Ten Best Western Movie Heavies
The heavy is an integral part of many western movies. He's the bad guy, generally some mean, menacing thug who fills the screen with his brutality and downright cussedness. Here are ten unforgettable western movie heavies that no film fan should ever miss. It's okay – even encouraged – to boo these ornery, godforsaken bastard sons of the Hollywood Old West...
Jack Palance/Shane (Paramount, 1953)
Walter Jack Palance, as he is billed, plays the evil gunslinger Jack Wilson, who is summoned by aging cattle baron Rufus Ryker (Emile Meyer) to deal with the stubborn settlers whose land he covets for his burgeoning empire in Wyoming. Standing in Ryker's way is the mysterious, buckskin-clad stranger Shane (Alan Ladd), who later faces Wilson in a classic showdown. Palance, whose face would never be mistaken for a matinee idol, is the perfect heavy, a leering, heartless dark gun for hire who dresses in black, drinks black coffee from a black pot and sports two six-shooters on each hip. Wilson obviously loves his job, goading a hapless farmer named Frank "Stonewall" Torrey (Elisha Cook Jr.) into a gunfight, and killing him right there on the muddy street. When Palance as Wilson mouths the words, "Prove it," it's time to put up or shut up, pardners. Palance earned an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
Jack Palance gleefully guns down Elisha Cook Jr. in Shane (1953) - Paramount Pictures
Bruce Dern/The Cowboys (Warner Bros., 1972)
Bruce Dern plays Long Hair, an evil, snakey cattle rustler who leads his gang of cutthroats against Wil Anderson (John Wayne) and his young, underage trail hands. Dern wants Anderson's herd, and will stop at nothing to get it. After roughing up one of Anderson's frightened boys, the big trail boss has had enough, telling Long Hair that he should try someone bigger. A titanic fight ensues, with the older Wil eventually kicking the bejesus out of Long Hair. Wil's victory, however, is short-lived, as the cowardly Long Hair shoots him in the back. Dern's unique manner of speech, a kind of irritating, whining growl matched with a leering, soulless grin, make him one of the most memorable heavies in western movie and television history.
Bruce Dern as Long Hair in The Cowboys (1972) - Warner Bros.
Richard Boone/Hombre (Twentieth Century-Fox, 1967)
Richard Boone plays Cicero Grimes, a notorious gunslinger who with his equally degenerate confederates plan to relieve crooked Indian Affairs agent Dr. Alex Favor (Fredric March) of an embezzled $12,000. Grimes and company later pursue Favor and his fellow stagecoach passengers, including the Apache-raised John Russell (Paul Newman), Jessie (Diane Cilento) and Audra Favor (Barbara Rush). Grimes is at his meanest at a way station, where he bullies a frightened soldier (Larry Ward) out of his stagecoach ticket. Boone's Grimes cops one of the movie's best lines, when Barbara Rush asks him to please put out his cigar. "Oh, yeah. My momma taught me to remove my hat and my cigar in the presence of a lady. Whatever else I take off depends on how lucky I get," Grimes replies with a leer.
Richard Boone, left, with David Canary in Hombre (1967) - Twentieth Century-Fox
Eli Wallach/The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (United Artists, 1966)
Eli Wallach plays the grubby, thieving Tuco, a Mexican outlaw who turns on his partner, Blondie (Clint Eastwood), during their search for a hidden cache of gold coins in a cemetery. Tuco has few, if any, redeeming qualities, demonstrating one of his more masochistic streaks when he directs Blondie on a forced march through the desert at gunpoint. Wallach's Tuco is "the ugly" in the movie's title, with another heavy, Lee Van Cleef's Sentenza/Angel Eyes, as "the bad." Tuco gets the last line in the film, shouting to Blondie, "Hey, Blond! You know what you are? Just a dirty son-of-a-b-!" Well, takes one to know one.
Eli Wallach, left, with Clint Eastwood in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) - United Artists
Lee Van Cleef/For a Few Dollars More (United Artists, 1965)
Steely-eyed Lee Van Cleef, one of Hollywood's most recognizable villains, plays Colonel Douglas Mortimer, who with fellow bounty hunter Monco (Clint Eastwood) pursue their mutual quarry El Indio (Gian Maria Volonte) through the dusty towns of the old Southwest. Van Cleef's Mortimer is a ruthless, cold-blooded killer, who dispatches his victims with deadly accuracy. When confronted by an angry Wild the Hunchback (Klaus Kinski), on whose cheek he had callously struck a match earlier, Van Cleef casually tells the man, "I generally smoke just after I eat. Why don't you come back in about ten minutes?" To which the vengeful Wild replies, "Ten minutes you'll be smoking in hell. 'Get up!'" Guess who comes out on top?
Lee Van Cleef in For a Few Dollars More (1965) - United Artists
Neville Brand/The Tin Star (Paramount, 1957)
Neville Brand, one of America's most decorated soldiers during World War II, plays Bart Bogardus, the town bully and resident racist hothead who wastes precious time in pursuing his patented villainy. When Bogardus shoots an Indian in the back outside a saloon, he offers up the commentary, "No sheriff will disarm a white man for shooting a mangy Indian.You an Injun lover?" The snakey Bogardus, however, later meets his just end, leading a lynch mob against young Sheriff Ben Owens (Anthony Perkins) and his veteran mentor Morgan Hickman (Henry Fonda), and winding up on the wrong end of a shotgun.
Neville Brand as Bart Bogardus in The Tin Star (1957) - Paramount Pictures
Lee Marvin/The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (Paramount, 1962)
Movie badass Lee Marvin plays Liberty Valance, the local tough guy and hired gun of the cattlemen's association. One of Valance's first acts of brutality is a sound beating delivered to tenderfoot lawyer Ransom Stoddard (James Stewart), where he teaches him "Western law." Marvin's psychotic Valance is a sight to behold (or, more accurately, loathe), as he brandishes his black whip and leads his two henchmen (Lee Van Cleef, Strother Martin) in a series of atrocities. But leveling the playing field is the presence of Big John Wayne as Tom Doniphon, who just happens to be real handy with a six-shooter, pilgrim.
Lee Marvin in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) - Paramount Pictures
Ian MacDonald/Lee Van Cleef/Robert J. Wilke/Sheb Wooley/High Noon (United Artists, 1952)
Ian MacDonald plays Frank Miller, an ex-con who with fellow gang members Jack Colby (Lee Van Cleef), Jim Pierce (Robert J. Wilke) and Ben Miller (Sheb Wooley) come looking for revenge against Marshal Will Kane (Gary Cooper) in the town of Hadleyville, New Mexico Territory. The townsfolk are scared to death of Miller and his boys, leaving the aging lawman to fend for himself. MacDonald, Van Cleef, Wilke and Wooley form one of the nastiest quartets ever assembled for a western, with a ticking clock and the movie's haunting theme song "Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darlin'" adding to the gritty suspense.
Robert J. Wilke as Jim Pierce in High Noon (1952) - United Artists
Gene Hackman/Unforgiven (Warner Bros., 1992)
Gene Hackman plays Little Bill Daggett, the brutal, sadistic sheriff of Big Whiskey who rules his town with an iron fist, blurring the line between law and order and vigilantism. In one scene, Daggett delivers a savage kick-beating to gunslinger English Bob (Richard Harris), later rendering an encore performance on the hapless William Munny (Clint Eastwood). But Munny returns for revenge in the killing of his partner Ned Logan (Morgan Freeman), eventually blowing away the tyrannical Daggett in a saloon. "I guess you think I'm kicking you, Bob. But it ain't so. What I'm doing is talking, you hear?" Little Bill announces, as he continues kicking a bloodied English Bob nearly to death. Gene Hackman won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.
Gene Hackman as Little Bill Daggett in Unforgiven (1992) - Warner Bros.
Yul Brynner/Westworld (MGM, 1973)
Yul Brynner plays The Gunslinger, a robotic creation who serves at the leisure of tourists visiting a futuristic amusement park called Westworld. The Gunslinger is the resident robotic heavy, challenging guests to gunfights, but pre-programmed to lose every time. But when the robots at Westworld, Romanworld and Medievalworld began to malfunction, the tourists and employees become the quarry. Brynner – all decked out in black like his mercenary character Chris in The Magnificent Seven (1960) – is an eletronic hoot, dispensing of John Blane (James Brolin) in a fast-draw contest and then tracking his fleeing buddy Peter Martin (Richard Benjamin) via infrared vision. "Draw," Brynner's Gunglsinger declares in a deep, menacing voice, making him the number one heavy in science fiction westerns.
Yul Brynner as The Gunslinger in Westworld (1973) - MGM
Ten More Great Western Movie Heavy Performances
- Dan Duryea/Winchester '73 (1950)
- Bruce Dern/Hang 'Em High (1968)
- Ernest Borgnine/Johnny Guitar (1954)
- Henry Fonda/Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)
- Chuck Connors/Support Your Local Gunfighter (1971)
- Lee Marvin/Hangman's Knot (1952)
- Jack Elam/Rawhide (1951)
- Eli Wallach/The Magnificent Seven (1960)
- Harry Woods/The Phantom Rider (1936)
- Russell Crowe/3:10 to Yuma (2007)
Ernest Borgnine as Bart Lonergan in Johnny Guitar (1954) - Republic Pictures
- Jack Palance as Jack Wilson in Shane (1953) - Paramount Pictures