Saturday, April 4, 2009

Top 10 Favorite Film Characters

Taking up the Cooler’s challenge, I offer my Top 10 Favorite Film Characters, picked on the basis of how endearing they are to me and how they have influenced my life and my psyche. It was difficult to hone the list to just ten; I have a number of disappointed characters complaining in the wings. Nevertheless, here it is – presented in order of appearance.

The Lone Prospector (Charlie Chaplin) from The Gold Rush (1925)

Ever resourceful in a teetering cabin or at evading someone who thinks you’re a chicken, ever stoical in the face of boot-eating starvation, ever passionate for the flirtatious Georgia, the Lone Prospector waddles through perilous, hilarious, and touching situations with memorable flair, whimsically oblivious to disaster.

Lisa Carol Fremont (Grace Kelly) from Rear Window (1954)

She’s so hot when she kisses James Stewart in slow-mo, and I love her clothes. Her debates with Jeffries about lifestyle are priceless. She seems hopelessly tied to her way of life. Then, in party dress, she scales the fire escape and enters the lair of Lars. Wow! And when she points at the evidence on her finger, yeah, dumb, but what a gutsy, sexy thing!

Ethan Edwards (John Wayne) from The Searchers (1956)

God, you feel so sorry for him when he rides over the ridge and sees his brother’s ranch in smoldering ruins and he has to look in on Martha’s mutilated body. He’s a classic – a cross between Huckleberry Finn and Captain Ahab – but beneath his monomaniacal bloodlust, there is a true heart and a sense of humor. “You get the picture. Come on, blankethead.” “That’s grounds for dee-vorce in Texas!” “That’ll be the day.”

Messala (Stephen Boyd) from Ben-Hur (1959)

He’s my favorite villain – the Darth Vader of the Roman epic; he’s gone over to the dark side and has become a fervent Roman conqueror, unabashed about the depradations of his empire. “Barbaric city, but fascinating, or was until we destroyed it. Now it’s nothing but ashes.” Without a qualm, he condemns his innocent best friend and family to horrible fates. Unlike Darth Vader, he is cruel to the end. “Look for them… in the Valley of the Lepers… if you can recognize them.”

Professor Oliver Lindenbrook (James Mason) from Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959)

Partly it’s because he reminds me of my father: proper British, doggedly determined, optimistic in the direst of situations, always trying to solve the hopeless problem. “The three notches of Arne Saknussem!” He is so delighted to be lost many miles beneath the earth’s surface. He is always the scientist. “I must have a sample if it’s the last thing I do.” In rags, with no food or equipment, he has one last idea!

Captain Virgil Hilts (Steve McQueen) from The Great Escape (1963)

Talk about an influential character! I went home and my brothers and I pretended the backyard was the prison camp and we surreptitiously tunneled out of the tool shed. Our bicycles were our motorcycles. We had gone too far when we tied string across the street in imitation of Hilts’s motorcycle trap. He can make hootch out of potatoes; he’s the cooler king; he’s a great American hero.

Pasha Antipov aka Strelnikov (Tom Courtenay) from Doctor Zhivago (1965)

Strelnikov made me want to be a Russian revolutionist. I loved his intensity. You can see it in his fierce eyes under those wire-rimmed glasses and in the livid scar he got from a cavalryman’s saber. “The personal life is dead.” If your cause is more important than your wife, and your wife is Julie Christie, you are one cold, zealous Bolshie!

Mattie Ross (Kim Darby) from True Grit (1969)

She won’t rest “till Tom Cheney is barking in hell.” She can talk down the crusty Rooster Cogburn. “You sorry piece of trash.” Undaunted, she rides little Blackie across the river when Cogburn takes over the ferry. Bitten by a rattlesnake, her arm broken, she’s still a possessive little tightwad. “I want Papa’s gold piece.” She’s a tough little bitch, judgmental to the end. “You’re too old and fat to be jumping fences.”

Charles Morse (Anthony Hopkins) from The Edge (1997)

He’s rich. He has a supermodel for a wife. He reads a lot of books. What’s more important, he’s a survivor. Lost in the wilds of Alaska with Bob Green, the man who covets his wife and wealth, Charles turns into the ultimate Survivor contestant as he exhorts Bob to keep alive. “Did you know that you can make fire out of ice?” Bart the Bear is Charles’s biggest challenge, but he can do it. “Today… I’m gonna kill the motherfucker.”

Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) from There Will Be Blood (2007)

This is one tough dude. He breaks his leg in a mine shaft, discovers silver, and crawls the whole way to the assayer’s office. He makes his fortune on oil. “If I say that I am an oil man, it’s true.” He wants to blot out all competition, makes his millions, and go somewhere “away from all these… people.” He can’t stand Eli. “It’s called drainage!” He’s an always compelling, hard-driven enigma.


The Film Doctor said...

Nice list. I like to think of Daniel Plainview as being very straightforward in a way. He wants to make money, and he doesn't give a damn about people (the ideal business philosophy). Unfortunately for him, the movie has ways to remind him of his humanity.

Jason Bellamy said...

Great list, with several that nearly made my list. My favorite surprise is Charles Morse from The Edge. Perfect! He's in a somewhat lousy movie, but the character is awesome -- very much in the spirit of this exercise.

Richard Bellamy said...

FilmDr -

My list leans toward classic characters - and I think Daniel Plainview is the most recent addition to that kind of memorable individual.

Jason -

Just adding Charles Morse to the list, I had to re-watch the movie. "A somewhat lousy movie" - that's where we differ; I think it's a great movie! As for Charles, he's awesome and memorable, and whenever I go camping with my younger brother, we always quote Morse with our best Hopkins impersonations. "Watch out for the bearfall." "Why is the rabbit unafraid?"

Daniel said...

Haha, wow - I was definitely thrown for a loop by Charlie Morse as well. I love it, though, and hope to pick out some under-the-radar characters when I do my list as well.

Boy, when you think about it The Edge could have been a classic movie. The cast, the setting. Ah well.

Richard Bellamy said...

What's all this disappointment with The Edge? Okay, I know all about its shortcomings, but I consider it a great movie.

When it comes to elements I love, I'm very forgiving. Survival story + bear + Anthony Hopkins + awesome cinematography = GREAT MOVIE.

I rewatched it this weekend and, once again, I was totally engrossed. (Baldwin's acting is mostly dreadful.) Every time, the cinematography blows me away.

2009 needs a great survival story! (Oh, yeah, The Road.)

But the list here is all about great characters - not great films - and I love Charles Morse. Thanks for the comment, Daniel.

Joel Bocko said...

Excellent list, with lots of surprises. I just did mine:

We have one overlap (which is good, I like the variety I keep getting looking at different peoples' lists).

For some reason that picture of James Mason reminded me of Robert Shaw in Jaws, who I kind of wished I picked (as it is, I picked another "character" from that movie). I hope someone does. If you're reading this, and have not yet composed your list, you know what to do!

Richard Bellamy said...

I saw Quint on someone else's list - a good choice. Shaw's development of that character is one of the factors that raises Jaws above the level of the standard thriller/ monster movie.

Thanks for your comment here - I posted my comments on your list over at your site.