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  best of the badmen: top 10 western heavies

TOP 10 LIST: Best of the Badmen top 10 Western Heavies by Richard Bowden

Dan Duryea
Nearly always a whining coward, Duryea's blond-haired presence enlivened many westerns and noirs during the 190s and 1950s. Standouts include his vicious killer in Mann's Winchester 73, and he was used, memorably, by Fritz Lang in Scarlet Street. In Black Bart, perhaps his most sympathetic western role, he plays a more mellow, romantic figure but still recognisably a crook. As he grew older, his real life drinking problem took its toll, and he looked more and more like Richard Widmark's younger brother.
Henry Fonda
He hardly ever played a villain, but when he did it, it was a knockout. As the blue-eyed child-killer Frank in Once Upon A Time In The West he proved Leone's famous instinct for perfect casting correct and turned in a unforgettable performance - with huge impact on audiences familiar with his previous career as good guys - such as Earp in Ford's masterpiece My Darling Clementine.
Klaus Kinski
Kinski's twitchy stare enlivened many spaghetti westerns, notably For A Few Dollars More, before establishing a creative partnership with Herzog. In Aguirre, Wrath of God, Fitzcarraldo and Nosferatu The Vampyre he become a world-class act. His autobiography was scandalous, and the documentary My Best Fiend which appeared after his death reveals just how close to his unstable screen image the real man was.
Richard Boone
The grizzled face of Boone hid a real dramatic talent, which made him a remarkable heavy when cast to type. Notably when up against Randolph Scott in The Tall T (probably the best of the Scott-Boetticher collaborations) or Paul Newman in Hombre. Amongst other films he also appeared memorably in a remarkable (and largely unknown) B-movie gem, Star In The Dust, a fine ballad western, sitting in jail waiting to hang.
Barton MacLane
MacLane had one of those instantly recognisable visages scowling, cruel and sardonic which raises the expectations of any western lover as soon as he appears on screen. Aggressive, curt (and increasingly barrel-chested as the years passed) and forever scheming, MacLane played Scott's brother in the Lang directed Western Union and glowered his way through umpteen films over three decades as Warner's all purpose heavy.
Lee Van Cleef
Van Cleef played a gallery of snake eyed villains way down the cast of films before Leone made a star out of him in For A Fistful Of Dollars. He was one of the killers in High Noon, and appeared in films by Mann (The Tin Star), Sturges (Gun Fight At The OK Coral) and Ford (The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance). But it will be as the Major in For A Fistful of Dollars and again for Leone in The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly that his reputation rests. After Leone, he enjoyed himself as a spaghetti star in his own right, notably in Sollima's The Big Gundown.
Neville Brand
The only actor to play Al Capone twice, Brand's sneering, brilliantined persona was perfectly suited to that of a prairie bully. He could have made more westerns but those he did (The Tin Star, Gun Fury, The Lonely Man, The Last Sunset and so on) benefitted immensely from his gravelly-voiced support. Brand was the fourth most decorated US soldier in World War 2 a rival to Audie Murphy in personal real life bravery.
Lee Marvin
Another graduate from the 1950s school of vicious sidekicks, Marvin's lean, mean all-round rotteness served him well as he faced the good guys and regularly met his just deserts. He was notable in the little known Hangman's Knot, a dry run for the Boetticher/Scott classics that were to come, in one of which he also appeared. The Commancheros ended this superb apprenticeship as a supporting player, playing alongside Wayne. Famously of course, he played the late, unlamented 'Liberty Valance' before heading off into the big time.
Jack Elam
Elam's squinty face was tailor made for villainy and, pencil thin, he made his mark in numerous Westerns in the 1950s and 1960s. His most memorable moment was in Once A Time In The West, duelling with a fly. The later parodies he provided of his early career (Support Your Local Gunfighter and the like) were amusing but as soon as he started to make us laugh, the danger went and we were the poorer.
Ernest Borgnine
Perhaps his sadistic and menacing presence was used to best effect in Ray's classic Johnny Guitar or in Sturges' modern western Bad Day At Bad Rock, but Borgnine was pure gold in any supporting role. Peckinpah made the most of his abilities as one of The Wild Bunch, where his anti-heroic grouchiness played well against a resigned Holden. He has popped up again, albeit much reduced in impact as a technician in the recent non-Western Gattaca.

previously published online at VideoVista #31 - October 2001

DOWSE Guide to the Movies is compiled by Tony Lee editor of Pigasus Press
You can order videos and DVD releases reviewed on these pages at Blackstar

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