If I had to list the most praiseworthy and lovable scoundrel of all the dastardly villains that ever dared show their face on the silver screen, Sir Percival Ware-Armitage of Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines ( 1965 ) would rank high on the list.
Like Jack Lemmon's marvelous portrayal of Professor Fate in that equally entertaining race classic The Great Race ( 1965 ), Terry-Thomas made the part of Sir Percy completely his own. It could never be replicated by another actor, for even the name Sir Percy tends to conjures up images of Terry-Thomas' gap-toothed grin.
Speakeasy, Shadows and Satin, and Silver Screenings are co-hosting the 4th annual Great Villain Blogathon which gives me the opportunity to gush about what makes Sir Percy such a stupendous bounder. But before I go into this let me just give you a brief account of the setting of Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines :
The year is 1910 and Lord Rawnsley, a wealthy newspaper publisher, sets out to prove that Britain rules the air as well as the sea by sponsoring an International Air Race from London to Paris. Flyers from all around the world are invited to take part in the race. These magnificent men include an Italian count ( Alberto Sordi ), an amiable Texan ( Stuart Whitman ), an intrepid German ( Gert Forbe ), a Japanese man ( Yujiro Ishihara ), a womanizing Frenchman ( Jean-Pierre Cassel ) and Britain's very own hero the dashing Richard Mays ( James Fox ). Where there is a hero you will often find a wrongdoer as well, and in this case it is none other than Sir Percival Ware-Armitage, whose skulduggery endangers all the flyers. Naturally....
The ultimate test of any disrespectable villain is his ability to maintain the lowest of standards. Now Sir Percy is not an forthright evil man, and you'll never catch him directly murdering a fellow ( he may arrange to get him smashed to pieces in an accident instead ), molesting children ( does sticking a lollipop in their hair count? ), or stalking someone ( that's what his stooge is paid to do ), but nevertheless he embodies certain qualities and lives up to a code that I believe all villains should strive for :
1. An Untrustworthy Appearance
Anyone should be able to recognize a villain by his appearance. Shifty eyes are a given, but added to that must be some thoroughly unsavory facial expressions such as sneering, muttering to oneself, and biting one's lip. Sir Percy nails these traits. A handlebar mustache and a dangling cigar only add to his charm. Since he is an English "gentleman", too, he dresses to the tee in all occasions. Pip-pip, old bean!
Sabotage isn't easy and it takes a great deal of creative thought to devise schemes on the fly. Sir Percy had to tax his ingenuity to the limit for the International Air Race from cutting the wires on his opponent's planes to spiking their drinks with poison.
When the going gets really tough and you find all your brilliant plans of sabotage lying to waste on the wayside - Hard cheese! - that's the time you need perseverance. Sir Percy desperately wanted to win the air race so he never let set-backs get him down. After stomping his foot and pouting a bit he would grit his teeth and start to work on a new tactic.
4. The Ability to Hiss
It's taken for granted that all villains hiss, but in reality few can be proven as having done so. Sir Percy is a bonafide hisser....with Terry-Thomas portraying him he was bound to be one! Gapped teeth are a rare commodity in the acting world and so Terry-Thomas made the most of his natural born gift and whistles whenever possible.
5. Knowing How to Lose Like a Villain
If you find yourself thoroughly beaten at the end of the day and quite knackered, then there is no reason to play noble. Here is your opportunity to shake your fist at your opponent, curse him, or throw yourself on the floor and cry ( kicking up your legs as you do so ). If Sir Percy had the German flyer's blunderbuss on hand when he was defeated he surely would have used it on the winner of the race.
The Great Villain Blogathon being hosted by Speakeasy, Silver Screenings, and Shadows and Satin. Be sure to head on over to any of their blogs to read posts about some rattling good villains of the silver screen.