Friday, May 20, 2016

Baron von Bomburst of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang ( 1968 )

"I vaaahnt dat caaar!"

When Baron von Bomburst wants something you can be sure he'll get it, for his minions will go to any length to satisfy the childish whims of their dictator, or else.....their heads would roll! 

Baron von Bomburst is different than your usual villain because he doesn't look dangerous. In fact, he looks quite amiable with his curly Bavarian mustache and beady black eyes. But mentally, he is quite verrückt. He's a pirate masquerdaing as a king, with no interest whatsoever in the well-being of his people. The baron believes that the peasants are only there to serve him, and his subordinates realize that the only way they can spare their own lives is by kowtowing to the demands of their mad ruler. 

One day, while patroling the sea for ships to capture, the Baron happens to spy Professor Caractacus Pott's beautiful motorcar Chitty Chitty Bang Bang skimming gracefully across the waters, and decides then and there that he must get his hands on the floating car to add to his collection of toys. ( Yes, he's a pirate who likes toys ). When he discovers that the car can fly, too, he demands its capture and employs his top henchmen to retrieve it for him....namely, his two spies X and Bacon. Together, they devise ingenious ways to capture the car, but when all else fails, the Baron resorts to kidnapping the Professor to build the same such motorcar for himself...only, being the blunderer that he is, he kidnaps Grandpa Pott's instead! 
Caractacus Potts and the children witness the kidnapping and follow Bomburst's airship which leads them to his castle in Vulgaria. There, they not only rescue Grandpa but lead an ambush on the castle to dethrone the baron and free the hundreds of children he kept locked in his dungeons. 

German actor Gert Frobe ( best known as Auric Goldfinger in Goldfinger ) plays the part brilliantly, and, from his first appearance onscreen, we anticipate his downfall. Frobe played a similar character in Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines ( 1965 ) but, in that film, he managed to create a scoundrel that was both comical and quite lovable. Baron von Bomburst is simply bombastic. 

While Ian Fleming initially created the character of Bomburst in his 1964 children's book "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang", he was nothing like the man we see on screen. Screenwriter Roald Dahl is the creative genius who transformed him into such a marvelous and outrageous villain for the 1968 musical film adaptation. 

Dahl combines in Bomburst all of the qualities a child would imagine in a storybook villain without any of the devilry of villains seen in adult films. He's not a pyschologically complex character...he's just a bellowing obnoxious bear in ridiculious costume, wielding power and money to satisfy any demand he could possibly make. 

Among his collection of toys is his wife ( Anna Quayle ), an "oochie choochie" doll he initially adored, and then, like his other toys, grew bored with. Instead of casting her aside he likes to try different methods of disposing of her - none of which work. 
Both the Baron and Baroness are repulsed by children, and so, to rid Vulgaria of their presence, he lets loose the Child-Catcher. This man is certainly one of the most frightening characters to ever appear in a children's film. With his long black hair, pointy nose, snow-white skin, and flowing cape, he prances throughout the streets of the town singing out "treacle tarts, gum drops..." to lure children to their doom: the caged wagon from whence they are thrown into the damp dungeon of the castle. 

Robert Helpmann, one of England's great ballet stars, is fantastic in this part and can be credited with giving more children nightmares than any other actor on both sides of the Atlantic. 
It's ironic that both Bomburst and his wife despise children so much, considering they are both juvenile in nature themselves. Bomburst is a middle-aged man going through his second-childhood, obsessed with owning the most unique car ever built - a flying car. He needs constant entertainment to squelch his boredom ( and his tantrums ) and even employs toymakers to continuously create new forms of amusement for him. 

It is this childish quality about Baron von Bomburst that makes him the brute you love to hate. He's like a silent-film villain who would tie a damsel to a train-track and then suck his thumb in gleeful anticipation of an approaching train. 

What makes Gert Forbe's portrayal of Bomburst so great is that he isn't playing the part for laughs. He takes his role seriously, and - like Robert Helpmann, too - ends up creating a character that inspires hisses and boos after repeated viewings. And that's, ultimately, what being a great villain is all about. 

This post is our contribution to the annual The Great Villain Blogathon being hosted by Speakeasy, Silver Screenings, and Shadows and Satin. Be sure to check out the complete roster for more great posts about wicked kings, evil-doers, and conniving churls of the silver screen.


  1. While I'm not a big fan of CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG, I agree that the Baron is a memorable villain, in large part because (as you wrote) Gert Frobe takes the part seriously. It was interesting to learn that Ian Fleming's friend Roald Dahl transformed the Baron into a "marvelous and outrageous villain."

  2. Several family movies were on TV on Saturday evenings here, and I hoped Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was one of them... but no. I still hope to see it someday - and I'll keep both my eyes on the Baron, because I have never seen Gert in anything but Goldfinger!
    Thanks for the kind comment!

  3. I haven't seen "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" for years. My parents introduced it to me when I was a kid. Haven't seen it since. This great post has made me want to treat myself to a long awaited viewing.

    Don't forget to check out my contribution for the blogathon.

  4. I haven't seen "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" for years. My parents introduced it to me when I was a kid. Haven't seen it since. This great post has made me want to treat myself to a long awaited viewing.

    Don't forget to check out my contribution for the blogathon. Here is the correct link. The last link somehow got deleted.

  5. Fun choice, it's been years since I saw this but you don't forget this kind of villain when you see him as a kid! Thanks for taking part :)

  6. I have never seen all of this film, and it's been a long time since I've seen part of it, so I need to do some catching up.

    I didn't know Ian Fleming wrote the book "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang", and also didn't realize Roald Dahl wrote the screenplay. Good to know!

    Thanks for joining the Villain Blogathon with a second entry!

  7. it really bothered me that this man could not see how beautiful, hot and sexy his wife was. She would do anything for him and loved him, for that he wanted her dead. Now thats pure evil!

  8. Oddly, the baroness hates kids but in the chu chi scene she continually flirts with the baron, seeming to want sex. She would know what could happen from that. I must say I'd be interested if I was him :)

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