DAILY GRINDHOUSE’S TOP 50 MOVIE CHARACTERS OF ALL TIME! PART ONE (#50-41)

 

A few weeks back, Flavorwire ran a top-50 list that was itself in turn a response to a recent Empire Magazine list, naming the greatest movie characters of all time. Honestly, it looked like a ton of fun, so we got the band back together here at Daily Grindhouse and gathered up our own choices. This is a very friendly response to those previous surveys — we liked both lists and in particular we are avid readers of Flavorwire and every last word their film editor Jason Bailey writes. But just in case you needed a slightly weirder top-50 in your life, that’s what Daily Grindhouse is here to provide.

 

Our list is not at all scientific, but it is a little bit magical. We’ll run it as a countdown, with each entry attributed to the writer who nominated each choice, and at the end we’ll post everyone’s ballots so you can also see how each of us voted.

 

So here we go!

DAILY GRINDHOUSE’S

TOP 50 MOVIE CHARACTERS OF ALL TIME, 

TODAY, FOR NOW!

 

 

 

 

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50. Professor Echo

The Film: THE UNHOLY THREE (1925 & 1930)

Played By: Lon Chaney

THE UNHOLY THREE was a massive hit in its time, and critically well-received too, which makes it one of the most successful movies to be barely remembered by history. Director Tod Browning later made the monumentally-influential and instantly-recognizable DRACULA with Bela Lugosi in 1931, and the infamous and historically-crucial FREAKS a year later. Browning is a fascinating figure in his own right, beginning his career as a circus performer known as “The Hypnotic Living Corpse” and then moving into motion pictures. Many of his finest films are set in or around the circus sideshows Browning knew so well, and THE UNHOLY THREE is no exception. It focuses on three circus performers of varying nefarious character — a ventriloquist (Lon Chaney), a strongman (Victor McLaglen, later a regular in John Wayne Westerns), and a little person (Harry Earles, a star of FREAKS). The strongman, Hercules, is the least villainous, and the most vicious by far is Tweedledee a.k.a. Little Willie. The ventriloquist, Professor Echo, is somewhere in the middle. It’s his idea to break from the circus and embark upon a crime spree. But his master plan is to rob people using a bird store as a front — he dresses up like the old lady who purportedly runs the place, while Tweedledee plays the little baby in his care. Chaney, the legendary ‘Man Of A Thousand Faces’, plays the entire movie with his real face, even while under a gray wig as “Grandma O’Grady”, and he is funny, sinister, and even moving. And also he keeps a pet gorilla (which is in actuality a chimpanzee filmed to look larger than it is), just in case his partners in crime ever get the bright idea to cross him. To recap: A cross-dressing criminal ventriloquist with a gorilla henchman. A fine way to start a list like this one. (Jon Abrams)

 

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49. Varla

The Film: FASTER, PUSSYCAT! KILL! KILL! (1965)

Played By: Tura Satana

 

I owe a lot of what I absorbed in my formative years to shopping in punk boutiques that had all matter of Lip Service PVC skirts, cheap Nag Champa incense, and black light posters. Here, I saw images of Divine, Bettie Page, and of course, Tura Satana as Varla. It was harder to find these ‘video nasties’ and cult classics back then, in the world of VHS. But a persistent personality had me seeking out FASTER, PUSSYCAT! KILL! KILL! and ultimately familiarized me with the auteur of Russ Meyer. Despite a wide and storied career, I still belief the murderous and dangerous go go dancer and racer Varla to be key to my and other burlesque dancer and third wave feminists development… (Tristan Risk)

 

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48. Dolemite

The Film: DOLEMITE (1975)

Played By: Rudy Ray Moore

 

Dolemite is a pimp, a club-owner, a proto-rapper, an urban superhero, and the baddest motherfucker on the planet. While Rudy Ray Moore’s singularly filthy style of comedy was a natural for the screen, it’s in the character of Dolemite where he was able to show off his outrageous personality while parading around in some of the most eye-poppingly garish outfits ever projected. While many prefer the overtly-comedic sequel THE HUMAN TORNADO, it’s in the original D’Urville Martin-directed 1975 DOLEMITE where the character really gets to shine, running down a crooked politician (and his cop cronies) while charming all the ladies and showing off some patented martial arts skills. Somewhat diluted by appearing in low-budget productions (such as the ICP-starring BIG MONEY HUSTLAS) in Moore’s later years, the original films still pack a punch (and a kick that misses by a mile). (Doug Tilley)

 

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47. Artemisia

The Movie: 300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE (2014)

Played By: Eva Green

Let’s get this out of the way: 300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE is not a particularly good movie, but none of that matters when Eva Green takes center stage. Artemisia is unhinged, violence and sex and power and rage, and Eva Green commits to the role without reservation. It’s hard to think of an actress who is doing as much daring work on the regular as Green; between the mediocre 300 sequel and her dynamic role in Showtime’s PENNY DREADFUL, Green has demonstrated her skill as the kind of dark character actor that we haven’t seen since Gary Oldman’s heyday. And we, as genre film fans, are in a unique position to appreciate the kind of risks that Green has taken throughout her career. There’s no one like her in the industry right now; she’s a goddamn national treasure. (Matthew Monagle)

 

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46. Dr. Frank-N-Furter

The Movie: THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW (1975)

Played By: Tim Curry

Originally being from a small town in northern New Hampshire, there was nothing quite as revolutionary to me as seeing a dancing, singing, gender-bending, mind-fuck of an anti-hero as Dr. Frank N Furter.  This character changed my life. “Don’t dream it, be it” was my mantra after this. Sure, to go as far as to say the Doctor is a postive role model for impressionable questioning LGBT youth might be taking it too far, but at the same time, Dr. Frank-N-Furter made it a lot easier for me to express my sexuality, and helped me to be the man I am today. So cool, so dangerous, so much fucking fun! (Jeremy Lowe)

 

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45. Jimmy Quinn

The Movie: Q: THE WINGED SERPENT (1982)

Played By: Michael Moriarty

Audiences should hate Jimmy Quinn. He’s a scumbag, two time loser, low-life criminal who drinks too much, verbally and (in one scene) physically abuses his girlfriend, and allows innocent people to be eaten by a flying serpent/Aztec god that is terrorizing New York City. But Jimmy engenders unexpected sympathy without deserving it. Part of this is due to Moriarty’s go-for-broke performance. But I think that people identify with Jimmy a lot more than they like to admit. He is the little guy who has been kicked around by life, who finally gets a chance to cash in big time. And then he screws it all up, as is consistent with his loser mentality. Jimmy is pitiable, entertaining, and ultimately relatable. That is why his final scene in the film, while only intended to tie up one last plot thread, is so cathartic. Jimmy has had it, and he stands up to the religious zealot who unleashed the serpent on the city in the first place. A man with nothing left to lose is a man with everything to gain. Jimmy may have gone through hell and screwed up a lot of people’s lives in the process, but he comes out the other end stronger and maybe (a very shaky maybe) has a chance to turn his life around. (Matt Wedge)

 

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44. The Mouse 

The Movie: BABES IN TOYLAND a.k.a. MARCH OF THE WOODEN SOLDIERS (1934)

Played By: ? 

This movie played on WPIX every single Christmas when I was growing up, and every single year I obsessed over one specific character. As much as I enjoyed the slapstick antics of Laurel & Hardy (in the roles of “Stannie Dum” and “Ollie Dee”) and their trip through a phantasmagorical storybookland, as much as I rooted against mean old Silas Barnaby (played by Henry Brandon, of THE SEARCHERS and ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13), those emotions were absolutely dwarfed — no pun intended — in scale by my absolute confusion over some of the storybook characters in the film. You had the Three Little Pigs, who were either little people or children wearing costumes. Then you had the Cat with his Fiddle, which would appear to be a short man in a costume. But that Cat gets up to a lot of horseplay with a Mouse, which looks like a dead-eyed barely-off-brand Mickey Mouse. The Mouse in BABES IN TOYLAND rides in various tiny vehicles and clearly has usable limbs. It’s shown next to the Three Little Pigs and the Cat more than once, so it’s clear whatever’s inside that costume is smaller than even the smallest person. It’s not a short guy. It’s not a little kid. It’s not a midget. It doesn’t move like any of those things. Was it a 1930-something equivalent to Nelson De La Rosa, the one-time world’s smallest man, friend to Marlon Brando and Pedro Martinez? Or was it something not human at all? This question haunted me for years. I asked almost all the film experts and luminaries I’ve ever met about it, when I should have been posing far more intellectual questions. Today, the internet seems to have come to a sort-of consensus on it. Allegedly, the Mouse is played by a Capuchin monkey, the kind who played a villain in MONKEY SHINES and a hero in the NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM movies.  I’m willing to buy that. If you look at the still frame up above, that kinda sorta looks like a hairy tail. It would explain the Mouse’s jerky movements and unpredictable behavior. I choose to accept this explanation because I’ve exhausted every other natural explanation on this Earth, and I’d rather not consider the alternative. Anyway, cute movie. (Jon Abrams)

 

 

43. Agent Hai-To

The Movie: THE KID WITH THE GOLDEN ARM (1979)

Played By: Philip Kwok (a.k.a. Kuo Chui)

 

My favorite Venom in my Favorite Venom/Chang Cheh movie. “Agent Hai-To is a drunk. They say his best friend is the wine.” Doesn’t stop him from kicking seven kinds of ass. Martial arts movies are chock-a-block with drunken fighters, but Hai-To is the one I love, pulling a wagonload of wine jugs behind him as he journeys to his final battle with the invincible bandit Golden Arm. Kuo Chui was a nimble acrobat,and his fight scenes in the Venom movies resemble nothing so much as a gymnastics competition gone ballistic. Respect the man; he was playing a badass through the 1990s in movies like HARD BOILED, STORY OF RICKY, and TOMORROW NEVER DIES. (Freeman Williams)

 

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42. Moses

The Film: ATTACK THE BLOCK (2011)

Played By: John Boyega

ATTACK THE BLOCK begins with a pretty young nurse (Jodie Whitaker) heading home to her apartment in a lousy London neighborhood. She sees a small gang of hooded teens standing in her way, so she moves to cross the street. You might think this marks her as a bigot, since she is white and all but one of the punks are black. But in the first daring reversal in a movie that’s full of them, Sam turns out to be right about these kids, as they proceed to mug her, stealing her meager earnings. They let her run off, and then the movie shifts perspective, focusing on the gang and on Moses, the gruff, taciturn, baby-Clint of a leader. Right after the mugging, an alien literally drops out of the sky, wrecking a nearby car. Moses goes to check it out. The alien bites him and bounds away. Now Moses gets pissed.  He and the other boys track the alien down and beat it to pulp, keeping the thing as a trophy. That’s when more capsules start dropping from the sky, and the others of the species come looking for their lost littermate. The other kids hardly stop talking once, especially when the aliens start chowing down on their neighborhood, but Moses, like a miniature version of a John Carpenter or Sergio Leone protagonist, gets right down to business. We can be sure he’s got a backstory, but we’re only going to get the barest amount of one, since he’s not the talkative type. That has such a poignancy in this context. It’s one thing for a husky grizzled grown man to be cool and mysterious, but when it’s a kid, there’s probably some hidden trauma there. And the movie offers a glimpse, but only a glimpse. This isn’t some coming-of-age story. There are no Screenwriting 101 character arcs.  There’s no inspirational principal who teaches Moses to love. He and his friends are raucous little bastards who will knock you down and steal your money. Even as we grow to know and like them more and more over the course of the movie, it’s not as if they change, not exactly. Moses gets his hero moment, but it’s in using his street-smarts and small-time demolition skills, and his reason for doing it isn’t as much altruism as it is taking responsibility for his own actions. It’s minor-league heroism, but that’s how heroism so often happens, not by broad strokes but by degree. It’s modest but it’s plenty more than enough. The end of the movie sends the audience out on a high note and makes you excited to see what its cast will do next. In other words, seems to me John Boyega isn’t lucky he got cast in STAR WARS. STAR WARS is lucky to have gotten John Boyega. (Jon Abrams)

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41. Philip Marlowe 

The Movies: THE BIG SLEEP (1946)/ THE LONG GOODBYE (1973)/ THE BIG SLEEP (1978)

Played By: Humphrey Bogart, Elliott Gould, Robert Mitchum, and more! 

 

Marlowe is the ‘cool’ detective. He may be laid back, reflective, and likes a drink, but don’t be fooled by his casual work ethic and his quietness, because a detective is never off duty. This is a character so strong he’s been played by actors as different as Humphrey Bogart, James Garner, Elliott Gould, and Robert Mitchum. Directors as wildly different as Howard Hawks, Robert Altman, Dick Richards, Michael Winner, and Bob Rafelson have taken their shots at telling his story. Powers Boothe, Danny Glover, and James Caan have played him on television. Some would argue Jeff Bridges played him too, obliquely. That’s the durable kind of cool. (Sabina Stent)

 

 

That’s the first fifth for you to slug down: see you here tomorrow for the next ten listmakers!

 

 

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Jon Abrams

Editor-In-Chief at Daily Grindhouse
Jon Abrams is a New York-based writer, cartoonist, and committed cinemaniac whose complete work and credits can be found at his site, Demon’s Resume. You can contact him on Twitter as @JonZilla___.
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One Comment

  • Reply
    August 10, 2015

    Wow, I’m really coming off as the strong, silent type, aren’t I?

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