08 June 2009

Why You No Good Low Down Dirty Stinking Rat!! The Most Despicable Characters of Film, Female Version


"You hate them. They are pure evil. As appealing as rancid butter. They're as cuddly as snakes. They make your hero's life miserable. They're up to no good and for selfish ends. They serve only themselves and the almighty dollar. You despise, loathe, detest, abhor, can't stand 'em. Yuck!" So began my blog post of last week in which I identified 10 of the most heinous characters of film.

You may have noticed they were all men.

Never one to be guilty of sexism, and having been prodded by that notorious buttinksi R.D. Finch (proprietor of the fabulous blog The Movie Projector) I now present the ladies.

Anyone who says a woman can't be just as evil as a man has never been married (the missus doesn't think that's funny. I chortled upon writing that line and she asked what was so funny. When I told her she just stared at me. I may be in trouble, folks).

But seriously, men don't have a monopoly on bad behavior, especially in films. I believe the ten ladies described below will prove this point.

Angela Lansbury as Mrs. Iselin in The Manchurian Candidate (1962). Calculating. How utterly ruthless, how precisely evil. Lansbsury was brilliant as the coldest, least obvious Commie spy of the Cold War. And all the time masquerading as an American-as-apple-pie mom. Lansbury played the most manipulative cold-hearted and ruthless political matriarch you'll ever meet. Great performance as a horrible person.

Charlize Theron as Aileen in Monster (2003). Heartless. There's something really distasteful about a serial killer. Most are men. so when a woman goes around killing people it really gets under my craw. Charlize Theron who is one of the most beautiful women in the world , not only played a serial killer but an ugly one. For this alone she deserved the Best Actress Oscar she was awarded. The movie was based on the real life exploits of Aileen Wuornos who killed seven men in a two period some thirty years ago. Theron played this real life monster, careful to give her the humanity that lurks within even the most distasteful humans.

Bette Davis as Leslie Crosbie in The Letter (1940). Icy. She's having an affair behind her poor, loving husband's back then shoots her lover in a snit. A real stinker, right? But look how she acts afterwards. The picture of innocence as she compounds her sins a hundred fold. Davis is so convincing that you soon forget what a cold hearted killer and cheat she is. Its one thing to fool those poor saps on the screen but she takes us in the audience for a ride too.

Glenn Close as Alex Forest in Fatal Attraction (1987). Persistent. Don't sing to her: "it was just one of those things just one of those fabulous flings." In her words, "I won't be ignored." No she won't. This is one affair that you're not going to get away with. To paraphrase Donnie and Marie, "she's a little bit obsessed, she's a little bit off her nut." She won't even spare the family pet, the stinker.

Barbara Stanwyck as Phyllis Dietrichson in Double Indemnity (1944). Seductress. She took poor Walter Neff for the ride of his life, the poor sap. Look where it got him, bleeding to death in Edward G. Robinson's office. No, she didn't exactly get off Scot free but this was all her own doing. Pretending to love a man, getting him to off her hubbie. That's low.

Lotte Lenya as Rosa Klebb in From Russia with Love (1963). Brutal. Are you glad to see me or is that a knife in your boot? Rosa was a lady who go her "kicks" out of killing incompetent or enemy spies. The perfect villain for the Cold War, a Russian spy with a face not even a mother could love.

Judith Anderson as Mrs. Danvers in Rebbecca (1940). Spooky. Talk about creepy. Does she walk or glide? And would a smile kill her? I couldn't even manage Danvers giggling. Like a lot of the bad ladies she's one cold fish. Dedicated to a deceased employer determined to rid herself of the new employer, the poor girl (played by Joan Fontaine. Honestly anyone who would be mean to Joan is just awful.). Mrs. Danvers may be the quintessential villainess.

Margaret Wycherly as Ma Jarrett in White Heat (1949). Enabler. Good ole mom part two. Her young un is the notorious gangster Cody Jarret and he seems a chip of her gnarly faced mom's block. Ma Jarret is one of the greatest co-dependents of all time, encouraging and abetting son Cody's misdeeds. Cody loves his dear old ma. Usually this is a fine attribute in a son, but when ma was Mother Gun Moll, not so good.

Joan Bennett as Kitty March in Scarlett Street (1945). Dishonest. You can't get much lower than swindling a lonely old bachelor and bringing him to rack and ruin. Kitty may have other forces pulling her strings but that's no excuse for the kind of chicanery she's up to. When you get a an older gent to fall in love with you so you can soak him...Shame on you!

Judie Dench as Barbara Covet in Notes on A Scandal (2006). Manipulative. On the surface she is a perfectly respectable little old lady but watch how she ingratiates herself into the life of a vulnerable friend. She feeds on vulnerabilities and uses them to collect the most powerful weapon of all -- information. Once you've opened yourself up to her, you've got a most unwelcome friend. Emotional blackmail in its most refined form.

5 comments:

R. D. Finch said...

Riku, thanks for the compliment (I think that's what it was), and another great list. After writing that comment I sat down and wrote out a list of my own favorite female villains and was easily able to come up with 20! Many of your choices also occurred to me. I especially liked your inclusion of Judi Dench in "Notes on a Scandal." I took a lot of flak at Mick LaSalle's blog for being such a booster of this movie, but I loved it, and the usually sweet Dench's deliciously malevolent character made the movie for me. Bette Davis is my favorite actress of all time, in large part because of her great villains--from Mildred in "Of Human Bondage" to "Baby Jane" and "The Nanny" in the 60s. With so many performances to choose from, "The Letter" was a great choice, but I liked her icy monster Regina in "The Little Foxes" even better.

I hope you won't think it an imposition if I add a couple to the list. Any list of female villains with Davis and Stanwyck immediately makes me thing of Joan Crawford, and I'd pick "Queen Bee" as my favorite Crawford monster (as both movie and performance, compelling camp). Best child monster: Patty McCormack in "The Bad Seed." Best Western villainness: Mercedes McCambridge in "Johnny Guitar." Finally, most beautiful monster: Gene Tierney as Ellen ("she loves too much") in "Leave Her to Heaven."

Mnemo said...

Bette Davis as Regina Giddens in The Little Foxes and Laura Hope Crews as Mrs. Phelps in The Silver Cord give motherhood a bad name. Gene Tierney in Leave Her to Heaven is evil and great at it.
Jane Greer in Out of the Past, Lorraine Day in The Locket, Joan Fontaine in Born to be Bad and Jean Simmons in Angel Face rotten to the core and great to watch!

Christopher55 said...

Very cool choices. I'd add Kathy Bates as Annie Wilkes in Misery; Jessica Walter in Play Misty for Me; and Faye Dunaway as Milday de Winter in The Three Musketeers & The Four Musketeers.

Colt said...

I am surprised the most obvious Nurse Ratchet from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest did not make the list.

P.J. Holland said...

Hi there,

i enjoy reading your blogs, but i just noticed a mistake, The Manchurian Candidate is from 1962, not from 1942, but i like your list here, though i would change Charlize Theron from Monster by Gloria Swansom from Sunset Blvd., cause i thought i had a little sympathy for the first, while the latter... well, i just despised her to an extent i would have liked to jump in my tv-screen and just give her a good slap to the face! (Pardon my French)

Keep on writing!