List: Top Ten Villain's Comeuppances

A tribute to sticky ends we relish. A great villain’s end is a culmination – of good storytelling, good acting, emotional involvement, a palpable sense of threat and danger – and a victory for a hero we want to win through or a human value we treasure.

The Manchurian Candidate (1963, John Frankenheimer) Angela Lansbury’s most perfect incarnation of wicked maternity and political mendacity knows that bullet’s coming, and it’s very hard not to gloat.

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981, Steven Spielberg) …And you will know I am the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon you!

The Night of the Generals (1968, Anatole Litvak) The film’s flashback structure leads to a brilliantly delayed confrontation between Tom Courtenay’s helpless pawn and Peter O’Toole’s sadistic megalomaniac who thought he’d gotten away with it.

To Have and Have Not (1944, Howard Hawks) A tribute more to Bogart’s feature-length slow-burn than the quality of the villains, the Surete Nationale trio of sleazeballs led by Dan Seymour’s fat Captain Reynard and Aldo Nadi’s speak-little-carry-big-gun henchman, as Harry Morgan puts up with all the world’s evils with a tense shrug until the situation becomes desperate, and then god help the Vichy when he reaches for that gun in the desk.

The French Connection II (1975, John Frankenheimer) Popeye Doyle, our favourite pot-bellied, balding, racist jerk NYC cop, having spent two movies chasing smooth criminal Charnier (Fernando Rey) and only succeeding in shooting other cops, getting held captive and pumped full of dope, and setting US-French relations back with more art than anyone prior to the Bush II administration, finally drives himself nearly to a heart attack in chasing down his quarry who almost makes it…

Manon des sources (1986, Claude Berri) A different type of just desserts, in that the grim ends of Cesar (Yves Montand) and Ugolin (Daniel Auteuil) are as much tragedies as their destruction of Jean (Gerard Depardieu), which, at the end of the first chapter, one felt worth punishing with old testament wrath, which daughter Manon (Emmanuelle Beart) heartily provides; yet when it comes – Ugolin hanging himself in agony over impossible passion, Cesar dying of a broken heart after realising he’s killed his own son – it’s a terrible thing.

The Return of the Jedi (1983, Richard Marquand) Originally a supremely pleasurable climax to the uneven third chapter and (the best achievement of the new trilogy) even more so when its context is known, as leathery, crypto-incestuous sadist and manipulator Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) finally goes too far and pisses off Darth Vader – and don’t we all know not to piss off Darth Vader?

The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938, William Keighley and Michael Curtiz) The greatest swashbuckler’s contest: Robin Hood (Errol Flynn) and Sir Guy are near-doppelganger representatives of the fledgling British national aristocracy, competing through the film romantically and politically; but Robin can’t even be bothered killing the shit until he gets sneaky and pulls that stunt with the dagger, a distinctly unchivalrous no-no.

Witness for the Prosecution (1958, Billy Wilder) Ah, poor poor Leonard Vole (Tyrone Power); such a clever murderer, apparently entrapped and betrayed by his Germanic Frigidaire wife Christine (Marlene Dietrich), actually enabled and aided by her, makes the mistake of spurning her just a little too soon. Hell hath no fury indeed.

Dial ‘M’ for Murder (1953, Alfred Hitchcock) The whirl of tiny details that the murder plot and story of this film find their payoff when the tiniest object reveals and traps Ray Milland’s smiling psychopath just hours before his wife’s due to be hung.

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