Friday, December 26, 2008

Greatest Movie Villains

Blogging about It's a Wonderful Life got me to thinking about movie villains, since Lionel Barrymore as Henry F. Potter is one of my favorites. Time Magazine thinks so to, as he appears as #8 on its list of greatest movie villains. The list has also got one of my other favorites, Laurence Olivier as Dr. Christian Szell in Marathon Man checking in at #18. Unforgivable, however, is the failure to include Bruce Dern as Longhair in The Cowboys, one of the two best villains of all time (the other being Heath Ledger in Dark Knight.) 

Just look at the punk sneer on his face. This guy scared the pants off me when I saw him at 9 years old in the movie theater back in 1972. But it was a good kind of scared. When I bought a copy of The Cowboys a few years ago and watched it with my kids, Longhair had lost none of his punch. My son Ethan described him as "sort of like an evil parent", which gets it just about right. 

One aspect that makes The Cowboys stand up well over time is the intergenerational conflict between Wil Anderson (John Wayne) and Longhair. Wayne was nearing the end of his career, and is the archetype of the classic strong, gruff, but honorable cowboy, a man of the 1940's. Dern was at the start of his career and represents the new generation of snot-nosed punks with no respect for their elders - a kid of the 1970's. You can't help but cheer when Anderson says to Longhair: "I'm thirty years older than you, but I can still beat the hell out of you." And everyone knows he's right.

Also should have been on the list - the hillbillies from Deliverance.

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