25 February 2018

Bad Good Guys ~ Good Bad Guys


by Leigh Lundin

Noting that bad guys can be more interesting than good guys is neither new nor profound. Why else would Dantean classics courses consistently teach Inferno rather than Paradiso?

Colonel Rosa Klebb (Lotte Lenya)
From Russia with Love
Even as we aspire to the light of goodness and grace, often darkness muddies our thoughts and actions. Our limbs stretch toward the heavens but our roots point toward hell.

So it is with story-telling. Bad guys make or break a tale. Take the James Bond series. The best films feature the evilest of the nefarious. Huge and hulking may frighten, but sheer terror runs deeper.

Take a little five-foot-nothing Russian named Rosa, played by Lotte Lenya. Bring to mind Colonel Klebb with her spiked sensible shoes, and you touch the stuff that gave 007 nightmares. (Lotte Lenya’s husbands died– all of them– just sayin’.)

Bad guys must possess the potential to overpower the good folks. Take the battle of David and Goliath.
“It’s ESPN Sports Night here at the arena where the Philistines face off against the Israelites.”

“That’s right, Bob. The crowds cheer wildly here in Elah. The reigning champion, Golly G, is warming up and eating a… is that an ox leg?”

“It sure is, Dan. Looks like a mere buffalo wing in those massive paws. His masseuses, all ten of them, are working him over, broad shoulders to feet the size of sleds.”

“Bob, in fairness, we should turn our attention a moment from the big guy to his opponent, little Davy ben Jesse. He hails from Bethlehem, known for steel in its sinews. Young Dave’s oh-for-twenty-seven, but due for a break.”

“And a break he’ll find, Dan, if Goliath gets his hands on him. Gol’s real problem, same as Jordan has, little guys ducking beneath the legs and wreaking havoc.”

“The Israelites claim they’ve a real secret weapon in their Dave. Manager Saul says they’re prepared to kick Philly ass, and that’s a quote.”

“Dan, they’re pulling off the robes and I got to admit, not an ounce of fat on little David.”

“Nor muscle either, Bob. The big guy’s rolling his shoulders and… there’s the bell!”

“Two strides out of his corner… and Golly winds up his infamous ring-dat-bell strongman move and… Splat? That’s it?”

“What just happened? The highly-touted Davy is nothing but a little greasy spot on the canvas?”

“Two-point-two seconds, Dan. That’s got to be some kind of record.”

“Cut! That’s not sporting.”

“This has been ESPN’s coverage of the match here in Elah, sure to be a disappointment in the record books not to mention holders of those ninety-schekel tickets. Wrap it, boys. Can we still catch the bus to Jericho?”
We love it when an underdog wins. If Goliath had wiped out David, no one would have recorded the event.

Take the Fantastic Four movies. It’s hardly fair to pit four against one, no matter how fearsome that one bad guy is. It’s just not cricket. Michael Chiklis, yeah, he was pretty good in the original version, but it’s not enough to maintain attention. You’d have thought Marvel would have learnt its lesson in 2005, but ten years later, they made the same mistakes… only worse.

Day of Wrath / Game of Swords
Hungarian Historical

I came across an obscure adventure mystery movie making the rounds of internet television video distributors, presently on FilmRise and CoolFlix. Titled Day of Wrath, it appeared difficult to track down until I discovered it also went by the name Game of Swords.

IMDB awarded Game of Swords an unimpressive 5.6/10, whilst Rotten Tomatoes stamped Day of Wrath a hostile audience rating of 24%. Fortunately I knew nothing of this before watching.

“Fortunately” I say because overall I liked the plot, setting, and cast except for one key character, which I’ll return to.

Set in 1542 Spain during the Inquisition, the story follows a sheriff as he investigates the murders of nobles. The deeper he digs, the more he puts his and his family’s lives at risk, until he suspects some connection between his family and the conspiracy he’s chipping away at.

Lukács Bicskey
Lukács Bicskey Lukács Bicskey

The story line proves devious but neither contrived nor overdone. The thought-provoking plot wraps up with a couple of satisfying twists. The writers deserve high marks. As for cast…

The town is rife with bad guys, some you hate, some you loathe, and others… not so much. I introduce Lukács Bicskey who plays the part of hired gun, Miguel de Alvarado. His character translates as complex and nuanced, his glacier ice-blue eyes continuously appraising, evaluating. Meeting Bicskey is like coming across a wolf in the forest, one who knows its own prowess, utterly fearless, consummately lethal, and yet…

John Floyd Bad Guys Award
He’s dimensional, more than meets the eye. The Hungarian actor projects the same chill don’t-ƒ-with-the-psychopath as Lee Van Cleef and is maybe just as underrated. He won’t be making any more movies– he died in 2015– but in this one performance, I’d nominated him for the John Floyd Best Bad Guys Ever Award.

If the plot is great and most of the cast is superlative, why the low ratings? My conclusion traces the problem to the film’s star, a hero about as vibrant as Valium, looking like Fabio on a lank-hair day.

Who? American actor Christopher Lambert. He’s appeared in a string of US and European movies since 1980. He often assumes action röles such as Tarzan, Beowulf, and Connor MacLeod in Highlander. In this film, he plods through the part as if we interrupted his nap time. The man’s performance subsumes sole responsibility for extinguishing one or two stars from critics’ ratings.

Setting Lambert aside, I liked this underrated film a lot. Despite verbiage about American World Pictures, the movie is a Hungarian-British enterprise. The Hungarian actors performed well, certainly better than our hero.

For a well-plotted story with one of the most interesting bad guys in filmdom, see it. As mentioned earlier, it’s free right now on FilmRise channels like CoolFlix. Definitely worth the price.

12 comments:

John Floyd said...

Good stuff, Leigh. Any mention of movie bad guys needs to include Rosa Klebb and Lee Van Cleef.

And Christopher Lambert sure has the "look," doesn't he?

Robert Lopresti said...

Highlander managed to be great, in spite of Lambert. (We wo't discuss the various sequels.) He also starred as Dortmunder in WHY ME? based on Don Westalke's novel. Dortmunder, the ultimate hard luck loser, has been played on the screen by Robert Redford, George C. Scott, Paul Le Mat, Lambert, and Martin Lawrence. I once had the chance to ask Westlake who he would like to see playing Dortmunder. He said Harry Dean Stanton.

Eve Fisher said...

I'm not sure why Christopher Lambert keeps getting cast in movies, but then I don't get Keeanu Reeves, Jean Claude Van Damme, Steven Seagal, or Vin Diesel. I don't think ANY of them can act. Give me Alan Rickman in Die Hard and I'm happy, or Christopher Lee in The Man With the Golden Gun. I agree about Lotte Lenya, but let's not forget Louise Fletcher's Nurse Ratched and Kathy Bates' Annie Wilkes. Both of those will give you nightmares...

Leigh Lundin said...

John, I thought of you after watching the film. I know nothing of the Hungarian film industry, but if they ditch the likes of Lambert, they're got a lot going for them. A comment on IMDB noted that Lambert was such a terrible swordsman, yet he somehow survived. Man, I liked that Bicskey character.

Rob, I hadn't recognized Lambert at all, although I must confess I never saw Why Me? (So many movies, so little time.) In a peculiar way, I can picture Lambert as a character actor where he's a dufus natural, always 'on' Dortmunder.

Eve, I don't get many of those actors either. I recall a critic speaking of Robert Mitchum, noting in one film he "used both his expressions." I agree in particular about Alan Rickman. Anthony Hopkins remains another favorite bad guy. Back to women– or at least females– I saw the 1956 version of The Bad Seed when I was a wee pup convinced I was going to school with Rhoda Penmark. Patty McCormack's character scared (and perhaps scarred) the hell out of me!

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

Leigh, your reportage live from the Dave-Goliath fight put a big grin on my face. Thanks! :)

Elizabeth said...

I rented the tape of "Highlander" & neither my daughter nor I could stand watching it, so I walked it back to the video store, about a mile round trip from the house. I used to like Connery but now I can't stand either him or Nicolas Cage. I sure do love the late great Alan Rickman though.

Leigh Lundin said...

Liz, I'm glad you liked it. Let me know what you think about Day of Wrath.

Leigh Lundin said...

Elizabeth, I almost confessed to Rob that I've never seen Highlander. Given your view and all the great movies out there, I'm not so sure I want to try.

Eve Fisher said...

Leigh, Patty McCormack's Rhoda is one of the great scary characters of all time. She makes Thursday Addams look fairly normal.

Leigh Lundin said...

I agree, Eve. I'd take Thursday Addams (or Wednesday Addams) any day. By the way, if you haven't watched Adult Wednesday Addams, you must. Apparently Melissa Hunter (the actress) ran into copyright issues, but a number of her videos are on-line.

Eve Fisher said...

I watched all of Adult Wednesday Addams until she had to stop doing them. She was soooo good.

Jeff Baker said...

The David vs. Goliath bit was hilarious! (I wonder how Cossell would have called it?)