Friday, August 23, 2013
VILLAINS WE LOVE TO HATE by Meg Mims
A few months ago, I explored a few Western movie sidekicks. Now I'm featuring the big bad black hats, the villains we loved to hate in movies. I have my own favorites, but I also checked through a few websites to see which names other bloggers came up with for great movie villains.
Since I'm more of a young whippersnapper, I'm sticking to movies *I've* seen, not the B-movie classics (usually made and shown on the big screen and as television reruns before my time). So bear with me if your baddies aren't in my list. Add 'em to the comments below, though!
I'll start with a thriller movie starring ROBERT MITCHUM as "Reverend" Harry Powell in The Night of the Hunter. Yes, I know it isn't a western, being based on a real life killer in West Virginia. But it could be, given the river setting (try the muddy Missouri), the Midwest-style flavor of small town life, the poverty-stricken Depression, and the nightmarish sequences. Directed by Charles Laughton, (yes, the star of Ruggles of Red Gap), it's a haunting film. And Mitchum is a fabulous villain. Scared me to death as a kid, and still scares me. He's perfect "with his long face, his gravel voice, and the silky tones of a snake-oil salesman." The righteous Lillian Gish "looks nothing so much as Whistler's mother holding a shotgun." (Roger Ebert)
One of my favorite western movies is The Magnificent Seven. A small Mexican village is overrun by bandits on a regular basis, and the only heroes available are gunfighters - most of them not regular "white hats" either, like Charles Bronson and Robert Vaughn. But ELI WALLACH plays Calvera, and he truly is the baddest of the Mexican bandit band. Wallach also played Tuco, the Ugly role as a gunman in The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, and the outlaw Charlie Gant in How The West Was Won. The actor played roles into his nineties, a trooper until the end.
WALTER BRENNAN, a villain? No way! I remember him fondly from The Guns of Will Sonnett, The Real McCoys and The Over-The-Hill Gang movies. But he won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar, his third, as 'Old Man' Clanton in the western My Darling Clementine where I rooted for Henry Fonda. He also portrayed a murderous Colonel in How the West Was Won opposite James Stewart. I already featured him as a great western sidekick, too. A man of many talents indeed. He also is only one of three actors to win three Best Supporting Actor Oscars - Jack Nicholson and Daniel Day-Lewis are the others. His career lasted from 1929 to 1971, quite an accomplishment.
Another surprise-surprise pick - good guy HENRY FONDA. Who would believe him as a villain? But I did, again in Once Upon a Time in the West, as a hired gun. He killed three little kids, for crying out loud! That's baaaad. Cast against type from his usual hero role, he made it memorable. I still prefer Fonda as the stern Mister Roberts or in the western The Ox-Bow Incident, puzzled over the injustice of it all.
Next up, let's go with BRUCE DERN. I mean, he killed the Duke, John Wayne, in The Cowboys! And while wearing a pale hat!! That made me hate him, and that movie was one of the best "coming of age" plots you can ever find. Dern had already been typecast long before as pyscho-killers in many movies, and his portrayal of an outlaw sure convinced me of that ego-centric arrogance that villains are sure to have to motivate their actions. His higher-pitched voice helped, along with his squinty eyes and buckish teeth - if I'd met him in the Old West, you can bet I'd never turn my back on a skunk like that.
I'll throw in a female villain, since there aren't many as good as BARBARA STANWYCK. Granted, she was a better villainous femme fatale in Double Indemnity with Fred MacMurray, but in the western 40 Guns, she portrays Jessica Drummond who runs a county "with an iron fist" and allows her brother and his gang to run amok. She's also the boss of a gang of thieves in The Maverick Queen. I preferred watching her in Union Pacific with Joel McCrea playing Molly Monahan, the daughter of a train engineer, but she also starred in Annie Oakley, California, Cattle Queen of Montana and was best known in The Big Valley. More fun as a strong heroine, in my opinion.
Who can forget the classic movie Shane pitting Alan Ladd against the nasty hired gun Jack Wilson as portrayed by JACK PALANCE? He earned an Oscar nod for that role. He resurrected his career later in life playing Murphy in Young Guns plus prickly cowboy Curly Washburn with Billy Crystal in City Slickers. His hilarious performance won him a "Triple Crown" - the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, a Golden Globe for the same title AND the American Comedy Award for Funniest Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture. Well-deserved, too.
Don't forget LEE MARVIN as the lawless gunfighter Liberty Valance opposite James Stewart and John Wayne in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Marvin also won the Academy Award for Best Actor playing opposite Jane Fonda in the comical Cat Ballou, and led a band of mercenaries in The Professionals. In the western musical Paint Your Wagon, Lee Marvin got top billing over Clint Eastwood. Other westerns Marvin starred in are The Great Scout and Cathouse Thursday with Oliver Reed, Bad Day at Black Rock with Spencer Tracy, Monte Walsh with Jack Palance and plenty of TV spots on The Virginian, Bonanza and Wagon Train.
And who doesn't remember Liberty Valance's henchman, LEE VAN CLEEF? He polished his bad guy role in High Noon over the years in many many westerns and reached the zenith as Angel Eyes in Sergio Leone's The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. He also played heroes in Leone's spaghetti westerns that followed. "His gravelly voice... gruff, often aloof appearance and persona, became as idiosyncratic as the movies themselves." It seems a villain with a unique voice may be a running theme along with that gruff badness.
Last (for now) and not least is RICHARD BOONE who played Paladin in the TV western Have Gun, Will Travel. He also played the ruthless outlaw and kidnapper in Big Jake opposite John Wayne, Cicero Grimes the gang-leader and kidnapper in Hombre with Paul Newman, plus a man with a grudge against the gunfighter John Wayne in The Shootist. Boone also had a gravelly voice and gruff features. Seems to be a requirement to play villainous parts, and he played plenty of others in westerns.
So... who are your favorite villains?
Meg Mims is an award-winning author with two western mysteries under her Eastern belt. She lives in Michigan, where the hills are like driveway slopes and trees block any type of prairie winds. LIKE her on Facebook, follow her on Twitter or check out her books on her website.