James Bond has had a few close calls over the years. If it weren’t for him, the United State’s entire gold supply would be radioactive, World War Three would have happened a few times over, and the entire world would have been under the sea or a new one created in space. However, despite these close calls, in all of these instances there was always someone lying in wait. A silent killer with some sort of interesting method he or she used to dispose of their victims. Whether it be a razor sharp hat, metallic teeth, enormous strength, or strong agile thighs, a menacing, scary, and resourceful individual that even the James Bond’s of the world would be scared of, was always an obstacle in Bond’s path. An obstacle that had to be overcome before the world could be saved. This person was usually a Henchman.
The Henchmen started out well enough. They were resourceful, evil, and down right scary. They would always appear when you least suspected it. Hunting Bond, studying him. Seeing what method would be best on destroying him. Killing those close to him, toying with him. They were indeed very menacing and powerful. A force to be reckoned with. However, as time went on they seemed to have lost their way. They seemed to have evolved into someone that Bond would just cock an eyebrow at and dispose of relatively quickly. No longer were they a threat. No longer were they a menacing scary figure. Now they were more or less a distraction, an annoying creature who ended up just being brushed aside. They turned into Stampers and Renards. They became Zaos and uninteresting. They were now just someone that Bond had to take time out of his mission to deal with. In turn, they became an annoyance.
Where did they lose their edge? What mannerisms changed to make them seem less interesting? How can they possibly regain any sort of identity and become a huge significance in a world where everything is already over-the-top? The answer lies within the Henchmen themselves.
In order to answer this question, lets take a look at where the “Henchman” first started and see the gradual change over the course of the films. We can pin point the creation of the Henchman with Red Grant in “From Russia With Love”. However, First lets get out of the way that From Russia With Love is just a fantastic movie from start to finish. This and all future “analyses” are of the Henchmen themselves and not the movies they were in. Just because I felt that it was a good movie, doesn’t mean that I feel that the movie made the Henchmen great. The statement would be more of something like “The Henchmen made the movie great.” We could have a great Bond movie and horrible Henchmen or a horrible movie and fantastic Henchmen. Hopefully that makes some sort of sense.
From the beginning of the movie where Grant kills the “impostor Bond,” you can just sense how dangerous and cold-hearted he is. Throughout the film, as Bond is on his mission, Grant is seen stalking him very quietly. I say quietly because until the final confrontation where he reveals himself to Bond, he never really talks. He’s just seen watching Bond, studying him. The quiet stalking is what made Grant seem so dangerous, so ruthless, that at the final confrontation this build up of tension finally explodes into what can be considered as one of the best fight scenes in the series. The uniqueness of his methods and appearance is one of the defining traits of what made the Henchmen so interesting, and it’s something the writers will use to define the Henchmen in the future films.
Continuing on to “Goldfinger,” I would have to say that this is probably the perfect example of what a Henchman should be. I’m referring to Oddjob. Oddjob had it all. He was ruthless, cunning, he killed people with his hat, and most importantly, he was quiet. Despite a few grunts and exhaling sounds, he never really talked. He really didn’t need to. It was his presence that was scary, not his voice. The scene in particular where Bond just out smarted Goldfinger in a golf match, and after receiving his check, Bond tosses Goldfinger’s ball to Oddjob. After catching it, he just looks at him and crushes it. Brilliant. Scenes like this is what made the climax in the vault so nerve-racking. Here’s a menacing guy who crushes golf balls with one hand and kills people with his hat (so far he hasn’t missed) rushing at Bond as he tries to disarm a nuclear bomb that will not only ruin the gold supply, but kill them both. Oddjob peering down and running down all those stairs until the inevitable end where Bond has no choice but to stand his ground. Presence indeed. Of course what happens next is, in my humble opinion, absolutely shocking.
What would continue to follow in the ways of the Henchmen would prove to be an uninteresting ensemble. In “Thunderball” I suppose one could say that Largo was theoretically a Henchman to Blofeld, but I still consider Largo to be the main villain. If I had to sit and point out a particular Henchman, I would have to choose Vargas. The only item Vargas had going for him in our “Henchman Formula,” was that the man didn’t really talk much. Did this make him scary? Not really. It wasn’t really until Vargas got the point that I realized, that perhaps he was supposed to fill in the Henchman gap. He did not have an interesting method of killing people, and he didn’t have a very powerful appearance. He was just a guy who did not drink, smoke, or make love. Whether the writers thought that this was supposed to be the characteristic that would give Vargas the freakish nature necessary to catapult him to Henchman status, remains to be known.
As we come to You Only Live Twice, what I’m about to say may shock you. I will declare, that Blofeld’s bodyguard “Han’s” is probably one of the scariest Henchman you will ever come across. I think Homer Simpson said it best when the Mob and the Japanese Mafia were fighting outside his door. Marge told him to come inside, but Homer being Homer, replied he didn’t want to. Standing there was this lone Japanese figure just watching the fight and pretty much doing nothing else. Just standing. This small man who did not say a word was about to do something cool. Homer knew it as much as we all did. The same thing can be said about Hans. Hans didn’t speak at all, nor did he have a lot of screen time. The only thing Hans really did was stand next to Blofeld and look like a man who would tear your heart out if you looked at him wrong. I couldn’t help but wonder what the battle between Bond and Hans would be like. Though I say Hans was one of the “scariest” Henchman, he was by far the least effective and this ineffectiveness is probably what would almost kick him out of the “Henchman” status. He didn’t have an interesting way of killing people, nor did he really kill anyone. Also poor Hans did not last very long. Oh rest assured he got a couple of good ones in on Bond, but he quickly fell to his death and ultimately became a bedtime snack. But despite these faults, he sure was scary.
The mark of Hans marked the ending of the fear factor in the Henchmen for another eight years. On Her Majesties Secret Service brought out Irma Bunt, (and I will leave it to the message boards to solve the endless “Klebb vs. Bunt” debate) and Diamonds are Forever brought out the implied “Magnificent Gay Duo,” Mr. Wint, and Mr. Kidd. Unfortunately I must confess that with the presence of these two characters brings an end to my rock solid Henchman formula. They weren’t really quiet, in fact they talked a lot, (and when they did they were very formal) they didn’t really have an interesting method to dispose of their victims, and they didn’t really have a huge presence. However, despite all these short comings, they were brilliant. Somehow the writers managed to create two of the most interesting and memorable characters in the franchise and save the movie from being absolutely dreadful. I give you, ladies and gentleman, the one, or should I say two, exceptions to my Henchman debate.
Moving on, we’ll hit the next two films, “Live and Let Die,” and “The Man With the Golden Gun” with one sweeping paragraph. “Live and Let Die’s” Henchmen didn’t really bring anything new to the table besides ridiculous costuming. Tee Hee had an interesting can-opener, and Baron Samedi could have been scary, but wasn’t. At the end of the film where Tee Hee pops out of the closet, the only feeling I remember conjuring up was in the phrase, “Oh yeah, that guy.” And before I could think of anything else, Tee Hee, along with his image, was thrown out the window. Literally. Nick Nac in “The Man With The Golden Gun” had the great potential to be interesting, well, so did Scaramanga, but both ended up falling flat as with the rest of the movie.
Finally, after an absence of eight years, the Henchman as we know it makes a glorious return. I suppose with the pressure being put on Albert Broccoli in the need to make the next Bond outing a great one or face the destruction of the franchise as we knew it, resulted in the need for a dark advisory of Bond. Or in short, a strong return of the Henchman. This return was in the form of Jaws.
Jaws in “The Spy Who Loved Me,” like Oddjob, is the perfect example of what a Henchman needs to be. Jaws was dark, dangerous, and powerful, and by powerful I mean huge. The image of Richard Kiel standing next to Roger Moore was incredible. In a way, his sheer size alone was enough to make him an effective Henchman. But what made him even more effective was his teeth. The man is called Jaws for a reason and what a reason indeed. Jaws was indestructible, he had an interesting method for disposal, and a powerful screen presence. Jaws was in fact, the Henchman in all his form.
For a brief 120 minutes, The Henchman was reborn on screen. Unfortunately after this brief 2 hour stretch, what would follow would become the stained and untimely death of Jaws’ character in Moonraker. For some reason unknown to me, the powers that be decided to use Jaws purely for comedic relief. They turned this 7’2, perfect Henchman into a comedian. To this day I still shudder when Jaws utters that imperfect, hideous line, “And here’s to us.” Look what they did to you Jaws. They turned you into a member of the Three Stooges and killed the Henchman, which has yet to return, to this day.
They almost did make a comeback however, with Necros in “The Living Daylights.” He almost brought the ultimate dream back. He killed people with his headphones and he has a huge presence. However, all this was not enough because it seemed on screen he wasn’t a match for Bond from the start. The viewer just really wasn’t concerned, for they knew that when their paths crossed, Necros would come to an end with a girlish cry of mercy.
It would seem that with the confusion of the ridiculousness put into Jaws that the writers completely forgot what a Henchman was supposed to be. For the next twenty five years (and counting), the Henchman would fail to return. What became of them is quite confusing. The writers seemed to get only one side of them down, and never reveal the others. They would be quiet but not dangerous, nor be an effective killer. They would become big and tough, but not necessarily quiet, nor very effective. They ended up becoming muscular “side kicks” without the required killer instinct in the form of Erich Kriegler and Gobinda. They turned into the Villain's girlfriend with Mayday and Xenia Onatopp. They turned into Mercenaries in Stamper, Renard, and Zao. Yes, the Henchman is lost, and it’s probable that they never will return. However, not all is lost, there is hope.
So in great conclusion of this essay, I declare, that in order for the series to continue long into the future, one of the many things that the writers/producers need to fix, is the status of the Henchman. They need to pull them out of their graves of despair and let them return to battle Bond. These people need to be quiet, resources, and have a strong screen presence. They need to have interesting methods at their disposal, and use this interesting method to build tension until the inevitable encounter with Bond himself. There needs to be that return of tension or the series will be lost in bad CGI and horrible cardboard cut outs for Villains. The Henchmen is what made the series interesting. It is one of those things that need to be intertwined with that Bond formula to make the movie a memorable one. What is the problem with Henchmen today? I laid it out in this essay. But can it be fixed? I surely hope so.
Article written by Chris Osman (MrBond)