Friday, June 26, 2009

The Best (Or Worst) Movie Villains

The Times of London today offered a list of the 50 Best Movie Villains:


As my friend and former editor Frank Wilson noted on his literary blog, Books, Inq, ( there is a lot to agree with - and plenty to disagree with.

First of all, should it not be the 50 worst villains? Don’t the worst villains, portrayed by the best actors, make the best characters?

Also, I find it hard to believe that a British newspaper would not have included Harry Lime from The Third Man in this list.

Orson Welles’ Harry Lime was a post-WWII criminal who stole penicillin from military hospitals in Vienna and sold the much-needed medicine on the black market. The smug, self-centered bastard diluted the penicillin, which killed many sick people, including children.

His great speech justifying his criminal actions to his friend Holly Martins (Joseph Cotton), is classic:

You know what the fellow said—in Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace—and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.

The short speech was not in Graham Greene's great screenplay. It was written on the set by Welles.

The Times' list also includes Joe Pesci’s Tommy DeVito, the crazy, violent killer from what I believe is one of the greatest crime films ever made, Goodfellas.

But the list should have also included Robert Di Niro’s stone-cold killer “Jimmy the Gent” from the same film, as well as Paul Sorvino’s mob captain “Paulie.”

The Times also listed at number 23 the first film appearance of James Bond’s long-running nemesis, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, in 1963’s From Russia With Love.
In this film Blofeld’s face was not shown and viewers only saw his torso with his hand stroking the white cat.

The Times noted that the Bond film series has “villainy aplenty” and a rogue’s gallery that would have dominated the vast majority of the list, so they simply included Blofeld.

True enough, but I think some recnition should go to the other three great villains of the film.

Robert Shaw’s moon-killer psychopath Red Grant was just wonderfully cold, brutal and evil, as was Lotte Lenya's Rosa Klebb, an ugly toad lesbian Russian colonel, and Vladek Sheybal's Kronsteen, the brilliant and arrogant "Wizard of Ice" chess master and mastermind planner of Bond’s death.

I'd like to also recognize the great, unforgettable villainous trio from Goldfinger. Sean Connery's James Bond faced off against Gert Frobe’s Auric Goldfinger, Harold Sakata’s Oddjob and Honor Blackman's Pussy Galore.

And I'd like to recognize Adolfo Celi's portrayal of Ian Fleming's modern-day pirate, Emilio Largo in Thunderball.

After Gert Frobe's powerful portrayal of Goldfinger, the film makers needed a bad guy that equaled or was better than the man who loved gold so much he tried to rob Fort Knox.

With his Italian accent, broad, heavy-set body, white hair and black eye-patch (modern-day pirate, get it?), Celi came across as a worthy adversary for our Mr. Bond.

The Times named Anthony Dawson as Blofeld in From Russia With Love as the number 23 film villain, but as we never saw his face and someone else did his voice, I much prefer Telly Savalas' portrayal of Blofeld in 1969's On Her Majesty's Secret Service.

Although I would have prefered a European to play Blofeld, Savalas had the aloof, arrogant looks and deep, commanding voice needed to portray the brillant, mad, mastermind criminal.

I did not care much for Donald Pleasense who played Blofeld in the film before, 1967's You Only Live Twice.

And one should recognize the very first Bond film villain, Joseph Wiseman's Dr No.
The good, evil, mad doctor in 1962's Dr. No set the cinematic standard for meglomanical villains for many years, leading right up to Mike Myers' "Dr Evil," - a parody of Dr. No/Blofeld - who was included on this list.

Taken from the pages of Ian Fleming’s great thrillers, these villains were all brilliantly portrayed in the groundbreaking 1960s films.

Unfortunately, the Bond films in the 1970s and beyond moved away from Fleming’s novels and the villains (and Bond) became cartoons, like “Jaws.”

Even with metal teeth, one would require the jaw muscles of an alligator to perform the stunts this silly character did in the films. He was about as menacing as Wile E. Coyote.

It was the truly evil bad guys, portrayed by truly fine actors, that made The Third Man, Goodfellas, the Bond films from the 1960s, and many of the films mentioned on The Times’ list, great and unforgettable films.

The bad guy offered drama and conflict with the film’s hero, who, in many cases, was not nearly as interesting as the villain.

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