TOP 10 LIST: Best of the Badmen top 10 Western Heavies by Richard Bowden
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
#31 - October 2001
Guide to the Movies
compiled by Tony
Lee editor of Pigasus Press
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