Most Interesting Character I Ever Met


100 Greatest Ever lists are by now familiar enough that we don't need to rehearse the usual complaints. I can't quibble with Premiere's selection of Don Corleone as the greatest movie character of all time (though I've kind of been hoping that the fall of Saddam Hussein family, who actually made a conscious effort to ape the Corleones, might allow us finally to put The Godfather behind us), and you can dig the whole list for outrageously excluded or included characters.

My own gripes: No Frankenstein's monster—from The Bride of Frankenstein, that is, not the original (and not the Sting version of The Bride either! Never the Sting version!). Not a single Jerry Lewis character. Atticus Finch (ZZZZ!) included but Boo Radley denied. No mention of John Goodman's Charlie Meadows in Barton Fink—for my money the greatest movie character hands down. No Norman Maine from A Star Is Born. No Father Merrin from The Exorcist (for that matter, no Devil from The Exorcist). And while I'm no fan of The Empire Strikes Back, Yoda got robbed.

More importantly, this list, like all things in Hollywood, is haunted by the specter of Claude Rains. Bogart's Rick is of course included, but at this point in history, is it not clear that Casablanca is Captain Rennault's movie? When was the last time you heard anybody, even as a joke, do the All the Gin Joints or Hill of Beans speeches? Yet it's probably been less than a week since you've heard an allusion to The Usual Suspects or a reference to somebody's being Shocked, Shocked. I can't think of a single Rains movie—The Adventures of Robin Hood, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Notorious, The Wolf Man, Lawrence of Arabia—where he doesn't steal every scene he's in. Rains even has a leading role—The Invisible Man—for which he could be legitimately included. My point is not that Claude Rains is underrated, though he probably is. It's that these lists are always about the Greatest, the Biggest, the Best, etc., when the incidental stuff is almost always the most enjoyable thing about a movie. Second bananas, supporting parts, cameos, villains, and comic reliefs, being spared the burden of carrying the picture, get more time to pull gags and chew scenery. That's why actors like to play those parts, and why audiences enjoy watching them.

Me, I'm still waiting for my own pet list: Oldest High School Students on film. Strong contestants for the Most Mature Student Body award are Ridgmont High and Welcome Back, Kotter's James Buchanan High. But the record holder is still Grease's Rydell High. At Rydell even the freshmen are at least 30.