Tuesday, November 20, 2012

I Have A Hench About Them: Ten Best Bond Henchmen

For every Auric Goldfinger, there is an Oddjob.  For every Hugo Drax, there is a Jaws.  The Bond Henchman (or Henchwoman) have been an integral part of a Bond film.  Sometimes the master criminal can't do it all, or get his hands dirty.  This is when he needs a bit of muscle.  At the very least, he needs someone with whom to discuss his dastardly plan for world domination. 

If I may draw a Doctor Who comparison (another British Icon), they are the Bond versions of the Doctor's Companions: those who assist our character in doing what needs to be done. 

Granted, one can't imagine Time Lord Romana going out and killing someone (although, curiously enough, the NuWho character of River Song would make a perfect Bond Henchman, given her tawdry double entendres, raging ego, inflated sense of infallibility, and generally psychopathic disposition) so it isn't the greatest comparison.  Still, sometimes the Bond Henchman is MORE remembered than the titled villain, so I think it's time we look at those sidekicks who have given 007 fits. 

With that, the Top Ten Bond Henchmen (and Henchwomen, though there are more men than women overall).

10.) Tee Hee (Live and Let Die) * 

Tee Hee is in keeping with the Bond Henchman in having a peculiarity, in his case, it's his claw.  What makes Tee Hee among the higher Bond Henchmen is that he was an active participant in Dr. Kananga's wicked plans, and he also enjoyed his work of dispensing with the detectives.  One could imagine he could easily have taken over Mr. Big's operation should he have either needed or wanted to.  Like all good Bond Henchman, he had a final confrontation with 007, and it was a tense and exciting moment, with a bit of humor as he's dispatched.

09.) Erich Kriegler (For Your Eyes Only)

For Your Eyes Only is a more grounded Bond film, having more to do with actual espionage than with grand 'taking over the world' schemes.  Kriegler had the benefit of being an expert sharpshooter, so he didn't need a peculiar quark to be menacing.   He also is someone actually ahead of his time: he eats healthy and is rigorous in exercise.  Perhaps the fact that he's East German accounts for him having no soul.

08.) Necros (The Living Daylights)

Necros gets extra points on his name alone...the guy's name is DEATH!  You can't hand a Bond Henchman a cooler name than that.  He also earns a place here because he uses his brains as well as his physique to kill.  Note how he is able to infiltrate MI6's country headquarters by impersonating the MILKMAN!  His final confrontation with Bond on a plane while both are hanging on to dear life over Afghanistan is quite a thrilling moment.

Besides, any guy who listens to The Pretenders while readying to kill someone can't be all bad.

07.) May Day (A View to A Kill)

Seriously, just LOOK at her.  Would you REALLY want to mess with May Day?  Like all good Bond Henchmen, May Day is fiercely loyal to her Villain (and there's even a romance between them that adds something not often seen between Villain and Henchman).  May Day (whose name alone would have put her high on a Bond Henchman list) does what needs to be done.  If it means killing kindly Patrick Macnee, she'll do it.  If it means a little rough sex with Bond, she'll do it.

She also is loyal to the mission.  Let's remember she was more than willing to let the bomb go off that would have destroyed Silicon Valley.  If Max Zorin (the film's villain) hadn't deliberately tried to kill her along with everyone else, he might have gotten away with it.  His betrayal (and the loss of her own friends) so infuriated May Day she quickly switched sides, ending as a hero.  However, we remember May Day for her fierce, Amazonian temperament, not her ultimate sacrifice.

06.) Miss Irma Bunt (On Her Majesty's Secret Service)

Let's see.  Irma Bunt manages to outsmart and capture James Bond.  When she captures him, her appearance frightens everyone in the audience.  Instead of one of the bevy of beauties Bond's bedhopping with, THAT pops out at us.
Who WOULDN'T be scared?  Besides, since when is a dour German woman NOT scary (just ask the Greeks)? 

Oh, yes, and there's that little matter of killing off Bond's only true love.  That alone would rank her among the best Bond Henchmen, but a combination of smarts and ruthlessness earn Irma Bunt her place.  Maybe she is a little derivative of another dour, frightening, domineering woman from another film, but again, she killed Mrs. Bond!

05.) Xenia Onatopp (GoldenEye)

The mixing of sex and violence reached a wild crescendo with our mad Georgian beauty Onatopp.  She had a wildly memorable name, but let's remember that she wasn't just a trained killer.  She was one that got actual sexual pleasure from wholesale slaughter, finding mass murder an erotic situation.  For Onatopp, killing wasn't just a job or even a hobby that paid; it was orgasmic.  When she IS finally dispatched, it seems almost anti-climatic (no pun intended). 

It's a sign of Famke Janssen's talents as an actress that she could easily go from the psychotic/erotic Xenia to the emotionally tortured Jean Grey in the X-Men films with equal ease.

04.) Fiona Volpe (Thunderball)

You know your film is in trouble when you're rooting for the Bond Henchman rather than the Bond Girl.  I'm not a big fan of Thunderball, but I was wildly impressed with Fiona Volpe.  She is the first Bond Henchwoman, and from the moment she appears we know that she is a force to be reckoned with.  Volpe is not above using her feminine wiles to get at her target, but she won't easily submit to Largo's plans either.  In many ways, Volpe is if not exactly a female Bond a female exaggeration of Bond.  Like 007, she'll sleep with the enemy.  Like 007, she is determined and succeeds in her dirty business.  Unlike Bond, she doesn't survive, and has one of the worst endings in the franchise, a sorry way to dump a fine Bond Girl/Henchman.

03.) Jaws (The Spy Who Loved Me/Moonraker)

Jaws is unique among Bond Henchmen.  He is not only the only Bond Henchman to battle Bond twice, he's the only Bond Henchman to have survived ANY battle with 007, let alone TWO of them.  Jaws, from what I understand, was suppose to follow in the footsteps of all other quirky Henchmen by dying at the end of The Spy Who Loved Me.  However, he proved so menacing, effective, and oddly endearing that he was allowed to swim away from the exploding underwater to fight another day...

...which he did in the next Bond film, Moonraker.  In between films the character proved wildly popular, in particular with children, who probably saw a gentle giant who really was more child than monster.  An appeal by kids to make Jaws a 'good guy/ally to Bond' caused a shift to the character.  By the end of Moonraker, Jaws had indeed shifted alliances, and while the film took pains to give a reason as to why he did so the wisdom of this is still a subject of debate.  Jaws succeeds because there is something both menacing and comical about our Henchman, part killer and part clown.

02.) Oddjob (Goldfinger)

Oddjob is the Bond Henchmen most people automatically think of when the term "Bond Henchmen" is used.  He certainly set a high standard: he didn't speak, was fiercely loyal to Auric Goldfinger, and always made it known that he would kill anyone who got in the way.  In other hands, the bowler hat that would slice one open would be laughed at, but with his massive size no one ever thought of taking Oddjob alone, let alone not take him seriously.

How loyal was he to both Goldfinger and his mad scheme?  When he's trapped with a bomb about to go off inside Fort Knox, does he waver?  Does he help Bond get out of it?  Does he try to get out of it himself?  Not on your life...he's going to keep fighting Bond until the bitter end.  Through it all, Oddjob keeps a cool confidence, almost arrogance.  It isn't until Bond gets a hold of Oddjob's deadly headgarb that he exhibits his first real moment of genuine fear.  His end is while not overblown (no pun intended) more befitting a menace like Oddjob.

And now, the choice for the Best Bond Henchman of All Time is...

01.) Red Grant (From Russia With Love)

Of all the various assassins James Bond has faced, none has come as close to both outsmarting and actually succeeding in killing 007 as SPECTRE trained assassin Red Grant.  It helps when you cast an actual, legitimate, theatrically trained actor in the part, and while Robert Shaw is better remembered for Jaws or A Man For All Seasons, he shows a great range with this role. 

Red Grant is a killer par excellence: no compulsion, no qualms, no pesky sense of right and wrong.  He's also highly intelligent, practicing his method to fool Bond into thinking he is with MI6 when he's really SPECTRE.  He is ruthless, determined, and perhaps most deadly of all to our agent, he's British.  There is nothing 'foreign' or exotic or bizarre about Red Grant, which makes his subterfuge all the more convincing and dangerous. 

Red Grant really is an amalgamation of all the best qualities of a Bond Henchman rolled into one, which is why I rank him The Greatest Bond Henchman in Bond Film History. 

Now, we all have memories of those who just don't pull their weight at work.  Well, Bond Henchmen are no different.  Some of them simply weren't worth the efforts to recruit into the forces of evil.  On our next List, I'll look into the Ten Worst Bond Henchmen. 

James Bond (Lists) Will Return...

* Tee Hee was not the only Henchman in Live and Let Die.  He was accompanied by two others: Baron Samedi and Whisper.  However, of the three Tee Hee was the one that took the most active role.  Baron Samedi was more for atmosphere: a colorful figure that brought in the voodoo connection, while Whisper just worked for Dr. Kananga and didn't have a particularly large role, but more on that later. 


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