My Bad, Mr Bond
Almost all the attention this time out is fixed (quite rightly) on Daniel Craig, the new 'bleeding' Bond. But spare a thought for the mercurial Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen who has some pretty big shoes to fill as Le Chiffre, the latest Bond baddie - and they've saddled him with asthma to make it that much harder.
No less a personage than Orson Welles played the part in the farcical 1967 adaptation of Ian Fleming's first novel… trivia fans may also be interested to know that the weaselly Peter Lorre played him in a 1954 TV movie version starring one Barry Nelson, making him the first ever on-screen Bond villain.
Eight years later Joseph Wiseman played a half Chinese, half German scientist who planned to get the whole world in his metal hands using US space ships… Dr Julius No. The rest, as they say, is history.
But who is the best of these bad men? And while we're at it, does the quality of the villain have much bearing on the movie itself?
Taking that last question first, I'd say that there is a correlation, even if some of the better Bond movies can survive having a weak baddie and vice versa. As a rule of thumb, a good bad guy seems to bring out the best in 007.
The movies which can't muster much in the way of an adversary tend to fade in the memory very quickly, like the drug barons played by Robert Davi and Yaphet Kotto in License to Kill and Live and Let Die, respectively, or the smuggler Aris Kristatos in For Your Eyes Only, from the fag-end of the Roger Moore period.
Of course the bad guys immortalized in the titles have something of a head start: Dr No we've already mentioned. Goldfinger stands out, for his mythic attraction to base metal, not to mention his genuinely visionary plan to detonate a nuclear device at Fort Knox.
He's also very well played by German actor Gert Frobe (albeit dubbed) and enjoys the bonus of a particularly fine henchman in the bowler-slinging Oddjob (Harold Sakata). Finally he presides over one of the most memorable close shaves in the whole series, when he leaves Sean Connery strapped to a table with a laser beam aimed between his legs: 'You expect me to talk?' asks James. 'No, Mr Bond, I expect you to die!'
Nothing against Christopher Lee, but The Man With the Golden Gun (Scaramanga) doesn't really capture the imagination - a hit man with a plan to monopolise solar energy, he comes off more like a spoiled playboy than a genuine menace to the world order.
Ernst Stavro Blofeld is hands-down (or should that be hands up?) Ian Fleming's favourite nemesis. As the founder of SPECTRE he gets a namecheck and a big build up in a couple of early outings before finally showing his scarred face in You Only Live Twice (as Donald Pleasence). Telly Savalas brought authenticity to the pate department and got personal in On Her Majesty's Secret Service, and Charles Gray (later to narrate The Rocky Horror Picture Show) camped it up further in Diamonds Are Forever.
He should have quit while he was ahead: Bond finally dispatches his mortal enemy at the beginning of For Your Eyes Only. (Even then, he came back as Max von Sydow in Never Say Never Again.) In any case, it must be said that it's hard to take the cat-loving Blofeld seriously after the nefarious Dr Evil in the Austin Powers movies.
These days the biggest challenge for the filmmakers is to come up with new fiendish twists on the whole bad guy ethos - it's a test that the Pierce Brosnan movies fell down on - mostly because they've refused to stay abreast of world events in the way that Ian Fleming always used to. You can bet your life he wouldn't have had any scruples about caricaturing such Bond-like real-life bogeymen as Saddam Hussein, Kim Jong-il and Osama Bin Laden (al-Qaeda and SPECTRE have a lot in common).
Still, a genuine heavy never goes out of style. Granted, he's not the brains behind the operation - that would be Carl Stromberg in The Spy Who Loved Me or Hugo Drax in Moonraker - but Jaws (Richard Kiel) made more of an impression through sheer brute force and physical presence than any enemy of Bond before or since. He was such a hit in the first film the producers decided to write him into the next one. Kiel - a former nightclub bouncer - stands an imposing 7'2" and had metal teeth fitted for the role. He's 67 now and walks with a cane, but I for one wouldn't mind seeing him come back for a cameo in Bond's next outing.
Top 5 Bond Villains