CINEMA’S GREATEST VILLAINS! Pretty bold statement, wouldn’t you say? Well, that’s what I found when doing a Google search and came up with this clickbait entry. Granted several of the choices are right on the money, such as Robert Mitchum In Cape Fear (1962) and Night of the Hunter (1955) and of course, Lee Marvin in many of his earliest roles but he also made a terrific return to villainy in Gorky Park (1983).
Just to make the point as in the case of the likes of Marvin, Mitchum and other leading men who have sauntered occasionally into the realm of classic villainy, sometimes the best of them are actors you wouldn’t associate with cinema’s greatest villains, such as Laurence Olivier in Spartacus (1960) or Gregor Peck in The Boys From Brazil (1978). It’s one of the reasons I always felt it was a shame John Wayne never played an out and out bad guy, just once. He came close a few times with his characters being pretty close to the edge in such films as The Searchers (1956) and Red River (1948) but never a complete villain, sadly.
Speaking of John Wayne movies, Bruce Dern was one of the great bad guys of all time in The Cowboys (1972).
Basically stated, I believe in order to be an especially memorable bad guy that can rank among cinema’s greatest villains, you probably need to have a little of what it takes off-screen, as well. I’m not alone in that belief, either. To quote Lee Marvin himself, as I do often in Lee Marvin Point Blank:
“You know as character actors we play all kinds of sex psychos, nuts, creeps, preverts and weirdoes. And we laugh it off saying what the hell it’s just a character. But deep down inside, it’s you baby.”
– Dwayne Epstein