My 10 Favorite Characters in the History of Movies (part 3)

Wrapping up the meme Brian sent me…

7. Martin Brody

Chief Brody
Chief Brody

Roy Scheider plays Brody with a hangdog tenacity that gets me every time. I love the sequence when he makes faces at his youngest son, the zoom-in horror on his face during the attack on the beach, his stoicism as Alex Kinter’s mother slaps him, his zeal in the face of the doubting city council (in Jaws 2), and the careful rage he brings to bear on the mayor in the hospital.

Most of all, Scheider gives Brody a sense of heroic nervousness rarely seen in our heroes. I’m reminded of Tom Hanks’ army guy in Saving Private Ryan, who hides his shaking hands and struggles through the horrors and madness ahead of him. You see the same thing in Brody’s march down the dock to board the Orca.

I also love the small moments he has with Ellen (a relationship much more enjoyable than the one from the novel, in which Ellen and Hooper are old friends who have a quick affair behind Brody’s back), the conversations and loving smiles. It makes him human and awesome at the same time.

8. Nigel Tufnel

Nigel Tufnel
Nigel Tufnel

The members of Spinal Tap are almost equally clueless. It’s Nigel’s extra cluelessness that really sings. The sequences between Nigel and Marti Di Bergi (the guitar with the really long sustain, the Bach/Mozart “Mach” musical composition, and of course the equipment that goes to 11) stand out.

Nigel gets the best bits of stupidity. My favorite line comes when they consider the reason their album cover was rejected: “It’s a fine line between clever and stupid.”

And the end of the film, Nigel ponders opening a “chapeau shop.” In this as in other scenes, Guest gives Tap’s lead guitar a wide-eyed innocence out of sync with the debauched lifestyle of a touring hair band. The interview in the diner stands out in this way as well: David and Nigel reflect on the history of their partnership, giving Guest and McKean a chance to imbue the characters with a depth that makes the humor that much more effective.

Since then, Guest has become a master of mixing humor and sincerity. But Nigel still stands out as the best of these.

9 & 10. Nick and Nora Charles

Nick and Nora Charles
Nick and Nora Charles

The Thin Man is one of my favorite movies.  Unlike other detectives of their day, Nick and Nora aren’t badass noir misanthropes with barely a shred of humanity or an unexplained weakness for the downtrodden.  No, no.  They’re filthy rich, and they enjoy it.  They shock the sensibilities with their rampant sexual desire and vigorous capacity for drinking.  They’re the jazz age, the epitome of the dictum that Depression Era movies served as an escape.

But their background is even better.  Nick was a rough and tumble detective (who worked for the Pinkertons, I think) and is as beloved as The Shadow.  Nora is a socialite with money from a coal mine who marries him (presumably because he can hold his drink).

Nora: How many drinks have you had?
Nick: This will make six Martinis.
Nora: [to the waiter] All right. Will you bring me five more Martinis, Leo? Line them right up here.

Movies with this quality of banter make me wish life came with a screenwriter.