Great villains are scattered throughout the Westerns, but some of the most memorably savage come from the films of Sergio Leone. While Henry Fonda in Once Upon a Time in the West gets a lot of props for the way he mows down the McBain family (including its youngest and most adorable moppet), it was nothing that Lee Van Cleef hadn't already done in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Angel Eyes seems to be dismissed as something akin to Leone fan fiction, and it's his relation (or lack of) to Van Cleef's Col. Mortimer in A Few Dollars More that people find to be more interesting than his villainy.
But he's a great villain, mostly because he's absent for much for so much of the film. Leone gives him a ruthless introduction (a scene Quentin Tarantino mirrored perfectly with Hans Landa in Inglourious Basterds) and promptly yanks him out of the narrative. As Tuco and Blondie torture each other for an hour, Angel Eyes is doing his own thing and it's a wonderful shock when he shows up running a Civil War prison camp. In today's cinema, no one could resist giving Angel Eyes a prequel and a spin-off relating the trail of bodies that led to that alias and that prison camp. But Leone allowed a squint to speak for itself, and told you everything you needed to know by the way men like Blondie and Tuco squirm around him. Considering that no one in this film is exactly good, and they're all a little bit ugly, it takes a lot to convince us that a man is worse than all the others. Van Cleef and Leone did that, and few villains can match his nastiness even when they've got double the screen time.
Go below the jump -- they don't call him Angel Eyes in here!