James Bond is cool. We know he is and we love him for it. But Bond’s gadgets and suave sex appeal (if you’re into that sort of thing) are not the only reasons for the franchise’s fan base and longevity over the past decades. It is the villain, the rival, the nemesis of Mr. Bond – and his continued distinction and rogue tactics – that has brought the books and the films to the fore of franchising. But who have been Bond’s greatest adversaries?
5. Maximillian Largo
Bringing up the rear at number five, but a personal favourite of mine is Maximillian Largo, from the 1983 film Never Say Never Again. Why is he a personal favourite? He is played by Klaus Maria Brandauer, one of the genuinely talented actors to stand up against the maestro in the film series. Brandauer was nominated for an Oscar for his role as the Baron and big game hunter in 1986’s Out of Africa, and his talent brings an added element to the rivalry, as he and Sean Connery are well-matched in ability.
When the two meet and engage in a then-spellbinding 3D game, Domination, there is a genuine spark between the two, a nice recognition of talent in an altogether popcorn-popular affair. It reminds me of a modern jail cell interaction between of Misters Bale and Ledger. Memorable and goose bump-inducing. Just watch Brandauer stalk around the mirrored room, wielding an axe and destroying his reflections like unfaithful lovers:
They met when Largo tries to take control of a nuclear weapon to destroy the Middle East’s underground oil reserves. He is thwarted by Bond (would you have guessed?), and then killed by his lover with a harpoon to the side. Harsh. Although, he did kill her brother. All’s fare in love and nuclear warfare, I suppose.
It’s a real shame that Brandauer hasn’t made it into more English-speaking productions, (check out Francis Ford Coppola’s Tetro, film fanatics,) but nonetheless a great battle between two fantasic characters and actors.
4. Max Zorin
Those of us newly embracing the Bond franchise will be pleasantly surprised to find the one and only Christopher Walken appear in the 1985 film A View to a Kill as Max Zorin. David Bowie decided against taking the role – “I didn’t want to spend five months watching my stunt double fall off cliffs” – which worked out well for Walken fans, myself included. While it would have been a joy to see Bowie and Grace Jones chasing down Roger Moore, it’s just as charming to have Walken next to Jones – quite an intimidating team for any Bond to face.
Granted, the primary reason Zorin is a favourite Bond villain is because it is Walken doing his patented off-kilter mumblings, but the character himself has a lot to offer also. Zorin hides behind the guise of a French Industrialist, is a convincing innocent to the untrained eye, and apparently speaks five languages with no hint of an accent. I too was disappointed when Walken made no attempt at any Deutsch or Français, but his broken-rhythm English will always be good enough for me; “Alive, and well, I see.”
More a henchman than a villain, technically, but number three on the list is the wonderful hatted one, Oddjob. The burly Hawaiian Harold Sakata plays the henchman to Auric Goldfinger and is most known for his smart suit and razor-tipped bowler hat, which he uses as a projectile to decapitate enemies. Very charming. He doubles as Goldfinger’s personal assistant, acting as his bodyguard, chauffeur and even his caddy.
Completely infallible to any physical pressures, with gold bars bouncing off his chest and golf balls being crushed in his bare hands, Bond must use his uncanny wit to outsmart his foe, which in Goldfinger involves electrocuting him. Sticks and stones won’t break my bones, but sparks will always fry me. Hardy har.
It is always less impressive when your main rival is carrying around another’s golf clubs, but Oddjob certainly makes up for it. Another strong and silent threat that comes so close to being Bond’s match.
Towering at over 7 feet tall, and with a set of choppers befitting a metallic shark, Jaws is the second greatest Bond villain of all time. Featuring in both The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker, and played by Richard Kiel, Jaws is silent and deadly, with little to say, with even less taking a toll on him physically.
Before breaking into acting Kiel had a rather creepy job selling cemetery plots, but made his break into a variety of television shows in the 1960’s. Inspiration perhaps for this role as powerful pest to Bond, with his dress and demeanour more than befitting a cemetery. He only speaks once, which adds to his towering stature. The one line he does speak is surprisingly touching too, when he toasts his girlfriend in Moonraker; “Well, here’s to us.” A fascinating peek behind the monstrous top layer. Young teen-vamp audiences could learn a thing or two from Jaws’ no nonsense approach to the jugular vein.
Without a doubt the greatest Bond Villain of all time is Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Not the one played by Max Von Sydow, or Kojak, or any actor other than Donald Pleasance in the 1967 film You Only Live Twice. The character has featured in seven Bond features, showing some great staying power, and it’s not surprising why, with the scarred menace stroking his cat continuously. It is here in You Only Live Twice that he is first fully seen, and there is some substance added to this shadowy character.
Blofeld began as the silhouette of a character, never seen in person, but only his hand stroking his trademark white cat. But when he is unveiled, he is intense with an unblinking, one-and-a-half-eyed stare; Blofeld is every bit the arch nemesis Bond deserves. He has pet piranha for Chrissakes! Talk about twisted genius.
Pleasance was not originally cast in the role, but replaced the Czech actor Jan Werich when he became too ill. Instantly memorable, and almost single-handedly creating the archetype for villains the world over, Blofeld was the inspiration for spoof character Dr. Evil in the parody franchise Austin Powers. The character was envisioned as a shape-shifter by Ian Fleming, and thus he was recast in each appearance, but it is Pleasance’s take on the character that takes the top spot.
Altogether now: “Zey told me you were assassinated in Hong Kong… You only live twice, Mr. Bond.”
So it’s not just a question of who your favourite Bond is. (Of course I side with Connery, but I welcome all arguments, but for the mention of Pierce Brosnan. He is the father of all wooden, smug chancers. Just look at his stupid, punchable Irish face.) Now it’s also a question of your favourite villain, and I see this argument raging on just as long as the former. With such big and memorable characters, it’s easy to see why it’s not a shoe-in.
So, who’s your favourite Bond villain? Does someone else deserve mention in the top five? Maybe Sean Bean, is your villain of favour and should be considered for his role as 006 and in the end doing what he does best; dying, as he does in most all of his films. Or maybe you’re of the mind that Grace Jones’ face structure is one of the best villains; I know they’ve certainly had an effect on me.
Or perhaps it could be argued that Bond’s own womanising serves as a villain in its own right, as it gets him into more bother than necessary. Surely if he just kept his head down, this job would be a hell of a lot easier. But we all know that Bond wouldn’t be Bond without a fine filly or two, and an extra kafuffle in the process. After all, it’s all part of the fun.
Either way you look at it, if you face up against the punch-line spouting philanderer, it’s bound to end badly. Whether via falling from the Golden Gate Bridge or by ballooning up like one Violet Beauregarde, you’ll get the comeuppance you deserve.
Conor O'Hagan is an Irish writer. When not striving for a Best Original Screenplay Oscar, he likes to relax with a good movie, book, or whiskey. Find him at www.conorohagan.com