This is my entry in the Great Villain Blogathon being hosted by Speakeasy, Silver Screenings and Shadows and Satin
Villains come in all shapes and sizes. There are the megalomaniacal demigods bent on the destruction of humanity. There are the egocentric geniuses who want to rule the world (or at least be given millions of dollars to not attempt it.) There are extraterrestrial gurus of an esoteric religion bent on following the will of their master at any cost (and the master, too, falls into this villain category). There are even snide mustachioed ne'er-do-wells who will do whatever it takes to get the deed to a ranch held by the daughter of a deceased rancher.
Sometimes, however, the villain can come in unexpected forms. The villain can be just a normal every day guy like you'd meet on the street, but who, through some quirk of fate or bad decisions turned to a darker side. He may not be evil or have evil intentions, per se, but just have a nastier bent to his personality. And said nastier bent may not be present until later in life (although if you have an existential bent you may say it was there all along and just took longer to come to the fore).
Paul Gleason had a very good career, and played a few nasty characters in his career. Not all were villains. Some were just nasty by nature: Coach Hisler in Johnny Be Good. And some were dedicated professionals who let their higher status get the better of them by making rash and ultimately futile decisions: Deputy Police Chief Robinson in Die Hard (Although it should be noted that Gleason was topped for the top sleazebag role in that one by William Atherton as a TV journalist, not discounting the actual villains, the terrorists).
Gleason had a list of credits, mostly TV appearances, including a stand as a character on the daytime soap opera All My Children, but I think it's safe to say most people never saw him before his appearance as the nefarious Clarence Beeks in Trading Places, or possibly even before his most iconic role as Assistant Principal Vernon in The Breakfast Club.
Trading Places (1983)
Gleason was a topnotch villain playing a greedy stooge, Clarence Beeks, to the wiles of a pair of ultra-rich brothers, the Dukes (Ralph Bellamy and Don Ameche).
The movie, a variation on the Mark Twain story The Prince and the Pauper, involves an executive and upper class snob, Louis Winthorpe III (Dan Aykroyd), who, through the machinations of his bosses, the brothers Duke, is made to be a convict and an outcast of society. At the same time a street conman and ghetto refugee, Billy Ray Valentine (Eddie Murphy), is catapulted from his surroundings to the job vacated by Winthorpe, through the same Dukes. In any other review, the Dukes themselves could be considered the villains of the piece. But I'd like to concentrate on Beeks, the Gleason character.
Ostensibly Beeks is a representative of a security firm given the duty of transferring information (although we don't find this out until the mid-point of the movie). He has been seduced by the Dukes and their money to do their nefarious deeds. In the beginning of the movie it is established that he is going to give the Dukes the orange crop report before it is made national news, thus giving them an edge in the stock market for the fictional "frozen concentrated orange juice" market.
The brothers hire Beeks to plant evidence of theft on Winthorpe, and to have him humiliated at his private club, and then arrested. He is also given the task of corrupting a police officer to plant drugs on Winthorpe during his strip search. Beeks also gives a hooker a task of embarrassing Winthorpe by pretending he is her drug dealer in front of his fiancee, thus completing the job of throwing Winthorpe to the dogs, so to speak.
Meanwhile, Beeks has still been entrusted with the secret transfer of information to the Dukes on the status of the orange crop. In the process of the main plot of the movie Winthorpe and Valentine discover what the Dukes have done with their individual lives and the secret plot involving Beeks as well. They plan to intercept Beeks en route and take over the information. This occurs on a New Year's Eve train ride in which Jim Belushi plays an over-indulgent participant in the NYE costume festivities (dressed as a gorilla) and Al Franken and Tom Davis play a couple of dimwitted baggage handlers entrusted with the duty of helping transport a male gorilla (see this one coming?) back to Africa.
To accomplish this transfer the four (including Winthorpe's former butler, Coleman (Denholm Elliott), and the hooker who is now his friend (Jamie Lee Curtis) pose as various people to try to catch Beeks off guard and pull the old switcheroo on his classified information. But he gets wise before they can pull it off.
Ultimately, of course, the four good guys do regain the upper hand (if you were expecting anything different you haven't watched enough of these movies). In the process, Beeks gets knocked out and dressed up in Belushi's gorilla costume and stuffed in the cage with the real gorilla. He is mistaken for a female (FEMALE???!!!) gorilla by the two brain-dead baggage handlers and shipped off to Africa.
Since this review is only about Beeks, I will leave off the ending for another review someday. Needless to say we never hear from Beeks again. I hope he and his gorilla companion were able to make a happy transition in Africa.
The Breakfast Club (1985)
The stars of this movie are what the media referred to as the "Brat" Pack (after the Rat Pack of the 60's; Sinatra, Martin et. al.). The Brat pack consisted of a group of young 20's aged actors from the 1980's. These included Rob Lowe, Robert Downey, Jr. and Andrew McCarthy, not featured in this movie, and the stars of this movie: Emilio Estevez, Judd Nelson, Anthony Michael Hall, Molly Ringwald and Ally Sheedy.
The five are reluctant high school students having to serve a Saturday of detention at Shermer High School, presided over by our second Gleason villain, Assistant Principal Richard Vernon. (It's no coincidence that a common nickname for one named Richard is "Dick"). Gleason exudes contempt for these "malcontents" as he views them from the very beginning.
Throughout the movie "Dick" is in a constant battle trying to exert his control over the crowd. His main vituperative attitude however is reserved for John Bender (Judd Nelson) who becomes the figurative antihero of the piece, doing for the others what they are too timid to do, that is stand up to the villain. This animosity towards each other becomes apparent early on when asked if there are any questions, Bender responds with "yeah. Does Barry Manilow know you raid his wardrobe?"
The bitter feud between the two escalates with Vernon adding detention upon detention and warning Bender "Don't mess with the bull. You'll get the horns."
Eventually, Vernon loses all control and drags Bender to a storeroom and locks him in it, even going so far as to threaten to kick his ass one day when he, Bender, has finally left the school. A side note has Vernon digging through the school's personal files and being caught by the janitor doing so. After apparently paying off the janitor to keep quiet about it, the two have an intimate moment of reflection where Vernon reveals a personal side which (almost) makes him seem sympathetic. It seems he was once an idealist teacher, but has grown more and more disgusted with what he sees as the future with the kids who will become the future adults in charge.
To Vernon's credit, the students do just about anything in their power to egg him on, albeit much of it done at the behest of the de facto leader of these rebels, Bender. Vernon, however, while no Darth Vader, is a guy who an entire generation came to hate. He doesn't really get the comeuppance he deserves, although the kids do manage to try to put him in his place with the report they are given to write.
Gleason passed away in 2006 from mesothelioma, a disease that he probably got from working with asbestos when he was a young man working for his father. He is a pleasure to watch in action in his available film performances, though.
Thus ends this week's entry folks. Be sure to buckle up before leaving the theater.