I’m like most longtime admirers of Bond, James Bond. I’ve my favorites. The venerable series has held a unique fascination of the movie buying public for over five decades now. We’re all pulling for the fictional British Secret Service agent, one licenced to kill. First created by novelist Ian Fleming in 1953 and brought to the big screen in ’62. But like any great character in thrillers, you must have a worthy antagonist to make it work.
Usually, there are exceptions, the better the villain, or henchman (er…henchwoman…oh damn it all… the heavy) the more entertaining the Bond film.
Some years ago, I briefly touched on this with the best in villainy segment in a compilation piece on the various aspects of the longstanding movies series. Clearly, when each new actor takes the reins with this unique character, it’s a whole new era for OO7. So, purely as another arcane exercise in what I’ve come to call excessive Bond minutiae (eBm™, for short), I’ll pick such for each epoch. From Connery to Craig.
Finishing this little OO7 project of mine now that Thanksgiving has come and gone, finally. Long live the turkey leftovers. I’ve already gone out-of-order, but so what. Having begun with the Bonds with the fewest, we’re finally on to the duo with the most. Bracketing each villain and most of their sidekicks (the ones worth looking at) for that specific slate of films. Naturally, there are spoilers to be revealed.
Unless you want a laser beam creeping toward your crotch, I wouldn’t complain.
Bond Ranking: #5
Films: Live and Let Die (1973), The Man With The Golden Gun (1974), The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), Moonraker (1979), For Your Eyes Only (1981), Octopussy (1983), A View to a Kill (1985).
Villains: Yaphet Kotto as Dr. Kananga/Mr. Big, Christopher Lee as Francisco Scaramanga, Curt Jürgens as Karl Stromberg, Michael Lonsdale as Hugo Drax, John Hollis (uncredited) as Ernst Stavro Blofeld, Julian Glover as Aristotle Kristatos, Louis Jourdan as Kamal Khan, Christopher Walken as Max Zorin.
Henchpeople: Julius Harris as Tee Hee Johnson, Geoffrey Holder as Baron Samedi, Hervé Villechaize as Nick Nack, Richard Kiel as Jaws, Toshiro Suga as Chang, Michael Gothard as Emile Leopold Locque, John Wyman as Erich Kriegler, Kabir Bedi as Gobinda, Grace Jones as May Day.
Time for the heavy-hitters, as they say. Love, hate, or just put up with him, Roger Moore holds the title for starring in the most Bond films for the Eon Productions (Everything Or Nothing) line. Meaning, much like his predecessor, he faced the majority of bad guys Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli and Harry Saltzman threw at the character. There’s quality and quantity here, with two in my all-time top five, and one bit part that was a total waste of time.
That would be John Hollis’ uncredited cameo as Ernst Stavro Blofeld for the cold open of For Your Eyes Only. Squandering the iconic villain of the franchise with unneeded “closure.” Moving on, never thought I say this, but Christopher Walken actually had a poor bad guy performance. His Max Zorin in A View to a Kill distinguished it like no other, though he had loads of help in the worst Bond film of the entire series, in my opinion.
In between, the very Brit and prospective Bond replacement, Julian Glover faired a little better as he portrayed Greek deceiver Aristotle Kristatos in For Your Eyes Only.
We step up with Yaphet Kotto in the dual role of Dr. Kananga/Mr. Big. A more than solid villain in Moore’s somewhat so-so Bond debut with the Blaxploitation vibe, Live and Let Die. Christopher Lee’s Scaramanga was The Man With The Golden Gun, one of the few good things in Moore’s deficient second stint, too. All I can say is, thank God The Spy Who Loved Me saved Moore’s OO7 career, which was no doubt assisted by Curt Jürgens compelling turn as Karl Stromberg. Maybe director Lewis Gilbert remembered how great Jürgens could be undersea.
Yet, while TSWLM was the best film of Moore’s, his two finest adversaries came from a pair lower down.1 Octopussy the film Roger should have retired on (but didn’t), featured my #4 best, Kamal Khan. The great Louis Jourdan providing the polish and style that made for a more than worthy Bond opponent. Only one beats him, though. My #2 of all-time, Drax. The versatile Michael Lonsdale in the franchise’s unfortunate Star Wars exploitation vehicle, Moonraker. A really underrated personality in the villain role, and with the best voice — squeezing passed Eric Pohlmann’s vocalizations.
This era also had its share of distinction when it came to henchmen, with only one head scratcher. Hervé Villechaize as Nick Nack the right-hand man of note from TMWTGG. Seemingly, used more as an oddity than an actual threat to OO7. An extravagant waste, if I do say so. Luckily, things started looking up with Toshiro Suga as Chang in Moonraker, though he’d be replaced by someone bigger*. Michael Gothard’s Emile Leopold Locque and John Wyman as Erich Kriegler double-teamed Roger’s Bond nicely in FYEO.
Like my all-time favorite, Moore has four evil sidekicks on my best henchmen list. The indomitable May Day at #9 for starters. Grace Jones, besides the fine theme song, the only thing worth it in A View to a Kill. Not only sexy, but intimidated OO7, and the over-the-hill Moore, till Famke’s Onatopp showed up for his successor. Geoffrey Holder as Baron Samedi (#8) a lot of fun, too, in Live and Let Die. But killed off too early, and often. Good thing Julius Harris’ Tee Hee Johnson could lend a hand…er…pincer.
Gobinda, portrayed by the great Kabir Bedi, in the under-appreciated Octopussy the next best at #7. A thoroughly underrated and nefarious underling in the film. Primarily through sheer physicality and presence, his distinct personality still shined through. That only leaves the one and only, Jaws*. Richard Kiel forever tied to this era and among the greats at #5. At 7’2″, easily the largest presence here. The adversary who could be a OO7 henchman in real life, the only heavy to star in two successive Bond films (The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker).2
Bond Ranking: #1
Films: Dr. No (1962), From Russia With Love (1963), Goldfinger (1964), Thunderball (1965), You Only Live Twice (1967), Diamonds Are Forever (1971), Never Say Never Again (1981).
Villains: Joseph Wiseman as Dr. Julius No, Lotte Lenya as Rosa Klebb, Vladek Sheybal as Kronsteen, Gert Fröbe as Auric Goldfinger, Adolfo Celi as Emilio Largo (voice dubbed by Robert Rietty), Klaus Maria Brandauer as Maximillian Largo, Anthony Dawson (body), voiced by Eric Pohlmann (both un-credited), Donald Pleasence, Charles Gray, and Max Von Sydow as Ernst Stavro Blofeld.
Henchpeople: Eric Coverly, Charles Edghill and Henry Lopez as the Three Blind Mice assassins, Anthony Dawson as Professor Dent, Walter Gotell as Morzeny, Robert Shaw as Donald ‘Red’ Grant, Harold Sakata as Oddjob, Luciana Paluzzi as Fiona Volpe, Philip Locke as Vargas, Karin Dor as Helga Brandt, Ronald Rich as Hans, Bruce Glover as Mr. Wint and Putter Smith as Mr. Kidd, Lola Larson and Trina Parks as Bambi and Thumper, Barbara Carrera as Fatima Blush.
The non-canon Never Say Never Again lands here because it’s Sean. Back as Bond. The production essentially a remake of Bond 4, Thunderball. Having Connery back paid some dividends, even if it’s far from the most celebrated.
Just because he was first in the movies as OO7 isn’t the sole reason Sean Connery is at the head of the class. He set the standard all other Bonds are judged by. Someone had to, and only a few come close. So, too, for the formidable cadre of evil-doers opposing him in seven films as the character. He’s my best Bond, pitted against the deepest and varied set of villains, and their henchpeople, in the franchise, I believe.
That said, who were the weakest among the scoundrels of the Connery era? Though I still enjoyed their separate performances, I’d say it’s the main antagonist in the Bond 4 storyline, Largo. Both Emilio (Adolfo Celi, Thunderball) and Maximillian (Klaus Maria Brandauer, Never Say Never Again). Celi, voice dubbed by Robert Rietty in the film, and Brandauer nowhere near the bottom in this series category, though. The rest here just overshadow them.
If for no other reason than being the first, Joseph Wiseman as Dr. Julius No really gets short shrift these days, and shouldn’t. The “unwanted child of a German missionary and a Chinese girl of a good family” had a brooding appeal, if poor swimming skills. Next up, the splendid mixed tag-team of S.P.E.C.T.R.E. subordinates Rosa Klebb (Lotte Lenya) and chess master Kronsteen (Vladek Sheybal) tasked with killing Bond in a “…particularly unpleasant and humiliating…” way a highlight from my second favorite Bond film, From Russia With Love.
Naturally, the one who charged those two leads us to the iconic villain that haunted four films in this era, and six EON productions overall. Seven, if you count Never Say… Ernst Stavro Blofeld. No one ever stroked a white Persian any better, and with such malevolent intent. Anthony Dawson’s body, Eric Pohlmann’s voice (both uncredited), supplied the unseen, Darth Vader-like cameos for From Russia With Love and Thunderball early on.
Max Von Sydow proved he doesn’t get enough villain roles with his stint for Never Say Never Again, but his spell short, and only on par with the Dawson/Pohlmann tandem, which ain’t bad.
A tier up, Donald Pleasence saved the role (replacing miscast Czech actor Jan Werich) for Blofeld’s coming out party in You Only Live Twice. Yet, it’s Charles Gray interpretation, and my #4 Bond Villain overall, in Diamonds Are Forever that worked best as the devilish persona. Out of all of those who’ve portrayed him, Gray delivered the most and best lines as S.P.E.C.T.R.E.’s #1 rogue.
Which leaves us Auric Goldfinger3 as the top villain for not only Goldfinger, my #1 Bond film, but Sean Connery’s run and the Bond series overall. Essentially, like this adaptation of the novel, he set the standard for all who followed. The template for the entire franchise pivoted with him and the Guy Hamilton film. Leaving Bond producers only too happy to mimic for decades. Inflaming insatiable OO7 fans expectations for another like him. German character actor Karl Gerhart, better known as Gert, Fröbe’s career actually peaked here4, but what a place to plateau!
As great as the above group is, their evil underlings managed to keep pace, as a whole. For the most part. They may be the most diverse set of hatchet -men and -women of the series. Okay, with a dash of controversy. The latter referring to Bruce Glover as Mr. Wint and Putter Smith as Mr. Kidd from Diamonds Are Forever.
They’re either a supremely crass, stereotypical portrayal of a pair of Gay roles onscreen, who just so happen eliminate people who get in the way of their arch-villain boss. Or, the most unexpected, boundary-crossing portrayals (for the time) of the franchise. Your mileage may vary.
Karin Dor’s Helga Brandt and Ronald Rich’s Hans in You Only Live Twice and Philip Locke’s Vargas (Thunderball) mere fodder for Bond, so at the bottom. Dr. No‘s Three Blind Mice assassins of Eric Coverly, Charles Edghill and Henry Lopez here and gone — over a cliff — were quickly consigned to oblivion. Anthony Dawson’s (who’d move on as Blofeld soon enough) Professor Dent fared much better as a Bond opponent, as did the spider he brought with him.
Special mentions for Lola Larson and Trina Parks as Bambi and Thumper in Diamonds… and Bond movie vet Walter Gotell in From Russia With Love for their scene-stealing walk-ons.
Which brings us to the cream of the crop, who hold four places in my all-time Top Ten. Love or hate her, Barbara Carrera’s fabulously over the top Fatima Blush (#6 for Never Say Never Again) was a real hoot. She and Connery save the film. Barbara (to the same extent Famke’s Onatopp) are a re-imagining of the next unique and classic character: #3 Fiona Volpe (Luciana Paluzzi, Thunderball). The first female character as a true henchman in the series.
She who could stand her ground in every scene she had with Sean Connery, but killed off way too soon.
The final duo cement why Goldfinger and From Russia With Love remain my preferred Bond movies of all-time. Even after all these years. At #2, Toshiyuki “Harold” Sakata was an American Olympic weightlifter, professional wrestler, and on occasion, film actor. The first Bond henchman I ever saw onscreen, too. With hardly a word spoken, and maybe a hint of a smirk, he menaced with sheer presence. A figure Connery’s 007 never could handle physically. The perfect body man for Auric Goldfinger.
Surpassed only by the most realized, three-dimensional character heavy in the James Bond universe created by EON Productions.
Wonderfully portrayed by Robert Shaw, the strapping assassin Donald “Red” Grant would set another template that echoed well passed his time: blond European henchmen attempting to take out OO7 throughout later movies. Cultivated by S.P.E.C.T.R.E. for just one purpose. To kill Bond. Grant, the designated hammer swung early in FRWL, which lands in one of the all-time great and brutal fights on board the Orient Express out of Istanbul. Doesn’t get any better.
How about you? Which Bond bad guys do you favor? Leave your thoughts in the comments.
- Now what were you imagining when you read that? ↩
- The late-Richard Kiel a truly gentle soul despite his appearance. Albeit his character Jaws dropped some in my estimation when he actually helped James Bond in Moonraker — something Red Grant would never ever do. ↩
- “Auric” German for “gold”. ↩
- Fröbe’s accent so thick his dialogue was dubbed by British actor Michael Collins (uncredited) doing a Germanic intonation. Makes the quote in the film, “He’s British, but he doesn’t sound like it…”, an in-joke. ↩