As my friend and former editor Frank Wilson noted on his literary blog, Books, Inq, (http://booksinq.blogspot.com/) 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 mention 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 would have also added to the list 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 one should also mention the first Bond film villain, Joseph Wiseman's Dr No. The good, evil, mad doctor in 1962's Dr. No set the cinematic standard for megalomaniacal villains for many years, leading right up to Mike Myers' parody of Dr. No/Blofeld, "Dr Evil," 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.
Dominic Fortino was
forced to serve out many after school detentions in the school’s small
Fortino was ordered to detention again on this particular day
due to his attempt to push Mr. Pidot’s desk out of a second story classroom
Jonathan Pidot was a pompous, dumpy young man of 28 with an
oversized head, wispy light hair, and huge ears that turned bright red when he
became angry or frustrated. His cartoon character looks and high-pitch squeak of
a voice made him the perfect foil for teenage class clowns.
He was the
most hated teacher in Thomas Junior High School in South Philadelphia during the
Pidot spent much of the day complaining about the excessive
heat coming off the radiators in his classroom. Although it was 30 degrees
outside, it was close to 90 degrees in the classroom. Pidot threw open the
classroom’s oversize windows to let in the cold air, but it didn’t help much.
The students were hot, but many of them were glad that the math test scheduled
for that day was postponed due to the heat and Pidot’s fit over the
At one point Pidot told the class that he was going to confront the
custodian and walked out of the classroom. Fortino and a few other students
jumped out of their seats, picked up Pidot’s desk and attempted to push it out
Although the open window was wide, the old, wooden desk
jammed in the widow frame, with half of the desk and two legs dangling over the
Johnson Street pavement. The more they tried to push the desk through the
window, the more it wedged firmly into the frame.
Someone called out that
Pidot was coming and the students rushed back to their seats. Fortino ignored
the warning as he was determined to push the desk out of the window with his
“What are you doing? Are you insane?” Pidot screamed in
disbelief as he entered the classroom.
Pidot was not amused by the prank, but
the students’ laughter was heard throughout the school. Pidot’s large ears were
flaming red as he shrieked insults at Fortino.
Fortino sat down in his
seat calmly. He was impassive throughout Pidot’s verbal assault, as he was twice
Pidot’s size, and he feared no one. “Big Dom,” as Fortino was known, was a
teenager, but he looked like a forty-year-old man. Make that a large, tough, and
Winded from screaming at Fortino, Pidot threw up his
hands in disgust and stormed out the classroom. He charged down the hall and
bounced down the stairs to the vice principal’s office on the first floor of the
Later in the vice principal’s office Fortino told her that he
never intended to push Pidot’s desk out of the window. It was just a joke. The
vice principal was not amused. She placed Fortino on suspension and ordered him
to return to school in a week’s time with his parents.
Pidot was not
satisfied with the punishment and he insisted that Fortino also serve detention.
Pidot was big on detention. The vice principal agreed and instructed Fortino to
report to detention after classes.
At detention that afternoon in the
library Pidot ordered Fortino to read something — anything. A book was out of
the question, so Fortino picked up a magazine and glanced at the photos simply
to placate Pidot, who sat nearby grading papers and muttering.
in the window” stunt became a huge joke throughout the school. Even the
custodian, who had to dislodge the desk from the window frame, laughed about it.
Like the students, the custodian hated Pidot.
The stunt so irritated
Pidot that with the vice principal’s permission he formed a teacher’s committee
with the goal of identifying and removing the school’s 12 most disruptive
Of course, Fortino was one of the designed “12 Most Wanted.”
I was another.
I was a class clown and I used to crack jokes and
offer sarcastic asides during class. I always received a good laugh when I would
mimic Pidot’s catch phrase, “Is this a joke?” Pidot would often utter this
phrase when students did not meet his so-called high standards of
Other students picked up on my impression and when Pidot walked
through the halls one would always hear several students in falsetto voices say
“Is this a joke?” This infuriated Pidot and he knew I was the
I was an idea man as well. I pulled my own stupid stunts, but
I also conceived of pranks and mischief that Fortino and others went on to
commit on my suggestion. In fact, I must now admit that it was I who suggested
we push Pidot’s desk out the window. I hated Pidot and the feeling was
Pidot and his committee came up with the Pidot Plan, which called
for teachers to watch the designed 12 Most Wanted, catch us, one-by-one, in the
act, and then transfer us to Daniel Boone, which was a special disciplinary
school for young hoodlums.
Pidot told his fellow teachers that Fortino,
for example, was not only disruptive; he was incapable of learning. One teacher
on the committee, Mr. Rockland, disagreed.
Ronald Rockland was a short
fireplug of a man with short-cropped gray hair. He was a tough, no-nonsense
English teacher. We all thought he was a cool guy, and no one would have dared
to push his desk out of a window.
Rockland, who encouraged my dream of
becoming a writer, must have felt there was some hope for me, as he took me
aside and warned me about the Pidot Plan. He advised me to stay out of
I continued to pull stunts, of course, but I was careful not to
get caught. Although I had in turn warned my fellow 12 Most wanted about the
Pidot Plan, Fortino and nine other guys would eventually be kicked out of school
and shipped off to Daniel Boone.
Of the 12 Most Wanted, only Mike Rossini, who,
amazingly, was a straight-A-student, and me, a class clown, minor hoodlum and
marginal student, went on to graduate Thomas Junior High School.
my three years at Thomas, even if I didn’t learn much there. I had fun goofing
off throughout school, which is probably why I’m not a millionaire doctor living
in Gladwyne today.
And Pidot, I recently discovered, was wrong about
Fortino. He was capable of learning.
That afternoon in the school’s
library Fortino sat and looked at magazine photos of a luxury high-rise
apartment in Center City Philadelphia. He stared at the photos of a wealthy
couple’s splendid furniture, electronic equipment and art. He was impressed.
Fortino was so impressed that he vowed to one day steal it all.
with Fortino and most of our South Philly street corner gang, I dropped out of
high school in the late 1960s. I enlisted in the Navy when I was 17 in 1970 and
I sailed off to Southeast Asia on an aircraft carrier. Fortino was sent up the
river the same year. Fortino spent most of his late teens and early twenties
incarcerated, and he later became a member of the local mob.
I had not
seen “Big Dom” Fortino in many years so I was somewhat taken back when I was
contacted by his lawyer. Fortino was sitting in a federal cell waiting to
testify against his fellow criminals. He told his lawyer that he wanted to offer
me an exclusive interview before he entered the Witness Protection Program and
According to the lawyer, Fortino read my column in the
local paper. Well, I suppose he may have glanced at my column photo, but knowing
that he was not big on reading, I doubted that he actually read my
I met with Fortino in the Federal Detention Center, located
across the street from the Federal Courthouse in Philadelphia. Big Dom had grown
even bigger since our last meeting. He was now a massive, muscular guy, wide as
a truck, and he had a face that only a hatchet could love. Fortino stood up and
welcomed me with a rib-breaking hug and a couple of slapping thuds on the
We sat down on chairs facing each other across a table. I set out
my notebook, pen and tape recorder on the table, and Fortino launched straight
away into his story.
Fortino was a member of a rough crew that worked out
of John Doe’s Bar & Grill in South Philadelphia. He had a reputation as a
capable burglar and a vicious and effective strong-arm guy. He and his crew hit
stores and warehouses at night. Fortino’s mob captain, Joseph “Joe Darts,”
Argentieri, ran a major bookmaking and load sharking operation out of John
Doe’s. Fortino, with his killer-reputation and killer-looks, collected gambling
and loan shark debts for Argentieri.
When a doorman for a Center City
high-rise apartment building fell behind in his gambling debts, Fortino recalled
his school days and saw an opportunity to fulfill his dream of looting a
high-rise, luxury apartment.
The doorman, Bill Canfield, was a lean,
hawk-faced, 50-year-old. He was a fast-talking, ingratiating, compulsive,
degenerate gambler. To clear some of his dept and remain healthy, Canfield
agreed to assist Fortino.
Canfield identified the richest tenant in the
building as John Joyce, a 62-year-old real estate developer. Joyce was a
balding, tall, thin, almost frail man, who wore large glasses on his pinched
face. He lived alone in his vast apartment, and Canfield told Fortino that Joyce
entered the lobby early every Sunday morning after spending Saturday night at a
When Joyce walked into the lobby that one Sunday
morning Fortino walked up to him and rammed the four-inch barrel of a .357 Smith
& Weston revolver in his side. He forced Joyce into the elevator and they
rode up to his apartment. With the gun barrel laid up against Joyce’s temple,
Fortino had Joyce unlock the door and disable the alarm system once they were
inside. Fortino called down and had his crew come up to the apartment. The
four-man crew, dressed as moving men, carried dollies, hand trucks and other
With swift and quiet efficiency, the four experienced
men moved every stick of furniture and household item out of the apartment. They
moved the load into the freight elevator and then out into a large moving truck
that was parked in the back of the building. If anyone happened to see the crew
at work they would assume that a tenant was moving out of the
Joyce sat still in a dinning room chair, too frightened to
speak or move, as the crew moved all of his belongings out the door.
rich guy like you should eat more,” Fortino said as he lifted Joyce from the
chair with ease. The chair was the last piece of furniture in the apartment, and
Fortino handed it to one of his crew. The large apartment was now empty save for
Joyce and Fortino.
Joyce was forced to take the elevator down to the
garage with Fortino at his side, and they drove off in Joyce’s Lincoln Town Car,
one of three cars that he had parked in the garage. They drove off towards North
Philadelphia, while the moving truck drove off in the opposite direction towards
a wholesale candy warehouse in South Philadelphia.
Fortino swung the car
to the curb near a subway stop on Broad Street. Fortino was stealing the car as
well, so he told Joyce to get out and take the subway home.
cops when you get home and say you was robbed,” Fortino ordered Joyce as he
eased out of the car. “Say you found the place cleaned out when you got there.
Joyce nodded in agreement.
“Hey, you’ll collect big-time on
the insurance,” Fortino said with a grin. “Go rob those guys.”
abruptly turned cold and menacing and yanked Joyce back into the car. “But if
you ever tell the cops about me or my guys, you’ll end up fuckin’ dead. Ya got
Joyce again nodded in agreement and Fortino shoved him out into the
street and drove off.
Joyce initially followed Fortino’s instructions,
but as this was a bold crime, the detectives were persistent in their
questioning. Joyce finally broke down and told the detectives the true story.
But Joyce, still fearing retribution from the mad, giant criminal, claimed he
could not identify any of the crooks, even though Fortino’s photo was one of the
mug shots laid before him.
A University of Penn graduate student who
believed his superior intellect would ensure that he made a killing on sports
betting — but didn’t — was coerced into working for Fortino. Alec Pines, called
“Smart Alec” by the crooks, was a grubby-looking nerd who appeared out of place
among the rough-hewn, but better dressed hoodlums. Fortino wanted Pines to
report to the candy warehouse so he could identify and place a value on the art,
antique furniture and any other items of special value.
This was a big
score for Fortino. “Joe Darts” Argentieri, a slim, dapper, silver-haired man of
60, was proud and happy as Pines added up the estimated value of the
Argentieri and Fortino discussed “moving” – the criminal term for
the profitable disposal of stolen items — the contents of the lavish apartment.
Argentieri said he knew some people in New Jersey who would be very interested
in the haul.
“This is a big fuckin’ score,” Argentieri told Fortino.
“You’ll get a lotta respect for this work, I gotta tell ya, and you’ll make us a
lotta fuckin’ money.”
This would have been a perfect score had not one of
Fortino’s crew been arrested by the FBI. The FBI pinched Steven Fritts for
federal drug charges unrelated to the apartment job. With a growing family and a
growing drug-habit, Fritts feared doing hard time in prison. So he gave up Big
He told the FBI about the apartment job and the location of the
warehouse. The FBI and the Philadelphia police raided the warehouse. They also
hit John Doe’s and arrested Fortino and his crew.
Despite his record as a
poor student, Fortino did the math. As he was in his late 50s he knew he might
die in prison. So he gave up Joe Darts.
Fortino was a gold mine of
information concerning the local mob, and he confessed to aiding Argentieri in
the murder of two rivals five years prior. He offered to tell the FBI and the
Philly detectives where the bodies — or to be precise, the body parts — were
buried. The Assistant U.S. Attorney was very happy with Fortino, and she
arranged a very good deal for him.
So there we were in the Federal
Detention Center. Fortino told me that his wife and young son were already out
of state, safe in the Witness Protection Program. He said he would join them
when he finished his testimony.
Fortino said that he was thankful that
before the FBI went out and arrested Argentieri, the FBI agents escorted Fortino
to his home, where he, his wife and his brother-in-law loaded up a truck with
all of their household belongings for the trip out of state.
suspected a thing, we were in and out in two hours,” Fortino said proudly.
“After all, I know how to fuckin’ move furniture.”
The National Geographic Channel offered a good program on Sunday night about the CIA's hunt for bin Laden.
The program, CIA Confidential, interviewed Gary Berntsen, a retired CIA officer who served as the field commander of the small unit of CIA officers and Special Forces soldiers who entered Afghanistan after the horrific terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on 9/11.
I interviewed Gary Berntsen for The Journal of Counterterrorism & Homeland Security International (www.iacsp.com/publications.php). He is the real deal.
The Scarecrow: Michael Connelly's New Crime Thriller
By Paul Davis
Many years ago when I was a young bachelor I brought home to my apartment a young girl I met in a bar.
While I was preparing a couple of drinks for us she looked over the books in my library.
“You have a lot of books on death,” she said in a questioning tone, noting the numerous titles of books on crime history, true crime and crime fiction, as well those on espionage, terrorism and military history.
Well, I tried to explain, I have books on a wide variety of subjects, as well as classic literature, but as a student of crime and an aspiring crime writer, I of course own a good number of books on crime.
She nodded and sipped her drink, but she soon made her excuses and left my apartment. I finished my drink and had a good laugh.
Michael Connelly’s fictional character Jack McEvoy would have understood. According to Connelly, McEvoy specializes in death.
McEvoy is the Rocky Mountain News crime reporter we met in Connelly’s earlier crime thriller, The Poet, in which he investigated the suicide of his twin brother, a homicide detective.
Teaming up with an FBI Special Agent he later becomes romantically involved with, McEvoy hunts a serial killer that leaves poetry and phrases from Edgar Allen Poe at his victim’s crime scenes.
In what his publishers describe as a “continuation,” rather than a sequel, McEvoy is back on the hunt, investigating another serial killer in The Scarecrow (Little, Brown and Company).
Having achieved some fame and written a bestselling true crime book on the Poet serial killer, McEvoy has moved up from the Rocky Mountain News to a coveted position on The Los Angeles Times.
Unfortunately, as a highly-paid crime reporter, he is on the list of laid off staff as the newspaper downsizes. He is allowed to remain on for two weeks, providing he trains his replacement. His replacement is a young woman fresh out of journalism school, but she is much more technology-savvy than McEvoy - and she is paid far less than McEvoy.
Hoping to leave the newspaper with a big story, McEvoy investigates the case of an exotic dancer found dead in a car trunk. The police have arrested a 16-year-old gangbanger, but McEvoy connects the murder of the dancer to other murders committed elsewhere.
The killer this time is less artistic than the Poet. The “Scarecrow,” so called because he is hired to prevent intrusions to law firm and corporate computer files, is a crazed computer genius. Being an expert on system intrusions, he is able to both track McEvoy’s actions and thwart his investigation via system hacking.
McEvoy calls in FBI Special Agent Rachel Walling, his partner and girlfriend from The Poet, to assist him in what he believes will be the biggest story he’s covered since the Poet. Like the Poet story, McEvoy becomes part of the story rather than just covering it. The hunter becomes the hunted and McEvoy realizes that he has is being targeted by the Scarecrow.
The story’s backdrop features both the shrinking world of daily newspapers and the growing world of digital technology. Connelly, a former crime reporter for The Los Angeles Times, knows the world of newspapers well and he laments the current state of the business.
In The Scarecrow McEvoy notes that since most of the news has been posted on the Internet, the newspaper might as well be called The Daily Afterthought.
“At one time the newsroom was the best place in the world to work,” McEvoy explains in the novel. “A bustling place of camaraderie, competition, gossip, cynical wit and humor, it was at the crossroads of ideas and debate. It produced stories and pages that were vibrant and intelligent, that set the agenda for what was discussed and considered important in a city as diverse as Los Angeles. Now thousands of pages of editorial content were being cut each year and soon the paper would be like the newsroom, an intellectual ghost town.”
Connelly is less knowledgeable about computers and technology, but like a good reporter, he has researched this area and he presents a chilling account of the mayhem a person with extraordinary computer skills can cause.
While some fear the government’s intrusion into our lives with security cameras and electronic surveillance (all in the cause of preventing crime and acts of terrorism), I tend to be more wary of the hacker who wreaks havoc on our lives for reasons of larceny or a perverse sense of humor.
Connelly’s hacker-killer manipulates McEvoy by intercepting his e-mails, forging other e-mails from him and by canceling his cell phone service and credit cards. By hacking into various systems the killer learns all about McEvoy.
Connelly’s latest novel is fast-paced, suspenseful and interesting. If you’re interested in crime, you will enjoy this crime thriller.
The late, great film director John Huston once suggested that film makers remake film failures rather than successful films.
But of course most film makers want to bank on the original film's success, so that rarely happens.
Having read news accounts of the remake of The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, I was curious to see the original film again. Thankfully, Comcast Cable TV is showing the classic crime thriller.
I loved the film back in 1974 and I enjoyed the film the second time around as well. The film's plot involves the hyjacking of a New York City subway train. The late, great Robert Shaw is a ruthless British mercenary between African coups, so he and his criminal crew take over the train with automatic weapons.
Shaw codenames his crew Misters Blue, Green, Gray and Brown. Shaw's crew consists of Hector Elizondo, a killer so crazy they kicked him out of the mob, Martin Balsam, a former subway motorman fired for transporting drugs, and another actor whose name I fail to remember, who appears to be a nice guy - if he were not a criminal and a killer.
The late, great Walther Matthau portrays a transit police lieutenant who communicates with Shaw via the transit authority's radio throughout most of the film.
Matthau's character is a calm and caring, yet cynical, and world-weary police officer. Matthau's character is in wonderful contrast with the cold-hearted, larcenous Shaw character.
But what truly makes this film work is the many first-class character actors playing smaller parts, like Jerry Stiller, who plays a typically jaded transit cop. There are at least half a dozen other great, smaller roles of rough, rude and blunt New Yorkers. This is a crime thriller, but it is also a very funny film.
I liked the scenes between the unpopular mayor up for re-election, his wife, and his deputy mayor. They, along with the police chief, the transit chief and the city's comptroller, come together to decide if they will pay the one million dollar ransom for the 18 hostages and the subway car the crooks separated from the train.
Tony Scott's remake, to be called The Taking of Pelham 123, comes out his month. Denzel Washington, who is playing the Matthau role, is a fine actor, and John Travolta, who can be a fine actor, but often is not, is portraying the Shaw role.
I doubt that this film will be superior to the original, but the average film-goer is under 30, so many of them have never seen the orignal film. Perhaps they will go on to see the original film and/or read John Godey's novel.
As for me, I'll see the remake when it hits cable TV in a year or so.
Paul Davis is a writer who covers crime. He has written extensively about violent street crime, organized crime, drugs, gangs, cyber-crime, white collar scams, espionage and terrorism. Paul Davis has been a student of crime since he was a 12-year-old aspiring writer growing up in South Philadelphia. He went on to do security work as a young sailor in the U.S. Navy and later as a Defense Department civilian employee. Today he is an online crime columnist, a contributing editor to Counterterrorism Magazine and a contributor to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington Times and other publications. Paul Davis also writes crime fiction.