I thought this was going to be tough. I was pretty sure I didn't have a favorite villain -- I tend to side with the Good Guys, you see. I started a list of villains, figuring I'd just eliminate them one by one, and whoever was left would be It. I got six or eight names listed. I scanned my movie collection to see who I could add. And that was when I realized the list was pointless. Because I do have a favorite villain: Eli Wallach as Calvera in The Magnificent Seven (1960). In fact, I pretty much said so in this post 6 years ago. How could I forget?
In both the commentary on my DVD edition and his autobiography, The Good, the Bad, and Me, Eli Wallach shared that he was reluctant to play Calvera because he had a few minutes at the beginning of the film, and then he disappeared for over an hour. Then someone (his wife? I forget) pointed out that the other characters spend that entire hour talking about... Calvera. So he took the role, got some teeth capped in gold, bought the most tremendous sombrero he could find, and turned what could have been a one-note bad guy into a charming, unforgettable villain.
But why is Calvera my favorite villain? I think it's because he treats the business of being a bandit chieftain as just another day job. Part of this is due to Wallach's everyguy approach to the role, and part is how it's written. Calvera isn't out to be Mean and Nasty and Evul. Robbing just happens to be how he makes his living and provides for the men who depend on him. When he captures the Good Guys, he doesn't kill them. He takes their guns and sends them packing, but he later returns their guns and says, "Hey, no hard feelings, this is just business, right?" They don't see it that way, of course, and his confusion over why gives him one of the best final lines I've heard from a villain: "You came back. Why?" He honestly just doesn't get it.
Of course, he spends more of the movie looking like this than being all cute and smiley:
But still, so lovable, in a grumpy way :-) Oh, and Wallach's autobiography is a great read! I totally recommend it.