The Baddest of the Old Western Bad Guys

James Anderson

James Anderson

(6) In this “Six-Star Salute to the Baddest of the Old Western Bad Guys, my sixth chamber selection is the mostly anonymous and virtually nameless James Anderson. In his later years, he once played it for comedy. As the master slave-driving warden of a Georgia Chan Gang in “Take The Money and Run”, Anderson first delivers the hopeless and threatening orientation speech to new inmate arrivals and then asks the expected impassive inquiry: “Any questions?”

Woody Allen (as armed robber Virgil Starkwell) quickly asks: “Do you think young boys and girls should kiss on the first date?”  Solitary confinement at this camp, by the way, consisted of being locked all night in a hole-in-the-ground with an insurance salesman and being forced to hear his sales pitch until dawn.

Dan Duryea

Dan Duryea

(5) Dan Duryea was just plain nasty back in the 1930s through 1950s. He was a snaky kind of guy who would just as soon stab his own mother in the back as to pass on an opportunity for some quick gain of any kind. As kids, we would clap and shout our approval of his death on film.

Lee Van Cleef

Lee Van Cleef

(4) Think Sergio Leone. Think Spaghetti Western. Think Clint Eastwood. Then you’re close. It’s Lee Van Cleef, the guy who could outdraw any man, but the man with no name. Think close up of those eyes looking at you on screen. Think the sound of gun shots. Think those eyes closing as the body falls forward and out of screen shot. It ran into an Eastwood bullet that got to him faster.

Jack Elam

Jack Elam

(3) Jack Elam was the craziest looking, funniest western bad guy of all time. He once came after Susan Hayward in an old western cabin, with those wild eyes and a crazy smile flashing as we see him closing in on the gun-toting actress from her point of view. “You wouldn’t hurt me, would you, girlie?”, Elam asks, as his diabolical face begins to fill the screen.

KA-BOOM goes the gun, as Elam’s eyes close and his body falls out of screenshot, ala Lee Van Cleef. Susan Hayward was taking down bad guys this way when Clint Eastwood was still a kid.

Bruce Dern

Bruce Dern

(2) Bruce Dern did it. In the movie, “The Cowboys”, that dad gum Dern shot and killed John Wayne. It was the only time in his long movie history as a hero that the Duke got taken out by a bad guy until his last film, “The Shootist”, but in that one, the real killer was cancer and our forever American hero was choosing to go out guns blazing. A bad guy can’t shoot John Wayne and stay off my list.

Jack Palance

Jack Palance

(1) Jack Palance as Jack Wilson, the ruthless hired killer in “Shane” is forever the baddest of them all on my list. After terrorizing the homesteaders and cold-bloodedly gunning down poor little Stonewall Torrey (Elisha Cook, Jr.), Shane (Alan Ladd)  meets up with Wilson late one night at Ryker’s Saloon. And the following ensues:

POV: Shane is drinking alone at the bar. Fearing action, everyone else has either left the place or peeled into the shadows. Wilson drinks alone at a table near the wall, about 30 feet behind Shane. There is dead silence, even as an old range dog wakes up from the space between the two and walks slowly out the swinging front doors.

SHANE: “So, you’re Jack Wilson!

WILSON: “That’s right!”

SHANE: “I’ve heard about you!”

WILSON: (rises to standing position, facing Shane) “What have you heard, Shane?”

SHANE: (turns around, facing Wilson) “I’ve heard you’re nothing but a low down murdering Yankee skunk!”

WILSON: “Prove it!”

BANG! BANG! Both men fire.

The blast from Shane’s gun blows Wilson dead back against the wall. Shane is also shot in the back by another bad guy from upstairs, but manages to move enough to save his life thanks to a warning shout from Joey (Brandon DeWilde) the little farmer kid who worships him. Shane, of course, then quickly dispatches the shooter from above.

His work now done, Shane then rides off to the hills, but not before leaving behind some very dead bad guys, including Walter Jack Palance, the baddest of them all.

Your own six-gun salute to the bad guys may fire some different names and memories. If so, the Pecan Park Eagle hopes you will share them with the rest of us.

Have a nice Tuesday!

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8 Responses to “The Baddest of the Old Western Bad Guys”

  1. mikey v Says:

    Bill, Bill, Bill. You left out the greatest Western bad guy of all time. Hands down it was Lee Marvin in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence. (He was also a fun villain in Cat Ballou as Kid Sheleen.)

    John Wayne was a villain in Red River. He also died in five other films besides the two you name: The Alamo, Sands of Iwo Jima, Fighting Seabees, Wake of the Red Witch and some awful thing where a giant squid eats him. Of course, the killers are armies or the sea.

    Among my other favorite villains would have to be Gene Hackman in Unforgiven, Brian Dennehy in Silverado, Eli Wallach in Magnificent Seven.

    • Bill McCurdy Says:

      Mike – I tried to phone you on this one, but couldn’t connect and it was time for me to take an incoming call. So here it is. – I fall on my sword for omitting Lee Marvin. He needs a spot in the six.

      As for the many deaths of John Wayne, of which I am familiar, I should have been more specific. Dern was the only one to do it personally with a six-gun until the Shootist, in which the Duke chooses to go out in a blaze of gunfire rather than waste away to cancer.

      The other villains you mention are great ones too.

  2. Patrick Lopez Says:

    Chill Wills in ” My Darling Clementine” a shoot out at the OK Corral.
    Wills’ only bad guy movie role , A cold hearted father to a motley crew of killer sons , a most unlikely rotten character for seemingly mild manner Wills to portray , but he nailed it.

  3. Mark W. Says:

    Clint Walker.

  4. WBell Says:

    Come on–these are pretenders. The consummate bad guy was Roy Barcroft, who must have been in 100 old B-western movies.

  5. Geoff Martyniuk,Thornhill Dumfries Says:

    Sorry, but it was Walter Brennan not Chill Wills that played Ike Clanton in My Darling Clementine.

    • Bill McCurdy Says:

      You are so correct, And I do know better that it was Walter Brennan and not Chill Wills who played the Ike Clanton role in My Darling Clementine. I must have been mired in a brain freeze when I allowed that comment error to slip by me.

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