- "Observe, Mr. Bond, the instruments of Armageddon."
- ― Karl Stromberg's most famous line.
Karl Stromberg was a fictional Swedish wealthy entrepreneur and the founder and CEO of a shipping company called Stromberg Shipping who attempted to destroy human civilization as we know it and creating a new one beneath the sea. The character first appeared as the main antagonist in the 1977 James Bond The Spy Who Loved Me. Portrayed by the late Austrian actor Curt Jurgens, he also appeared in Christopher Wood's accompanying novelization where he was given the name Sigmund Stromberg and makes his final appearance in the 2008 mobile video-game, James Bond: Top Agent.
The webbed-fingered Stromberg was conceived on mid-summer's day in Apvorst, a small village in northern Sweden. His biological father was a fisherman who never married his mother. He was raised by an aunt on his mother's side and her husband who had no children of their own and would care for him as if he was their own child. Thusly he took his step-father's surname. His step-father was an undertaker and Stromberg would often stand in his workroom and observe the skills of the trade.
Stromberg was not a warm-natured child though worked conscientiously at school and became passionately interested in the sea. He was fascinated by fish and would spend long periods of time watching a fish tank in the window of a restaurant in the nearby small town of Magmo. School reports indicated he was academically brilliant, with a natural bent towards the sciences, and an IQ deemed to be so high as to be unmeasurable.
Shortly after his seventeenth birthday his step-parents car crashed off the road, after the brakes failed, and plunged into a lake. Both drowned. Stromberg had a phlegmatic disposition in reaction to the tragedy, and won the respect of the neighborhood by organizing the funeral arrangements himself. His teachers urged him to sell the undertaking business, or to take on a manager, so he could continue his studies and attend university, foreseeing a great future for him in academia. He rebuffed their advice and devoted himself to continuing to run the business.
He ran the business with great vigor and showed a remarkable conversance with death. He advocated for cremation as the cleanest, purest and most ecologically satisfactory burial method. His insistence on clients opting for cremation was so he could extract gold fillings from corpses to supplement his income without leaving any evidence. As his business prospered he eventually even built his own private crematorium, hiring a construction firm that previously had been contracted to build larger scale crematoriums in Nazi Germany during the Holocaust.
Following the end of World War II he moved his business to Hamburg, thinking the opportunities for expansion were much greater. Noticing that most of Europe's merchant fleet had been sunk during the war, Stromberg was quick to see a potential opportunity for expansion. He moved his money into the shipping industry and soon his first cargo boats were transporting goods to locations as far away as Greece. Profits soon followed and he upgraded his fleet with tankers. By his middle twenties Stromberg had become a millionaire.
As a successful self-employed businessman he was head of his own shipping firm, Stromberg Shipping, and chain of laboratories. The Stromberg Shipping Line is also one of the world's richest companies. His obsession and passion is the ocean, where he lives in his futuristic palace named Atlantis. Located off the coast of Sardinia, Italy, Atlantis has everything to support life above and below water for any length of time. Stromberg also owns a supertanker, Liparus (the second largest supertanker in the world, after the Karl Marx), that serves as his headquarters away from Atlantis. Aboard the tanker he has a small army of soldiers clad in orange jumpsuits.
Although Stromberg has a passion and love for the ocean and its various species, he despises the human race, not unlike Jules Verne's Captain Nemo. Stromberg, however, is much more diabolical and has no interest in benefiting the world. He has a congenital condition in which his hands were webbed like those of aquatic birds or mammals. It is his personal mission to start over with a new civilization underwater. After contracting two scientists, Dr. Bechmann and Professor Markovitz, to create a state-of-the-art submarine tracking system, Stromberg uses this technology to capture the British HMS Ranger and the Soviet submarine Potemkin inside Liparus, along with their payload of atomic intercontinental ballistic missiles. His plan calls for the use of firing the nuclear weapons at Moscow and New York City, thus framing each other's government and starting a nuclear war, which would wipe out virtually all of humanity, leaving Stromberg to rebuild civilization beneath the sea. However, the Russian and British government send the agents Anya Amasova and James Bond respectively to investigate the disappearances of the submarines.
- "Every person who even comes into contact with that microfilm, is to be eliminated."
- ― Stromberg to Jaws
While Bond and Amasova are briefed about their task, Stromberg meets with Dr. Bechmann and Professor Markovitz onboard Atlantis. He tells them that he has paid ten million dollars each into their bank accounts in Switzerland. Before dismissing the scientists, Stromberg tells them that he regrets to inform them that someone within the organisation has been attempting to sell the scaled-down photographic reproductions of submarine tracking system schematics to competing world powers and that only someone close to the project could have done so. He tells his assistant to leave the room while he discusses the matter with Bechmann and Markovitz, but as she enters the elevator, Stromberg pushes a button and the bottom of the elevator opens, dropping the girl into a water tank occupied by a swimming shark. Over a PA system, Stromberg reveals that she was the one responsible for trying to sell the project as she had access to the information and watches with little to no emotion as the woman ends up being devoured by the shark. Bechmann and Markovitz then leave the room and Stromberg heaves Atlantis out of the ocean. He then calls two enforcers, Sandor and Jaws, and tasks the pair with the recovery of the tracking system, telling them to eliminate everyone who has come into contact with the system.
Stromberg then watches the helicopter containing Bechmann and Markovitz leaving Atlantis and, with them having outlived their usefulness, blows the helicopter up. He then swiftly cancels the transaction and tells another secretary to inform the two mens' families that they have met with an accident and are "buried at sea".
- "I'm somewhat of a recluse. I wish to conduct my life on my own terms, and in surroundings with which I can identify. That is a privilege of wealth."
- ― Stromberg introduces himself to Bond.
Despite Sandor and Jaws' efforts, Bond and Amasova are able to recover a microchip leading them to Stromberg's marine research laboratory on Sardinia, resulting in Sandor's death. Their superiors decide that the two will be sent to investigate together. Under the cover of a marine biologist and his assistant/wife, Bond and Amasova are granted "an audience" with Stromberg. Sent by Stromberg, his helicopter pilot Naomi picks up the spies and brings them to Atlantis in a speedboat. When they arrive at the oceanic citadel, Stromberg watches them via hidden cameras. While Bond enters the elevator to meet the shipping magnate, Naomi volunteers to show Amasova around. Arriving in an office, Bond meets Stromberg in his false identity and the industrialist tests his cover by asking him about the fishes in his aquarium. Bond manages to avert this by correctly deducing a certain species of fish, much to Stromberg's surprise. 007 and him briefly talk about Stromberg's obsession with the ocean before the magnate parts with Bond, claiming to have urgent business.
While Bond and Amasova leave, Stromberg meets with Jaws, who confirms that his two guests were the ones he fought on the train. He then tells Jaws, Naomi and other henchmen to let them get to shore before killing them. However, Bond and Amasova manage to escape the hit thanks to a gadget-laden car, and Naomi ends up being killed when her helicopter is shot down by a missile from the car, though Jaws manages to escape alive one more time, despite his own car crashing into somebody's house.
Capturing another vessel
- "Farewell, Mr. Bond. That word has, I must admit, a welcome ring of permanence about it."
- ― Stromberg bids farewell to Bond, before leaving with a captive Amasova.
When Stromberg's men capture an American submarine, USS Wayne, with the help from Liparus, Bond and Amasova are inside amidst the crew. As the submarine is placed inside Liparus, Karl talks to the captain via intercom, telling him that he and his crew will be exterminated via cyanide gas if they do not open the hatch. Without an alternative, the hatches are opened and the men leave the ship. Stromberg then orders the crew to be imprisoned with the crews of the other submarines. However, while the men are walking off, the villain recognizes Bond and Amasova and tells his men to bring the pair to him. When Bond and Amasova stand before him, Stromberg reveals his true plan: to fire nuclear missiles from the stolen submarines at Moscow and New York City, thus framing each other's government and triggering World War Three, which would lead to humanity utterly destroying itself and allow him to create a new civilization under the oceans. Stromberg also reveals that he considers the modern world to be corrupt and decadent, and that he plans to destroy it to make room for his new oceanic civilization. He remarks that the modern world will inevitably destroy itself anyway, and that his actions are merely "accelerating the process".
Ranger and Potemkin, now crewed by submariners loyal to Stromberg, then set off. After witnessing their departure, Stromberg orders his men to imprison Bond with the rest of the crew of the Wayne while he takes Amasova for himself and enters a speedboat with her to return to Atlantis. However, Bond manages to free himself on the way and frees the American, British, and Soviet crews from their cells. After arming themselves, Bond and the crews, united against a common foe, takes over the Liparus, killing most of Stromberg's henchmen. However, the captain and the remaining crewmembers seal the operations room with a strong armor proven to be nearly impenetrable, but Bond takes a detonator from a nuclear missile and implants it to a plastic explosive near the armor, destroying it and allowing 007 and his cohorts to break in and shoot down the captain and the remaining crew. Bond is later able to trick the stolen British and Soviet submarines to fire their nuclear warheads at each other with the same tracking system, obliterating both submarines and Stromberg's crews onboard and leaving the captain and others henchmen's deaths in vain. Using the USS Wayne, Bond and the remaining crew members escape as Liparus sinks to the bottom of the ocean.
Final Confrontation with Bond
- "Your time is running out Stromberg."
"Yours too, Mr. Bond, yours too, and faster than you think."
- ― James Bond and Karl Stromberg
When Commander Carter gets orders from Washington to destroy Atlantis, James Bond manages to convince him to wait for one hour to allow him to enter the aquatic fortress and save Amasova. After Bond arrives, Stromberg addresses the spy over the PA system and tells him that he will send the elevator down for him. Planning to drop his enemy into the shark tank, Stromberg is surprised to see that 007 has evaded his trap by keeping his feet off the floor. Arriving safely at Stromberg's living quarters, Bond sits down at the dining table, opposite Stromberg. The criminal then tries to shoot Bond with a hidden Torpedo Gun attached under the table, but Bond evades the missile and returns fire.
Bond coolly aims his gun underneath the table, then exercises his licence to kill by shooting Stromberg two times in the crotch, and two times in the chest, killing him. He then proceeds to rescue Amasova and they leave in an escape pod before Atlantis is torpedoed and sinks to the bottom of sea, giving the deceased Stromberg a burial at sea.
In the novelization of The Spy Who Loved Me, Stromberg is written as a new character called Sigmund Stromberg. Here, he is bald, with no eyebrows, as opposed to the head of grey hair he sports in the film. Furthermore, his webbed hands do not appear, except for the third and fourth fingers of his left hand. He is also given an extensive introduction, explaining how he acquired his wealth, including assassinating eight European criminal leaders and a Greek shipping magnate, inheriting the dead men's interests and power. Following a similar plot to the film, Stromberg and his company suffer the same fate as their cinematic counterparts.
The 2008 mobile video-game James Bond: Top Agent pits the player's character against Stromberg and closely follows the plot of the 1977 film. Starting with the capture of the American submarine USS Wayne, the player fights turn-based, one-on-one battles with Stromberg's men - attempting to cross the Liparus submarine dock, release the prisoners and apprehend the villain before he either escapes or launches the stolen nuclear weapons.
Stromberg's fascination with the sea was itself symbolic of this man - a smooth and unreliable vitality, whose black, smooth surface tried to hide emotional life underneath. Stromberg, a voluntary hermit, was frustrated by humanity's exploration of space, given that 70% of our planet had still to be explored to the bottom of the seas. Here, it should also be noted that Stromberg related to the creatures of the sea more than just a love of nature. In genetic mutations, he had developed webbed hands. Since he was convinced that mankind would sooner or later destroy itself, Stromberg felt called to speed up the process by a nuclear war he incited to commit. He was so set on his goals and beliefs that he was willing "to accept the judgement of posterity" for his attempted mass murder. His plan was to stand up like the sovereign of a submarine kingdom after the nuclear holocaust itself. Stromberg remarked to James Bond that he barely felt the need for contact with the outside world, as the microcosm of Atlantis provided everything for him that he needed to live: beauty, ugliness and death. Stromberg had little respect for human life and therefore no pity for those who had served him moments before. In spite of his advanced age, he could not resist the charms of a beautiful woman. This became clear when he captured Anya Amasova. He saved her life, so that she could share his life in the future underwater kingdom, serving as his mistress.
Henchmen & Associates
Behind the scenes
The character of Stromberg was created specifically for the film by writer Christopher Wood. The entire plot of the film actually bears little to no resemblance to that of the original Ian Fleming novel. This was at Fleming's request upon selling the film rights to his novel. He specifically dictated only the title could be used by EON Productions. Stromberg has the distinction, therefore, of being the very first major James Bond villain to be created specifically for the movies.
In early drafts of the screenplay, the villain of The Spy Who Loved Me was going to be Ernst Stavro Blofeld, head of SPECTRE and Bond's mortal enemy from previous films, but legal wrangling over the rights to the character required the creation of a new villain. A passing reference in the film to the death of Bond's wife (killed in On Her Majesty's Secret Service in a drive-by shooting conducted by Blofeld himself) could be a remnant of this earlier script. Subsequent drafts of the script involved a group of international terrorists overthrowing either Blofeld or the new leadership of SPECTRE and assuming control of the organization, thus doing away with the legal hassle of using the copyrighted names. This approach was ultimately decided upon being "too political" by EON and a simpler route was taken. The overall plot of a worldwide holocaust was retained, however, and the Stromberg character was devised as something of a Blofeld stand-in. As result, both Stromberg and Blofeld share many key traits, most notably Stromberg's scheme being highly reminiscent of Blofeld's in You Only Live Twice.
- Karl Stromberg is notable for being the first Bond villain whose grand scheme does not involve making a lot of money (which he already has).
- His scheme is actually a recycled plot from You Only Live Twice, which was similar in that by stealing space capsules it would start a war between the Soviets and the Americans. The idea of commandeering two nuclear missiles and attempting to fire them at two major cities likewise recalls the plot of Thunderball. The scheme in which the villain wishes to destroy mankind to create a new race or new civilization was also used in Moonraker, the next film after The Spy Who Loved Me (as opposed to For Your Eyes Only, as was originally billed during the credits of The Spy Who Loved Me). In Moonraker, the villain Hugo Drax has an obsession with creating a new human civilization in outer space and intending to eradicate the rest of society, although Drax plans to eventually return to Earth, unlike Stromberg, who intends to live under the sea. The film Moonraker was also written by Christopher Wood. Both Drax and Stromberg have hired Jaws as a henchman.