rights to "Thunderball" until they reached an out of court settlement, paving the way for "Thunderball" to be made as the fourth Bond film in 1965 (co-produced by McClory), and the most successful of the Connery era ($141.2 million worldwide).
However, McClory didn't stop there and fought a series of legal battles throughout the decades to assert his intellectual property rights and to make his own Bond movies. He won a 1983 ruling in London that allowed him to only remake "Thunderball," which resulted in "Never Say Never Again" (featuring both Connery's final appearance as 007 and Blofeld's played by Max von Sydow).
Yet when McClory pushed the envelope even further by attempting a rival franchise with Sony in 1997, Danjaq and MGM sued McClory, Sony, and Columbia Pictures and won. This led to Danjaq/MGM acquiring the rights to Fleming's first novel, "Casino Royale," the holy grail that was owned by Columbia Pictures and made into a spoof in 1967. McClory later lost a counter suit asserting copyright infringement and sole ownership of Blofeld and SPECTRE.
But as a result of the "Thunderball" legal entanglement, the Bond producers steered clear of using Blofeld and SPECTRE prominently after Connery's official departure with "Diamonds Are Forever" in 1971 (though the unnamed bald nemesis was ridiculously hurled down an industrial chimney by Roger Moore's Bond during the opening of "For Your Eyes Only").
Which is probably why SPECTRE has been replaced by Quantum in the current Daniel Craig era. But when I asked Sam Mendes what he thought about the return of an arch-villain in the next movie, he cagily replied, "There are all sorts of possibilities about things and people who can come back from the past. If I were them [the producers], I'd be thinking about that."
So perhaps that's precisely what Mendes and screenwriter John Logan are cooking up for Bond's next adventure (set for October 23, 2015 in the UK and November 6, 2015 in North America): reintroducing Blofeld as the head of Quantum and resuming his fight with 007. Indeed, Logan has remarked: "Bond should always fight Blofeld."
Even Craig has been intrigued about the possible return of Blofeld. "If done properly (as in the early Bonds), it could be fantastic," he told me. "He's one of the great movie villains. It's not that he's mad for the sake of power; the madness is a psychosis for anyone who's got that much power -- that craziness."
So who could play a more complex and nuanced Blofeld (with no bald head, Nehru jacket, or white cat a la Donald Pleasence, Telly Savalas, and Charles Gray)? It has to be a prestigious actor who could even surpass Javier Bardem's juicy baddie, Silva, in "Skyfall."
Got any ideas?