In the UK charts in 1976, the second biggest act was Andrea True Connection and number one was Abba. It was ‘nice’ music, the calm before the storm of punk. Nice was what people wanted, and the mood was reflected in movies too. Gone was the Victorian villain, nasty with no redeeming qualities, a figure of the past. In its place we had baddies with an excuse. Nixon in All the President’s Men, ‘Damien’ in The Omen, and television in Network all played the villain in the big movies of 1976: a real-life baddie, a biblical baddie and a systemic baddie, all compromised, all acting under the malign influence of a greater force. Hardly the stuff of pantomime. To complete the itinerary of mitigating circumstances, there was the child baddie (Bugsy Malone) and the senior citizen baddie (Laurence Olivier’s refugee Nazi in Marathon Man).
A year later there would be Darth Vader and all that would change – or change back. But in 1976, if you wanted a proper baddie, he was already in our homes on the small screen, and his name was Falconetti. Many who saw the TV miniseries of Irwin Shaw’s potboiler novel Rich Man, Poor Man will have an image of the character fixed so firmly in their minds that it still casts a shadow 35 years on. Falconetti was a sadistic, predatory bully, a feared, barely repressed homosexual rapist at large among the crew of a merchant sea-going vessel, and he personally had it in for the hero of the piece, Tom Jordache, played by a young Nick Nolte.
‘Are you lookin’ for me, lover boy?’ Even in 1976, not many would’ve had the balls to say that to Nick Nolte.
Falconetti was played by the Munich and Sorbonne-educated actor William Smith, who possessed what can only be described as a hatchet face, and biceps that won international prizes in weightlifting and arm wrestling. He also had a Master’s degree in Russian Studies and was the last ‘Marlboro Man’ to appear in TV advertising. The story goes that one day, while walking down a street in LA, someone recognising him as ‘Falconetti’ threw a bottle at him, and when he complained to the police, the cops sided with the bottle thrower. The really astonishing thing was that Smith managed to garner this reputation from appearing in just three episodes of a 12-episode series.
That’s how bad Falconetti was. That’s how evil he was in the public mind.
Meanwhile, in the postmodern era with the predominance once more of the classic Victorian villain, who reigns supreme in the bad guy stakes?
Barring the obvious ones like ‘Darth Vader’, ‘The Terminator’ and ‘Hannibal Lector’, these are the ones I’m fielding.
10. Ron Silver – ‘Senator McComb’ in Timecop (1994)
Evil deeds: Exploits the discovery of time travel to steal a fortune to finance his corrupt political career, killing willy-nilly along the way. This guy is so bad he’s even nasty to himself when he travels back in time.
Great line: (to his younger self) ‘Do me a favour, stop eating so many fucking candy bars.’
9. Alan Rickman – ‘Hans Gruber’ in Die Hard (1988)
Evil deeds: Brit thesp Alan Rickman arguably created the current Hollywood comedy crossover villain. Possibly the first bad guy outside of unintentionally comical horror movies to raise a laugh while killing a hostage. Rickman completed his classic trilogy of villains with evil ranch owner ‘Elliot Marsten’ in Quigley Down Under (1990) and the ‘Sheriff of Nottingham’ in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991).
Great line: (to an unappreciative minion) ‘“And when Alexander saw the breadth of his domain, he wept, for there were no more worlds to conquer.” Benefits of a classical education.’
8. Jacqueline Pearce – ‘Servalan’ in Blake’s 7 (TV, 1978-1981)
Evil Deeds: Quite simply, the role model for Margaret Thatcher. But sexy with it.
Great line: ‘Guard. That woman. Yes, that woman there. Take her away and kill her.’
7. Nick Nolte – ‘Michael Brennan’ in Q&A (1990)
Evil Deeds: In Sidney Lumet’s classic drama of police corruption, Nolte plays a sadistic cop who kills to avoid confronting his own repressed homosexuality and to silence the unlucky witnesses to his escalating crimes.
Great line: (to the local Italian mafia capo): ‘I know you people – you’d crawl over your dying mother to fuck your sister.’
6. Joe Pesci – ‘Tommy DeVito’ in GoodFellas (1990)
Evil deeds: OK, an obvious one after all, but how can you not include a character who can shoot an innocent bystander for no reason whatsoever other than they picked the wrong moment to get in his face, and still schmooze his buddies into having a damn good laugh about it afterwards?
Great line: ‘I’m funny, how? You mean, like a clown? I amuse you?’
5. Clancy Brown – ‘The Kurgan’ in Highlander (1986)
Evil deeds: There’s honour in a bunch of immortals gathering to duel it out to the last man standing by lopping each other’s heads off. But The Kurgan just has to take it that one step too far. Well several, actually – terrorising nuns, raping and killing loved ones and decapitating friendly old duffer Sean Connery.
Great line: (to a less-than-respectful hotel clerk) ‘Don’t ever talk to me.’
4. Ken Stott – ‘Chance’ in Plunkett & Maclean (1999)
Evil deeds: When Plunkett & Maclean came out, it was marketed as a comedy, which I duly rented on video. About five minutes in, Stott, playing the loveable highwaymen’s lawman nemesis, kills a defenceless young boy by pushing his thumb up to the hilt into the lad’s eye socket. I almost threw a whitey.
Great line: (consoling the sweetheart of one of the imprisoned highwaymen) ‘Don’t worry, you’ll see him tomorrow – dancing the Tyburn jig.’
3. Dennis Hopper – ‘Frank’ in Blue Velvet (1986)
Evil deeds: Another obvious one, but just too damn iconic to resist. The chilling moments just keep on coming, from ‘Daddy wants to fuck’ to his poetic thoughts on the nature of love letters before sodomising Kyle MacLachlan.
Great line: ‘Heineken? Fuck that shit. Pabst Blue Ribbon!’
2. Ben Kingsley – Don Logan in Sexy Beast (2000)
Evil deeds: Sent to Spain to recruit ex-pat Ray Winston for a robbery in London, ‘Logan’ simply won’t take no for an answer, which is odd considering how much he loves to use the word himself. Along with ‘fucking’ and ‘cunt’.
Great line: (to an airline passenger who asks him to put out his cigarette) ‘Yeah, I’ll put it out providing you’re prepared to let me stub it out on your eyeball. Agreeable?’
1. Frank Silva – ‘Bob’ in Twin Peaks (TV, 1990-1991) and Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me(1992)
Evil deeds: What can you say about Bob? Portrayed by Silva, ‘Bob’ is little more than a creepy-looking, long-haired greaser – but one with a nasty habit of hiding in your bedroom and crawling on top of you in the night to lick your skin. ‘Bob’ is also an evil owl that comes swooping out of the woods at night in the TV series and a schizophrenic, daughter-molesting father in the cinema-released prequel, arguably the scariest American movie of all time.
Great line: Actually, I don’t think Bob ever says anything at all, so instead here’s a quote from FBI agent ‘Albert Rosenfield’: ‘Has anyone seen Bob on earth in the last few weeks?’
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