For the love of entertainment
Not every James Bond villain has a henchman, but that hasn’t stopped them from becoming a beloved mainstay of the series. The problem is that for every scene-stealing henchman who makes the movie, there’s a lame minor villain who just phones it in. Let’s celebrate the best and make fun of the worst. Most of them are just begging to be made fun of, anyway.
There will be spoilers ahead because duh.
She may not be an official Bond henchman since Never Say Never Again is not officially part of the series, but let’s give her a shout-out. She was far and away the most interesting thing about Never Say Never Again–an execrable attempt to steal the official series’ thunder. Fatima Blush is literally a bizarro version of Thunderball‘s villainess Fiona Volpe since this movie could only exist as long as it was a remake of Thunderball. Barbara Carrera took the part to ludicrous, jaw-dropping levels of camp. Her wardrobe would make Joan Collins (ahem) blush. I suppose that’s fitting since Carrera approached every scene as if she was diving into a pool for a slapfight with Crystal Carrington and that bitch Alexis. Even her demise is over the top: Fatima gets 007 cornered but inexplicably insists he put into writing that she was the best lover he ever had, allowing Bond to pull out his trick pen and explode her with it. All while she’s dressed like a reject from a Pirates of Penzance-themed commercial for Vidal Sassoon.
Jaws should never have returned after his successful first appearance in The Spy Who Loved Me. The first time actually worked, making Jaws one of the best Bond henchmen. This time? Not so much. Sometimes too much of a good thing ruins everything. It just doesn’t make sense to bring Jaws back. He doesn’t fit the plot. We’re supposed to believe the villain happens to hire Jaws to kill 007. Well la-di-da. What a coincidence. The fact that Jaws is indestructible kinda worked in The Spy Who Loved Me, but the more it happens the more ludicrous it becomes. Maybe it doesn’t help that Moonraker is such a shit-storm of a movie. There’s a Bride of Frankenstein twist where the not-so-lovable-anymore lug falls in love with a tiny woman who looks like the Swiss Miss girl gone horribly wrong. You can’t see it, but I’m violently rolling my eyes right now.
Jaws is the only henchman to appear in more than one movie, and he gets the additional, more dubious distinction of being one of the best and the absolute worst henchman in the Bond series.
Okay, he isn’t strictly a henchman. But Sheriff Pepper does work against 007 in Live and Let Die when he tries to arrest him during the big boat chase sequence. For another thing, this supremely irritating character had the audacity to muck up not one, but two Bond films. That, my friends, is beyond the pale. To me, it makes Sheriff Pepper more than worthy of some hatred. Pepper is like the overbearing caricature of a sheriff that appears in Smokey and the Bandit or The Dukes of Hazzard. He has no place in a Bond film. Yet somehow producers liked him enough to bring him back for another go. And it doesn’t even make sense. We’re supposed to believe this wildly racist hick sheriff manages to be vacationing in the exact spot in Asia where 007 is chasing down Scaramanga in The Man With the Golden Gun? Go home, producers. You’re drunk. And you go away, Sheriff Pepper. Nobody likes you.
I can’t even with these two. Very little about Diamonds Are Forever makes sense, which probably doesn’t help Mr. Kidd and Mr. Wint out very much. They seem only tangentially related to Blofeld’s larger scheme, and yet they keep. turning. up. Like cockroaches with bad haircuts. Are they even working for Blofeld? They have no scenes with him. For all we know, they’re just two crazies who happen to keep popping up. They rack up a decent body count, but without much context it’s hard to applaud them for being good at their jobs. Then there’s the outrageously offensive portrayal of them as a gay couple. Everyone responsible for the depiction of these two nitwits deserves a giant middle finger. The only thing that keeps these two from being the all-time worst Bond henchmen is that no one gives a shit about Diamonds Are Forever anyway, which also means that no one remembers who Mr. Kidd and Mr. Wint are. It’s not like they have a legacy in the Bond universe, so why give them credibility by hating them?
I can picture the pitch meeting that led to Zao. “What if there was a henchman who literally had diamonds in his face?!” Mind: blown, amirite? Like everything in Die Another Day, Zao is as ridiculously over the top as possible, and not in a fun way. Basically, Zao just looks creepy (he has blue eyes because he’s undergoing genetic modification to disguise his appearance… or something). And like everyone in Die Another Day, he’s a nonstop bad-pun factory. He seems vaguely menacing, I suppose. But in the–hang on, seriously, Zao, shut up for a second. I can’t stand any more lame puns. I mean it. No really, shut up! Goddammit. Let’s just move on.
For every good henchman in the Bond series, there are a dozen half-formed ideas barely worth mentioning. Some actually have names, but really it’s too bothersome to care. Some make lame attempts to be odd enough to be memorable, but the whiff of desperation is unmistakable. After all, if producers don’t care about them, why should we? I’m talking about you, henchman with the bling, weird haircut, and fancy grill in The World is Not Enough. And you, For Your Eyes Only‘s assassin who can only be recognized when he shows up because of those hexagonal glasses. And you, bodyguard who literally eats a laser in Die Another Day. When it comes down to it, the only purpose behind these thugs (and all their brethren I don’t have energy to discuss now) is to give Bond some disposable bodies on his way to the final showdown. Or, in some cases, to screw up and give Bond the in he needs to figure out who is behind the undoubtedly overly elaborate scheme at the center of that particular Bond movie. If the Bond movies were Star Trek movies, these guys would be the red shirts. Yawn.
In a bizarre bid to write a part for legendary Vegas performer Wayne Newton, Licence to Kill features a televangelist named Professor Joe Butcher. Because that’s totally a televangelist name, right? He runs the Olimpatec Meditation Institute, which is a front for Sanchez’s drug cartel. Butcher is the face of the Institute and makes it a profitable division of Sanchez’s empire in its own right. But mostly he sleeps around with unsuspecting female devotees. Licence to Kill is almost a solid entry in the Bond series, and it’s weird distractions like Joe Butcher that keep it from being good. Butcher may have seemed like a good idea at the time, but it’s hard to believe that any of his scenes didn’t end up on the cutting room floor because all he does is drag the movie down and slow the action. I guess we should be thankful they didn’t slow it down any further for a song-and-dance sequence. Sorry Mr. Newton, but it’s true.
AKA desperate attempts to throw in more hot chicks. Sometimes they aren’t even incidental to the plot. Don’t get used to them, they disappear quickly. They’re even more disposable versions of Bond Girls (well, most Bond Girls). Some don’t even have the honor of names, like the mysterious woman commonly known as Cigar Girl in The World is Not Enough (who at least looks good in a red leather jumpsuit). Others, like Jenny Flex from A View to a Kill, only exist to tell you their funny name (seriously, her only line is when she tells you her name. She shows up in the background of a few other scenes before finally drowning). There’s a chorus of gypsies and belly dancers who get 007 into trouble (usually during the opening credit sequence). Some try to menace 007, like Bambi and Thumper in Diamonds Are Forever (yes, Bambi and Thumper). And some strictly show up to add a dash of sex, like Pola Ivanova in A View to a Kill. Ostensibly she’s trying to steal plans from 007 but it doesn’t really matter why she shows up because while she’s there she serves up wet soapy boobies. That’s all that matters. The one thing these ladies have in common is that they are lame plot filler. Consider them the also-rans of the Bond universe.
The next three spots go to a trio of bland blonde henchmen. The Bond franchise has a curious obsession with Aryan muscle men in Speedos. I mean, I’m in no position to judge them for that, but you’d think they would at least try to make these characters interesting. Red Grant, the machine-like assassin in From Russia With Love, was the first and only successful example of this breed. The rest phone it in by relying on their vaguely Germanic appearance to look villainous. Blonde and German is lazy-script shorthand for evil, after all. Anyway, here’s the king of the bland blondes: Stamper is an Aryan sociopath who likes slow torture devices and shooting helpless people in the ocean. This should make him a messed-up mofo, but his character is so cardboard-thin that it’s hard to work up strong feelings about him. He’s just boring. Still, his biggest crime is that he’s the only bland blonde who refuses to show any skin. C’mon, Stamper. No Speedo? No skimpy towel? Tsk tsk. Don’t hide your light away from the world.
Our next bland blonde is Erich Kriegler. Erich is an Olympic athlete with a weakness for skimpy beachwear. Bless. How he got to be an Olympian is a mystery because he can’t seem to finish an event without detouring to assassinate someone. To be fair, Erich actually appears threatening–which is half the battle. It’s a quality that shouldn’t be so hard to find in Bond henchmen. The main thing holding Erich back is that he’s a gaping plot hole. Erich, you should probably work out your priorities. Do you want a gold medal or do you want to be Kristatos’ right hand? You just think about that. We’ll admire your six-pack abs while you decide. No rush. No really, you take all the time you need.
Meet Necros, our third consecutive bland blonde. Necros absolutely loves The Pretenders. He also likes banana hammocks, amusement parks, and pools. He doesn’t have much screen presence, but did I mention the banana hammock? For the record, he makes that strip of blue fabric look good. Plus, he gets lots of bonus points for killing an MI6 agent with an automatic door. That’s just cold, Necros. It’s also dastardly enough to raise you above the other bland blonde baddies.
Dario is far from the worst henchman in the series, but his bluster and psychotic stares (he is played by Benicio Del Toro, after all) don’t add up to much in the end. The fact that Del Toro, a future Academy Award-winner, played him is the most notable thing about him. He disappears for large swathes of Licence to Kill so the movie can focus on awkward love triangles and that weird subplot with Wayne Newton. A truly good henchmen would be too essential to the plot to go missing like that.
It’s probably shocking that Baron Samedi didn’t place higher. Baron Samedi is one of the most iconic images referenced when discussing Live and Let Die. He’s also a generally popular henchman. He is devilishly fun as he dances around the periphery of the action, menacing James Bond with charisma to spare. But here’s the thing: Baron Samedi isn’t very integral to the plot, especially compared to Tee Hee, who is an actual associate of Kananga’s. You’re never sure what Baron Samedi’s deal is, or how he relates to the action. All you know is that he’s a seemingly immortal voodoo practitioner. The fact that he doesn’t seem to have any stake in the action is a big minus in my book. But points for the wardrobe and those makeup skills.
Irma Bunt’s main claim to fame is that she infamously murdered James Bond’s wife, Tracy di Vicenzo, in cold blood during a drive-by shooting. Most people think it was Blofeld who pulled the trigger, but he was driving the car. By that benchmark alone, Irma Bunt is legendary. She’s also a tough old broad you wouldn’t want to cross. Bunt was supposed to return as Blofeld’s henchman in Diamonds Are Forever, but actress Ilse Steppat died of a heart attack shortly after this film was released. She would have been the first henchman to appear in two films, an honor that was finally granted to Jaws (dubiously, as it turned out). So it’s a little disappointing that for most of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, she’s reduced to swanning around Blofeld’s mountaintop allergy clinic in a sweater from the Mrs. Voorhees collection. She’s basically just watching over the girls participating in Blofeld’s allergy study, which essentially makes her an evil Mrs. Garrett.
Spectre‘s problem is that it couldn’t stop trying to be like things that came before it. They included throwbacks to elements from the past to reintroduced them. That’s the problem with Mr. Hinx, the first henchman since the series was effectively rebooted with Casino Royale. Director Sam Mendes said he took inspiration for Mr. Hinx from Goldfinger‘s Oddjob. Like Oddjob, Mr. Hinx is played by a wrestler–in this case Dave Bautista. His muscles are covered in a stylish suit, just like Oddjob. And like Oddjob, Mr. Hinx doesn’t speak, preferring to let his violent actions speak for him. Except Mr. Hinx does finally speak just as he’s about to be offed in a lame attempt for a laugh. So the one defining feature they give Mr. Hinx is a letdown. He’d have been better if he stayed silent. To summarize: Mr. Hinx is fine, but he’ll never be one of the best henchman because he’s deliberately staged as one who came before him.
Now here’s a badass henchman. While serving the nefarious Kamal Khan, Gobinda deploys an arsenal of weapons that would make Jason Voorhees blush. And he wields them with deadly flair. Every time this dude shows up, something messed up is about to go down, which is the calling card of a successful Bond henchman. The problem? With Octopussy, Kamal Khan, and General Orlov pussyfooting around, Octopussy already has three villains. With all those baddies eating up screentime, badass Gobinda gets short shrift. He also kinda gets drowned in the sea of mediocrity that defines Octopussy. Plus, he crushes dice to powder menacingly, which was totally badass… when Oddjob did it with a golf ball in Goldfinger. So in an unfortunate turn of events, one of the series’ most twisted henchmen also becomes one of its most frequently forgotten. If only he’d had metal teeth…
Nick Nack, played by Fantasy Island‘s Herve Villechaise, is one of the Bond series’ prime oddities. He’s a strange hybrid of butler, henchman, and homicidal maniac. He also seems to revel in attempting to kill his boss, master assassin Scaramanga. You see, one of Nick Nack’s duties is to arrange duels for Scaramanga to keep his wits sharp. It’s a job Nick Nack takes very seriously. He seems to get a perverse kick out of it. And when 007 finally defeats Scaramanga, Nick Nack doesn’t take too kindly to the news. He stows away on Bond’s boat and attempts to kill him while he’s bedding Mary Goodnight.
As far as henchman go, there are far more effective ones than Nick Nack–and far more menacing. Nick Nack is mostly played for laughs. But when it comes to memorable henchmen, you can’t do much better.
Tee Hee is mostly memorable for his giant robotic arm–the one that ultimately leads to his downfall when 007 disables it during their big fight sequence on a train. He’s a mean mutha who will kill you with a smile. Like a lot of Bond baddies, Tee Hee has a perverse sexual obsession with deadly animals. In his case, that means crocodiles. Even though a crocodile was responsible for that missing arm. Unfortunately, he also falls into that classic bad guy trap where he sets up an overly elaborate demise for 007, then walks away instead of making sure everything goes according to plan. That kind of thing is usually reserved for the villain, but Tee Hee got it done. He’s also actually integrated into the plot more than Live and Let Die‘s other henchman, Baron Samedi.
But it has to be said: that robotic arm is painfully fake.
Helga Brandt may be posing as a secretary for a company that fronts for SPECTRE, but make no mistake: she will cut you up if you turn your back on her. This is a woman who will try to kill you with a plane after applying super-stylish salmon-colored lipstick from an applicator that doubles as a smoke bomb. Helga seems like a worthy heir to Fiona Volpe at first, but for all her menace the diabolical Ms. Brandt can’t seal the deal. She threatens 007 with torture, but sleeps with him instead. She tries to kill him with a plane and misses. To repay her for these failures, Blofeld feeds her to his pet piranha. She’s a vibrant presence in the film and she goes out with a bang, but as far as henchmen go Ms. Brandt was disappointingly ineffective.
Some may disagree with May Day’s strong showing, but I say shut your mouth. A View to a Kill is a rare Bond movie that succeeded at being full-on camp. Grace Jones’ presence as May Day is a large part of that. Dig this androgynous beauty with the insanely lavish 80s wardrobe. Just don’t cross her. Because this henchman will fuck your shit up if you cross her. Don’t believe me? Just ask her boss/lover Max Zorin. When he tries to abandon her to die in an explosion intended to destroy Silicon Valley, she didn’t just get mad. She got even. She teamed up with 007 to remove the bomb from its underground location, then she rode that bomb straight to hell just so Zorin would know she fucked him over. Revenge. Oh, and she parachutes off of the Eiffel Tower after assassinating a dude with a blow dart. While wearing a headdress and cape. Eat it, haters.
Look at him in that skimpy towel. Fun fact: Red Grant was played by Robert Shaw, who later played Quint in Jaws. So odds are good that you just had a sex fantasy about Quint. And now you have to live with that. Anyway, Red Grant has been trained so thoroughly that he’s practically a machine. A lean, mean machine who’s only purpose is to hunt and kill James Bond. He’s ruthless. He’s relentless. He’s the first attempt at an evil version of James Bond, and one of the more successful ones. He’s also the first in a surprisingly long line of muscular, blonde, blue-eyed, Germanic henchmen (he’s the only one who manages to be interesting even when he isn’t showing a lot of skin). The downside? He barely talks. He finally speaks just in time to have his big fight with James Bond and get killed off. Maybe he should have stayed silent. Still, given that there wasn’t a henchman in Dr. No, Red Grant has the distinction of being the very first henchman, and he set the tone for all to follow.
Jaws is a fan favorite, but I’ve never understood the allure. To be fair, Richard Kiel took an odd, wordless role and made it work. Jaws’ gimmick is of course the metal teeth, which he uses to assassinate people for his boss. He also appears to be indestructible. He’s the Jason Voorhees of henchmen. Throw him off a plane, drop ancient ruins on him. He’s fine. Kiel has a deft comedic touch, which is probably why audiences like him. He’s the only henchman to appear in two movies, but the other appearance (in the truly terrible Moonraker) didn’t go so well, harshening the distinction. Still, there’s one thing about Jaws you just have to respect: when he ends up in Stromberg’s deadly shark tank, Jaws eats the shark. There is no word for how badass that is.
Moonraker is a stain that can never be erased from Jaws’ record, but he did steal the show in his first outing as henchman.
Producers have tried to duplicate the unhinged ferocity of Thunderball‘s Fiona Volpe–the series’ first female henchman–but with one exception they all paled in comparison. She’s beautiful. She’s seductive. But make no mistake: this SPECTRE agent is batshit insane. She’s got a missile in her motorcycle, but she isn’t afraid to get in your face and get her hands dirty, too. Just when you think you’ve gotten rid of her, it turns out she turned your hotel room bathtub into her own personal spiderweb. She’ll sleep with you. Then she’ll try to kill you. Effin’ black widow, man. For my money, her final showdown with James Bond (on a crowded dance floor surrounded by her gun-toting subordinates) is one of the most genuinely suspenseful moments in a series packed with them.
The only female henchman who could beat Fiona Volpe at her own game is Xenia Onatopp. Maybe it’s the times, but Onatopp went further than Volpe could have. Onatopp has seriously kinky tastes when it comes to murder: she squeezes a man to death during sex and still finishes. Then she gets a sexual charge when she realizes the train she’s on is about to crash. The series had toyed with sexually dangerous women countless times, but Xenia Onatopp is quite literally dangerous sexually. Luckily, Famke Janssen knew how far to push it, achieving the right level of camp in her performance. After all, there’s no call for subtlety when you’re squeezing a man to death with your thighs and simultaneously having a violent orgasm. How good is Onatopp? Name the main Bond Girl in GoldenEye. I dare you. You can’t do it, can you? You’re probably thinking it’s a trick question. You’re wrong. Onatopp is so good she made everyone forget that poor Natalya Simonova ever existed. And that’s the ultimate burn.
Red Grant may have set the tone for all henchmen in the series, but it was his successor Oddjob who set the (ahem) gold standard. Red Grant was a mostly silent killing machine, but Oddjob was a totally silent killing machine who could decapitate statues with his jaunty hat. Top that. He’s so menacing that you genuinely wonder how James Bond will beat him when their inevitable showdown commences (the answer: electricity. A lot of it). Dude is stylish, strong, deadly, and somehow charming. Oddjob, as embodied by Hawaiian professional wrestler Harold Sakata, manages the perfect blend of funny and menacing. Most henchmen tip too far in one direction or the other. Oddjob commands respect and fear. Nothing less.