In 2003 a committee assembled by the American Film Institute (AFI) compiled a new list for movie fans to digest and argue about. The institute had previously released lists of the 100 best movies, 100 funniest comedies, 100 most exciting thrillers, 100 most passionate love stories and 50 greatest movie stars (who were announced by 50 other movie stars, which let the AFI put “100 Stars” in the title because that was the formula, dammit). The new collection was the 100 top heroes and villains, with 50 for each archetype. CBS ran a three-hour TV special about the selections, after which the list receded from the public consciousness.
Until just a few months ago: in June the heroes-and-villains list was considered anew in a national publication. Entertainment Weekly? No. Variety? No. Rolling Stone or Vanity Fair? No and no. To find the analysis, pick up a copy of JAMA Dermatology.
The investigation, entitled “Dermatologic Features of Classic Movie Villains: The Face of Evil,” was carried out by Julie Amthor Croley and Richard F. Wagner, both at the department of dermatology at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, and Vail Reese of Union Square Dermatology in San Francisco. The conclusion: “Classic film villains display a statistically significant higher incidence of dermatologic findings than heroes.” In other words, lots of bad guys have bad skin. In other other words, that white hat typically sits atop a flawless (and also white) complexion.
The researchers concentrated on the top 10 members of the two lists and found that “six of the all-time top 10 American film villains (60%) have dermatologic findings, all ... located on the face and scalp.” None of the top heroes display any conspicuous facial flaws—because they're heroes.
For example, when we finally see the face of Sebastian Shaw's Darth Vader (all-time villain number three), we're treated to “scars on left cheek and scalp vertex, deep rhytides on face, periorbital hyperpigmentation, alopecia.” In plain English, that's scars, creases, dark circles around the eyes, hair loss. Meanwhile number-three hero James Bond, as portrayed by Sean Connery, has virtually perfect skin despite a lifestyle of dubious choices in terms of alcohol intake and exposure to sexually transmitted diseases.
Or take villain number 10, the animated Queen in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, who has “rhinophyma [big bumpy nose], deep rhytides on face, verruca vulgaris [a wart] on nasal dorsum, periorbital hyperpigmentation.” Hero number 10, Peter O'Toole's Lawrence of Arabia, runs around the desert for months without suffering so much as a mild sunburn.
One more comparison: hero number four, Humphrey Bogart's café-owning Rick Blaine in Casablanca, has a slight scar on his lip. But, the authors note, “facial scars of the heroes are much subtler and shorter in length than those of the villains. Unlike the scars of the villains, those of the heroes are neither created with prosthetic makeup nor commented on during the narrative.” (That is, Rick had a scar because Bogie did.) Compare Rick with the fourth-rated villain, Margaret Hamilton's Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz. She sports a prominent wart on the right side of her chin. Also, she's freaking green.
That baddies have blemishes is, unlike their appearance, clear—but is it a big deal? The researchers think it might be: “The results of this study demonstrate Hollywood's tendency to depict skin disease in an evil context, the implications of which extend beyond the theater. Specifically, unfairly targeting dermatologic minorities may contribute to a tendency toward prejudice in our culture and facilitate misunderstanding of particular disease entities among the general public.” In real life, verruca vulgaris is not a manifestation of malevolence.
This subject hits me personally, as I have what an old ad campaign called the “heartbreak of psoriasis.” And I am, as far as I'm able to tell, not evil. But I admit that my condition may inform my choice of favorite movie hero, a freak without a film franchise when the AFI's list came out. I'm thinking, of course, of Ryan Reynold's hot mess, Deadpool. The pockmarked protagonist says to the integumentally imperfect that we, too, have skin in the game.