Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Great (film) Debates vol. 19

A couple weeks ago we talked about our favorite James Bonds. But who would Bond be without a cool villain?

Who is your favorite James Bond villain?



Panelist: Tennessee Jed

Favorite Bond villain was Robert Shaw as Red Grant. He was a ruthless killing machine, and J.B. was lucky to survive. Probably the most realistic. Odd Job is a close second.

Panelist: T-Rav

I think you have to rank Blofeld pretty high up there. Maybe it’s because he dates to the Connery era, but he’s become almost as iconic as Bond himself. Well, maybe not, but he’s a major part of the stories regardless.

Panelist: ScottDS

If we’re including henchmen, then my answer would have to be Red Grant, played by Robert Shaw in From Russia with Love. I haven’t seen the film in years but it’s my favorite Connery Bond film and I just love Robert Shaw (he passed away too soon, at the young age of 51). He’s as cool and ruthless as ever in this film, with blond hair and piercing eyes. The fight scene aboard the Orient Express was particularly brutal for its day.

Panelist: AndrewPrice

I also picked Robert Shaw as Red Grant. He’s one of the few villains who was truly on Bond’s level. He was strong, smart, clever and unbelievably, ruthlessly violent. He was the only villain who legitimately got the drop on Bond and really tried to kill him. . . no inexplicable stupidity at the critical moment. My runner up would be Dr. No because he’s the grand daddy of them all.

Comments? Thoughts? Who would you choose and why? And while we're at it, who was the worst Bond villain?

59 comments:

Tennessee Jed said...

how can I argue with the panelists that picked Red Grant since I did myself. T-Rav, while Ernst Stavro Blofeld was the primary nemisis of Bond throughout Fleming's novels, in cinema, he was portrayed by different actors, much as was Bond himself. Maybe better to ask you "who was your favorite Blofeld?"

Tennessee Jed said...

It is kind of telling that three panelists all picked Red Grant even when one considers that he has to share the screen with Lottie Lenya as the extremely memorable Rosa Klebbs.

I can tell you that portrayals of Emilio Largo in both films fell so far short of my expectations from the book that I could never get behind them. The same goes for Yaffet Cato as Mr. Big. He is a good actor, but didn't measure up to the character.

T-Rav said...

Jed...hmmm. Good question. I'll have to get back to you on that. Of course, since I haven't seen "From Russia With Love," my judgment on this topic may be a little suspect.

Tennessee Jed said...

Oh, Rav - shame, I say shame on you ;-) Seriously, you should. Look, I know the technology is a little dated, and sometimes films of that era look dated given newer technology. But what made this film the best for me is it was, at it's heart, a relatively believable spy story of the cold war. Once they started sending Roger Moore up into space stations, I was done, done, done. Grant was actually the first role where I remember Robert Shaw. He was a big, thickly muscled, insane Irishman who had been co-opted by Rosa Klebbs to pull off a scheme to kill Bond and embarrass the Brits. From the very beginning you realize, Bond is outmanned and needs all his cunning and luck to survive.

Individualist said...

Well I don't think we can have this discussion without an nonorable mention to Joseph Wiseman as Dr. No.

He is after all the villian that set the template for all the Bond Villians to come.

Tennessee Jed said...

Indie - there is a certain nobility to Doctor No. The evil genius with a background in the Tongs. The fact that he died under an avalanche of bat shit took away just enough of his dignity to keep him from stronger consideration in the top slot. :)

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, I thought it was very interesting three of us picked the same guy. I think that tells you something about how great the actor was and how well the character was written.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, I never read the books, so I didn't have that issue. I like Yaffet a lot, though he wasn't anything all that special as a villain in my book -- just a drug dealer really. I liked the first Largo too, though not as much as the other Connery villains.

As for favorite Blofeld, I always think of Diamonds Are Forever's Charles Gray. He was great, even though the movie was the weakest Connery film.

LawHawkRFD said...

I'll go with Donald Pleasance as Blofeld. Austin Powers agrees with me.

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, You've never seen the best Bond film of all time? Shocking!


(P.S. Send me more answers! :) )

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, From Russia With Love is easily my favorite as well for a bunch of reasons. Believability, AWESOME villains, great plot, incredible fight scenes, and the best Bond girl ever. It's the perfect Bond film. :)

AndrewPrice said...

I just read that former Czech President and fighter for capitalism Vaclav Havel has died. R.I.P.

AndrewPrice said...

Indi, What I loved about Dr. No was that he had a legitimate backstory, he was ruthless and understated (no ranting), and he had a cool plan. That is the best template for Bond villains and too many of them fell far short on that account.

ScottDS said...

Yeah, From Russia with Love is my favorite Connery Bond and definitely in my top 5 overall.

As for villains, I wonder if we'd still pick Red Grant if he had been played by a different actor? I suppose my second choice would've been Blofeld but, given that he was played by three different actors, it would've been more difficult.

The villains seemed to get more bland as time went on. The bad guys in The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker are almost interchangeable (one wants to live below us and the other above us!).

Julian Glover's character in For Your Eyes Only was okay but Topol steals that movie and Glover made a stronger impression as General Veers in The Empire Strikes Back with a tenth of the screen time.

Max von Sydow played a great Blofeld in the "unofficial" Bond film Never Say Never Again but he was only in it for five minutes.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, Is that in the book? In the film, I think he gets shoved into the reactor?

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, Dr. Evil would have to rate in my top 5 even though he's a comedic parody!

Tink in Cali said...

Since it looks like the Robert Shaw is the hands down winner, I'll go with a more modern villain. I found Gustav Graves (Die Another Day, 2002, portrayed by Toby Stephens) to be an intriguing character. Of course that may have had more to do with Stephens than anything else.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I agree about the villains becoming more bland over time. I even had a hard time naming many of them as I went through the series in my head. The big except is Le Chif, which is a genuine throwback to the ruthless villains of old.

I agree with your assessments too. Spy Who Loved and Moonraker are near clones. For Your Eyes, the show stealer is Topol. Walken as Zorin is just a dipshit in View, and who were the villains again that Brosnan and Dalton faced? Rupert Murdoch, Sean Bean, some Russian, some drug dealer, and some Korean? Yawn.

I honestly don't know if we would have picked Grant if he'd been played by somebody else? Shaw is that great of an actor and his portrayal is that special that his presence might be what pushed Grant over the top? That's hard to tell, but it's a fascinating question.

AndrewPrice said...

Tink, That film does contain one of my more favorite Bond girls -- Rosamund Pike. I'm not sure why, but I thought she was great!

DUQ said...

If we're talking favorite Bond girl, then I go with Diana Rigg.

Favorite villain? I don't know. My least favorite villain though was Jaws. That's not a Bond villain, that's a clown.

Tink in Cali said...

I am a Pike fan as well, Andrew. Don't we have good taste? :)

AndrewPrice said...

DUQ, I like Jaws growing up, but have soured on him over time. He is a comedic figure, but much of what they did in that era was comedic.

AndrewPrice said...

Tink, Apparently so! :)

Tennessee Jed said...

The would we still pick Grant if he was portrayed by a different actor is a fascinating question, but ultimately unfair unless one is willing to plug in a specific actor to consider.

Since we are starting with Shaw, I had a thought about another film he was in, "The Deep" in which he portrayed a fictional character based loosely on real life Bermuda treasure hunter Teddy Tucker. If you remember that film, he had an "enforcer" named Kevin who didn't say anything, but give a devlish grin. He ultimately lost his life in a struggle witho villain Louis Gossett Jr.'s villainous enforcer. My point is, the actor who portrayed Kevin had the physical guns to play Grant, but I have know idea if he could pull off the dialogue.

T-Rav said...

Oh, get off me, Jed (and Andrew)! I've seen enough of them. Roger Moore, though--yeah, he was fairly ridiculous as Bond, I have to agree.

On Blofeld, how about Donald Pleasance?

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, I love The Deep, though I can't tell you why. It's not that great of a film, but I still love it. And I think Shaw is great in that one too!

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, You haven't seen enough if you've missed the best one! :)

I think all the Blofelds were fine, but I think Gray was the best. That said, I like Pleasance a lot in everything I've ever seen him in, especially his John Carpenter stuff and in The Great Escape.

Tennessee Jed said...

Another pretty good villain who played against Timothy Daulton is Big Hollywood contributor Robert Davi. Clearly, the drug cartel leader was playing directly to his visual strength, but he was nevertheless convincing in that role

Tennessee Jed said...

I just love whippin on the young kid! :-)

Andrew - I loved "The Deep" too, but can be a little more specific. First, I was predisposed to like it since it came out not long after I had honeymooned there and had seen the museum with all Tucker's artifacts. All the scenery was familiar to me including the mopeds, beach elevators, etc. Second, I truly think the book by Peter Benchley (which was closely adhered to in the film) was a ripping good adventure story that was perfect for the silver screen. It includes some of the same elements that make North by Northwest such a good plot; e.g. a couple minding their own business who stumble onto something that is far bigger than they bargain for. You could argue that in real life, they would have gotten the heck out of Dodge, but such are the things of which great adventures are made.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, I like Davi, but I don't think the character itself was up to James Bond levels. I actually rewatched it recently and was amazed how poorly the whole movie was written.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, I haven't read the book (nor been to the island) but I agree with your assessment that it's a great adventure. It's exotic, interesting and very believable. It is in fact the very kind of adventure one would hope to have if you visited an island -- excluding the murders of course.

Plus, I think the acting is very strong from all parties and it's got a really cool "creepy" vibe that even sets is apart a bit from other adventures because you get the sense there is something supernatural going on for a while until you realize what is going on.

All around, a vastly underrated movie. :)

Tennessee Jed said...

. . . and I really think the film was better than perhaps you give it credit. Good actors (Shaw, Gossett, and Nolte.) Jackie Bissett was not great, but her role didn't really demand all that much. The notion of two wrecks, one on top of the other was a clever idea, at least in my view. But . . . the point was really whether "Kevin" could have played Grant. Who knows, but probably not.

Tennessee Jed said...

Hawk - Donal Pleasance is a great villain. For some reason, rather than Blofeld, I'll always remember his as one of the villains in my favorite Tarzan movie "Tarzan's Greatest Adventure starring Gordon Scott (the Tarzan of my early days.) I think he either falls in a botomless pit or sinks in quicksand, can't remember which.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, I don't know why it isn't a better (or maybe more correct to say "better liked") film. I agree that the plot is super clever, the story moves well, the acting is great (I like Bissett a lot) and it's got a lot going for it.

It's also proven it's longevity because it does still show up on television a lot, and longevity is the real test of a film.

But it just never came anywhere near the other big films of the era. I'm not sure why?

Tennessee Jed said...

I don't know either, Andrew, but If I had to venture a guess, I'd say it's because it was his second novel, both of which were made into films, BUT the first happened to be "Jaws" which is a tough act to follow in terms of both critical acclaim and popularity.

AndrewPrice said...

Good point, he could well be a victim of his own success.

ScottDS said...

As far as Shaw goes, I loved him as a bad-ass Israeli commando in Black Sunday which doesn't seem to get the attention that it deserves. It's a conspiracy/anti-terrorist thriller but you never see it mentioned in the same breath with movies like Marathon Man or The Parallax View or even All the President's Men.

It's one of John Frankenheimer's best films and it also features John Williams' last score before Star Wars, a great performance by an unhinged Bruce Dern, and there's a sudden death in the film which drove me nuts the first time I saw it. It literally came out of nowhere! (I'm not spoiling it for anyone.)

Oh, and as far as Bond girls are concerned, my favorites in no particular order:
-Daniela Bianchi in From Russia with Love
-Claudine Auger and Luciana Paluzzi in Thunderball
-Jane Seymour in Live and Let Die
-Rosamund Pike in Die Another Day
-Eva Green in Casino Royale

T-Rav said...

I thought both Stephens and Pike were very good in "Die Another Day." (Also good: Madonna's song for the opening credits. That was Madonna, right?) I did not really care for Halle Berry's character, though, and I never understood why people were raving over her performance (or wanting to do a spin-off about her, which I found even more bizarre).

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, Black Sunday deserves a lot more recognition. That's a really solid film and easily the equal of the other films you mention. Again, I'm not sure why it gets (largely) ignored?

On your Bond girls, I actually agree very much with your list even in the order you put them except Eva Green. I didn't like her at all.

Tennessee Jed said...

Black Sunday was the original novel by the author of Red Dragon and then Silence of the Lambs.

For those that read my review on the film "Fracture" at this site, you nay recall Rosamund Pike was the eye candy temptress for Ryan Gosling in that film. What you may not have realized is that on the DVD, in the deleted and extended scenes is a much more graphic sex scene between the two Psssssss!!!

Andrew - The book (is where Doc No is buried under the guano.) That is the trouble after so many years . . . they tend to blend together a bit. One interesting side note. Dr. No was the first Bond movie, but only the 5th or 6th book. It was actually adapted as a Bond novel from a screenplay he had developed for a proposed British t.v. series that never got picked up.

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, The blog Scriptshadow (interesting place) had a fascinating take down of the three "new" Star Wars films. One of the things he does to take down Revenge is compare the lightsaber fight at the end of Revenge against the fencing scene in Die Another Day. He points out how the Bond fight scene is gritty and real with real consequences, but the Star Wars fight seem feels fake and lacks genuine risk.

I didn't care for Berry either and I never understood why people thought she was so great. I think it was PR more than anything because no one mentions her in hindsight.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, I figured it was in the book. I understand they are very different from the films.

On Pike, I recall your review and her being in the film. Oddly, my favorite role for her was in the crapfest Doom.

Tennessee Jed said...

Claudine Auger was a hottie even though she got mixed up in that sad Spider Savidtch affair. Eva Green has incredible eyes. I only know her from this one and Kingdom of Heaven. For some reason, I have always liked Britt Eckland. But really, how can one really choose?

Again, with Black Sunday, I fell a little bit victim to the syndrome of "you've read the book, now see the movie," in which you develop how the characters look and act in your mind's eye, and even when changes are mandated due to real differences between books and movies, it is harder to fully accept the film.

ScottDS said...

I haven't seen Die Another Day in years but Halle Berry did nothing for me in that film. Believe it or not, the Bond producers considered giving her character (Jinx) her own spinoff. I think a screenplay was written but this obviously went nowhere.

I also didn't like the Madonna song but this film is the first time where the title sequence is part of the narrative, where we see Bond getting tortured by the North Koreans.

I actually liked the invisible car but it was the bad CGI sailing/surfing scene that ruined it for me.

Re: Eva Green... I just think she's hot, not to mention her habit of disrobing in every other movie. :-)

Re: Black Sunday... I've never read the book but it's actually the only non-Hannibal Lecter book written by Thomas Harris.

Tennessee Jed said...

Andrew - as busy as you are, you'll never be able to do so, but you can get complete sets of the entire Bond works by Fleming for a very reasonable price. I whipped my way through them for the first time in 30 years a couple of summer's ago while recuperating from surgery.

The early Bond films were not all that different (Dr. No, From Russia With Love, Thunderball and Goldfinger.) Sure, there were some themes that were largely downplayed in the films (lesbianism) Some great scenes were ignored such as Bond's dinner at Blades when "M" brought him to the club to expose Sir Hugo Drax's cheating at Bridge. Where they really became "name only" was during the Roger Moore "Jaws" era.

AndrewPrice said...

I just never liked Green, can't say why, she just didn't work for me. Plus, I have to say she reminds me too much of Valeria Golino (Ramada from Hot Shots!) and every time I see her I keep thinking "what do you do with an elephant with three balls." LOL!

I didn't care for the Madonna song either -- it's not memorable.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, I had no idea! That makes her the only Bond girl to actually kill someone.

They are a series I've always wanted to read and I do intend to make time for it eventually. :)

The first I recall hearing about the films versus the books was people complaining that Moonraker took nothing more than the title of the book.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, I just looked Auger up and I think you've got the wrong woman. The woman who killed Sabich was Claudine Longet.

T-Rav said...

Andrew, don't think I've ever checked out "Scriptshadow." I'll have to do that--although I'm pretty sure Red Letter Media made the same comparison in one of its videos.

Eva Green is incredibly gorgeous, in both "Casino Royale" and "Kingdom of Heaven." That is all.

ScottDS said...

Ha!

Yeah, I'm familiar with Ms. Golino. Her debut was in Big-Top Pee-Wee which is one of my mother's favorite movies. Yes, really. That's just the kind of household I was brought up in. :-)

Her best Hot Shots! joke is an oldie but a goodie: "A horse walks into a bar and the bartender asks, 'Why the long face?'"

T-Rav said...

By the way, was one of the Bond girls from the '70s a tranny, or is that just a rumor?

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, (s)He was an extra in For Your Eyes Only when the guy gets shot in the pool. :/

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, That was a good one too, but I like the elephant joke better. And in both cases, it was Charlie Sheen that totally sold those jokes with his mystified look -- though her totally serious deliver was perfect. I love that scene! :)

Tennessee Jed said...

Now you know what it can be like to be 63, and deal with two french women about the same age whose surnames are somwhat similar! ;-) Yes, Longet is the one, and married to the famed Andy Williams (whom I once had a beer with in the clubhouse bar at La Quinta Mountain Course.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, I feel the same way. LOL!

Outlaw13 said...

Aren't the villains somewhat beside the point? In most Bond films the villain could be anybody, the whole point was to see Bond doing Bond-like things, the bad guy was just a needed device to set all that in motion. For the most part they are rather disposable. Scaramonga (SP?) in The Man With The Golden Gun was pretty good, and the bad guys in From Russia With Love were realistic...

ArmChairGeneral said...

Dr. No.

AndrewPrice said...

Outlaw, But Bond can't do his Bond thing unless he has a solid villain to do it to. If he were just going after a guy who robbed a liquor store, then we wouldn't be very excited by his achievements. The better the villain, the better the Bond.

AndrewPrice said...

ACG, He is the original... at least on film.

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