Have you ever watched a film and found yourself thinking “My God, but that character is getting on my nerves”, when said character is not necessarily meant to? There are plenty of onscreen characters throughout the years who are meant to be vexing or obnoxious. But at what point does that frustration transform into something a little more intense?
What do I mean by intense? Here are two possible definitions. First is that the hatred extends far past what is meant to be felt, becoming a somewhat preposterous fixation. The second is that the ‘irrational hatred’ for the character overflows to the point where you begin feeling adverse effects to the entire film itself.
Of course, these are more extreme side effects of the topic in question. For one thing, there are plenty of characters on this list that get on my nerves, but have never jeopardized my willingness to rewatch the film they are part of. For another thing, some of the characters on this list are supposed to get on your nerves; to a point. When you cannot move past it, when it grates on you beyond normalized reason, then it counts for this list, whether one is supposed to be annoyed by the character or not.
Something else to note; it does not have to be the character. In fact, many of the lists inclusions irritate me because of the performances attached to the character.
This is not the type of list I see around too much and so I thought it would be a fun and harmless road down which to venture. I like these kinds of lists that really have nothing to do with being the end-all be-all of anything, and focus more on ones personalized relationship with a variety of films. And anyone that reads this blog with any regularity knows I favor embracing the subjectivity of lists and somewhat resent (at least for myself) any attempts for a list to speak for anyone but myself.
The idea for this list came about from reminiscing about Apollo 13. In a management class for my graduate school classes for Library Science, we watched a few clips from the film. We had to discuss the various methods of group collaboration taking place and insert all the terminology we had been discussing about teams and groups into examples from the scenes (most featuring Ed Harris). I had been thinking about how much I truly like Apollo 13, and was lamenting about how long it had been since I watched it.
I then started to think about the one glaring downside to that film; Kathleen Quinlan. I flat-out do not like Kathleen Quinlan in this film. I realize that she was stuck with the obligatory ‘wife’ role and that it’s a pretty thankless part (although not thankless enough; she was nominated for an Oscar). There are a lot of similar thankless roles that actresses get saddled with, but none really got on my nerves the way she did. My memory recalls one worried facial expression throughout, and distractingly garish late 60’s/early 70’s wardrobe and makeup. At a certain point the negative feelings I have become inexplicable.
And thus the idea for this list was born.
There are some questionable choices here; I realize this. Some of the irrationality can be argued. I have a few characters on here where my reactions could be argued as being completely rational.
There were many that came to my head and I decided not to put them on. I felt either that my feelings were entirely too justified or that too many people hate the character for it to really feel ‘irrational’. How can it feel ‘irrational’ if so many others hate them as well? So no Jar-Jar Binks will be found here.
I am breaking them up into unordered chronological installments. I happened to have a lot from the 1930’s, but the next installment will cover at least two decades.
Examples of characters that did not make this first portion are Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind, Margaret Lockwood as Jenny in The Stars Look Down, Walter Huston as ‘Deadlegs’ Flint in Kongo and Norma Shearer as Mary Haines in The Women.
What characters do you have an irrational hatred towards from this or any decade?
Virginia Cherrill – A Blind Girl – City Lights (1931)
A sweet innocent blind girl just trying to make ends meet; what’s not to like? It should be the easiest grab for audience sympathy ever. The Tramp is head over heels for her, and if he is, we must be; right?
City Lights is one of my absolute favorite films. It is near perfect. The only thing that has never worked for me was Cherrill as ‘A Blind Girl’. My investment stems from my emotional stake in The Tramp’s happiness. I care because he cares. I never care for her predicament at face value. Does this make me a heartless bitch? I think not.
To be unashamedly shallow, she looks like a snot; am I wrong? Her supposed innocence feels transparent. It looks like she constantly smells some indistinguishable stink in the air. I would not have been surprised if the film had ended with the shocking twist that she had been playing him for a fool the entire time. When it comes down to it, I just never bought the act she was selling.
Frederic March – Marcus Superbus – The Sign of the Cross (1932)
Is there a more salacious Pre-Code film than the giant hypocrisy that is Cecil B. Demille’s The Sign of the Cross? A film that wants to have its torture orgy-ridden cake and eat it too; this is a must-watch train-wreck oddity of its time. The sheer unabashed indulgence of splendor (it’s well worth seeing if only for the spectacle and the luscious performances of Charles Laughton and Claudette Colbert) and the gall it has to drown itself in false piety is unbelievable.
This false piety is embodied by the Marcuc Superbus character. Fredric March is sorely miscast and forced into tight curls and a constant display of upper thigh. He is also weighted down with unbearably corny dialogue. But it is his ‘arc’ that is intolerable. He immediately falls for Elissa Landi’s Mercia (a devout Christian in the age of Nero) and becomes insistent on seducing her. He pretends to give a shit about the Christian cause, but really thinks it is all a joke. He unsuccessfully humiliates her as he attempts to subject her to an orgy as everyone laughs at her purity. Then in the final minutes, he joins her in death because he loves her? Huh?
I repeat; huh? It is unbelievably soapy, unearned and outright dull. But somehow through it all, March’s character frustrated me more than the bad writing, dry religious goings-on and hypocrisy. Never for one second does it make sense that he would fall for Mercia when he had Claudette Colbert (and her milk-bath soaked breasts) lusting after him. He is a douchebag cad throughout and March’s performance is just plain bad; as in, one of the worst I have ever seen.
Charles Ruggles – Peter Yates – Murders in the Zoo (1933)
Does anybody really like Charles Ruggles? Has anyone ever uttered the words “I am a Charles Ruggles fan?” I can guarantee you will never hear those words from my lips. Ruggles was a go-to character actor of the time. His general persona was that of a befuddled stuttering man who would often get tangled-up in his own words while transparently putting on airs. He happens to have a supporting role in my favorite film Bringing Up Baby. I can usually tolerate him. Not in Murders in the Zoo, which I watched last year while covering all my bases for my Pre-Code Horror list.
From my write-up on “Pre-Code Horror: The 9 Films that Didn’t Make the Cut”: “Murders in the Zoo is brought down by none other than…Charles Ruggles….lots of Charles Ruggles. Ruggles gets the confounding honor of top-billing instead of Lionel Atwill. He plays a public relations type who gets to do his stuttering imbecilic fool act for what feels like eternity and what is actually a significant chunk of a film with a runtime of just over an hour.”
That pretty much sums it up. It is a performance that an active chore to sit through. While a lot of these performances and characters grate on me in ways far beyond what they should, there are few that reach this level of aggravation.
Katharine Hepburn – Jo March – Little Women (1933)
Don’t get me wrong; I love Katharine Hepburn. Part of me can admit that most of this entry is personal bias. I was born in 1987. In 1994, Gillian Armstrong’s Little Women was released and I distinctly remember seeing it in theaters at age seven. It had a deep and indescribable effect on me and continues to today; it would rank in my top five favorite films of all time. You see, to me, Winona Ryder is Jo March. Her portrayal remains one of my most cherished performances and characters. So to see Hepburn in this role was something that put me immediately on the defensive.
Clearly I realize this is unreasonable behavior. Normally I have no problem accepting the basic fact of life that beloved novels will have multiple adaptations. Different character depictions and interpretations deserve to be taken as separate entities even if (and when) comparisons inevitably come into play. Normally I can realize basic rationalities such as this; but not with Jo March. Winona Ryder is Jo March. I become a petulant child when it comes to my feelings on this.
Katharine Hepburn as Jo March can be a tad grating at times to say the least. It feels too easy, despite being a great idea in theory. They share spunk and drive and an everlasting search for the deeper meanings of life. In practice though, Katharine Hepburn as Jo March feels a bit like Katharine Hepburn as Katharine Hepburn. I said it twice and I will say it one last time; Winona Ryder is and will always be my Jo March.
Margaret Dumont – Various Characters – Any and all Marx Brothers films
Blasphemy you say? Well, I cannot help it. But she is like the fifth Marx Brother! Essential to the ensemble! She had an undervalued and difficult job! All true.
The simple truth of it is that I cannot stand her. Yet my eyes always helplessly drift towards her as the jokes land. Not because I am in Dumont-loving denial; it is merely the masochist in me. Her reactions never fail to have the same effect; I take a deep breath so as to not lose my cool over performances given over 70 years ago.
I realize that there is only so much variety to be had when your job is to be the butt of jokes across several films and to be the reacting party over and over and over again. Here is my problem with Dumont; not only are her reactions all exactly the same, but I have never and will never be able to get past the antiquated theatricality to her. Her acting is unbearably stagey and try though I might, I cannot get past it.
I realize all of the ‘buts’ that could be thrown in here. Though, this is an ‘irrational hatred’ list after all. And that is exactly what I have for Mrs. Margaret Dumont.
Mickey Rooney – Puck – A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1935)
I first saw the 1935 film version of Shakespeare’s play (my favorite of his besides Hamlet) about eight years ago on Turner Classic Movies. Generally, I enjoyed it. In particular, James Cagney as Bottom was inspired and unforgettable. But I am unsure whether I could sit through this again. Why? Two words: Mickey Rooney.
That he is playing Puck, marvelous mischievous Puck, only makes his performance all the more depressing to think about. As far as purely obnoxious performances go, this one takes the cake. I mean really. I do not know if there is a more obnoxious performance in the whole of cinema. In his earlier decades, Mickey Rooney had an energy level one could equate with pure adrenaline. As a young teenager here, this is raised to a maximum.
Just thinking about him is giving me a headache. It is all a blur. All I remember are these horrible guffawing noises he would make. A barrage of screeches, snorts, squeals, bulging eyes and manic energy. Is this an accurate description of his performance? I have no idea; it has been eight years and I sure as hell never intend to watch his performance again to confirm or deny my fuzzy remembrances.
Ruth Chatteron – Fran Dodsworth – Dodsworth (1936)
This is a tricky one; a really truly tricky one. Technically Chatterton should not even count. Her repulsive unappreciative character is an entirely purposeful creation (adapted from the play). Everything I felt towards her is meant. Nobody who has seen the film would ever question why I might feel this way. I can still recall what I felt while watching it in a heartbeat. There was a strong urge, rarely matched, to reach in and shake her, slap her and even shove her off a tall building. I recall heaving and puffing, even yelling at the television set despite being all by me while watching. My frustration with her nearly brought me to tears. It has been too long for me to remember whether we were supposed to feel any sympathy for her at any point, but I never did.
Her placement on this list is due to my uncertainty whether or not I ever want to see Dodsworth again despite liking it very much. I think of all of the heavy and/or disturbing films I have seen multiple times (or films I’ve seen once but would see again eventually) and compare it with my possible unwillingness to sit through Chatterton’s despicable character. I am positive that at some point in my life I will rewatch Inside with no qualms whatsoever. But Dodsworth? I do not know. Because of this, her placement here felt necessary. Even if I would never in a million years call my hatred for her irrational.
Adriana Caselotti (voice) Snow White – Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
There was a time in my life where I had an obsession with Disney films. My love for them has not lessened, but there was a particular time of concentrated obsession. I constantly had all of my Disney DVD’s in rotation, keeping them on while I did homework after school every day all through high school. I made tons of ambitious Disney lists. I got to know all of these films very well through sheer repetition.
When is the last time you sat and watched Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs? Maybe you have forgotten or never noticed, but Snow White is the worst. The film is generally a joy, unarguably important and fantastically creative in its animation. Our first Disney princess however, leaves much to be desired.
She is a concoction of uselessness. This goes beyond the expected levels of non-agency that the Disney princesses (at least in earlier decades), tended not to possess. Snow White is just plain stupid. She really is quite the moron. Sadly, this and helplessness are her only characteristics. Oh, and a natural inclination towards domesticity. None of this is even remotely surprising and it is only part of the reason why I have allowed an animated character to wring my hands up in impatience.
When it comes down to it, the clincher is Adriana Caselotti’s voice work. It sounds like someone took the affected iconic voice of Marilyn Monroe, distilled it to its purest form and turned the dial to eleven. Let us ignore the fact that Monroe was eleven when this was released. The voice is unbearable. It has the potential to evoke involuntary eye twitching.
The anger I carry towards this character does not compare to the other entries in this first set. Yet Alice Swallow still bothers me beyond what is meant. This is a character whom we immediately recognize as being the wrong match for Cary Grant’s David Huxley. She is stuffy, prim and curt. She is a party pooper of the first degree. We are not supposed to like her.
If we are not supposed to like her then why put her on? Because she is a caricature who barely gets any screen time. Alice is not for one moment in danger of keeping David away from what he wants. She is a physical representation of what needs to change in his life. She never feels like a real human being. And she appears in the very beginning and end of the film.
She is on this list because I spend far too much time hating a character that not even the film itself takes with a modicum of seriousness.