The more I think about it, the more I’m convinced that Jack Palance performed the greatest villain-defining scene of the 20th Century. It happened about two-thirds of the way through George Stevens‘ Shane. A big lanky guy with cheekbones you could shave roast beef with, Palance was playing hired gun “Jack Wilson”, a guy with such a sinister vibe that twice a dog got up and left the room when he walked in (or stood up).
We all remember Palance’s showdown scene with Elisha Cooke, Jr., slowly putting on his black gloves and then drawing his big six-shooter like lightning, and then waiting a couple of seconds before drilling Cooke — his gun sounded like a two-ton cannon — and sending him flying backwards into the mud.
But the defining moment happened when Palance climbed off his horse like a lizard, swinging off his saddle and then freezing for two or three seconds before lowering himself to the ground. And then reversing the routine when he got back on, pulling himself up and then freezing for a bit before swinging his legs over and into the saddle. Unforgettable. From that moment on viewers were saying to themselves, “This guy is only half-human…the other half is a gila monster.”
Palance passed 13 years ago at age 87.