Just to mix things up a bit, I’ve decided to borrow this meme from Self-Styled Siren. Picking my ten favorite movie characters was considerably more difficult than I anticipated. I tried to pick ones that stood on their own, regardless of their film context. I was surprised that most of my picks aren’t what I’d call “likeable,” but the performances are merits in themselves. So, here they are, in no particular order:
Addie Loggins (Tatum O’Neal), Paper Moon
I usually find myself inexplicably irritated with child actors. This is probably because their performance seldom seem natural. It’s not their fault, of course, but I can’t help counting the minutes until they leave a scene. That is, until I saw Paper Moon. Addie Loggins is what I envision the ideal child to be — no nonsense, not taking shit from anyone. It would do her a disservice to merely say she is wise beyond her years, because she is such a force unto herself. She can wordsling with the best of them and outfox any slow-moving fogie she crosses:
Addie: I want my two hundred dollars.
Moses Pray: I don’t have your two hundred dollars no more and you know it.
Addie: If you don’t give me my two hundred dollars I’m gonna tell a policeman how you got it and he’ll make you give it to me because it’s mine.
Moses Pray: But I don’t have it!
Addie: Then get it.
Sylvia Fowler (Rosalind Russell), The Women
I had such a time trying to decide between Sylvia Fowler and Crystal Allen (Joan Crawford) because they are both such tour de force performances. I finally decided on The Women‘s tireless fount of gossip, Sylvia. Sylvia is conniving and manipulative, but she knows she is (even if she won’t admit it) and her friends are never fooled. Her oblivious snobbery imbues every scene with unintentional hilarity, and cracks me up every time I see this movie. She never apologizes for her backstabbing, but her friends don’t seem to care. They know what they’re getting into when they decide to add dear Sylvia to their guest list.
Holly Golightly (Audrey Hepburn), Breakfast At Tiffany’s
Playgirl Holly Golightly asks for nothing but a good time in the fast lane. She wants to land handsome pot of money, but has none of the trashy sexuality of the typical gold digger. She is naturally wistful, capricious, and rootless, and becomes the center of attention upon entering any room. Carefree Holly is hiding a rather unglamourous past as a teenage bride to “Doc” (Buddy Epson) and trying to ignore the terrible loneliness she feels by remaining so impersonal with everyone she knows. Only Cat and her penniless new neighbor, Paul (George Peppard), catch a glimpse of the real Lula Mae Barnes. The film verson of Breakfast at Tiffany’s concludes with a rather tidy end to Holly’s story, but Truman Capote’s original is much more in keeping with Holly’s wild, careless ways.
Melba Robinson (Debbie Reynolds), Two Weeks With Love
Two Weeks With Love is one of my all-time favorite movies, and perhaps one of MGM’s most underrated musicals. It’s not a great movie, but the story is relentlessly (but believably) cheerful. Little sister Melba Robinson is a ball of energy and makes no secret of her crush on Billy Finley (Carleton Carpenter). Melba’s character could have easy degenerated into a whiny, nagging pest to big sister Pattie (Jane Powell), but Debbie Reynolds gives her just the right amount of restraint while still in keeping with her pre-teen demeanor. Melba is the sister I wish I had (if I had a sister, that is).
Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson), Sunset Boulevard
Norma Desmond is the grande dame of fictional film stars. Her insanity has shrouded her in a cloud of her former 1920’s clout. She can’t imagine how Hollywood has gotten along without her, but why should she? She’s a movie star in every sense of the word. She’s got a mountain of money to throw at a would-be screen writer, Joe Gillis (William Holden), and then some. She plays bridge with Buster Keaton, Anna Q. Nilsson, and H. B. Warner and throws a New Year’s Eve party as decadent as the gin-soaked all-nighters she undoubtedly basked in in her heyday. Her house is a shrine to the past glories and triumphs she raked in during her tenure at Paramount Studios, and she’s plugging away at the script of Salome, her greatest role yet. Too bad she had to go and kill that poor dope Gillis.
Nora Charles (Myrna Loy), The Thin Man
Nora Charles is not your typical society wife. Brilliant, perfectly poised, and always completely self-posessed, Nora is the perfect complement to the equally charming private eye, Nick Charles. Cocktail for breakfast? Sure, why not. Nora can handle her liquor just as well as she can sleuth with the best of them. The Charles’ relationship is most definitely one between equals, which was seldom seen among celluloid’s young marrieds.
Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), Psycho
This boy has it all… mother complex, repressed sexuality, cross-dressing, compulsive lying, a penchant for killing attractive young girls, and I am sure the list goes on. The most startling thing about dear Norman is that he remains just that — startling. Every time I watch Psycho, I am chilled by his mania. For better or worse, Tony Perkins has forever become identified with the character of Norman because his portrayal is absolutely brilliant. No other character in cinema (at least in my opinion) has succeeded in shrouding himself in such an aura of horror. And perhaps the most horrible thing about him is that he appears absolutely normal. That is, until you get to know him. And by then it’s too late.
Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft), The Graduate
The Graduate could have easily been titled Mrs. Robinson, because this is just as much her story as it is Benjamin’s. She is not even given a first name, but perhaps it’s better that way. She’s a broken down alcoholic trapped in a dead marriage. Who knows how many other young men she’s made a point of seducing? The thing with Mrs. Robinson is, though, she is the tragedy of The Graduate. When asked what happens to Benand Elaine after their wedding escape, director Mike Nichols replied, “They become their parents.” Maybe they do. Maybe in twenty years, Elaine will become aware of the fact that she is in a stale, acrid home of WASP-ish domesticity. What next, Mrs. Braddock?
Scarlett O’Hara (Vivien Leigh), Gone With the Wind
“What a woman..” is how Rhett Butler summed up our dear Miss Scarlett O’Hara. Scarlett is one of the most perfect examples of everything a girl is told not to be: selfish, headstrong, spiteful, flirtatious, manipulative, et cetera. Scarlett knows what she wants and also how to get it. She won’t let some little $300 Yankee tax on Tara ruffle her petticoats. If Rhett won’t be a gentleman and give it to her, she’ll just go and marry that dashing Mr. Kennedy. Fiddle-dee-dee.
Kip Dynamite (Aaron Ruell), Napoleon Dynamite
Alright, this is my guilty entry. I’m one of those people that loves Napoleon Dynamite. It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve seen it — I still find the whole thing to be incredibly hilarious. I usually gravitate toward supporting characters, which is why I picked Kip rather than the main event, Napoleon. Kip is like the gawky white guy at work that you don’t really talk to. “Hi” is more than enough for a day’s interaction. But there’s so much more going on inside this guy. He’s got a deep, deep love for his internet girlfriend, LaFawnduh, and even writes some free-form poetry for their wedding ceremony. He’s got a business acumen that is out of this world. Too bad his tupperware can’t withstand the weight of an ’82 RV.