As we get closer to Halloween I find myself thinking of the darker side of the human heart. But instead of making a list of horror films and actors (which I have done before), I would like to salute the Evil Bad Guys* of Film and TV, for they are the ones who make stuff worth watching. (I use the word “Guys” in the unisex form–for I do not care for “Gals.”)
At some point in my life I found myself rooting for the villains. Writers do poorly with traditional heroes; it is easier to create bad people than virtuous ones because there are fewer examples of the latter to draw from. So pure heroes tend to be boring–that’s why we have antiheroes who are only slightly less rotten than the evil doers. Antiheroes will go all in for a cause, but only if it is personal. You gotta kill their mom or their comic relief partner on “the job” (usually a week before his/her retirement) to get them to react.
The late Alan Rickman was an outstanding portrayer of bad guys. I really really really wanted Alan to kill both Bruce Willis and Kevin Costner in Die Hard and Robin Hood (and in real life, if he could swing it). But I knew that the odds of either of those blessed events happening were only slightly higher than Ranger Smith shooting Yogi Bear, stuffing him with Boo Boo and mounting the whole mess above the hearth.
There used to be a ludicrous hero situation on old TV shows that I never understood, which also turned me against the Good Guys. Way back there’d be a station break tease for something like the old Hawaii Five-O. “Tonight, a merciless killer with a grudge stalks Steve. Will this be the end of McGarret?” Hell no. Everyone knew that, but the networks served up the same old tired crap anyway, because they knew people only had three channels to choose from. TV heroes were semi-immortal. Wo Fat and Al Capone could never do anything about McGarret or the highly fictionalized version of Elliot Ness–only the heads of CBS, NBC and ABC had the power of life and death.
Considering such, I thought “Hey, why not develop a TV series in which the winner of the episode takes over the show until he/she is vanquished down the road. Maybe the good guys hold the fort for a while then the bad guys. I’m so brilliant!” Then it occurred to me that we already have that. It is called professional wrestling.
Even though TV and films have progressed over the ages and often feature “evil” triumphing, I am not fooled. The morality tale still holds sway, even if it is again a case of marginally less rotten besting rottener. Honest endings are rare. The top one for my money is Night of the Living Dead, in which a brave survivor, who happened to be black, gets shot in the head by the white deputies who do not first call out “Hey are you a zombie?” probably because they would miss out on killing a black man if he was given a chance to prove he was alive. That was excellent. But mostly, the morality tale continues to rule because you know that no matter how convoluted, Batman will always defeat the Joker. And no matter how many times Superman “dies” he never does.
Now, I refuse to support whiney, sniveling baddies, like that annoying piece of crap Dirty Harry blew away in Magnum Force, even though it was definitely a morality play. I cheered when Clint shot him. Interestingly, Clint was involved with a marginally less rotten person winning the day in Unforgiven–which I approved of.
But still, there are exceptions to the rule. Kevin Spacey playing Brad Pitt for a fool in Se7en was an astonishing win for the black hats. And although he had to take two in the head to get over, “John Doe” died knowing he’d placed Gwyneth Paltrow’s noggin in a box–good times.
I guess it is called the attraction of Evil. Shakespeare certainly knew all about it; his Richard III was unrepentantly foul, yet was the smartest, funniest and by far most interesting character in the play. Via the ultimate character assassination of a historical figure, Will certainly proved that he knew which side the throne was buttered on at the time–and the occupant was definitely not a Plantagenet. (I do not know if either Rickman or crazy Gary Oldman ever played crooked-back Dick on stage, but it seems likely.)
Anyway, ten days before Halloween, I salute the Black Hats of fiction with a list that will follow at the end of this post.
But now, let’s raise a glass and hear the fanfare for this week’s performers.
Inimitable Adam Kluger moved one closer to the half century story mark with The Lake House. Although Adam works brilliantly in the visual arts as well as writing, you get the sense from his work that he remembers everything he hears, including the stuff he’d rather not. This is a commendable ability to convey, and it brings intimacy to his work.
Corey Olds debuted on the site Tuesday. Like Adam’s work The Cure has the lovely ring of honest language. Words that are vivid but not overdone, stylized yet not to the degree of showing off. And it could well be that the event in the tale is already happening.
Rachel Sievers presented a story on Wednesday that’ss an elegant bit of work that plays like a song. Her Manhattan and Gibson sweeps you along and before you know it the wonderful twist ending is upon you. Exceptionally well done.
The Laird of Balwearie by LS friend Michael Bloor shone on Thursday. I’ve said it before, but Mick, Hugh and a few others of you are able to raise an actual real-live-sound-making voice in my mental theater. And fortunately, this voice usually speaks interesting words as it did in this tale.
I had to read The Serpent three times before I made up my mind what the end meant. This was not due to a lack of clarity on the part of its writer, first time contributor, Charles Smith, but there were so many possibilities that my mind boggled. For those who have yet to read it, I cannot share what I arrived at, for I would not want to sway you from what you will make from it.
Now as the exit music softly plays (perhaps by Ennio Morricone), here we go with a list of most wanted Bad Guys. One slot is open for the usual reason.
Mister and Ms. Bad Guys
Henry Fonda– “Frank”; Once Upon a Time in the West. (The first thing this famed all-American hero actor does in this film is smile serenely as he shoots a little boy dead–the first of about ninety felonies he commits.)
Bette Davis– “Baby Jane”; Whatever Happened to Baby Jane. (“But I had rat for lunch.”)
Williams B.Davis– “The Cigarette Smoking Man”; X Files (Only TV character on this list.)
George Sanders–”Addison” ;All About Eve (The urbaniest of urbane sons of a bitches.)
Strother Martin-”The What We Have Here is a Failure to Communicate Man”; Cool Hand Luke
Samuel L. Jackson-”Jules” Pulp Fiction (This guy who knows his Bible.)
David Warner– “Jack the Ripper” Time After Time
Uma Thurman-”Beatrix”; Kill Bill Vol. 1 and 2
Javier Bardem-”Anton Sugar”; No Country For Old Men