Philip French in The Guardian:
“From the start, the movies welcomed into their midst the mustachioed villain of Victorian melodrama, leaving subtler antagonists to literary fiction and the so-called legitimate theatre. ‘The man you love to hate’ (a term coined by publicists to describe Erich von Stroheim) became a cinematic staple. Some actors have never, or only rarely, played genuine villains.
“But some never escaped being typecast as bad guys. In most Westerns bland heroes have helped the colourful villains occupy the dramatic high ground: every heavy, for instance, in Randolph Scott pictures appeared positively baroque when confronted by Randy’s Easter Island features. Arguably the cinema’s finest line-up of villains is to be found in The Usual Suspects[.] Stig Jarrel is unforgettable as the sadistic schoolmaster in Alf Sjoberg’s Frenzy (1944), the first film scripted by Ingmar Bergman, as is Jules Berry as the equally sadistic music-hall performer in Marcel Carné’s Le Jour se lève (1939). The following 10 villains have made a special and indelible impression on movie history.”
Among French’s “following 10 villains” are Jack Palance (for Shane, top photo), Barbara Stanwyck (for her murderous-adulterous wife in Double Indemnity, right, with Fred MacMurray), Richard Widmark (for Kiss of Death – French fails to mention the film’s name), Max Schreck (for Nosferatu), and Orson Welles (for The Stranger, The Third Man, and Touch of Evil).
A few missing Great Evildoers – those who made this film watcher ardently root for Evil to triumph over Good:
George Macready (in love with Glenn Ford but married to Rita Hayworth in Gilda), Sydney Greenstreet and Mary Astor (both act rings around a highly ineffectual Humphrey Bogart in The Maltese Falcon), Jules Berry (the devil in Les Visiteurs du soir), Laurence Olivier (a nasty Roman aristocrat in Spartacus; a nasty Nazi in Marathon Man), and Daniel Day-Lewis (a rabid xenophobe in Gangs of New York).
Also: James Cagney (as psycho gangsters in The Public Enemy and White Heat), Judith Anderson (as the governess obsessed with her dead mistress in Rebecca), Claude Rains (a cunning murderer in The Unsuspected), Gene Tierney (suffering from Mad Love Disease in Leave Her to Heaven, above, with Cornel Wilde), and Donald Crisp (an abusive father in Broken Blossoms).
And more: Tuesday Weld (an amoral rebel-murderess in Pretty Poison), Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek (as amoral murderers in Badlands), Ramon Novarro (a conniving henchman in The Prisoner of Zenda, 1922), Douglas Fairbanks Jr. (as the same conniving henchman in The Prisoner of Zenda, 1937), Angela Lansbury (an incestuous, power-hungry mother in The Manchurian Candidate), and Nita Naldi (an exotic seductress in The Ten Commandments).
And still more: Margaret Wycherly (a murderous old hag with much-too-strong motherly instincts in White Heat), Al Pacino (a mafioso in The Godfather I, II, III), Bette Davis (as cold, calculating murderesses in The Letter and The Little Foxes [right], and a total nut case in Beyond the Forest), Jack Nicholson (a foaming-at-the-mouth military man in A Few Good Men), Ruth Gordon (a devil worshiper in Rosemary’s Baby), and Eleanor Parker (as The Other Woman in The Sound of Music; ok, Parker didn’t actually kill anyone in that film, but you know what she’d like to do with those singing brats – and, really, who in his/her right mind wouldn’t?).